Their passions strengthen Korea-Australia relationsThis January 26 may not seem significant for most Koreans, but for the 2,500 Australians living in South Korea, it’s a date that commemorates the 218th anniversary of the first colony in Australia. On Australia Day, Australians celebrate the achievements that make them unique. For the past 200 years, Australians have struggled against adversity to succeed. Continuing in that spirit are three Australians who have all challenged established thought by making a difference to both Australia and Korea in the fields of science, business and the arts.
Dr. Barry Marshall
Stomach ulcers are a pain in the gut. Korea should know, having one of the highest ulcer rates in the world. Given that over 50 percent of Koreans are infected with Helicobacter pylori, the toxic bacteria that causes ulcers, they also ought to regard Australian scientist Dr. Barry Marshall as a national savior for showing that the ailment is easily treatable.
Dr. Barry actually infected himself to prove his controversial theory that bugs, not stress, causes stomach ulcers. He then took antibiotics to cure himself.
For years, Marshall and his research partner, Dr. Robin Warren, had been snubbed by the medical and pharmaceutical industries. “[They] were skeptical because they thought that they already knew the cause of ulcers: stress and anxiety, and we were saying you guys are wrong.”
Frustrated but confident of his theory, Dr. Marshall swallowed the toxic bacteria, later named Helicobacter pylori. “We had a treatment which everyone could have. It was just an antibiotic that we could make available if we were correct that the ulcers were caused by the bacteria. Therefore, if you think about it, a lot of lives were at stake.”
His wife, however, was not impressed when she discovered that her husband had poisoned himself without telling her. She saw a risk not only to his health but to her and their four children as well. “In retrospect I didn’t have all the necessary safety precautions in place,” Marshall says. “I guess it’s easier to gain forgiveness than permission.”
His gutsy gulp paid off, saving millions of people from the pain and illness of gastritis, ulcers and potentially stomach cancer. In 2005, Marshall and Warren’s achievements were finally recognized worldwide when they received the Nobel Prize for medicine. “It’s a great present, like winning the lottery or something.”
Marshall’s discovery is also bringing comfort to millions of Koreans. He now acts as an advisor to Korean Yakult, developing products that better resist Helicobacter pylori. “[Koreans] realize that stomach problems are important. Helicobacter really explained a lot.”
Park Se-jong has always been passionate about telling stories through drawing. But it wasn’t until he made his short 3D animation “Birthday Boy” that his talents received global attention. Set during the Korean War, the film follows Manuk, a young boy who dreams about his father fighting on the war front. Returning home one day, Manuk mistakes a curious package for a birthday present, changing his life forever.
For Mr. Park, “Birthday Boy” was a chance to present a unique cultural story, different in style and message from mainstream productions.
“I look at the animation industry and there are a lot of films but I wanted to make something different. In that respect, it was not really the Korean War that inspired me but more because I wanted to make an Asian story, not an American or European story,” said Mr. Park.
Born and raised in South Korea, Mr. Park travelled to Australia in 2003 to study at Sydney’s Australian Film, Television and Radio School. With the story of “Birthday Boy” already in his head, Australia would provide Sejong with the creative environment and equipment to let his imagination take form.
The result was a “labor of love” that took over two years to make and led to a host of industry awards, including an Academy Award nomination. It was the first time an ethnic Korean had been nominated for the prestigious film award.
“Koreans think it’s something very special to be noticed in Hollywood with a Korean story. They’ve never done it before with Korean animation.”
The success of “Birthday Boy” has opened up a lot of doors for Park Se-jong, including the opportunity to produce a feature length computer graphic animation. At the moment he can reveal little, except that he has chosen to do his pre-visualization in the South Korean countryside, where the Korean Film Commission is funding him. For the time being however, his passion is raising his children and celebrating their birthdays in the lush surroundings of Australia’s Blue Mountains.
It should come as no surprise that Glen Feist’s favorite Korean dish is galbijim, or beef casserole. As the CEO of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), it’s his job to bring Australian beef into the Korean market.
And Mr. Feist is very good at his job.
