Tteokguk with the stars

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Tteokguk with the stars

Having served as a New York correspondent for three and half years, I had the great privilege on the first day of the new year of eating tteokguk, or rice cake soup, with two of the most famous Koreans in the world. I attended a New Year’s gathering co-hosted by the Korean Mission to the United Nations and the Consulate General in New York.

There, I overheard the following conversation between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and international pop sensation Psy.

Ban: I heard “Gangnam Style” music video had 1.1 billion views on YouTube, and that excludes views in China.

Psy: YouTube is owned by Google, and Google withdrew from China. I also heard an interesting number from Google recently. Among the 1.1 billion views of the video, six were confirmed in North Korea. I’m curious who those six people are.

Ban: Six isn’t a small number. A single ant can make a dam collapse. The smallest ant tunnel can bring down an entire dam. And there are six ants in North Korea! By the way, I heard your manager is amazing.

Psy: Scooter Braun represents Justin Bieber, the international pop idol. After I came to the United States, I realized that fewer than 100 people dominate the North American music industry. And the global music market is ruled by a handful of people. Braun is one of them, and he called me directly eight days after the “Gangnam Style” video was uploaded on YouTube on July 15, 2012. I thought it was a prank and hung up. Then he e-mailed me, introducing himself as Justin Bieber’s manager and asking for a meeting. I thought this unconventional mind-set is the power that rules the world.

Ban: But you had your share of suffering before the White House performance because of an anti-American song you sang in the past.

Psy: Only a few days before the concert attended by President Obama’s family, a Korean-American posted on the White House petition site that I shouldn’t be invited to the concert. I took all kinds of criticism, so I thought the time had come for my exit. But after I apologized, supportive posts increased. As some used swear words, the White House removed the original post and declared that the concert would be performed as scheduled. What would have happened if a similar event happened in Korea?

As I listened, I was struck anew with how Korea has emerged onto the international stage. I was sitting at a table where people discussed major forces in the world. These people were making history. Korea is no longer a frontier nation in Asia, but is being tested as a potential leader. I hope the Park Geun-hye administration and the National Assembly can get beyond political strife and ideological divides and live up to the expectations the global community has of us.

* The author is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Jung Kyung-min

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