‘Squid Game’ strikes nerve in debt-ridden South Korea

‘Squid Game’ strikes nerve in debt-ridden South Korea
Squid Game, a globally popular South Korea-produced Netflix show that depicts hundreds of financially distressed characters competing in deadly children’s games for a chance to escape severe debt, has struck a raw nerve at home. (Netflix via AP)
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Updated 13 October 2021

‘Squid Game’ strikes nerve in debt-ridden South Korea

‘Squid Game’ strikes nerve in debt-ridden South Korea
  • Household debt, at over 1,800 trillion ($1.5 trillion), now exceeds South Korea’s annual economic output

SEOUL: “Squid Game,” a brutal Netflix survival drama about desperate adults competing in deadly children’s games for a chance to escape severe debt, hit a little too close to home for Lee Chang-keun.
The show has captivated global audiences since its September debut on its way to becoming Netflix’s biggest hit ever. It has struck raw nerves at home, where there’s growing discontent over soaring personal debt, decaying job markets and stark income inequalities worsened by financial crises in the past two decades.
In the dystopian horrors of “Squid Game,” Lee sees a reflection of himself in the show’s protagonist Seong Gi-hun, a laid-off autoworker coping with a broken family and struggling with constant business failures and gambling problems.
Seong gets beaten by gangster creditors into signing off his organs as collateral, but then receives a mysterious offer to play in a series of six traditional Korean children’s games for a shot at winning $38 million.
The South Korea-produced show pits Seong against hundreds of other financially distressed players in a hyper-violent competition for the ultimate prize, with losers being killed at every round.
It is raising disturbing questions about the future of one of Asia’s wealthiest economies, where people who once crowed about the “Miracle of the Han River” now moan about “Hell Joseon,” a sarcastic reference to a hierarchical kingdom that ruled Korea before the 20th century.
“Some scenes were very hard to watch,” said Lee, a worker at South Korea’s Ssangyong Motors who struggled with financial difficulties and depression after the carmaker laid him and 2,600 other employees off while filing for bankruptcy protection in 2009.
After years of protests, court battles and government intervention, Lee and hundreds of other Ssangyong workers returned to work in recent years. But not before a spate of suicides among co-workers and family members who were plunged into financial misery.
“In ‘Squid Game,’ you see characters scrambling to survive after being laid off at work, struggling to operate fried chicken diners or working as ‘daeri’ drivers,” who get paid for driving drunk people home in their own cars, Lee said. “That reminded me of my co-workers who died.”
Lee said he and his colleagues struggled to find work and were backlisted by other auto companies that considered them militant labor activists.
A 2016 report by Korea University medical researchers said at least 28 laid-off Ssangyong workers or their relatives died of suicide or severe health problems, including those linked to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Squid Game” is one of many South Korean shows inspired by economic woes. Its dark tale of inequality and class has drawn comparisons with Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning “Parasite,” another pandemic-era hit with stunning visuals and violence exposing the underside of South Korea’s economic success story.
Netflix tweeted Wednesday that “Squid Game” has become its biggest original series launch after reaching 111 million fans.
South Korea’s rapid rebuilding from the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean War has been spectacular — from Samsung’s emergence as a global technology giant to the immense popularity of K-pop and movies that’s expanding beyond Asia — though millions of South Koreans now grapple with the dark side of that rise.
“Class problems are severe everywhere in the world, but it seems South Korean directors and writers tackle the issue with more boldness,” said Im Sang-soo, a film director.
In “Squid Game,” Seong’s troubles trace back to his firing a decade earlier from the fictional Dragon Motors, a nod to Ssangyong, which means “double dragon.”
Hundreds of workers, including Lee, occupied a Ssangyong plant for weeks in 2009 to protest the layoffs before being dispersed by riot police who besieged them, assaulted them with batons, shields and water-cannons and dropped liquified tear gas by helicopter.
That violent standoff injured dozens and is woven into the “Squid Game” narrative. Seong has flashbacks about a Dragon coworker killed by strikebreakers while organizing fellow game participants to create barricades with dormitory beds to block murderous sneak night attacks by more vicious opponents looking to eliminate the competition.
Ultimately, it’s every person for themselves in a cruel battle royale between hundreds of people willing to risk even their lives for a shot at freeing themselves from the nightmare of insurmountable debts.
The show features other crushed or marginalized characters, like Ali Abdul, an undocumented factory worker from Pakistan with severed fingers and a boss who refuses to pay him, epitomizing how the country exploits some of the poorest people in Asia while ignoring dangerous working conditions and wage theft.
And Kang Sae-byeok, a pickpocketing North Korean refugee who had known nothing but rough life on the streets and is desperate for money to rescue her brother from an orphanage and to smuggle her mother out of the North.
Many South Koreans despair of advancing in a society where good jobs are increasingly scarce and housing prices have skyrocketed, enticing many to borrow heavily to gamble on risky financial investments or cryptocurrencies.
Household debt, at over 1,800 trillion ($1.5 trillion), now exceeds the country’s annual economic output. Tough times have pushed a record-low birth rate lower as struggling couples avoid having babies.
Squid Game’s global success is hardly a cause for pride, Se-Jeoung Kim, a South Korean lawyer based in Poland, wrote in a Seoul Shinmun newspaper column.
“Foreigners will come to you, saying they too watched Squid Game with fascination, and may ask whether Ali’s situation in the drama could really happen in a country that’s as wealthy and neat as South Korea, and I would have nothing to say,” she said.
Kim Jeong-wook, another Ssangyong worker who spent months with Lee perched atop a chimney at a Ssangyong factory in 2015, demanding the company to rehire the fired workers, said he couldn’t watch Squid Game after episode one.
“It was too traumatic for me,” he said.