In 2003, his team took Australian beef from a 21 percent to 70 percent market share of imported beef. Although clearly benefitting from a ban on U.S. and Canadian beef, he won the CEO Management Award for 2005 from the Herald Business Review. Mr. Feist’s strategy in both business and life can be summed up in one word: localization.
“Often around the world, people think ‘Well, if it works in Australia it’ll work here.’ And I don’t think that way. I think that everyone’s different, every culture, every country’s different. Even in Asia.”
Restricted by a low budget, but excited about working in a market that was still developing, Mr. Feist took a somewhat unorthodox strategy in bringing Australian beef to Korea.
“We wanted to localize everything we did ― all our marketing, our branding, everything. We wanted to find out what turns Koreans on and how to get them to like us,” he says.
One way was for MLA to become involved in traditional Korean activities, such as the popular Korean Wrestling Day. Every year during the Chuseok (harvest festival) holiday, Koreans wrestle it out for a prize of Australian beef, harking back to the tradition a hundred years ago when first prize was a cow.
And as he said, localization is his watchword for his personal life too. He sings karaoke, watches Korean movies, and has even taken on traditional Korean drumming.
These are the sorts of things that keep Mr. Feist in Korea. Raised in South Australia but having also worked in Singapore and Hong Kong, Glen admits he’s more at home in Asia than in Australia. “I feel like an Asian trapped inside an Australian body.”
[INTERVIEW]Third tour reveals an evolving Korea
Times are changing for Peter Rowe. He was first posted to the Australian embassy in Seoul as second secretary during 1983-86, only to return nearly ten years later as deputy head of mission. After that time away, he could appreciate how much Korea had changed. He returns this year as Australia’s new ambassador to South Korea. On his third visit, his perception of Korea has been challenged again, but this time he’d also like to challenge Korea’s perception of Australia.
Q. How do you think Korea has changed in the three times you’ve been here?
A. I was struck by how rich Korea had become in that ten-year period while I was away (from 1986 to 1995). It was a developed country more or less. When I came back this time, in some ways, the difference was less noticeable, more of a continuum now. But the thing that struck me is the greater independence of women in Korean society. I’ve noticed you can go around town and see women in restaurants at night time, even by themselves. I can’t remember seeing that ten years ago.
Q. You were previously posted in Seoul from 1983 to 1986. What do you remember most about Korea during that time?
A. I remember trying to get to as many places as possible. In those days it was very difficult to get to places like Ulleung-do, a place where I found much pleasure. In those days there was no accommodation, no hotels, no yeogwan [motels] even. When you arrived at the dock, families who had a spare room would be waiting and offering accommodation for you. So it was a good chance to participate on the margins and see how families lived, as well as [see] Ulleung-do, which [had] a sensitive security situation and was fairly isolated.
Q. What do you like most about Korea and its people?
A. The thing that impresses me is the strategic thinking of Korea. Many countries haven’t succeeded so well, but Korea, with no resources except its people, has identified the target, realized it’s importance and gone for it. They’ve achieved in 50 years what it took most Western countries 150 years to achieve.
Q. Do you have any plans to promote Australia in a different way?
A. It’s very hard for a relatively young country like Australia to overcome the image of the countries that have been around a long time, or that have had a very big influence on Korean life like Germany, the United States, Japan? Everyone has heard of Harvard and Yale but no one’s heard of Sydney University or Melbourne University. Yet Australia has a population of 20 million and it has something like 12 Nobel Prize winners. How many countries of 20 million have an educational record like that? Now, how to get that message across? I don’t know, I’m working on it, but it won’t happen overnight.
Q. How do you think the recent race riots in Sydney last month have damaged Australia’s reputation in the region?
A. The riots were a terrible thing of course, I mean they were condemned by everybody. I think we have to look at them in context. First of all I feel that these things at heart weren’t racist. They were a law and order issue. Some people may have tried to capitalize on that. It was an aberration fueled by the heat of the moment. I would like to think that when you set that against the success of Australia’s multi-cultural policies over such a long period of time, that one incident would not have lasting damage.
by David Guzman & Jordan Kent