Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bad Reputation

Korean Father is making one of his trips to Busan from Namhae this weekend, and dropped by our apartment this afternoon to see how we were. He spent yesterday playing Go-Stop with some old friends, but after being well in profit he reckoned that he ended the day at about breakeven. There was some disappointment that we hadn't called to give him a reason to leave early.

Staying on a financial note, he was worried about how our week had been considering how turbulent the markets have been, and went on to tell us the following Korean saying:

재산을 잃는 것은 조금 잃는 것이요,
명예를 잃는 것은 많이 잃는 것이요,
건강을 잃는 것을 모든 것을 잃는 것이다.

Losing your wealth is losing little,
Losing your honour is losing a lot,
Losing your health is losing all.

In other words, we shouldn't worry about our finances, not that we were. In some respects the idea that if you don't have your health many other things in life aren't that important is one which is shared with the West, but the second part of the saying betrays something which is a much more fundamental part of the psyche in East Asia, Korea included - 'honour' or 'reputation'. It's not that in England we don't have the concept of 'losing face', but I suspect that most of us would rather have money than reputation. Even if the meaning of honour was stretched to encompass the notion of integrity, I still doubt it would feature about wealth.

To my mind, to say that Korean society in many respects revolves around the concept of reputation does not seem an understatement, although I must profess that after many months here it is an intangible one which I still feel I'm just scratching the surface of. It is why Koreans spend too much time playing Kartrider in order to work their way up through the colours to the coveted rank of 'rainbow glove', it's perhaps why Koreans are so completely brand-obsessed, it is why there's such a viable and thriving 'individual to individual' unsecured money lending business and I suspect it's one of the reasons why the chaebols became as big as they are. Sometimes learning a language is easy compared to trying to work out what really makes the people tick.

Korean tags: , 건강, 명예, 재산

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