Open Thread #2

( Source: Jeong-in )

Some graffiti-art for your enjoyment this week, as I rarely see any in Korea (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). Now that I look at it more closely though, I’m not entirely certain if it is actually Korean? There are no details at the Korean photography blog I got it from unfortunately.

Meanwhile, I received the following email from reader Jackie earlier this week, which I’ll let speak for itself. If you would like to help her but don’t want to provide details publicly here, then please contact her at

“I am a junior sociology major who is hoping to go to Korea this summer to either research with a professor or work for a nonprofit organization. I am contacting you to ask if there were any organizations or people you could direct me towards or connect me with. I’m interested in working in the areas of cultural  exchange, community development, race & ethnicity, gender inequality, or children & youth. I’ve been searching for people and places on my own, but my Korean is only conversational at best and I do not have very many connections so have not had much luck. I will be applying for a summer grant from my school, so I would not need funding. I would really appreciate any help or advice you could give me. Thank you.”

Have a nice weekend everyone!


12 thoughts on “Open Thread #2

  1. Actually, I do believe that is in Korea. I believe I saw the exact same thing in Busan. I actually have a picture of it somewhere, however perhaps the artist simply replicated the same image in another location.

    There is a river that runs near Busan University and along the concrete walls that house the river, there are several blocks of graffiti. However, they all seem to have been ordained by the local powers that be because of their rather uniform length. They are organized in a way that seems to have been measured and divvied out to the individuals. There was even one concrete column that had what appeared to be middle or elementary school level drawings on it.

    Anyways, thanks a lot for your blog. Long time reader. First time commenter.



    1. Ah, of course! I know that area well: I went to the Korean language institute KLIFF next door for several years, and still occasionally go to meet friends that live in the area.

      Testament to how little I go out these days that it completely slipped my mind though. So thanks for passing it on!


  2. That piece is indeed from Pusan.

    Once you start paying attention graffiti is EVERYWHERE in Korea. Especially Pusan and Daegu. Seoul is surprisingly boring for a capital with millions of people, from a hiphop-head perspective. But that might be due to the fact that most underground hiphop culture is located outside commercialized / ritzy Seoul.

    Here are some examples from Seoul:


    Personally, I was surprised at how good some of the graf was when I first encountered it. My favourite spot is some small tunnel near Ewha university in Seoul. Every time I passed through it, there were new great pieces in it. Never found out who did it.


  3. Hello everyone,

    I thought I could use this open thread to ask any of you kind or smart enough to answer the question messing with my mind at the moment.

    A few weeks ago I’ve met a now good friend of mine who’s Korean and studying for her PhD (doctorat is it?) in French Litterature and I’m amazed at how good she speaks and undrestand French… anyway the first times we met, I was quite shy and didn’t asked her about her age although I think she’s in her early thirties. Given the fact that I’m younger than her and that she kind of impresses me I still to this day don’t know how old she is. As we were getting to know each other she abruptly asked me if I was planning on getting married. I was surprised for two main reasons. First, it was kind of off topic so the question took me by surprise and secondly I’m 23 which she knows and when I was answering her she had an undescribable expression on her face, maybe a mix of sadness (for me, for her) and cynism, I still don’t know but I felt really sorry while I was looking at her.

    Now you might think ok where does all of this go… Well I told her I wasn’t planning anything since the person I’m in relationship with at the moment and I still want to give ourselves time etc… as I was rambling on my desire to finish my studies and work etc she interrupted me politely and asked again cause she wanted to know my much wider opinion on marriage she said as a French I guess. Being from a “multicultural” (I hate that word u_u) family I guess my values are a mix of being raised in France and my familial inheritage. As I was explaining to her that ultimately I had nothing against the idea of being married and having kids etc… she nodded but I still felt disturbed.

    A few days after we met again and I asked her about marriage in Korea and how women have maybe changed their minds about it over the last years. I know one cannot speak for half an entire country but she told me that she was still single and that it wasn’t her choice. Clearly she was describing me a social pressure on women to get married before a certain age as if they had any expiration date. While I have an immense respect for her and admire her working and studying so hard overseas I figure not everybody especially in Korea has the same opinion on a woman investing so much time and energy in her career/ studies etc… While the few Korean TV I watch or Korean websites I happen to go on display quite a modern image of women, I’m still from time to time taken aback by some things I hear from Koreans themselves. Not that I’m naive to the point that I believe what I see in ads or tv shows but that distance I guess it’s still beyond my understanding.

