I saw the above article and it really made me think due to a discussion I had (and have had multiple times over my years here) with Koreans/colleagues/friends about S. Korea’s past.
Koreans in a way love to talk about their poor past. I don’t think this is true. But what I mean is, they tell me about it a lot. Almost as if this was a pity contest and they were trying to get the most out of it. “You know, back in the old days, right after the war, there wasn’t always food on the table. Often times we starved.” This is why in Korea you MUST finish your bowl of rice in front of a Korean mother. It is/was a luxury to have such food. It is the reason restaurants serve such a variety of side dishes with a meal. Otherwise, the restaurant is looked down upon. And I understand as it is the lasting image that Americans have of South Korea – a poor, war-ravaged country where many people might not have enough food, or proper shelter, etc.
Nowadays, Korea is not that war-torn country. It is extremely modern, moreso than the US and has many more advantages than we do, though they still fail to see just how far they’ve come. You always hear people say, “Oh, you’re from America?? I’m so jealous! I bet it’s amazing to live in America.” except the people who have actually lived there admit to how behind the times and slow life really is there and that really, what works in Korea doesn’t really work in America.
Back to the point of the article. It talks about the word 밥
(bap). This means “rice” literally, but it has come to mean, a meal. Because in Asia, if you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t had a meal, and eating is everything in a poor country. So this word is very commonly used as the word “meal”, “food”, “rice” and any other variation. We use it at least a thousand times a day. But this article talks about how now, the new word to talk about your social status and wealth is no longer bap, but 명품 (myungpoom) meaning “Brand name”. It used to mean something that wasn’t no-name. Like, Neutrogena, instead of the target version of it. But now, it has come to mean “luxury brand”, such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and all the others. Instead of asking “Have you eaten?”, you might be more inclined to talk about your latest acquisition from the Department Store, the height of luxury shopping.
And I find this to be true. Many people talk about all their department store cosmetic purchases and their duty free shopping conquests, etc. I’m even guilty of it. Though a lot of the reason I buy from department stores is because the formulas are ones that won’t hurt my face and cause me to break out, though often times when you read the back of a Clinique bottle let’s say, it will state “Formulated for Asian Skin.”. Yeah, the American stuff doesn’t say that lest it be considered racism. But it makes sense when being sold in Asia. But I realize that I see results when I use the higher end products. Thus I keep using it.
People in Asia are so very obsessed with spending lots of money on these luxury items, it’s almost absurd to an American. We brag about how cheap we bought something, while they brag about how much they spent. Now, this is not true for everyone, but often times it can be. Depends a lot on one’s age as well. I thought another interesting point was the sexism within this culture. If a man buys expensive, luxurious products, he is called a 도시만 (doshinam), a smart, city guy, or even a 차도남(chadonam), a suave, car-driving guy (since a man having a car is like the senior quarterback in highschool with his car- oh so cool and sexy). But, a girl would be called a 된장녀 (duenjangnyuh), literally, a duenjang stew girl, but means, a girl who lives outside her means (it comes from the idea that someone will eat only this stew, which is one of the cheapest dishes in Korea, in order to save up the money to buy these luxurious products.). There is the male version, but it’s not used as often as the female version. This blatant sexism is also fascinating. I mean, there are more working women these days, especially in the middle aged and young generation so they can afford it.
Anyway, I know it is in Korean, but google translate it sometime if you want. I read some of it, but found the idea of the topic fascinating. I wonder what others think.