Category Archives: Business & Economy

Will IKEA succeed in South Korea?

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Will IKEA succeed in South Korea?

It finally happened. On December 18th of last year (2014), IKEA opened its first store in South Korea in the city of Gwangmyeong after years of rumors and long awaited anticipation by local consumers. With a floor space of 59,000 m2 (640,000 sq ft), the store at opening was the largest-to-date for IKEA worldwide. It surpasses the size of any of IKEA store in Sweden, the United States and even mainland China.

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News-to-Date and Unexpected Surprises

150221 ikea-03During the first 2 months after opening its first store in South Korea, a few unexpected surprises took place for IKEA. The biggest surprise was perhaps the issue which has to do with a map that was (is) being sold at IKEA stores worldwide. The body of water (ocean) between Korea and Japan was previously called the “Sea of Corea (Korea),” “the East Sea” and/or the “Gulf of Korea” on ancient maps. Now, the maps which were (are) being sold at IKEA represented this body of water as the “Sea of Japan” – which was received as being inaccurate, culturally insensitive and also ultra-offensive to 99.9% (or let’s just say the greater majority) Korean shoppers during its first few weeks after store opening. To address how and why the “Sea of Korea” became the “Sea of Japan” is a very long story and not the purpose of this article, so we won’t get into it any further today.

Another big surprise was the sheer number of visitors who came to see what was displayed at this IKEA store. On its 35th day of opening its Gwangmyeong store, IKEA Korea welcomed its one-millionth — count 1,000,000 — visitor. Roughly 30,000 to 35,000 individuals had visited the store on weekends and about 20,000 to 25,000 visitors during weekdays. Such crowds caused heavy traffic jams, shortages in parking space and very long waiting lines.

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In addition, three other reports related to IKEA Korea made recent news. The first was a report of visitors hoarding all the pencils. Second was the news report about the city of Gwangmyeong, who had welcomed IKEA to their city with open arms, was now going to penalize IKEA for causing massive traffic jams to deal with their civic complaints. Lastly, there were reports which had suggested that IKEA had over-priced all of their products in South Korea compared with other countries. After an in-depth consumer investigation, however, it turned out that some of their products were more expensive (partially true) and others were less expensive compared with prices in other countries (partially false).

One more aspect of the Gwangmyeong store is the “messiness” of its blankets and linen on display beds. It will take additional resources (additional labor) in South Korea to frequently make-up all the beds in all the showrooms due to unique (unusual) consumer behavior.

Road to Success in South Korea

There are some very unique aspects of the South Korean market to consider for IKEA’s success in South Korea. Here is a list of are just a few of them:

  1. The nature of “cookie-cutter-made” apartments (condos) and studio apartments (a.k.a. Office-Tel): Floor plans for these residential types are highly standardized and virtually the same. How consumers fit (mix-and-match) IKEA’s furniture into these overly standardized floor plans in Korea will be something interesting to watch.
  2. Appealing to “newly-weds” and single professionals: People in South Korea seldom live together before getting married. Getting married means getting a new place to live; and then buying “new” furniture for the entire home. Moveover, an increasingly number of young professionals, who are not yet married but have disposable income, prefer to live alone (not at their parent’s house) in small studio apartments. These apartments need furniture and home accessories.
  3. Becoming the preferred choice for local mom-and-pops (neighborhood) interior designers and carpenters: There are thousands of local carpenters who fix-up homes and apartments in South Korea. All of them have existing local suppliers who are doing business with them. Getting on the list (minds) of these home-interior remodeling stores will be important.
  4. Becoming the preferred choice when replacing “built-in” system kitchens: A typically high-rise apartment (condo) complex in South Korea has anywhere in between 500 to 1,200 residential units. Becoming a first-supplier, by working with construction companies (builders), and electronic-appliances (washer-dryer, gas-range) companies, to a select segment of apartments (condo) complexes could become another consideration for accelerated market penetration. Moreover, buyers of older homes (apartments) often “upgrade” their kitchen to make it feel new. This market for replacing existing system kitchens is also a big segment in South Korea.
  5. Product durability to withstand (survive) frequently moving Koreans: South Korean who do not own homes move around at least 3-10 times before eventually becoming home owners. The question of whether “self-assembled IKEA products” can withstand being moved around so much is something of interest to Korean consumers.
  6. Sitting on the Floor Culture: Traditionally, and even today, people sitting on cleaned floors, especially when gathered together at home, is a prevailing custom in South Korea. Understanding and applying how IKEA products may work best to accommodate this culture and introducing products that will fit with such cultural behavior is also something to consider. For example, other large retailers sell “bamboo” carpets to help consumers accommodate for South Korea’s hot-muggy-summers. Whether IKEA will localize their product line by introducing these “bamboo-style” mats (carpets) will be a point of interest by Korean consumers.

