Sunday, July 10, 2011

Did your dog pick the color of your car?

I'm going to mention some stuff in this post that I've thought several times over the last two and a half years, or maybe I actually blogged about them, and maybe if I did you read it, and maybe if you did, you'll remember it and this will be a summer rerun, but maybe I just thought it or maybe inexplicably you haven't read every one of my 327 posts, in which case this will be new to you and doubtlessly fascinating and worth reposting on your Facebook wall or perhaps sending a modest donation to me through PayPal.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.

I noticed long ago the monochromatic palette of cars in Korea. My estimate was that 90 percent of passenger cars on the street are black, white, or silver/gray. It seems I was wrong: according to yesterday's international edition of the Wall Street Journal, it's actually 91%, the highest rate in the world. Seems that executives choose black, women choose white, and anybody can choose gray. Any other color immediately lowers the resale value. And almost universally people drive "sensible" models.

Pretty boring, really.

...though occasionally a sexy model comes along.

The WSJ and I theorize that it's of a piece with the Korean desire for community and uniformity. (Incidentally, the next two countries on the monochromatic car list are Japan and China.)

Another example of Korea's uniformity is, of course, the names. Everybody, and I mean everybody, in this country has a one-syllable family name (and literally more than half of the people are named Geem, I, or Bak... Kim, Lee, or Park to you) followed by a two-syllable personal name. Also, the same generation of children in a family will have the same first syllable in their names; the three branches of the hagwon I worked for in Daegu were headed by three brothers, Geem Heedal, Geem Heedeok, and Geem Heeman.

When I MCed our graduation, I tried really hard to get the correct pronunciation for I Yeunjeung, I Hyunwoo, I Hwayeon, and I Hwajin. It makes my life at school so much easier when kids choose to use Western names, though it makes taking attendance a challenge: Seungkeun is Simon, Dokyun is Leo, Eunhae is Jay, Gina is Gina... okay, that one is easy enough.

The family-name thing has a long a proud history; they're not so much families as clans, and some of them can trace their lineage back a thousand years. I understand that, but it makes things a challenge for Us Dumb Waegookin.

Korea is the opposite of America.

Their values spring from Confucianism: honor your elders (unless one of them is a salt-and-pepper Westerner who needs a subway seat), know your place, obey authority, fit in, fit in, fit in. Our values spring from Clint Eastwood.

When I get rich I'm buying a neon-yellow Lamborghini and changing my name to McBibimbap.

...though I guess "Cornman" ("Oksusu inkan" in Korean) is weird enough.

No comments: