Recently I’ve had the privilege of speaking with a couple of Americans living in Korea teaching English to Korean students. The first teacher I’ll introduce is a male teacher who is 30-years-old, well spoken, polite, and thoughtful. He’s from a suburb close to Chicago and married to a Laotian girl who speaks English like a native Midwestern. The young teacher noticed my “country” accent right away and made mention of it and said it was delightful. Instead of saying “fire” I say “far,” like a “far station.”
During our conversation I brought up the fact that my first extended stay in Korea occurred between 1976-79. My extended stay presently began in July of 2007 and continues. Upon my return in 2007 I observed a noticeable increase in the number of overweight Korean individuals . The number of overweight Koreans still remain very low as compared to those in the United States, Mexico, Great Britain, and most other nations. My conclusion is based upon my observations of the general public, advertisements aimed at the overweight population on TV & in health clubs, news articles about overweight Koreans in the JoongAng Ilbo and Korean Times, and the small inclusion of overweight actors appearing on TV & movies.
During my 28-year absence the Korean people have made enormous strides in their overall prosperity. While the global recession has slowed everyone down some, apartment construction is continuing to take place all around me where I live. Every morning the multilane highways are filled with expensive cars, SUVs, vans, trucks, and buses. Since 1979 the Seoul Subway lines have gone from two lines to eight with three extensions still partly under construction. Incheon International Airport opened in 2001 and replaced Gimpo Seoul Airport as the international hub for Seoul. Gimpo stayed busy with domestic flights and cargo traffic. During the prolonged boom the Korean people prospered through improved housing, sanitation, medical coverage, and safety regulations. You name it and they’ve done it, or plan to do it. It’s not the same county our grandmothers and grandfathers knew. It’s modern and prosperous.
Apartments have all the modern conveniences with the most up-to-date energy efficient appliances and security equipment. Rinnai water heaters are installed for providing hot water on demand and heat during the winter. Broadband Internet services are available throughout 90% of the country. Cell phones are so ubiquitous that one cannot watch a TV show or go to a movie without seeing several cell phone conversations taking place between actors in moving the plot forward. Most families have big screen HD TVs made by Samsung or LG hooked up to cable with channels of all sorts from fishing & sports to drama. With the introduction of Samsung’s LED TV (Light Emitting Diode) the Korean conglomerate is introducing a thinner and more energy efficient TV than the older LCDs using fluorescent backlighting. The Korea of today is very different form the Korea of the 70s.
A prosperous nation attracts and allows many more people to tease their appetite with new and different foods & snacks of all sorts at pastry shops, quick food establishments, and at large discount stores like E-Mart and Lotte Mart. With prosperity and more free time a certain number of people in any population will tend to become overweight. There is no doubt in my mind that prosperity in Korea has increased the number of overweight people in their society. At the same time the Korean children are becoming taller and larger than their parents. Every change in our existence has unintended consequences, some negative & some positive. The food police is not needed in a poor country.
During our conversation the young man unhesitatingly blamed America for the increased number of overweight Koreans because of Dunkin’ Donuts and other American franchises doing business in Korea. He piled on by adding a comment about how much nicer and cleaner the recently built Dunkin’ Donuts in Korea was than the ones back in the States where he lives. I was amazed at his easiness in blaming America for the small but noticeable increase of overweight Koreans, as if the evil American capitalist were responsible for spreading the dreaded disease of obesity throughout the world. I never saw Glutinous Rice Cakes in a US Dunkin’ Donuts stores, did you? In my simple way of thinking I just thought the increase of overweight Koreans were the result of ordinary people having extra money to spend on goodies in addition to the essential staples necessary for life: Nothing more than a small effort to take the edge off of life and relax by enjoying a cup of coffee and a donut, or a glutinous rice cake. I supposes some people need to be protected from their sinful appetites, or else they will go overboard and become obese.
A couple days later while indulging myself at Dunkin’ Donuts with a regular coffee before returning to my apartment, I recognized an attractive, middle-age female teacher sitting by herself. She allowed me to join her while she finished the rest of her coffee and waited for a co-teacher to arrive. She was polite, a good communicator, and appeared knowledgeable about a number of subjects. During the conversation she spoke of her grown son who had been raised in Northern Europe. He returned to America to attend her Alma Mater, a university I’m unfamiliar with but one she was definitely proud of and happy her son attended. By now he was in the process of earning his doctorate in counseling or clinical psychology. Upon first returning to America he found his fellow Americans crude, vulgar, and arrogant. She reported gleefully that he would be returning to Europe some time after he finished his doctorate program. During the meantime he made some close American friends in a fraternity at his college. She reported that he’s remained in contact and involved with his fraternity friends during his post graduate studies. She gave me the impression that she agreed with the “Ugly American” viewpoint expressed by her son and other Americans she knew. (From Wikipedia: Ugly American is an epithet used to refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home). She moaned approvingly about the high cost of sending her son to a private university while simultaneously reporting that it might send her to the poor house.
Both of these Americans are university graduates, well spoken, friendly and pleasant individuals. During our short conversations their beliefs and feelings about Americans in general oozed out, not in a harsh way, but in an easy and comfortable way; as if a consensus of thought had occurred throughout the entire nation, and no-one would dare disagree with them that knew anything at all. Since I still consider myself to be an “All American Boy,” all I can say is Amazing! Prosperity has all kinds of unintended consequences. God bless America. garland dale