In the sixth interview of my series on the high stress nature of modern Korean society I talk with Cho Jun Ho, a 33 year old IT specialist who lives in Seoul. As a young family man in his working prime, Jun Ho represents the Korean “everyman”, part of the mass of smart and educated middle class who are forced to compete with each other for the few best jobs. Jun Ho is by no means a beaten and weary salary man; in fact he is an energetic and positive person who finds happiness everywhere he can. But through his voice we can learn about the crushing social and financial pressures that have become a normality in South Korean life.After doing quite a few of these interviews, I want to make it clear at this point that all of the people I have talked to are proud to be Korean and love their country. The topic being discussed is an unfortunately negative aspect of Korean culture, and therefore elicits appropriately negative responses. Note: None of these people speak English as a first language. They are of varying English proficiency levels from beginner to very advanced and in some cases translation was needed. To improve readability and cohesiveness, some gramatical edits have been made where necessary. In no way has meaning or context been altered.
Cho Jun Ho, 33 – IT Specialist
Where Does Pressure Come From in Korea?
At my age most people are interested in marriage and their jobs aren’t very stable. They all have the same kinds of stress. One of my friend’s hair is falling out because he has so much stress at his office. He has to work day and night. At the same time he wants to have a relationship, but it is very difficult because he has no time. When he finishes work he goes home and his parents ask him why he doesn’t have a girlfriend or a wife. That also gives him stress. So he has stress at work and at home – there is no place where he has no stress in his adult life. I think it is the same for most people in Korea who are my age.
What Personal Pressure Do You Feel?
I have stress, but I just talk with my wife and my God, and it makes me comfortable. But without them I cannot control myself. I get very angry and I want to fight someone.
After getting married, my life has become more comfortable. But it also creates stress because I have to earn more money than I do now. I have my wife and in the near future I want to have a baby also – and that means I need even more money to maintain our life. Money is stress.
The Korean traditional personality is very bali bali (quickly quickly) which means they need to get results as soon as possible. Not all, but most Korean people are like this. They never relax. They have no empty space in their minds. They do not think about anything other than their stress and what they have to do.
Some Koreans have hobbies, but most do not. The most important thing to them is just work, earning money and meeting a partner. Compared to a life in the US where there is a lot of nature and people can hang out outside or have a BBQ with friends, in Seoul it is impossible. People just drink soju (rice liquor). It is the only thing that young people can do with each other, and it’s the only thing the can really do to get rid of stress. This cannot be the solution to stress.
It is important to have hobbies. I want to make a documentary film, but these days I have no time. I have to work, and after work I have to go home to my wife.**Laughs**. Most Koreans are like that; they think they have no time, but they can make time. But when they have time off, they don’t want to do anything, just relax.
After the Korean War, people were very poor. The President made a plan for Korea, telling people they had to work hard to succeed in raising their social status. That mindset has still not changed much these days, even though we are not starving anymore. It makes people think the most important thing in their lives is earning money.
This is changing now because of the Internet. People can see more than they could before – the Internet is very popular here. They know that there are many beautiful places in the world where they can go. They also know what people do around the world and it makes them want to do the same things. The national personality is changing. This has two sides; the good side is that it makes them happier, but the bad side that some companies use this for marketing to sell their products.
What is the Solution?
Money is very important, but people have to stop thinking it is the most important thing in their life. There are better things, like hobbies, which most people don’t have any experience with, including me.
Most people just want people to think that they are doing very well. They change their status on a social network and when someone else hits the “like” button they are very satisfied. But I think these social networks will bring new stress. People use Facebook everyday, but if it goes away these people will get very confused, like they lost their baby. It’s the same with cell phones. Koreans use their cell phone so much, for everything. But if it is gone for just one day, they are very sad.
When I have kids I want to show them nature. I want to show them more beautiful things. But I don’t really expect this, because I will live in Seoul.