Archive for the ‘Korea’ Category

This post is part of a series about Korea and the recent transition in Korea to discovering new meaning in money through a rapidly growing capitalist culture. I was inspired to write about Korea after visiting Seoul this summer with my sister. Korea is kimchi-tastic.

My sister, Kara, wrote the following in the last post of my blog series about Korea.

Recently I had the experience of going to South Korea with my sister. Being adopted, this trip offered up an opportunity that no amount of reading prepared me for. And believe me, I have done plenty of reading about Korea.

What struck me most was the sheer amount of consumerism. There were areas where you could find everything and also nothing that you wanted. Blocks and blocks of shoes were shoved in ever nook and cranny of a dark alley. It was extremely hard to process as I walked past mountains of books and rows of ribbon. Where did all of this stuff come from? Where does it end?

Not only were there numerous shopping districts, there were underground districts (this is something that I have definitely never seen before). I found them to be extremely depressing as it was an underground mall or a subway stop filled with shops instead of a rail system. Despite the overload of product around me, an even more overwhelming experience was the number of people standing out of the shops yelling in a microphones, coaxing people to come and buy the best new thing.

It’s no surprise really that with such a great amount of competition, you rely on tactics that are more aggressive. What is going to set you apart from the other 15 nail salons that your store shares a block with? How will people know that your skin care products are more effective than the other 3 stores which all look the same? After exploring them all, it really seems that they all sell the same thing and around the same price.

But what I had the hardest time grasping was the lack of individuality that I experienced while I was there. Clothing stores all sold the same clothes. Everyone wore the same kind of shoes. Coming from a country that has such a diverse nature which originates at our very core as Americans, it was hard for me to come to terms with the idea that no matter which shirt, shoe, or scarf I bought, I was going to see a handful of people wearing the same thing the very next day.

The upside? Coming back to the US, I didn’t have to worry about wearing something that everyone else wears. There is nothing better than the opportunity to say, “Oh this? I got it in Korea.”


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Korea is Gangnam Style

This post is part of a series about Korea and the recent transition in Korea to discovering new meaning in money through a rapidly growing capitalist culture. I was inspired to write about Korea after visiting Seoul this summer with my sister. Korea is kimchi-tastic.

It must be good timing on my part to visit Seoul this August with my sister. Apparantly the Korean Wave has hit America and I’m on its tail. If you haven’t already seen its biggest icon, you’ll want to see the following video from South Korean rapper PSY’s “Gangnam Style.” It’s reached 220 million YouTube views and counting.

What’s behind the face of Korean pop culture is also a deeper probing into Korea’s economy and society and their identity in a global culture.

Gangnam is the most affluent neighborhood in Seoul. It gained quick economic status during the 2000’s when the price of high rises in Seoul skyrocketed and those who owned this piece of Seoul rang in money. It’s a trendy place now, with night clubs and affluence pervading Seoul’s trending cafe culture.

I heard while I was in Korea that this has been followed by an equally generous amount of plastic surgery- an embodiment beyond PSY of changes in Korea’s culture.

Plastic surgery accompanies wealth and privilege, and so I wasn’t completely surprised to learn about its growth.  One of the most popular surgeries is to make Korean’s eyes appear larger and rounder. The other is double-jaw surgery where the roundness of someone’s jaw is broken to appear smaller and more square. The Confucian emphasis on the family and the body, the vessel that connects us to our biology, contrasts with the wave of plastic surgery that makes what your parents gave you transformable.

While the face of Korea might by PSY for now, the embodiment of culture takes on a different shape when emphasis is on the body itself. As PSY said in an interview on the Today show, “I’m not handsome, I’m not tall, I’m not muscular, I’m not skinny. But I’m sitting here.” PSY puts Korea on the global cultural economy map through “soul” he says, even if Korea isn’t the tallest, the most muscular, and the skinniest culture in the world.

From Gangnam style:

I’m a guy

A guy who is as warm as you during the day
A guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down
A guy whose heart bursts when night comes
That kind of guy

This post is part of a blog series about Korea and its recent, rapid shift to a capitalist culture.

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This post is part of a series about Korea and the recent transition in Korea to discovering new meaning in money through a rapidly growing capitalist culture. I was inspired to write about Korea after visiting Seoul this summer with my sister. Korea is kimchi-tastic.

My recent trip to Seoul, Korea was exactly what I needed. I got to step back from my everyday life and take apart perceptions that I have about life and how the world works. This can be useful when you forget that one way of seeing the world isn’t always the way that the world works.

The streets are where I saw Korea’s recent and rapid transformation into a capitalist economy. My sister and I walked down Seoul’s streets every night when we were there. I saw couples holding hands, strolling down streets lined with Western coffee shops, such as Starbucks and The Coffee Bean. These cafes are so popular now that it was hard to find a seat, especially at night, which is where Koreans throw out my Western assumption that coffee is a part of a culture’s morning routines.

It was only in 1987 that South Korea transitioned from out of military dictatorship to a more free capitalist country. With this change came the blending of older Confucian values that emphasizes harmony, family, and a certain social order to things with the choices, wealth, and excess that accompany a capitalist culture.

There has been a lot of attention lately on Korea and its contributions to the tech industry as a part of Korea’s introduction to the world’s global stage and economy. The recent lawsuit by Apple against Samsung, which is headquartered in Seoul, for patent infringements has given Korea this spotlight.

Being at the center of tech is a good thing, but what about Korea’s intellectual movement? I wanted to learn more about it, so while we sat at a bar near one of Seoul’s universities with a friend who is teaching English, I asked about Korea’s intellectual movements. Who is asking the essential questions about Korea’s transformation into a capitalist economy that will help drive Korean identity? What are Korea’s cultural exports that contribute to this conversation about Korea’s new role?

He said that Korean intellectualism wasn’t quite on the center stage of Korea today. While Korea knows that capitalism won’t tear it away from its rich Confucian history and love of kimchi, Korea is still trying to figure out its identity. I saw this reflected in an article in Korea IT Times. Professor Emanuel Pastreich, professor of Humanitas College at Kyung Hee University in Seoul and director of the Asia Institute, says, “The truth is that most intellectuals in the United States, Europe or even Japan cannot name any Korean writers, have not read the essays of Korea’s major intellectuals, and have little sense of the depth of Korea’s history.” Professor Pastreich goes on to say, “The highest priority is for us to introduce Korea’s cultural past. There is an incredible wealth of writings by Koreans on Buddhism, Confucianism, self, and society produced over the last two millennia that has barely been touched.”

While Seoul might not have translated all of its intellectual history into terms that we English speakers can understand, Korea sits at the beginning of a long learning process about who it is as a country based on the economic reform that has taken on Korea so rapidly. Shifting through the meaning of culture and its connection to its economy is like my travels to Seoul. But if the rest of the world is interested in Samsung and the girls in the coffee shops are most interested in their mocha lattes, I think I’m more interested in Korea’s intellectual economy and what’s to come.

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