In The News

The Latest: Closer To Kabul, Google Remote Workers, Biting Someone Else’s Gold

Welcome to Thursday, where the Taliban have taken control of Ghazni, a strategically important city, Google tightens its remote work policy and a Japanese mayor gets the medal for post-Olympic bad taste. We also feature an Initium reportage on the lives and competing identities of Chinese adoptees in the United States.

The Latest: Closer To Kabul, Google Remote Workers, Biting Someone Else’s Gold

An anti-government protester throws fuel on a burning police car in Bangkok, Thailand. Despite Covid restrictions, protesters took to the streets to call for the Prime Minister's ouster and decry the government's response to the pandemic.


• Kabul within site for Taliban: The Taliban have taken control of Ghazni, a strategically important city that brings them closer to the capital Kabul following the withdrawal of American and other foreign troops. The Afghan army chief, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, has been removed just two months after his appointment. In the past month alone, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed as the Taliban have taken 10 of the country's 34 provincial capitals.

• COVID-19 down under: As the delta variant spreads in Australia, Sydney has entered another lockdown, even while neighboring New Zealand is carefully making plans to open up its borders for the fully vaccinated early next year. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are expected to announce the authorization of booster shots for the immunocompromised.

• Google pay cuts if working fully remote: Employees of Google are facing a pay cut if they decide to switch to working from home permanently. The decision is part of a pay calculator which determines salary based on where employees live; the less expensive your area is, the lower the salary.

• Fires rage around Mediterranean: Fires continue to burn in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Algeria and Tunisia. Temperatures hit a high of 120°F in Tunis and 104°F in southern Italy, where thousands of acres of land have been scorched. In Greece, more than 580 fires are currently prompting evacuations throughout the country; in neighboring Turkey, 300 blazes have ravaged in the past two weeks.

• Election in Zambia: Incumbent Edgar Lungu and businessman Hakainde Hichilema face off for the third time today in Zambia's presidential with 16 candidates. The impacts of the pandemic, especially on the East African country's economic outlook, have weighed on the election, which is expected to result in a runoff.

• Polish lower house passes media reform bill: Polish lawmakers advance a bill that prevents non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies. According to the opposition, the legislation, which earlier led to the collapse of the right-wing ruling coalition, aims to silence a U.S.-owned news channel critical of the government.

• Medal-biting Japanese mayor begs for forgiveness: Takashi Kawamura, Mayor of Nagoya, bit the gold medal of Japanese softball player Miu Goto. The celebratory gesture usually reserved for the winners themselves, received a lot of backlash on social media, especially in light of COVID hygiene practices. The Mayor apologized for the biting shenanigans and offered to have the medal replaced.

"Environmental Eviction" headlines the Colombian daily, El Espectador, as it reports on the government's recent decision to modify legislation that will allow police to evict people from 'environmentally important' areas. Legislators argue the amendment is intended to curb cartel activity, while others fear it could be used against thousands of others living in protected zones.

For Chinese adoptees in the U.S., identity comes in layers

For Chinese adoptees, like Mary Ruth Tomko (Mei), discovering their identity can be especially challenging, particularly for those who are raised in predominantly white areas. Chinese-language online media, The Initium, explores the stories of Mei and other Chinese adoptees as they search to understand their triple-layered identity: interracial adoptee, Chinese American and Asian American."

The United States has more adopted Chinese children than any other country in the world — more than 170,000 since 1992. Most of these children grow up in white communities and are raised by white families. As such, many develop a complicated understanding of race and often experience identity crises because they do not see themselves or their experiences reflected in the people around them.

For Mei, who was raised in a predominantly white part of Pennsylvania, finding community with other Asian Americans and Chinese-adoptees at university helped her to learn more about her "triple-layered" identity. Others have sought this community out in other ways - one adoptee even created an internet software to connect families and adoptees.

C.N. Le, a researcher on Asian Americans at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, commented on how interracial adoptees tend to have a flight or fight response when confronted with racial discrimination. But in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements, he hopes that Chinese-born adoptees will use their experiences to unite with other groups who experience racism in the United States. Mei is doing just that, by engaging with both her university and Pennsylvania community.

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Yet another drama for Copenhagen's Little Mermaid sculpture

Since its unveiling in 1913, the Little Mermaid sculpture has become one of Copenhagen's main tourist attractions. But Edvard Eriksen's five-foot unassumingly perched homage to Christian Andersen's fairy tale has also had its fair share of drama.

The first came in 1964, when the bronze sculpture became the victim of an abandoned lover's rage and was beheaded with a hacksaw. Then, in 1998, it happened again; this time by an extremist feminist group. The list of survival events also includes a severed and stolen (but then returned) arm, being launched off her rock and into the water (explosives), stabbed in the neck and in 2015 — perhaps most brutal of all — getting banned from Facebook for breaching nudity guidelines.

Now, according to the Eriksen hiers, Den Lille Havfrue is now under fresh attack. In a letter to Mikael Klitgaard, mayor of the northern municipality of Brønderslev, the heirs claim that a more recent sculpture, put in place four years ago in Asaa Havn, bears too much resemblance to the original, and demanded that the copy be demolished.

It's not the first time the heirs have taken legal action to protect their ancestors' heritage. Several publications have been charged with copyright infringement after publishing pictures of the mermaid, there among daily Berlingske Tidende that was fined 285.000 Danish kroner ($45,000) last year for a caricature depiction of the Eriksen work.

While Brønderslev Mayor Mikael Klitgaard questions the heirs' motives in claiming patent right "for a whole animal species," the Little Mermaid's century-long fight for survival has no doubt earned her a special place in Danish society. Many of the less violent attacks seem to be an outlet for locals' expression, including spray paint and political messaging: For a while she wore a burqa — apparently a protest against Turkey joining the EU — and last year she had both "Free Hong Kong" and "Racist Fish" scrawled across her base.

Meanwhile, the defendant in the plagiarism case, Palle Mørk, dismisses the claim that his work isn't original. Responding to the charge that his creation is perched in the same position, Mørk said to Danish TV2: "Well, how the hell else should a mermaid sit on a rock? She doesn't have legs."


Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's wedding, a slice of their wedding cake has sold for £1,850 (2,567.71 USD) at auction. Auctioneers expected the tasty treat to go for at least £500, so they were very pleasantly surprised when it caught such a high price.

I worry my daughters will never know peace.

— Rahima, a 60-year-old Afghani woman, discussed her fears of the Taliban as the Islamist group continues to gain ground in Afghanistan. Rahima, who uses her home in west Kabul to provide shelter for women fleeing violence, told The Guardian that her house has been full of displaced women and girls for the last two weeks.

Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Genevieve Mansfield

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Founded as a local Manchester newspaper in 1821, The Guardian has gone on to become one of the most influential dailies in Britain. The left-leaning newspaper is most recently known for its coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks.
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The oldest newspaper in Colombia, El Espectador was founded in 1887. The national daily newspaper has historically taken a firm stance against drug trafficking and in defense of freedom of the press. In 1986, the director of El Espectador was assassinated by gunmen hired by Pablo Escobar. The majority share-holder of the paper is Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a Colombian businessman named by Forbes magazine as one of the wealthiest men in the world in 2011.
The Initium is a Hong Kong-based, Chinese-language digital media outlet that covers news, opinion, and lifestyle content directed to Chinese readers worldwide. It was founded in 2015.
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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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