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Throwing punches in Parliament

The National Assembly gets into a rumble over media reform. Former president Kim Dae-jung goes to the hospital. Hyundai earns a record profit. American oranges release a pestilence. Plus, burgers that make life worthwhile.

Top news: A brawl erupted in the National Assembly when lawmakers from the conservative ruling Grand National Party (GNP) passed a contentious series of media reform bills, which will ease restrictions on ownership of broadcasters, defying strong opposition from other parties. The controversial bills, which defied strong opposition from other parties, allow major businesses and newspapers to hold stakes in television stations, an act that opposition parties believe will give conservatives a more favorable voice in the media.


Parliamentary sessions in recent months have been unable to convene due to sit-outs and protests by opposition parties against the media reform measures. 


Former president Kim Dae-jung, was hospitalized due to pneumonia and put under intensive care. Kim has been put on and off a respirator during his treatment but his condition is not critical. The former president, who won the Nobel prize for holding the first inter-Korean summit, was a leading fighter for democracy under the country’s military dictatorship and survived a death sentence and a number of assassination attempts. Kim served as president from 1998 to 2003.


The Agriculture ministry is currently in talks with farmers and industry experts on whether to speed up the schedule for introducing flat tariffs for rice imports. They were originally due in 2014 and were based on the country’s efforts to protect its rice market. South Korea delayed the introduction of the flat tariff system in exchange for expanding quotas on rice imports each year; this was to reduce the impact on the Korean rice industry during talks in the 90s and early 2000s.


However, experts now believe the damage would be less significant due to the closing gap between Korean rice prices, which used to be much more expensive, and imported rice prices. If introduced, flat tariffs would give rice exporters such as the U.S. or China full access to the Korean market.


Money: Hyundai Motors posted a record profit during its second quarter this year by showing a 48 percent growth compared to a year ago, reaping in a $650 million net income. The carmaker outperformed other U.S. or Japanese companies that are struggling with production in the midst of economic hardship. Hyundai has expanded its market rapidly, especially in the U.S., catering to the needs of smaller and cheaper cars. Hyundai profited much from the weaker won in overseas sales, while benefiting from government incentives such as tax cuts in the domestic market.


South Korea’s LG Chemical and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) agreed to a joint partnership in building a $370 million petrochemical plant in China. The two companies are planning to complete the project by 2011 and will hold a 50 percent stake each in the facility in China’s Guangdong province.


Officials found that half of South Korea’s imported fruits contained quarantined pests that could damage the livelihood of native plants. Most of the fruit passed customs after being quarantined but some 1,114 tons had to be dumped. The majority of fruit were oranges from the U.S., but ginger from the U.S. and carrots from Japan also contained pests.


Elsewhere: Handmade fresh burgers have been around for a while in Korea, but if you want to try a juicy burger that has a unique Korean flavor to it, Gamssarong is the place to visit. Nestled in a small alley in the Hongdae district, Gamssarong, or Persimmon Salon, offers hamburgers with a special creamy sauce — seemingly a variation of the thousand island dressing — that brings together the flavor of a fresh patty, mustard leaf, fried egg, and other ingredients minus a soggy bun.


The sauce, which appears to have come from the Korean tradition of mixing of ketchup with mayonnaise in homemade hamburgers, works surprisingly well with other fresh ingredients. A variety of burgers including super-size burgers and spicy burgers are available that will bring tears even to some Korean customers. Expect to stand in line on the weekends and be aware that the burger place will close early if it runs out of ingredients during the day.