Monday, April 02, 2007


I used to subscribe to the second worst cable company in the known universe. Shortly before I left the UK, they merged with the worst one, possibly creating sufficient critical mass to collapse into a black hole of their own collective incompetence. In the months I've been in Korea, our local cable service, which has the virtue of being very cheap, has existed transparently in the background which is how it should be. Until today.

On the second of April - ruling out the possibility of an April Fools joke - they moved all the channels around without warning and for no apparent reason - a trick they may have learned from my old company. And the motivation may well be the same - an attempt to disguise the fact that some of the channels have dropped or replaced by new ones.

Most of the channels were Korean and therefore of limited use to me, and no use to Koreans trying to practice advanced English listening, but I took what I could get - most of the time the TV was stuck on CNN. We've lost CNN in the reshuffle and it's been replaced by... MTV. Or to put it another way, we've moved from a channel with an I.Q. of around 110 to one with a score of about 80. And amongst the other replacements in the small English language niche, we now have Real TV, which is a reality TV station, and pretty much what you'd expect content-wise. I can only hope that Koreans don't start trying to pick up their English from either of the latter two channels, because it's not recognisably English anyway - unless the future of English is to just grunt at one-another. A distinct possibility, I admit.

Curiously, we also appear to have lost Arirang, the Korea-to-foreigners channel, whose incessantly positive view of Korea rapidly grated but which nevertheless offered some Korean language learning programmes as well as some fascinating insights into Korean culture - even if they did have a rather high expectation that Korean culture would one day sweep around the world and have us all learning the language.

And the explanation from the cable company? They created an 'economy package' above the 'basic package', and moved five channels - including CNN there. If we want to upgrade the monthly subscription cost will double to 11,000 won and we'll need to install a set-top box for an additional 30,000 won. Since the only channel of interest to us in the 'economy package' is CNN (two of the other three being sports channels and the other cartoons), it's not really worth our bothering with, especially as if we did it would feel like we were giving in to the cable company's business practices.

Something which is probably unconnected to the change, but which I also noticed while skipping through the channels this morning, was that one of the channels which survived was showing 19-rated movies with liberal helpings of female nudity at 11.30am. I've been here long enough to be used to daytime channel-surfing revealing glimpses of bloody violence and dismemberments, but this is a first.

I'm two weeks away from reaching the half-year mark since my arrival, and I never got homesick, but I did like to have a more tangible link to what was going on back in the West than the Internet could provide in short articles and snippets of video, so the loss of CNN leaves me feeling a little more isolated in Korea today.

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