KoreaFix: Korea This Week – September 25th – October 1st

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No Kids Allowed

An increasing number of cafes and restaurants around Korea have been closing their doors to young kids in recent years, in response to complaints from customers about the oft-noted laxity of many parents in reigning in their rambunctious young ones. The trend started in Seoul some years ago but has spread to other parts of the country, as noted in this recent Jeju Weekly article.

A young cafe patron reacts to the suggestion that he “settle down”

The bans appear to be popular with most customers, but have upset some parents who feel they are being punished for the poor parenting of others. One young mother quoted here suggests that No Kids Zones “should be called more like a no-irresponsible parents zone.” Amen, sister, though it must be admitted that toddlers are much easier to spot at the door.

While many regular cafe- and restaurant-goers, even those with kids of their own, are glad for the chance of a kid-free hour or two to chat, read, or unwind, I also found myself wondering whether the noticeably declining tolerance for kids has to do with Korea’s declining birth rates turning the whole country into a Fewer-and-Fewer Kids Zone. I don’t know, so for now, I merely speculate over a quiet, meditative Americano.

Welcome! First Time in Korea?

A new reality TV show called Welcome! First Time in Korea? has been getting a lot of attention lately around Korea (including among the three teenagers in our house). The show features groups of young foreigners from different countries experiencing different facets of Korea (food, drink, historical sites, etc) for the first time and reflecting on their experiences.

Though similar shows have appeared in the past, one culture critic cited in the following Korea Herald article points out that shows like Welcome! hint at a new, “laid-back nationalism”, where the focus is less on aggressively promoting Korea to outsiders as it is about revealing to Korean viewers how many of the everyday features of life they take for granted are seen as novel, fun, and exotic when experienced by cultural outsiders.

Stills from “Welcome! First Time in Korea?” Three young Germans sample Korean barbecue and beer.

I was especially encouraged by the following quote from the show’s producer, Moon Sang-don, about the genesis of the idea for the show:

I saw foreigners in a bookstore looking around with huge backpacks on their backs…I wondered, ‘What are these people trying to see here?

In a country where the domestic tourism industry has long been more about promoting a particular version of Korea to tourists (as opposed to considering what they are actually interested in), questions like this are a step in the right direction.

Another encouraging sign was that not all of the foreigners’ observations are necessarily flattering, and may undermine some of the common myths that Koreans entertain about Korean culture. Case in point, the recent episode of Welcome in which three young Russian women proclaim soju to be “like water.” Will future episodes feature Indians declaring kimchi to be “not that spicy,” or Canadians proclaiming chopsticks to be “rather easy to use”? Stay tuned…

Super Chuseok

This year, a fortunate alignment of holidays, coupled with a touch of government benevolence, has created a 10-day holiday for Chuseok. How it happened: Chuseok, which is reckoned by the lunar calendar, fell on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of October, and thus overlapped with National Foundation Day (which is always Oct. 3), which was then compensated for by adding the “substitute holiday” of Friday July 6th. Hangeul Day (celebrated every October 9th), fell on the following Monday, creating a 7-day holiday, to the sound of much rejoicing. Then, on September 5th, President Moon Jae-in answered the nation’s prayers and announced that Monday October 2nd, the sole remaining workday wedged among a string of red X’s on the calendar, would be declared a one-time holiday, creating an unprecedented 10-day Chuseok holiday.

Though many Koreans will be spending much of that time the old-fashioned way by observing ancestor memorial rites (called charye) with members of their extended family, many others will be bowing out of these holiday observances in favor of some quiet Me-Time. In a recent survey, six in ten twenty-somethings said they’ll be sitting this year’s family get-togethers out, citing work, study, and a desire to avoid the inevitable when-are-you-getting-married interrogations associated with large family gatherings.

However you spend the week, have a Happy Super Chuseok!

Traditional Chuseok meals like this one are increasingly being replaced by cheaper, no-fuss alternatives like fried chicken, Chinese takeout, and convenience store microwaveable meals.

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