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As with any business, and at the end of the day, IKEA’s success in South Korea will hinge upon how many repeat consumers it can generate in terms of “life-time” buyers and getting good-to-great “word-of-mouth” ratings with reference to customer satisfaction. Although, it’s way too early to tell how business will turn out for IKEA in South Korea, it is certain that their presence will bring about extra-ordinary change to local competitors and many benefits to, and more choices for, end-consumers.

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East Asia’s Currency Unit – the Hidden Story behind Yuan, Won and the Yen


East Asia’s Currency Unit – the Hidden Story behind Yuan, Won and the Yen

To those who aren’t familiar with Chinese characters, the Chinese Yuan, Korean Won, Japanese Yen and even the Hong Kong Dollar may all seem to be different currency units. This is true when the currency unit is written in English, or Romanized (Latinized).

However, if only (purely) Chinese characters are used, these seemingly different currency units are all represented by the same (single) character (letter/word) “圓” which is (and has been) a common “currency unit” for all of these East Asian countries.

ca-cur-unt-compositeWhat this means is that there is a greater commonality amongst the East Asian countries (which is not visible to an un-trained eye, or to a person who has never had any training in reading and/or writing Chinese-characters.

Now, if we take a look at this from another angle and with a trained-eye, Yen is way of how Japanese pronounce the Chinese character “圓” which the Japanese have transformed (modified, simplified) into today’s “円” character. Also, the way Koreans pronounce the Chinese character “圓” is Won which also uses the same Chinese character — i.e., same as the Chinese and Japanese — to represent its currency unit.

For your visual inspection (validation), the table below represents six currency units — from East Asia — which all use the “圓” as their non-English-way for currency representation.  Note that every country’s currency leads back to the same Chinese character “unit” of “圓” in its original (native) language.


If you have worked in, or are currently working in, the Financial Industry, this piece of information may not be new to you – nothing new. However, if you haven’t traveled to all of these East Asian countries, you have just now picked-up an interesting piece of knowledge.  Is this piece of information (knowledge) interesting to you – yes / no?

For a further visual check (validation), below are currency notes — a mix of old and new — from the above listed countries with the same character  “圓” (Won, Yuan, Yen) unit emphasized.

MACAU (澳门)




JAPAN (日本)


MANCHUKUO (a.k.a. Empire of Manchuria, 滿洲)


 TAIWAN (臺灣)


CHINA  (中国)




Can you think of — name — any other “country-currency” in the world that can trace its roots back to the one Chinese character “圓”  when it is written in native (local) language form?

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The Battle for Gahoe-dong


The Battle for Gahoe-dong

In 1987, my wife and I bought a hanok in Seoul’s Gahoe-dong district which has been our home ever since. Living in a hanok brings an understanding of many of the values that were once the foundation of Korean life. Sadly, it also brings an insight into the corruption that characterizes modern Korea.

After six hundred years at the heart of Korean cultural and social life, the traditional beauty of Seoul’s Gahoe-dong district, “the place where beauty gathers,” is being relentlessly destroyed. Gahoe-dong was the last district in Seoul where there were whole streets of traditional Korean houses, hanoks, preserving the ambience of Seoul a century ago. Most of these old homes have now being bulldozed and replaced by modern versions, built mainly of concrete but decorated with traditional architectural elements.

Gahoe-Dong is part of Bukchon, “The Northern Village,” a small area that lies between two former royal palaces, the Kyongbok Palace or “Palace of Shining Happiness” and the Ch’angdok Palace or “Palace of Illustrious Virtue.”


For most of its history, Bukchon was home to many of the nobles and scholars attached to the Royal Court. Old maps show the area had relatively few buildings in a natural, forested landscape that descended from the mountains.

Changing times

During the 1920’s the character of Bukchon began to change. With the Japanese occupation, the role of the aristocracy and yangban diminished. Eventually, the once-privileged residents of Bukchon began to sell their land and move out. This was also a time when the Japanese redeveloped much of Seoul by erecting Japanese-style homes, commercial, and public buildings as part of their assault on Korean culture and values.

While many Koreans were swept along with the wishes of their new, Japanese rulers many also sought ways to resist and preserve the ideas and values they considered important in Korea’s heritage. One of these was a wealthy builder from the Busan area, Chung Sea Kwon (정세권) who owned one of the largest construction companies of his day. Chung felt that if ordinary people could have the opportunity to live in traditional Korean hanoks, it would help preserve Korean values in the face of an increasing pressure to adopt a Japanese way of life.

Chung seized the opportunity to buy up land in Gahoe-dong and elsewhere and began to build small hanoks for ordinary people. Since most Koreans had little money, Chung also provided financial help to buy them. It was Chung who built our own hanok in 1929 and lived in it before selling to the family from whom we bought it in 1987.

