Korea This Week: Stinko Gingkos, BIFF Liberation, & Solo CEO's
Along with the changing foliage and increased incidence of the exclamation “Chueo!” (“[I’m] cold!”) in Korean discourse, one of the telltale signs of fall around the peninsula is a pervasive smell that has often been likened to a melange of rancid butter, vomit, and gym socks.
The annual olfactory assault is the product of the rotting fruit of gingko trees, which are a common sight in cities around Korea, particularly Seoul, where gingkos comprise some 40% of the trees planted in the city. When the fleshy coat surrounding the seed begins to rot, it produces butyric acid, which is not coincidentally also present in rancid butter, vomit, and body odor (and by extension, gym socks).
Many local governments combat the smell by sending crews to pick up the nuts, and they encourage citizens to do the same, as the seeds, once they are removed from the coat, roasted, and paired with a cold lager, are actually quite delicious.
Slate recently ran an interesting piece on how so many cities ended up with so many lovely but gag-inducing trees, and it’s very much worth reading if you find yourself, as I do, cursing city planners every October.
Film Festival Finding Its Old Groove
The Busan International Film Festival kicked off last Friday with it’s usual pomp, low cut dresses, and unofficial world records for camera flashes per second, as stars from the Korean and international movie firmament descended on Busan Cinema Center for the opening film, “Glass Garden”.
This year’s festival, the 22nd, marked a return to normal after three years of political struggle stemming from the 2014 decision by the festival organizers to screen the film “Diving Bell”, which leveled harsh criticism at President Park Guen-hye’s handling of the Sewol ferry disaster. The decision to screen the film, despite governmental efforts to block it, resulted in the blacklisting of many actors, filmmakers, and writers, the slashing of the BIFF budget, and other forms of official retribution.
The air of tension surrounding recent festivals seems to have largely lifted this year amid a much-changed political climate that has seen the impeachment of President Park and the jailing of several aides involved in the blacklisting of artists critical of her administration.
The Busan International Film Festival runs through October 21st. Check out the BIFF website for the program and other information.
Everybody Wants to Rule the World
According to an OECD report on entrepreneurship cited by a recent Joongang Daily article, Korea has the 4th highest number of one-person businesses among the 38 countries surveyed. The article notes that the trend may be partly explained by Baby Boomers who open small shops as a form of retirement plan.
I also found myself wondering whether it was connected to the more general recent trend of Koreans eschewing the crowd and doing more things – including eating, drinking, and traveling – by themselves.
Interestingly, the article refers to anyone who runs their own business as a “CEO”, which thus would seem to refer to the head of any operation, from a multinational corporation down to a hot dog truck. This novel extension of the meaning of CEO also jibes with several years of anecdotal evidence gleaned from conversations with university students, a large number of whom have listed “CEO” as their desired occupation.
With all these CEO’s, I often wondered, who is left to man the shop? Apparently, the answer could very well be: they are.
And how was your week?