Times have changed, and so has the title. But, it is still the same place where reflections of my colorful thoughts are scribbled. They are sometimes crazy and sometimes deep, but most often they do make sense when I pause and take a moment to write.
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Day 262: Anyeong Haseyo
Image Courtesy: Google Images
I am almost 9K miles away from my country. It is
very long way from home and sometimes it feels like I am at the other end of
the spectrum. One beautiful thing about this relocation is that I have met
people from diverse culture in this far away land. How much ever my country is
diverse my exposure was limited to the people from India itself. Here, going to
grad school was one of the best decisions I took (really?). I have met people
from different walks of life, culture, language, and country. There are a few
who are here just like me to study and start a new life. A few others who are
from this very own country carry different perspectives. Well, isn't that what
travel is supposed to teach you? My previous exposure was just to
Italians as my company deployed me on a trip to that beautiful country. However, this current stay in this part of
the world has taught me a lot about South Korean culture, which I did not
really know much earlier. This post is about that. The title of this post is 'hello' or 'how are you' in Korean language.
Most immigrant students in the US are from China
and South Korea followed by India. Thus, in my university too I have met a
handful of South Korean students. My interactions with them about their culture
has taught me more about their culture than I ever knew. While reading the
newspapers or general news online, we always hear more about China and Japan
and not much about South Korea. If we ever speak more of Koreans then it is
about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.South Korea is actually very interesting in a lot of aspects.
Image Courtesy: Google Images
First of all, they are an extremely strong economy and
rank 11th in this world. They are geographically blessed and
picturesque and technologically advanced. The pictures I have seen of South
Korea validate their pretty landscape and beautiful mountains. Their success
period after the 60’s has been a miracle in every sense and the South Koreans
refer to it as Miracle of Han.
However, what makes them successful is their
hardworking nature. They really work hard. They are extremely motivated,
competitive, and focused on their goal. I have seen many South Koreans and
somehow it is hard to find one who is otherwise.This is probably due to their rigorous
education system. They toil very hard and are pressured by the society and the
school to do well. In fact, my friends (the ones I know) have had goals of
coming to the US for doing their masters (at least that) even during their high
There is a video that has been making rounds on social media, which
shows the Japanese school lunch system (given below). This is not anything that
is specific to only Japan as even South Korean schools follow the same. In fact
my friends who probably did their elementary school 20+ years ago recall using
the same system. They have grown their own vegetables and used that yield for
their lunch, carried chopsticks, tooth brush (in fact they do that even now
every day – thrice!), towel, and of course served food for their classmates and
most importantly cleaned their classrooms and corridor.
I think this focus and discipline probably helped
them to grow up the ladder and not remain what they were 50 years ago. They
were poorer than even Mozambique before 60’s. Now, they are extremely rich.The Wi-Fi system is exceptionally good and the
country is connected very well. I love South Korean products from notebooks, to
pens, markers, bags and so on. The quality is really exceptional. I always keep
telling my friend that I would like to visit their place to only shop. Yes,
hopefully one day!
The Korean culture is extremely socialistic and
they give a lot of importance to the community and their family. The Hofstede's cultural index shows that on the scale of individuality they are far less individualistic than India. Well, America is the most individualistic country but India is also much more individualistic than the other Asian countries. In fact, even
when they are this far, they prefer to socialize more with their own group than
with others. When I went for a conference my friend disappeared in the evening as she had to attend the Korean group conference which is a group of Korean scientists. Wow! The conference I went to itself was a small one and imagine how the Koreans have formed a mini-Korean version of the same.
They respect their elders and bow down every time they see another
Korean. It doesn’t have to be even a friend, but when they bump into a fellow
Korean whom they do not know, they still bow and acknowledge their presence.
This pressure driven is seen even in their drinking habits. Culturally they are
heavy drinkers of alcohol. In fact they start drinking at a very early age- the legal age for drinking (19-21). One who doesn’t drink doesn’t fit the crowd and hence feels
left out. This drives them to drink socially even if they are not keen on it.
They also pay a lot of attention to their beauty and looks. They are conscious
about being called ‘fat’. Trust me, they are not fat and their explanation of
fat is actually the healthy in other countries. This explains the booming
cosmetic industry there. The plastic cosmetic surgery industry is extremely
lucrative and most of the South Koreans always focus on looking ‘pretty’ and
the ‘ideal body image’. While having lunch with my friend a couple of times, I
have always observed her eat only part of her plate. She would pack the rest or
leave it. When I quizzed her about it, she would say that in their culture a
woman doesn’t eat a full plate while outside, as that is an indication of a greedy
and fat woman. Wow! In fact there is
evidence on how high school graduation gifts for Korean women would be a nose
job or eyelid procedure (blepharoplasty). By the way, my friend isn't like that and actually is an outlier in that sense of beauty image pressure. She is lovely :)
Their language, Korean is also similar to the
Dravidian language by at least a few hundred words. They call amma for mom and appa for dad. They also follow similar cultural traditions of
respect to the in-laws (which is changing with time) and family. Interestingly,
in the recent times, if their own parents help them raise their children, they
will pay them.
Food is also interesting as they consume a lot of
rice. They eat pretty much every animal and this is an entirely different
cuisine. Kimchi is one of the
commonly associated foods to this culture. They also don’t cook tomatoes and
usually consume it raw. They also celebrate their ancestors and share moments
with families on special occasions to remember their ancestors (similar to shraddham or death ceremonies in Indian
culture). More is there to this lovely Seoul curry!
Culturally they are very interesting as their yes
and no’s are usually confusing. It took me a while to not get offended by my
friend who would always say ‘yes ‘and ‘no’ for the most inappropriate
questions. It is a cultural understanding and they do not mean harm. Coming
from a hierarchical society they also do not question their seniors or elders that easily. It is interesting to see that culture clash in the US.
Most of South Korea follows the philosophical bent
of Confucianism, which focuses on respect and morality. Their governmental aids
are also very appealing that the citizens are offered all health care and
enough and more options to survive. This culture has always fascinated me but I
did not know so much about them till I got to interact with people from there.The universities are so competitive and in
fact as a research student, my friend was able to access most of the
advertising data because it was archived by the government itself.
Well that is my two cents about South Korea. I hope to visit that place once and probably will share my real life experience with you. My experience of Korean culture right now is the few Korean movies (they are really good!) I have watched and my interactions with my colleagues. For a person who is fascinated by the culture and beauty of humans around the world, every new understanding only reiterates my belief that we are all so different yet so similar and so connected as though a part of the same big yarn of wool. To life and more ! By the way, Thank you, Jinhee, my friend to have taken me on a tour to your lovely country even with our short conversations !
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So, why and how did this become prevalent ? It goes back to a story from the past. Many years ago, there lived a poor lady in northern Kerala. She was an ardent devotee of Lord Guruvayoorappan (Krishna) and always wanted to visit Guruvayoor. She could not afford to buy any offering (nived…
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