All of Chung’s houses were very well built. They were intended to be an expression of uniquely Korean ideas as well as family homes. The idea caught on and Bukchon became a hanok village for ordinary people. However, most of the hanoks Chung built were demolished as part of the Bukchon Plan, despite the fact that the architectural survey that preceded the plan had endorsed their quality and good state of repair.

Korea’s traditional architecture

Hanoks are single-storey buildings based on a framework of interlocking wooden beams that rest on blocks of stone. Other materials used to complete the buildings are also wholly natural such as straw, mulberry paper, and clay. The materials and methods are fundamentally the same as those used to build the royal palaces of the Choson dynasty as well as old Buddhist temples.


Until recently, the hanoks in Gahoe-Dong had survived the successive waves of re-development and re-building that have transformed most of the Seoul. Yet even here pressures for redevelopment were gaining power. Accordingly, Seoul City came to designate them as Local Cultural Assets on March 17, 1977, in an effort to protect them and preserve the area. The area was also designated as a Korean-style House Preservation District and put under the special care of the City, according to an entry (now removed) on the metropolitan government’s web site

Despite these measures, by 2000 only two streets remained entirely filled with hanoks giving a feel for how the district ­ and much of Seoul ­ had looked years ago. Elsewhere, apartment blocks and modern offices had already encroached, transforming Bukchon into a district where Western-style buildings predominated. About this time, the Metropolitan government began to consider how best to retain the little that remained of the hanok village as part of plans for the continuing restoration of the historic sites of North Seoul.

Towards the end of 2001, the Metropolitan government published detailed plans for the restoration and conservation of Bukchon using public money. The plans were based on a detailed architectural survey of most of the surviving hanoks and aimed to restore the district to its former beauty. The government announced grants and low interest loans to assist hanok owners with this work and set about a variety of related projects including resurfacing roads, improving street lighting, removing utility poles, and providing signage to help tourists and other visitors explore the area.

The Restoration Plan goes badly wrong

From that point on, things went badly wrong. While the original plans can only be praised for their imagination and sensitivity towards the restoration of Korea’s architectural heritage, what happened was the exact opposite. In our own street, for example, ours is now the only surviving traditional hanok.

New buildings that have replaced hanoks have been financed partly via government grants and low interest loans. In one example, an owner was given a government grant of KRW30 million and an interest-free long term loan of KRW20 million for “Hanok Repair and Redecoration.” This money was used to completely demolish a fine hanok and erect a modern two-storey building which was given a general business license to allow it operate under a number of categories, including as a restaurant. Objections eventually prevented the business operating and today the building lies empty.

The new developments potentially bring great profit to speculative developers who purchase the land at prices based on single storey traditional dwellings in order to re-sell it at far higher prices, exploiting loopholes in various regulations and often erecting two-storey buildings.

dkibrn-hse-05f-roofAs a result, Seoul’s last district of original hanoks has been mostly destroyed; government grants to encourage preservation were used for demolition; and ordinary people were denied the chance to realize a fair value of their homes.

Sadly, there was more involved than the destruction of a hanok heritage. While some of the original hanok owners were happy to sell at what seemed a fair market price, others wished to remain in homes where they had lived for many years. These people were submitted to an unremitting campaign of harassment to “persuade” them to sell. This could even involve physical assaults. Worse could follow as the police, prosecutors, courts, and media all failed to fulfil the public duties that a citizen might expect in support of his very basic human rights.

Where once there had been a thriving community of ordinary Korean families, there is now a ghost town of empty buildings. An authentic living community has been eradicated. What really happened to the vast budget the Seoul Metropolitan Government allocated to the Bukchon Plan remains one of the unanswered questions of the Lee Myung Bak era.

Not the first time

Gahoe-dong and Bukchon have enjoyed special status as historic districts of cultural importance since 1976. Although this is supposed to ensure the protection the district’s hanoks, hanok numbers have declined each year. All the special plans and projects the metropolitan and local governments have launched have been accompanied by a decline in hanok numbers. Why so? The reason is quite simple, as the Bukchon plan makes evident, the laws and regulations to protect and preserve hanoks are simply not enforced; the protection plans are never implemented and the budgets associated with them are diverted to other activities.

Korea loses contact with its own culture

In every country, there are issues about what should be preserved from the past and what should be discarded. Every country tends to preserve its palaces, castles, and stately homes. In the UK and also in Europe, governments also preserves many more ordinary buildings such as farm buildings, ordinary houses, shops, and public houses. Some are preserved because of their beauty, some because of their construction techniques, some for the insights they provide into social history and the way people once lived. The preservation work involves public money, donations from business, and subscriptions from the general public. There is a broad consensus that this work is just as important as, say, preserving famous works of art because all these manifestations of human skill and creativity help define the culture and traditions of different peoples. It is so sad that these ideas are not well understood in Korea and that important decisions about what, in reality, is done to preserve Korean culture should be left to petty bureaucrats, small construction companies, and speculators.


