Friday, October 3, 2008

from an article entitled 'Why Do Expats Here Complain so Much'

most of it is obvious, and aimed more towards the 22yo who came here after college for some quick cash, but the article becomes quite useful when writing about the last 50 years of korea to give some perspective:

A cursory look at Seoul shows a fantastically futuristic city. Peole carry around crazy technological gizmos. The internet works at blinding speed. Everywhere you go there are flat-screen panels showing moving images. . . Upon seeing this spectacle, it is only reasonable to expect Korea to be a fully modern country, and for its citizens to behave in a fully modern way.

But this outlook could not be more misleading. This is really the point that anyone who wishes to understand modern Korea must know - Korea has only become this way in the last 15 years. All those born and raised in the pre-modern era are not only still around, but they are people who are in their 50s and 60s, leading the country.

Few people, including younger Koreans themselves, understand this point: only 50 years ago, Korea. . .occupied the place in the world where the poorest African countries are now.

There is a Korean expression describing poeverty - a person is so poor that "his anus would tear out." This expression came to be when Korean people were starving, and they would peel tree bark, boil it and eat it. Since tree bark has a lot of indigestable fiber, one's anus bleeds. This is the kind of world in which Koreans in their 50s and 60s used to live. Can any expat from a wealthy country (regardless of how poor s/he may have been in that country) imagine the worldview of a child growing up in this level of deprivation?

Miraculously, Korea managed to pull itself out of such abject poverty into the wealth is currently enjoys. However; that was not a normal development. This incredible, borderline mutative economic growth could not have happened without the attendent mutative changes in Korean society and culture. A country does not go from $87 per capita GDP in 1962 to $24,783 per capita GDP in 2007 without instances of things that appear strange and not readily comprehensible.

Truly, this is the keystone in understanding any aspect of modern Korea. . . . Accordingly, almost all complaints about Korea are related to this central keystone in one way or another. For example: "Koreans drive like maniacs!" But the vast majority of Koreans did not start driving until the early 1980s.

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