S. Korea: A country of miracles and miseries

HIGH STAKES: Parents praying for students sitting the annual college entrance exams in Seoul. The writer thinks young South Korean emigrants are fed up with the country's "inhumane" education system.


    Dec 10, 2015

    S. Korea: A country of miracles and miseries

    SOUTH Korea has emerged as an advanced country with astonishing economic prosperity, which has led quite a few people from developing countries to want to immigrate there.

    Even people in advanced countries are interested in visiting South Korea to see for themselves the nation that has miraculously attained astounding economic success, cutting-edge technology and cultural prosperity.

    Sadly, many young South Koreans reportedly want to emigrate to other countries nowadays, leaving behind their much-coveted and seemingly affluent country. They even call their homeland "hell".

    One can only guess at the reason. Perhaps they are fed up with the inhumane South Korean education system that focuses solely on good grades, creating a college entrance exam hell.

    Or perhaps they are frustrated by the tight job market that has few openings. Numerous college graduate interns and part-timers are facing financial instability because of meagre incomes these days.


    When I happened to discuss the matter with my bank manager, she came up with some insightful answers.

    "I think there are three compelling reasons why they want to emigrate," she told me.

    "First, in the United States or Canada, you do not need to wear make-up 24/7. Here in South Korea, everybody is made up all the time and you can't be an exception."

    I was amused by her sharp feminine perception.

    "Secondly, in those countries, you can wear anything you want, something casual and comfortable even for outings.

    "But in South Korea, you always have to wear expensive clothes because you will be treated according to the price or brand of your suit or dress. People want to show off."

    Then the witty bank manager added, winking at me: "You don't need to carry a luxury handbag in other countries as well. Here in South Korea, it is a must." I was impressed by her persuasive interpretation.

    "Thirdly, in other countries it is quite all right even if your child is not outstanding at school.

    "In South Korea, if your child's academic achievement is not good, that's the end of the world! Your life is over."

    It is undeniable that in South Korea, your child's academic performance decides not only his future, but also your own social status.

    The bank manager was right in every sense. We always care about what others think of us, rather than what we think of ourselves. Thus, we are not confident of ourselves and want to shine in other's eyes.

    At the same time, we constantly compare ourselves with others. This unnecessary comparison makes us feel deprived and resentful, and hate others who are better off or far ahead of us. And this makes us feel miserable all the time. Perhaps that is why South Korea is called a country of miracles, but also miseries.


    While we have achieved economic miracles, we have lost our happiness in the process. It is no wonder that South Koreans seldom feel happy.

    This strange phenomenon inevitably results in the overemphasis on appearances, not on substance or reality.

    That is why people in South Korea want to flash famous branded handbags, dresses and shoes. That is why South Koreans want to wear expensive watches, bracelets and rings.

    And that is why the brand name of your alma mater is important in South Korea too; it is a golden badge that shows your social status. We want to be like others. How I think of myself is not important. How others think of me is.

    Someone told me that in South Korea, even ordinary people tend to think of themselves as movie stars and act as if they are one. Thus, they want to wear fancy suits or dresses, put on heavy make-up or drive luxury cars.

    Even worse, they are willing to lie down on an operation table for cosmetic enhancements. It is no wonder young South Koreans stand out on the street, good-looking, well-dressed and lustrously decorated.

    But what is there beneath the glistening surface, but hollow and shallow radiance?

    Sometimes, I wonder if we have created a hell for ourselves during the country's rapid industrialisation. We need to reclaim our paradise and create a better world for our young people. Or else we risk losing them to foreign shores.