In some ways, there are special problems in Korea. During the Japanese occupation, there was a determined attempt to eradicate Korean culture. This was followed by the Korean War which splintered families, destroyed the social order, and caused immense physical destruction. Next came the period of military rule when individual liberties were suppressed as the country started to build a modern economy at breakneck speed. Perhaps it is not surprising that some Koreans have lost touch with their own traditions and culture as a result. Be that as it may, the decisions made by today’s generation will determine whether anything will be left of Korea’s distinctive architectural culture for their grandchildren to enjoy.

The root cause of this is corruption, by no means a problem unique to South Korea. However, within the OECD, South Korea, sadly, is distinguished by ubiquitous, pervasive corruption that has become an integral part of government – from the offices of presidents to provincial and local government. At least, this is the conclusion of Professors Doh Chull Shin and Chong Min Park, based on a research project into the lives of ordinary Korean citizens which they reported in a paper in the Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies in 2005. The story of the Sewol Ferry disaster in 2014 is but one indication that corruption today is just as much a part of government as it was in 2005.

There is an enormous gulf between what city officials publicly proclaim and what they allow to happen. The Bukchon Plan talked of the need to protect, preserve, and restore using authentic techniques and materials. Yet city officials routinely approved wholesale demolition in order to erect new structures, and ignored the basic human rights of residents.


Surely it is time to halt all the destruction of old buildings in Gahoe-dong, to demolish new buildings with illegal features, and for society as a whole to consider the fate of the district? Is it too much to expect that a country of Korea’s economic power should find the time and the resources to preserve a small window into ordinary life a century ago? Throughout Europe, there are many examples of towns, districts, and buildings of a similar or older age than Gahoe-dong that are rigorously protected and preserved. The lesson from other countries is that such preservation can attract tourism, enhance local culture, and make the modern urban environment a richer, more enjoyable place for all.

David Kilburn

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David Kilburn worked internationally in the advertising industry for many years before becoming a journalist covering business in East Asia. You may connect with him by clicking hereHis web site,  and YouTube channel, document what has happened to Gahoe-dong and document cultural events organised in the Kilburn’s hanok to raise awareness of the issues.

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor.

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Understanding Foreign Brands – What’s the meaning of “Tsingtao” Beer?

150106 Tsingtao Beer

Understanding Foreign Brands – What’s the meaning of “Tsingtao” Beer?

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Are you thinking about eating out tonight at a fancy Chinese restaurant? Well, what brand of beer are you considering to order? Do you feel a Chinese brand beer will go well with Chinese food – like the most of us? Well, the most famous and widely available Chinese beer — outside China — is probably Tsingtao. Now, you know that. You’ve probably heard about Tsingtao before in your lifetime, right? So far, so good – everything’s cool.

Now, and all of a sudden, you hit upon a minor problem which is, how in the hey do you pronounce “Tsingtao” properly as to avoid embarrassment when placing an order? And what does Tsingtao mean anyway?

Tsingtao (青岛) is a name to a port location (city) in Eastern China, and it became an area which was heavily influenced by German investments between 1898 to 1914, or prior to the so called “Seize of Tsingtau”.

It was during this period — 1903 to be exact, as printed on each Tsingtao Beer bottle (can) today — that the Germans started producing (bottling) beer in China – Get it? Can you see that there’s a connection (link) here between Germany and beer?

In summary, 1903 was a year between 1898 and 1914, and a period of Germany’s influence in China’s Shandong Peninsula, and a location where the Germans started to produce beer for consumption after having formed Tsingtao Brewery. If you wish to learn more about this period regarding Germany in China, please look up the Kiautschou Bay concession in history books.

Today, this city’s location is officially spelt Qingdao (not Tsingtao) on maps, but the beer brand retains its “Tsingtao” spelling. Tsingtao, the brand has thus, over the years, undergone transformation to become a proper noun as one beer brand and is no longer used (spelt this way) to represent location (the city).

Finally, let’s get to the part where you can learn to order “Tsingtao” with confidence, and without sounding overly awkward. Say it out loud – practice – repeat for about five (5) to ten (10) times before leaving home tonight, and when you get to the restaurant – say Tsingtao (or Qingdao which is the same thing). Kindly remember, not to drink too much – and not to drink and drive.

Note: The Seoul Tribune would like to express our thanks to "" for granting us approval to use their YouTube material(s).

