food / travel

Forget The Love Boat, Here Comes The Nude Cruise

Leave your worries --and your clothes-- behind!
Leave your worries --and your clothes-- behind!

Cruise lovers come in all shapes, sizes and inclinations. Some climb aboard for the pleasure of getting decked out in their sharpest evening wear. Others like to keep it as casual as they can.

Dress codes, indeed, vary from ship to ship. UK-owned Cunard Cruises may still require tuxedos and evening gowns on its ocean liners, but most four and five-star ships now accept jackets and trousers for men, while women no longer have to wear long dresses at the gala dinners.

On some lower-priced cruise ships, though, vacationers will show up for dinner in shorts and tennis socks.

And then...if that dress code is not casual enough, you can book a cruise through Texas-based Bare Necessities. On their ships, you don’t have to bother with outfits at all. Come as you are – in your birthday suit.

The company hopes to fill the 14-deck, 3,000-passenger Carnival Freedom – renamed "The Big Nude Boat" – for the world’s biggest nudist cruise in February 2013: eight days to and from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with stopovers in Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama.

The offer is part of a new strategy by cruise lines worldwide to come up with themed events for special-interest clients of all age groups. Popular clichés about cruises as floating retirement homes or only-for-the-rich are officially a thing of the past.

Head-bangers and foodies can cruise too

What organizers are dubbing “the world’s biggest heavy metal cruise -- 70000 TONS OF METAL” is another case in point: the Majesty of the Seas will be turned into the "Barge to Hell" for a five-day cruise out of Miami to the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2013.

Another tactic is to draw clients with star chefs, cooking courses and ever more sophisticated specialty restaurants. Together with the editors of Bon Appétit magazine, Oceania Cruises have put together a Bon Appétit Wine & Food Festival for its two newest liners, Riviera and Marina, on 10-day cruises from Athens to Rome and Athens to Istanbul respectively.

The Swiss cruise line MSC Kreuzfahrten has found another niche. It provides halal and kosher meals. Another cruise line, Holland America, prides itself on having “the largest vegetarian selection at sea.”

And to counter claims that the giant ships are environmental nightmares, some companies are turning sustainability into a sales pitch. Swiss Aida is positioning its Aidamaras one of the world’s most environmentally friendly ships. According to the company, its heat recovery system uses waste heat to run the air-conditioning system and provide hot water, saving a metric ton of fuel every day.

*This is a digest item. Original article by Hans Schloemer

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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