    I’m asking any reader who knows well about this topic if what I heard was somewhat a true but not totally acceptable vision of the issue of women and marriage in Korea or if it’s closer to the reality.

    I thought and searched answers to that a lot lately and I guess this topic really intrigues me and with the help of some of you I might hopefully get to know the issue better.

    Thanks in advance,

    Miso ;)


    1. Koreans overall do tend to emphasize that women need to get married by a certain age . . . but it has been creeping up bit by bit over the years. There used to be an expression (borrowed from the Japanese, I believe) that “Women are like Christmas cakes – nobody wants them after the 25th.” but nowadays it seems to have moved north to about 30 as the terminal date by which you’re married or hopeless. (note: this doesn’t mean that you can’t find love and happiness and marriage and whatever after this date – it just means that everyone will be shocked, SHOCKED! because they’d all given up on you)

      This is just personal experience, but a number of my Korean girlfriends who at 28 were thrilled to be single and free to date or not date and just hang out with their friends suddenly become engaged or married the next year, as pressure from parents and society came to bear down on them. Then again, this isn’t an entirely Korean phenomenon . . . (

      The pressure works very much against women who chose to pursue graduate degrees, particularly if they go overseas for their education. Studying for your MA and PhD is a time-consuming process, and often doesn’t leave scads of time for dating. And even in Korea, where the time to degree is faster than places like the US, it’s still often a large chunk of what Koreans consider prime time for marriage. Furthermore, in Korea, women are likely to be relatively more burdened by marriage itself, and less likely to recieve the kind of support from their partner and family that would allow them to devote the time and attention it takes to get their degree. Many women are very bluntly faced with the choice of study/career vs. family. It’s hard to pursue both under the current social conditions here.

      That said, lots of women *do* and younger men are more and more receptive to the idea of their wives studying, working, etc. The biggest impact, as James and others have demonstrated, may well be not in marriage itself but in childbearing. You may well be able to have a career/advanced degree and a husband, but it would be relatively more difficult to add kids to that equation.


      1. Ah thank you Gomushin Girl.

        In fact, we talked again about this subject with my friend and I don’t know maybe she opened up a little more and in our discussion we reached the topic of children. I think that’s the hardest part for her because I think she’d make a great mother. Unfortunately for women I think that one thing you can’t deny is that nature recalls us that you cannot (as long as you’re in your right mind I guess) wait indefinitely to bear a child. I don’t know how simplistic it sounds from me to say that it’s better to have children before you’re 35-ish but I think it deeply has to do with the whole “best before” belief.

        That said, I’m still “sur ma faim”/ unsatisfied with just knowing that. I’m wondering about single women in the Korean society. I don’t know how long my friend is going to stay here, but I guess ultimately she’s going back to Korea maybe 3 years from now. I’m not totally at ease with asking her about how she see herself in the future cause she seems really jaded about the whole topic.

        What you said about your (maybe happy to be) single friends turning in one year time to spouses is very interesting. I don’t want to sound like I’m looking down on the Korean reality because I can see almost identical reactions and comments here about single women. It’s just that, although it might not be true everywhere and for everybody, I feel like these women have to carry a double burden. My knowledge of Korean society is too poor to now pinpoint a few relevant factors but is there a Confucian component to this issue?

        If you or someone else could give me some advice on books or anything helpful to learn more about the situation of single women and mothers in Korea that would be awesome.

        Thanks again!



        1. Ok, part of the problem is that society (not just Korea) tries to tell women that they’ll never be happy or truly fufilled unless they have kids, and you can’t have kids without a husband, therefore the secret to life is romantic entanglements. Then we tell women that they have a sell-by date, so if you’re going to be a successful woman you’d better get married early and start having those little bundles of joy – and well, if you’re more intersted in a career, too bad. Can’t have it all.