Egyptian thief sets social media abuzz after swiping livestreaming reporter’s phone

Egyptian thief sets social media abuzz after swiping livestreaming reporter’s phone
Updated 20 October 2021

Egyptian thief sets social media abuzz after swiping livestreaming reporter’s phone

Egyptian thief sets social media abuzz after swiping livestreaming reporter’s phone

CAIRO: No one was unluckier on Tuesday from the thief who stole a reporter’s mobile phone which was being used to livestream a report on an earthquake in Egypt.

A reporter for Egyptian news outlet Youm7 was filming live when a man on a motorbike snatched his phone and sped away with it on his bike.

Viewers of the broadcast watched the incident as the phone’s camera was left recording, with the camera pointed up toward the thief’s face.

Youm7 has shared the Facebook live with the thief's face, saying "tens of thousands" of people were watching live as it was stolen.

Police identified and arrested the man on the same day.

Now social media platforms in Egypt have started buzzing with humorous commentary on the thief’s misfortune.

 

 

 


US train riders held up phones as woman was raped, police say

US train riders held up phones as woman was raped, police say
Updated 19 October 2021

US train riders held up phones as woman was raped, police say

US train riders held up phones as woman was raped, police say
  • Police say the people who recorded the attack and failed to intervene could possibly be charged
  • Arrest records show Fiston Ngoy, 35, was charged with rape and related offenses

PHILADELPHIA: A man charged with raping a woman on a commuter train just outside of Philadelphia harassed her for more than 40 minutes while multiple people held up their phones to seemingly record the assault without intervening, authorities said.
More than two dozen train stops passed as the man harassed, groped and eventually raped the woman, the police chief for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority said at a news conference Monday.
Police do not believe a single witness on the train dialed 911. They are investigating whether some bystanders filmed the assault.
Both the man and woman got on the train at the same stop Wednesday night in North Philadelphia. Officers pulled the man off of the woman at the last stop. They responded within about three minutes of a 911 call from a transportation authority employee, authorities said.
“What we want is everyone to be angry and disgusted and to be resolute about making the system safer,” SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III said at the news conference.
Arrest records show Fiston Ngoy, 35, was charged with rape and related offenses.
The affidavit of arrest for Ngoy detailed times of the assault, including that during those 40 minutes the woman appears to repeatedly push Ngoy away.
Nestel would not give an approximate number of witnesses and it was unclear from the affidavit how many passengers were present for those 40 minutes. Authorities have not released the surveillance video.
“I can tell you that people were holding their phone up in the direction of this woman being attacked,” he said.
Elizabeth Jeglic, a psychology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, researches sexual violence prevention. She said if people feel uncomfortable physically intervening, there are other options like calling the police.
“When we have multiple people, people don’t necessarily intervene,” she said. “However, more recent research actually suggests that looking at video footage of more extreme circumstances that up to 90 percent of cases we do see people intervening. So it was actually somewhat of an aberration in this case that somebody did not step forward to help this individual.”
Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt, of the Upper Darby Police Department, has said surveillance footage showed other riders were on the train and someone “should have done something.” Messages for Bernhardt were left Monday.
The New York Times reported that Bernhardt said that people who recorded the attack and failed to intervene could possibly be charged, but that would be up to the Delaware County District Attorney’s office to determine.
There were no calls made to 911 in Philadelphia. Nestel said police were still waiting for Delaware County 911, which covers the last two train stops, to determine if it received any calls.
Investigators said in the affidavit that Ngoy sat down next to the woman about a minute after he boarded the train car, shortly after 9:15 p.m. The video shows her pushing him away multiple times until he is seen ripping her pants down at about 9:52 p.m.
Bernhardt said officers arrived at the 69th Street terminal on the Market-Frankford Line, the busiest route on SEPTA, around 10 p.m.
A SEPTA employee who was in the vicinity as the train went past called police to report that “something wasn’t right” with a woman aboard the train, Bernhardt said.
SEPTA police waiting at the next stop found the woman and arrested Ngoy, who they had pulled off of the woman. She was taken to a hospital.
According to the court documents, the woman told police that Ngoy ignored her pleas to go away.
Ngoy claimed in his statement to police that he knew the victim, but couldn’t remember her name and said the encounter was consensual.
Ngoy, who listed his last address as a homeless shelter, remained in custody on $180,000 bail. His initial court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 25. Court records show he had not requested a public defender as of Monday.
SEPTA issued a statement calling it a “horrendous criminal act” and urged anyone witnessing such a thing to report it to authorities by calling 911, pressing an emergency button on every train car or using the authorities emergency safety app.
“There were other people on the train who witnessed this horrific act, and it may have been stopped sooner if a rider called 911,” the authority said.

