WHY DO KOREANS GET SO MUCH PLASTIC SURGERY?
“Women are never guilty of their transformation.” It’s a popular copy line from a 1980s South Korean TV commercial. It wittily captures, not just women, but our basic desire for beauty, but also implies Korean people’s tendency to put a lot of weight on the looks. As many foreigners believe, plastic surgery is very popular in Korea and is easily accessible to anyone, including foreigners who come to visit Korea just for that. But for many Koreans, it’s not just the aesthetics they are after. The traditional belief of gwansang (physiognomy), which asserts that the harmony of the facial features determines a person’s fate, play a role in the desire. Naturally, a great number of people want to “improve” their appearance, as well as their odds, through simple plastic surgery before important events like a job interview. Only God knows how much of an impact that has on the interviewer, but if one can gain confidence from their “improved” look and live their life to the fullest every day, then their fate should be brighter than before. The double eyelid surgery and nose jobs, raising the tip of the nose and the nose bridge, are the most popular.
WHY DO KOREANS WEAR FACE MASKS?
Earth burned to the ground by nuclear war and those who survived live on wearing masks. These post-apocalypse scenes have long been a reality in Korea, where people embraced wearing masks as an essential part of their daily lives. The main culprit is the fine dust or particulates matter, partly coming from the factories located in China that use coal as energy, and partly from within Korea, as well as car exhaust fumes. Another major cause is the “Yellow Dust,” where the dry soil particles from China and the Mongolian deserts get picked up to form dust storms. Ironically, the habit of mask-wearing played an important role in preventing the spread of pandemics such as the COVID-19 and MERS-CoV.
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WHAT THE HECK DOES “GANGNAM STYLE” MEAN?
오빠 강남스타일! “Oppa Gangnam Style!” When the song “Gangnam Style” became a global hit back in 2012, everybody hummed and danced to the line “Oppa Gangnam Style,” while doing the horse-riding dance. But 99% of the non-Koreans didn’t know what Gangnam Style even meant, like how we danced to the tunes of the song “Macarena” when it was all the craze back in the days. Many non-Spanish speakers didn’t have a clue what “Macarena” was. So, what the heck does Gangnam Style mean?
Gangnam 강남 means “Region south of 한강 Hangang (the Han River),” because gang 강 means “river,” and nam 남 means “south” but often used to refer to the most affluent area of Seoul, also known as the “Gangnam 3(sam)-gu,” which consists of Gangnam-gu, 강남구, Seocho-gu 서초구, and Songpa-gu 송파구. They are known for their house prices that are the highest in Korea, and the highest proportion of rich people in Korea, although a lot of “old money” chaebol families live in the north of the river, called Gangbuk 강북.
Gangnam (not to be confused with the singer with the same name) is the epitome of Korean affluence for its luxury boutiques, high-end department stores, entertainment establishments, and highly concentrated infrastructure, and often likened to Beverly Hills in the U.S. and Roppongi in Japan. It’s a place where emerging CEOs, owners of small and medium-sized companies, and celebrities live. For many, having an apartment in Gangnam is equivalent to living a successful life. On the contrary, in Korean pop culture, people living in Gangnam are often depicted as snobs who only care about money.