          Meanwhile, men are not bombarded with the same messages about the decline of their fertility even though theirs declines also, beginning at about the same age. Yes, gentlemen, after 35 your sperm gets old and slow and just isn’t up to snuff. So in the end, despite relatively matched fertility peaks, women are told that they’re doomed to lonely, unfufilled lives if they haven’t dated and mated by their early thirties, while men are told that they’ve got plenty of time left and that it’s ok to be picky and pay more attention to their careers.

          Women nowadays (Korean and otherwise) usually expect to find jobs after graduation. But the investment they have in these jobs is supposed to suddenly cease upon the advent of marriage or childbirth, which many women have come to resist or resent. Of course, more flexible work environments and more gender equality in expectations of child rearing would probably make it a lot more possible for women to “have it all.”

          How come we never say men with families and jobs “have it all”? Oh, right, because for men it’s much more easily achievable since families will usually adjust to their needs. In Korea, men’s employment needs often dictate the rest of how families are structured – James has done an excellent job here and there are many excellent academic treatments of how the labor market here is structured to make the labor and employment conditions of women particularly unfair, and go a long way towards ensuring a “traditional” family regardless of the abilities, training, and desires.

          As for being a single mother in Korea? Unless you’re particularly wealthy and socially quite independent, you can forget it. There’s a reason why the abortion level is so high and why those who chose not to terminate pregnancies virtually always give the child up for adoption. There is essentially NO government support and even less in the way of societal support for women who chose to raise their children on their own. If you want to just have a kid and raise it yourself, you need to assure beforehand that you have adequate funds and a very strong social support network.

          You could view traditional Confucian culture as part of this, but really, this would be a simple and possibly wrong reading. Other nations have similar problems, despite heavier doses of Confucian background or no influence at all.

          I have a few questions for you now . . . what is it about your friend that prompted these questions? Would you be asking the same if she were another nationality? If she were male? Most of us are conditioned to say and think things like “Oh, what a shame, she’d be such a good mother!” but how often do we think, “Gosh, it’s a shame he’s not married yet, he’d be a fabulous father”?


          1. Well, regarding her situation I’d ask myself questions like “why is it so?” or “why does she want to know my opinion on marriage and such?” if she were from any other country for sure. I’m prejudiced like we all are but as I’m getting older I tend to avoid (as possible) having premade opinions on people. As for my friend, she popped the question and that’s what surprised me. I didn’t think “OMG this is too good, now I can learn the ins and outs of the social pressure on women in South Korea…” or at least I hope. I’m a student in Korean language and civilisation as my diploma says so I might as well learn from her. Now, I don’t think what she’s going through is only the result of her being from a specific country/ social background. There’s a myriad of reasons why she’s where she is now and as I’m not her shrink or close enough to her to ask further intimate questions I try to handle the issue another way.

            The fact that I might be ten years younger than her I think is key. The answer I gave her, well she pretty much laughed at me at first and then she had just the “I’ve heard it all before” look on her face so… But, again her being Korean isn’t going to lead me into one particular way because any prejudice I might have on the topic would be gender related given my close to zero familiarity with it.

            But you’re right, I thought that it was kind of sad, I couldn’t help it but only cause she was specifically talking about her regrets and not cause cause I felt sad for all her “wasted” egg cells…

            My question about Confucian influence was regarding more the issue of single mothers than single women in general. Recently (and maybe what you say about the absence of governmental financial help for single mothers goes in the same direction) one of our teacher tried to introduce us to the Korean retirement system (I don’t know how to say “système de retraites” but you get it). Seemingly, pensions tend to be quite low compared to the French standard. Correct me if I’m wrong but it maybe both a result of economic policy and the notion that parents as they get older must be looked after by their children. Maybe the same goes for women having children on their own. Since it’s not acceptable in any way why encourage it then? And as you said it, it’s not a Koreano-korean problem, it happens elsewhere still not to that extend on a country scale…

            So I’m still very much interested in further paths to follow to learn more about this issue of both single women and mothers. For instance the way you describe a woman choosing to keep her child is pretty much one of an outcast. How is the degree of social tolerance towards both these women different? Are they considered equally distant from the ideal woman? Are there famous examples of single women or mothers in South Korea to illustrate maybe?


  4. Yep, it’s in 온천천 in Busan, alongside the river of the same name. I run past it most mornings. I seem to remember seeing the artist’s tag on some other pieces in the same area which contain references to being Australian/Korean co-productions.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s