Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Life as War. South Koreans shout "Fighting" in English when they cheer sports teams, ship off children to colleger entrance exams, and toast each other at a team-building office party. Korean also say "Gonbae" (cheers) or "Dry your glass" - when they toast which means "Bottoms Up!"

Expressions of war or struggle, litter everyday talk. Cars honk in a "war for parking space" (juchajeonjaeng) in Seoul, where traffic is an ordeal.

In an "exam war" (ipsijeonjaeng), wealthy parents spend thousands of dollars a month on private tutoring for their children to pass university entrance exams. A family's reputation still rises and falls on whether its kids get into college. For days ahead of the exams, mothers pray all night at Buddhist temples and Christian churches. On exam day, always in the winter, mothers bundle up and pray outside the school, some holding prayer beads.

On big holidays, millions of Koreans hit the roads in a "going home war" (gwihyangjeonjaeng). They head for hometowns to perform ancestral rites.

The origins of all this fighting talk may lie partly in Korea's violent history and the South's underdog drive to succeed in the shadow of two big powers, China and Japan. Korean endured repression and deprivation during Japan's colonial rule and rose from the ruins of the Korean War to build one of the world's biggest economies.

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