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Haute cuisine: Lebanon has the most expensive McDonald’s menu in the world

Haute cuisine: Lebanon has the most expensive McDonald’s menu in the world
Updated 20 October 2021

Haute cuisine: Lebanon has the most expensive McDonald’s menu in the world

Haute cuisine: Lebanon has the most expensive McDonald’s menu in the world

BEIRUT: Looking to flex your deep pockets for a hot date? Perhaps impress some swanky onlookers by enjoying an expensive meal? Well, look no further, as McDonald’s Lebanon — the world’s most expensive — is the place to go.

According to a new study by Expensivity, a financial aggregator website, the crisis-ridden, tiny Mediterranean country boasts the most expensive McDonald’s menu — setting consumers back as much as $44.45 for a Big Mac meal with a large fries and a large coke.

Opting to get around the big price tag for a big meal? A kid’s meal — known as a happy meal — goes for $21.89; also the most expensive happy meal in the world.

These exorbitant prices comes as Lebanon experiences an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, with its local currency having lost over 80 percent of its value on the black market, and inflation at an all-time high. Food and medicine shortages in supermarkets and pharmacies have become familiar sights as the country’s latest government attempts to handle the situation.

In an ironic twist, Lebanon was the holder of the world’s cheapest Big Mac in July when it cost just $1.68 for those earning anything but Lebanese pounds, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Now, however, the American fast food chain’s best-seller goes for $21.89. Many, then, will decide to go for the locally-sourced and cheaper shawarma to quell their fast food appetite.

The infographics in this article were originally published by Expensivity.


Assad’s cousin boasts Ferrari and Israeli girlfriend in US while Syrians continue suffering

Assad’s cousin boasts Ferrari and Israeli girlfriend in US while Syrians continue suffering
Updated 17 October 2021

Assad’s cousin boasts Ferrari and Israeli girlfriend in US while Syrians continue suffering

Assad’s cousin boasts Ferrari and Israeli girlfriend in US while Syrians continue suffering
  • This is not the first time the Makhloufs’ lavish lifestyles, and their business ties to the Assad regime, have come to light

LONDON: A viral video showing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s millionaire cousin Ali Makhlouf cruising around Los Angeles in his $300,000 Ferrari 488 Spider has highlighted the stark divisions in a war-torn country where many people do not have enough to eat.

The video, which was apparently caught randomly, showed popular vlogger Daniel Mac standing near a traffic light in LA when Makhlouf rolled by in his luxurious car alongside his Israeli model girlfriend Michal Idan.

As per Mac’s standard, he asked Makhlouf what he did for a living, to which the latter replied that he worked, before saying that he was at an internship after further playful prodding by the vlogger. At the end, he said that the car was a rental before driving off.

What is even more telling is that Makhlouf is seemingly dating an Israeli model.

Syria’s Golan Heights have been occupied by the Israelis for years; the US recognized them as Israeli in 2019. And Israel has continuously attacked Iranian troops and Iran’s proxies across Syria with fighter jets, and so Makhlouf’s dealing with — even dating — the enemy could be regarded as treason.

Past lavish living

This is not the first time the Makhloufs’ lavish lifestyles, and their business ties to the Assad regime, have come to light. However, ties between Assad and his cousin, Rami Makhlouf — Ali’s father — are said to be strained after the US-sanctioned Syrian businessman revealed last year that he had set up a web of offshore front companies to help Assad evade Western sanctions.

Strained or not, the Makhloufs’ splurging has repeatedly caught the media’s eye and placed them under severe scrutiny, with Ali seemingly lacking any sense of moral responsibility when posting items on his social media accounts.

During the pandemic, Ali took to his Instagram account to show a video of him celebrating his birthday in Dubai by blowing out a cake in front of at least four MacBooks and two iPads — one for each of his friends beaming in via Zoom.

Other posts to his page include collections of luxury cars, mansions and even a couple of jet skis.

The average Syrian earns between $70 and $130 per month and, with the country still reeling from its decades-long war and with Assad firmly in power, this may not be the last the world hears of Makhlouf’s lavish spending.


Doctors in Egypt extract mobile phone from patient’s stomach

Doctors in Egypt extract mobile phone from patient’s stomach
Updated 17 October 2021

Doctors in Egypt extract mobile phone from patient’s stomach

Doctors in Egypt extract mobile phone from patient’s stomach

CAIRO: Doctors in Egypt removed a mobile phone from the stomach of a patient who  swallowed the device several months ago, according to local reports. 

The Aswan Univeristy Hospital admitted the patient on Friday night suffering severe abdominal pain. 

On examination medical staff found the man was suffering severe infection and stomach cramps.

Doctors carried x-rays and lab tests before they decided that his condition required urgent surgery.

They said an operation was needed to extract a “foreign body” inside the patient’s stomach. 

Doctors then realized he had swallowed a small phone, which subsequently led to preventing food from being digested, and caused painful cramps.

The patient’s condition is stable.