Periplus Editions 2012. ISBN 978-0804842525
|The attraction of this book is
that Daniel Tudor covers all the bases in explaining modern South Korea. He evaluates all
aspects of Korean history and society regardless of whether they conflict with
preconceived ideas about "Asian values" , "Asian inscrutability" etc.
The book is a genuine exploration of Korean society and provides a rather surprising picture of an "Over the Top" attitude permeating the whole country, with the many examples including the following:
Extremist education with students working the longest hours in the world combined with a hyper-competitive examination system. The result is a very educated population in technical subjects, a degree of youth alienation, a high youth suicide rate, high status teachers, a high financial burden on families and a surprisingly low return (productivity) for the effort expended.
The desire for physical perfection resulting in cosmetic surgery being available for all ages, and even going as far as tongue surgery to supposedly enable the better pronunciation of English words.
The cult of the new (Neophilia - Love of the new) whereby perfectly good equipment is dumped in favour of a new model. South Korea is the country where mostly only foreigners drive older cars and where product cycles have become maniacally short, with anything new automatically being viewed as superior.
Obligatory high level English language learning although only a minority will ever require it. This ties in with entrance to Seoul's four prestigious universities where candidate levels are so high that fluency in English becomes an added factor.
Extreme emotions, Han & Heung. So much for inscrutable Orientals! (top)
|The author shows that Korean wear
their hearts on their sleeve and revel in extremes of sadness and joy as reflected in
their films and music that has a big following throughout Asia (Korean popular singers and
actors regarded the most attractive in Asia).
Extreme nationalism that is rooted in Korea's history of subjugation by the Japanese and Chinese. Korean society is unified as probably no other and can undertake large scale projects with astounding determination, regardless of whether they are launched at a national level by a dictator such as Park Chung-hee or at a company level by for example Samsung. He doesn't make the point, but the contrast with the US is remarkable (see "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart" by Bill Bishop).
The list continues and even includes their social binge drinking and their extreme spicy food (pickled vegetables with pepper and garlic - Kimchi, that apparently accompany everything - even pizza).
In the last chapters, the author show that things are changing at the margin, with some degree of openness to multiculturalism, gay rights and women's rights but that these issues in no way define society as they do in the United States.
In my opinion this is a great book and the author suggests that South Koreans try and relax and enjoy themselves by following the advice of Soyeon Yi (2008 Korean "Woman of the Year" and first Korean in space), when she says, "Koreans are very good at being unsatisfied. Sometimes we need to have a break, and some champagne to cheer us up".
Aren't they drinking enough soju already?