♦ Foreign Language Tips ♦

  • 青 (Qing) means color blue in Chinese
  • 岛 (Dao or Tao) means island in Chinese
  • 啤酒  . . .  means the “beer” type of alcoholic drink in Chinese

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Chinese Dinner Etiquette – 4 Key Insights for Foreign Guests


Chinese Dinner Etiquette – 4 Key Insights for Foreign Guests

Chinese Dinner Etiquette – 4 Key Insights for Foreign Guests

Where should I sit? Who starts eating first?
Which part of the fish is considered the best?
How can I show respect when toasting with others?
Let us help you make sense of it all.

Dinners in China can be huge fun, but they’re also fraught with danger. One false move and you’ve offended people without even knowing it. Handled well, however, your local hosts will note your appreciation for Chinese customs, which gives them big face and shows you aren’t just another ignorant foreigner traipsing through China.

How important is the dining ritual to a Chinese? Even a newborn is fully booked with dinner gatherings, i.e. one-month anniversary dinner, double-month anniversary dinner, 100-day anniversary dinner, one-year birthday dinner, etc. Everything happens at the dinner table: strangers become friends, friends become enemies and enemies become friends; boyfriends are scrutinized and receive final approval to become a son-in-law; contracts for massive investments are confirmed; and agreements nearly there fall apart. All this happens against the backdrop of delicious foods, savory wines and elegant china-wares with plenty of subtlety and face guessing games.

Here are some great ways to show respect for others, plus guidelines to get you going in the right direction:

Chinese Dinners - Seating

The dance starts upon arrival, people nudging each other towards certain seats, trying to be modest and showing respect for one another. The highest seat faces the door, second best on its right, third best on its left. Don’t go there unless you are guided to do so. Play along, resist a little.

A plate of sizzling hot ribs arrives, landing directly in front of you. You’re famished. Go ahead and grab one? Not yet!

Turn the rotating table clockwise and let others (especially the top seated person) have a bite. Don’t panic, it’ll come back to you. Nobody wants to be the person taking the last piece on any plate.

Chinese Dinner Etiquette

By now, your hosts may recognize your modesty and force you to start the whole fish when it arrives on the table. Where on the fish do you dig in? General consensus holds the best is the upper belly, second best is upper back, and so on. Avoid those prime locations at first.

Chinese Dinner Etiquette - Toasting

What’s this secret game going on? The modesty dance continues! When two glasses clink, how high people hold their glasses shows hierarchy. Sometimes they go lower and lower until they crash into the table (albeit a worst case scenario). When the host toasts you, keep his glass higher.

These insights hold true at most dinners with hierarchy, such as corporate dinners with bosses, meals with clients and multi-generation family gatherings. Learn to recognize the regional variations as you progress. And among friends, all protocol often gets thrown out the window. Yeah!

Have any interesting dinner experiences to share?
We invite you to add them below for others to enjoy.
Happy eating!

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Stewart Lee Beck (李渡) is an author and the creator of China Simplified. Connect with him at, or visit his website at

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via on May 10, 2014.

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South Korea – An Export-Driven Economy

141215 export

South Korea – An Export-Driven Economy

It’s often said that South Korea is an “export-led” or “export-driven” economy. But what does this exactly mean? In other words, what makes people say such a thing to describe South Korea? If you’re not a native of South Korea, this narrative may not resonate. Well, to help put this statement into perspective, here’s one big picture in a nutshell.

Outside of Europe, and/or outside of the United States, and specifically if you’re living in (or travelling to) South Korea, you’ll frequently hear of the term OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) being often used.

Well, among the 34 OECD member nations, there are only 12 countries that have a population of more than 30 million people. These 12 countries are — in order — (1) the United States, (2) Japan, (3) Mexico, (4) Germany, (5) Turkey, (6) France, (7) the United Kingdom, (8) Italy, (9) South Korea, (10) Spain, (11) Poland and (12) Canada.

Now, if you take an even closer look at this list, you’ll find two countries from East Asia, which are — yes and of course — Japan and South Korea. Many social scientists and economists like to group these 2 countries together for one reason or another, and often do so.

However, in terms of an “export-led” economy perspective, this view (or method of grouping) is not at all a good representation. In fact, if we look at the data which represents a figure for “Export Amount per Capita (in USD)” – please see the table below, Japan’s number comes much more close to the United States, Poland and Mexico; whereas South Korea is tiered together with other countries such as Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom. In other words, South Korea’s economy – from this export point of view (measure) – resembles Germany and/or Canada much more than it does Japan and/or Mexico.


