Friday, June 01, 2012

Korea's Bbali-Bbali Culture

Elderly Korean Pipe Smoker
Robert Neff Collection

One of my students in Academic English this semester is writing on the rise of Korea's hurry-hurry (bbali-bbali) culture. I suggested that she find some citable evidence of a time when Koreans moved slowly, with no rush about getting things done, and she's probably done so by now, but I came across a helpful passage that she might wish to cite:
Foreigners who came to Korea in the early 20th century . . . complained about the intolerably slow tempo of the Korean people, who always seemed to be leisurely strolling, smoking a long bamboo pipe. Today, however, Koreans are astoundingly fast and dynamic.

That's from an article by Seoul National University Professor Kim Seong-kon, "A land of mystery, contradictions, logical fallacies" (Korea Herald, May 29, 2012). I've borrowed the photograph from a different source, an article by Robert Neff, "Tobacco and Korea" (10 Magazine, November 30, 2010).

I know Mr. Neff, having shared a few beers with him, and I suspect that he might even have written something on Korea's hurry-hurry culture and how it developed. The photo borrowed from his article dates to 1953, and the place was Pusan (now Busan), which is not quite the early 20th century, but that old fellow with the pipe still doesn't appear to be in any hurry. Now, he might have been tired because of the Korean War, which was dragging to its end in 1953, or he might have been a throwback to the earlier time remarked upon by Professor Kim, or Koreans in 1953 might still have preferred a slow tempo.

Having grown up in an agricultural region myself and made my particular transition to an urban life, gradually increasing my own tempo in the process, I'm guessing that this slow tempo may have characterized Korea not only up to the early twentieth century but also up to the time that Koreans abruptly moved from the countryside to the cities, which likely came with Korea's economic 'miracle' under the dictator Park Chung-hee, which started in the 1960s, and that Koreans started moving quickly at that time.

I'll have to see what my student uncovers . . .

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At 12:03 PM, Blogger Robert said...

Thank you sir for the link. Yes, I have thought on more than one occasion about writing a piece on the 82 82 culture. More than a hundred years ago Korea was anything but the 82 82 nation that it is now.

Lets ride bikes together soon. I think you already know my cell phone number.


At 12:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome. I really liked the photo, which says more than I can in words -- nobody with a pipe like that is going to get in a hurry!

As for a bike ride, maybe this weekend? Are you interested in the Jungnangcheon path?

What about the Englishman?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't agree with everything Kim Seong-kon wrote.

The cleanliness of Koreans is doubtful. They still litter streets and leave garbage on benches and around them as they did a hundred years ago, but now there's an army of street sweepers working their tails off every mornings but (at least at my apartment complex) Sundays. And on any Sunday evening this new complex looks like a cinema hall right after a blockbuster movie. Obviously Seoul isn't any close to Singapore or Osaka, especially in terms of people consciousness and their care for cleanliness.

I also question his and other Koreans fascination with K-pop. I've always considered hip-hop the worst kind of mainstream music ever invented, but K-pop beat it hands down. It's something that a civilized society would be rather ashamed of. The Germans and Austrians gave us Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Handel among many others, The Italians Verdi, Puccini, The Americans Jazz, Blues, Rock, and The Koreans... carefully selected on the basis of (and oftentimes corrected by skilled hands of plastic surgeons) looks undressed minors and hermaphrodites - girlish boys (the term used frequently by Arnold Schwarzenegger according to his biographer Laurence Leamer) with makeup on - who'd never have a chance to take the music world by storm if they were not supported by corporations, panels of advisers, experts and marketeers with millions of dollars budgets. As a friend of mine, a musician likes to say - music prostituted itself. In general, Hallyu is a piece of worthless rubbish. And it's not wonder but dirty marketing tricks and techniques, manipulation and pricing strategies that lifted unknown Korean dramas and musicians to the top circa 10 years ago.

I'd also hear what cultural anthropologists, social psychologists, behavioral economists and reliable historians have to say about Koreans rather than a few anonymous travelers or even the best Korean professors of English to better understand what's really behind Koreans economic success.

I apologize for all the errors and mistakes I must have made.


At 5:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jack, you didn't make many mistakes.

I've read that Singapore is clean only because of the heavy fines levied for littering. The Japanese, however, are very clean. Interestingly, Koreans consider Chinese to be lax in cleanliness.

My daughter was fascinated by K-Pop, and I guess she still likes it, but she recognizes its limitations. I've told her that musicians do better to struggle on their own to create music, rather than being owned by a corporation that has made them.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not very clean Little India's main street in the evenings suggests that it must be more than just fear of fine that keeps the rest of Singapore clean. The Japanese as well as Singaporeans' social attitudes and behavior are civilized - no swearing in public, littering, jumping queues, pushing and muscling in... The drivers are careful and considerate.
In Korea even imposing high fines wouldn't help much as you can see these days with the fabric add banners hung literally everywhere along the streets and people not giving a hoot about the danger they bring to drivers and pedestrians, their exceptional ugliness and even using private, or public properties without permission. Fines work well in civilized societies with people respecting the law and law enforcement.
It reminds me a situation I encountered in Taipei, where a motor cop approached a motorist pulling up his vehicle on the pedestrian crossing. The officers' erected body, puffed up chest, arms on hips, chin up, flared nostrils and eyes staring down with strong, short barked sentences towards the shrinking body of the driver left a huge and unforgettable impression on me.


At 2:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Korea is not yet a country with the rule of law -- more of a rule by law!

And Confucian hierarchy counts far more than equality before the law.

Jeffery Hodges

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