Now, if we compare Export dollars with GDP (nominal) as a percentage, South Korea’s figure of 42.7% is the highest among these 12 of 34 OECD nations which have a population of more than 30 million people. Once again, this percentage figure (Export over GDP) for South Korea is more approximate to Germany (41.1%), and not Japan. In fact, Japan’s figure (ratio) is 14.2% and the number for the United States is 9.4% – even less than that of Japan.


What this all means and a key underlying fact is that South Korea’s economy is not always an exact a copy of Japan (and/or vice versa); and is physiologically much different when the term “export” is applied. In other words, and amongst OECD countries (with 30+ million people), South Korea is truly an “export-led” economy – a key reason for why many describe South Korea’s economy in this way (manner). Would you also agree that Germany — much like South Korea — is also an “export-led” or “export-driven” economy?

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#Arabia: It is More diverse than you think!


#Arabia: It is More diverse than you think!

Did you know that the term “Middle East” is a misnomer? What came to designate, in the popular press and the mass media, the region spanning from the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean on the West, to Iran on the West, was not originally intended as such.

From a European centric perspective, there are 3 main parts to the “Orient”: The Near East, the Middle East, and the Far East. With Russia on the North, the Indian Sub-Continent and South-East Asia to the South, this leaves a clear definition of the Far East. The Near East, sometimes called the Levant, is really the areas of Asia closest to Europe and used to designate also most of the Ottoman Empire. But over time the term Near East has gradually been replaced by the notion of “Middle East”.

Enough about geography … let’s talk business and economics …   

In the business world, we use the term MENA, which is Middle East and North Africa. Although geographically this usually includes Iran, Israel and sometimes Pakistan, I want to talk in this blog and the following series about Arabia, which is the Arabic speaking world, often referred to as Middle East.

Arabia stretches from Morrocco on the West to Iraq on the East, and from Syria to the North to Yemen and Sudan on the South. I on purpose started this discussion with the geographical overview and linguistic history and then decided to use a new term, Arabia, to designate something CNN refers to as the Middle East, because I am keen on demonstrating the diversity of this region, which can be very surprising at times.


Arabia comprises countries which are at a wide range of extremes from every perspective you could think of:

            • Wealth: Some of the richest countries in the world on a GDP/Capita basis are part of Arabia (Qatar: USD 99,731; UAE: USD 64,840 ). On the other hand, some great poverty can be found in places such as Egypt and Yemen with GDP/Capita of USD 3,112 and USD 1,377, respectively.
  • Population: The overall population of Arabia is 342.9 million (2012) , but this is very unequally spread, with Egypt being the largest at 82.5 million, followed by Algeria with 36.5 million. On the other hand, some very small countries by population such as UAE (5.5 million), Qatar (1.8 million) and Kuwait (3.8 million) have a very important economic and political role in the region thanks to their great hydrocarbon reserves.
  • Geography: Not all Arabia is deserts and sand dunes: From the snow capped mountains of Lebanon, to the fertile valleys of the Nile and Euphrates, to the rocky plateaux of Morocco, the region also offers a great variety of landscapes.
  • The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) itself has great internal variety, with Saudi Arabia being much larger than all the other 6 countries combined (population 29.0 million out of 44.4 million, surface 2.1 million Km2 out of 2.6 million Km2). And also a significant cultural variety and population mix. With UAE and Qatar having a majority of expatriate population relative to the local citizens, these are some of the most open and welcoming countries in the world to expatriates.
  • Religion is not a unifying factor for the region either, with large Christian minorities in many countries including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. The dominant religion is Islam, which itself has two major denominations: Sunni and Shia.
  • If anything the Arabic language is the one common trait for the region, but even the language exhibits a rich variety between the Western regions (Maghred), Egypt and the Near East / GCC. If you ever attempted to learn Arabic, you would also know that there are subtle but tricky differences between the day-to-day spoken language in every country, the TV and media language and finally the official written language.

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Ziad Awad is the Founder and CEO of Awad Advisory, an independent corporate advisory firm based in Dubai, UAE, specializing in Mergers and Acquisitions, Business Valuations, MENA Market Entry and Capital Markets Advisory. He is a seasoned investment banker, with 20 years of experience working for Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Bank of America. Connect with him at or .


  Note: The views, services and experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor.

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International Students in China


International Students in China

According to 2011 statistics, the greatest number of international students studying in China came from South Korea with a total of 62,442 students. Next on the list was the United States with 23,292 and then Japan with 17,961 students.


While there has been a noticeable increase of students from the United States and Thailand over the past 5 years; South Korean students has held relatively flat; and the number of students from Japan has switched places with the United States — from 2nd to 3rd — after 2007.


As shown in the chart below, the number of students coming from Europe to China was also significant with a total of 47,271 students.


Recently, there has been a positive campaign to send a target of more than 100,000 students to China from the United States. Roughly 1/3 of all Chinese students study English whereas an estimated 60,000 students in the United States are learning (Mandarin) Chinese.

♦ Food for Thought ♦

Although 2014/2013 statistics about South Korean students have not been officially released yet, it is very likely (highly probable) that the United States will now be the country that’s sending the most number of students to China – more than any other country.

♦ Related Outside Stories and External Links via the World Wide Web ♦

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4 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy


4 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy

140808tnagtz03Here are four things that you can let go of that will make you a happier, more peaceful person by the time you hit the sack tonight:


If you’re a human being, chances are you care about what other people think of you. After all – we are naturally social creatures! But if you find yourself spending too much of your time, money or energy trying to impress other people and get their approval, you’re not being true to YOU.

There’s no need to try and be something you’re not, because who you are right now is FABULOUS! Focus instead on living the most authentic version of yourself. When you fully embrace who you are and share it with others, you’ll find that people will appreciate how REAL you are and will flock to you effortlessly.


Sometimes when we feel we’ve been mistreated or misunderstood by someone, we can get caught up into wanting that person to admit they’ve wronged us. And we want an apology! Or at least acknowledgement that we are right and they’re wrong.

The problem is that not all human beings see things from the same perspective. In your world, you’re right… but in their world, so are they. There are definitely times where an apology is necessary. But most other times, rather than allowing feelings of negativity to take root inside you and start spilling over into other areas of your life, it may be best to ask yourself this:

“Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be happy?”

Often it’s just our ego that keeps us holding on to past resentments and upsets. Instead, consider letting go of the desire to be right and you’ll find you’ll instantly restore happiness and contentment in your life.


I’ve heard it said that gossip is just a cheap way to make yourself feel good, and I have to agree. We all know that gossiping about other people is… well, not so good. But when the people around you are doing it, it can be easy to slip into doing it, too! Consider though that the quality of your life depends on the quality of the conversations you have.

If you want to live a more fulfilling life, start by embracing the power of your word. Your voice is powerful! And what you have to say makes a difference. Be committed to having more positive conversations about things that matter… not people… and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll brighten your outlook on life.


It’s easy to dwell on the past, especially when the future is so unknown! Looking to the past can feel safe… we know what has happened and we know what we could do to change things… if only we had the chance. The truth is, though, that you never will have the chance to change the past. Not unless scientists finally invent a time machine.

Your past has served its purpose – it’s brought you to the place you are today and made you the person you are now. And who you are right now is absolutely perfect. Be grateful for your experiences, but know that NOW is all you have. So do your best to enjoy each moment. Give yourself the gift of being present!

To your everlasting happiness . . .

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Tana is an internationally-recognized reality star, American business woman, professional speaker, author, radio talk show host, and business coach.  She attracted national attention for her appearance on NBC’s “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump. Tana was also known as a finalist in another hit reality show “Fear Factor”, as well as the spokesperson for numerous products.

Today Tana is seizing opportunities and sharing her tips on how to succeed in business and in life as an accomplished professional speaker who educates, motivates, and inspires people to take immediate action through her highly energetic presentations. She gets employees fired up to go back to work and dig deeper for greater results professional and personal results. To learn more, visit her website at Hey Tana ( Connect with her at


 Note: The views, services and experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor.


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Every American Should Work/Live Abroad


Every American Should Work/Live Abroad

140801everyam03In just a few days, I’ll have been living and working in the Netherlands for 8 months, with the hope of continuing for at least another few years. This is a pretty big step for someone who never did a semester abroad, and only took a handful of trips overseas. Especially considering I moved to a country where English is not the native language, and I don’t speak a word of Dutch.

Despite what would seem like a massive list of reasons NOT to jump at the opportunity to pack up my life and move thousands of miles away from friends and family, I took the plunge and did it anyway. It was scary. It was stressful. It regularly made me ask myself “What the heck was I thinking?!”

But you know what? It was absolutely worth it and now it’s an experience I’d recommend to anyone who has the opportunity, regardless of difficulties or fears. It’s an experience that can broaden your horizons in so many ways and can make you a better employee/boss through the rest of your career.

  • Learn to Communicate Clearly

As an American, I didn’t realize how much I relied on idioms, cultural references and analogies to express myself and communicate my ideas. When suddenly faced with an office full of coworkers that didn’t speak English natively (though all spoke it well), I had to figure out how to change my communication style. Already my English has started to transform from “American” to a more International form of English, one that is stripped down to its most basic. The benefit of this is a kind of clarity to what is said. I’m a much better communicator now than I was a year ago.

  • Deal With Cultural Differences

As every industry becomes more global with outsourcing, international business deals, partnerships etc. the ability to identify and deal appropriately with cultural differences is more important than ever. In my job at Spil Games, I worked in an office with 30+ different nationalities represented, with my team alone having folks from 8 different countries. Immediately I had to learn how to navigate meetings and conversations with people from all over the world, with each requiring a slightly different approach.

A great example is Dutch bluntness. The Dutch are, by American standards, blunt to the point of being extremely rude. They value direct honesty in almost all cases. If they think your haircut is ugly, they’ll just come out and say it. They aren’t trying to insult you, they’re merely stating what they see as fact, and would appreciate the same direct honesty in return. I had to quickly learn how to receive Dutch feedback without getting angry/insulted, and I also had to learn to give more direct feedback in return. A definite change from the American approach of trying to soften everything so as to not to appear mean or rude.

  • Experience the World From a Different Viewpoint

I’m probably going to piss someone off by saying this, but I don’t necessarily think the American Way is always the Best Way in every aspect of life. This doesn’t mean I think the US does everything wrong, I just don’t blindly accept that it’s the end-all-be-all of How to Do Things Right.

Living overseas, if you approach it with an open mind, can give you a new view on the World, a different one from what you grew up with at home in a way you just can’t get moving around the US (though you could argue that living in California vs Texas is like living in two separate countries). Living in a place where things are done differently gives you a chance to view the world from a new perspective. It can challenge your prejudices and open you to totally new ideas and experiences.

Here are a few ideas I held personally before moving to the Netherlands that have been challenged and while these are small things in the grand scheme, they’re representative of the kind of new viewpoints you might encounter living abroad. Beyond the specific new ideas you discover, it opens up your mind more to the idea that maybe there are other ways to approach a particular problem or situation, and that willingness to explore is a huge advantage in any job.

I’d never want to give up owning a car  As an experiment, we decided to not buy a car immediately upon moving, giving walking, biking and the national train system a try to see if that would meet our transit needs. Turns out it does! I haven’t driven a car since November 2nd, 2013 and it’s only been an annoyance (and not even a major one) once or twice.

Mandated, government regulated healthcare is a nightmare that doesn’t work This is a huge political topic back home that has people fuming with rage, and having worked for an insurance company once I had severe doubts that a health insurance system where you’re mandated by the govt to have coverage wouldn’t be a bureaucratic nightmare that would cost a fortune. Turns out, the Dutch have found a really nice middle-ground approach to the problem I think the US could learn a lot from.

Things Should be Open 24/7  Here in Hilversum, shops close up around 5pm on Saturday, and generally don’t re-open until 1pm on Monday. Grocery stores etc mostly close up by 9pm. Regular shops are shuttered by 6pm. This is such a shock to the system for someone who’s used to pretty much everything being open 24/7 (or close to it). The first few weeks were maddening! I couldn’t just get up and go out to grab something at any time I wanted! I had to wait!

But I found once I got out of the habit of having access to stores at any time of the day or night, I found myself buying less junk. Also, I noticed the fact that everything’s not constantly open, has a slowing effect on life that manifests itself countless ways that results in what I’d consider a far more relaxed lifestyle. A lifestyle I kind of like!

  • Learn to Work With Non-US Companies & Workers

Everyone who’s ever worked with an overseas outsourced company, contractor or partner knows the struggles of trying to fit them into the way business is done in the US. In addition to learning how to better communicate, and appreciate cultural differences, there is a lot to be gained in understanding how different people from around the world work. Knowing more about these differences means you can better plan for them and how they may impact a project.

It’s often mocked in the US, how much vacation time European workers get, or how they stick so hard-and-fast to a 40 hour work week (or sometimes less). Some of it’s jealousy, some of it’s smug satisfaction (Hah! They don’t work nearly as hard as I do!), but it always results in resentment, frustration and extra work when it impacts a project.

If you know about these sorts of differences going into a relationship or project, you can save yourself a lot of pain by building it into your plans and contracts. Sadly, in my experience most US workers enter into relationships with companies and workers around the world expecting them to conform to the American way of working, and it almost always ends badly.

In many ways, living and working overseas teaches you a lot of the soft skills and tools an MBA program promises you. It equips you better to adapt to difficult situations, improve your communication, and learn to view problems from multiple perspectives. While I’ve been out here less than a year so far, I honestly feel that I’ve grown more professionally in these 8 months than I did in the preceding 5 years.

And whenever I do move back to the US, I’ll be a much stronger employee and a better manager for the experience.

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Michael Crassweller is a veteran of the video games industry with 8 years’ experience managing external relationships with global publishing and development partners, internal operational teams, and providing subject matter expertise & operational support across groups in both small and large corporations. Today he’s the Head of Platform Services at BoosterMedia in the Netherlands where he oversees Game QA, Localization, Content Licensing and more. Connect with him at


Note: The views, services and experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor.


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