Korean Demographics

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Sex and the University, Part 3: University Students’ Cohabitation Culture

( Live Together, 2007. Source )

Much to my regret later, I never properly met any Koreans in New Zealand before I first came here.

But by coincidence, a Korean woman replaced me in my last flat after I left. And as my ex-flatmates soon gleefully reported, she was the perfect flatmate, paying her share of the rent without ever actually spending so much as a single night there.

Glee rapidly turned to genuine concern though, as she completely disappeared a week after moving her stuff in, not answering her cell-phone at all for 2 weeks.

Alas, once she was back from her trip home(!), she explained she was actually living with her Korean boyfriend at his place. But, lest she be caught with him by her parents back in Korea somehow, she needed a separate address and home phone number, and a pretend bedroom just in case they made a surprise visit.

And once they were in the loop, then naturally that was fine with her flatmates, and she would end up spending less than, say, 4-5 hours a week there for the next 6 months.

( Source )

Of course, I’m sure she had good reasons for what she did. And even 10 years later, openly cohabiting is a big taboo in Korea, testament to which is the fact Korean portal sites like Naver require age verification for you to search for anything related to donggeo, “동거”, the Korean word for cohabitation, placing it on a par with pornography and so on.

Granted, along with pregnancy, couples are generally forgiven if they have already made arrangements to marry, or at least do so shortly after being discovered.  But as a Seoul-based friend who wrote his MA thesis on them frequently lamented, that means it can be near impossible just to find cohabiting couples, let alone ones willing to talk about their experiences with a researcher.

Still, that’s not to say that they don’t exist, and fortunately amorous Yonsei University couples at least don’t seem to need to go to quite such extremes to hide their living arrangements, as the third of four articles on the “Sex and the University” theme from the Yonsei Chunchu (연세춘추) campus newspaper explains. Not really giving any background on the subject though, if you haven’t already then I recommend reading this short introductory article I wrote for the Korea Times before starting here, and it also has a list of links to many other related posts for anyone further interested.

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Countering Sexual Violence in Korea

Once again, Korea has gotten the lowest score of all high-income countries in a recent survey of gender-equality worldwide. And, at 104th out of 131 countries surveyed, it was bested by numerous much poorer countries at that.

Given that record, then it’s very easy to focus on Korea’s shortcomings when talking about gender issues. But that can mean that we can easily miss the positive developments that are occurring though, and sometimes right in front of our very noses.

Take what this humble-looking subway ad for instance, and what it ultimately represents. First, a translation:

부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터

Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center

여성 성폭력 피해자와 가정폭력 피해자, 학교폭력 피해자들을 돕고 있는 부산 원스톱 지원센터와 아동과 지적장애인 성폭력 피해자 전담센터인 부산 해바라기 아동센터가 2010년 1월 1일부터 부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터로 통합되었습니다.

From January 1, the Busan One-Stop Support Center, which helps female victims of sexual abuse, victims of family abuse, and victims of physical abuse at schools, and the Busan Sunflower Children’s Center, which helps children and mentally handicapped victims of sexual abuse, have joined together and become the Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center.

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Yes, Old Korean People Have Sex Too…

 

( Source )

But perhaps as you’d expect, they’re generally not using protection. A quick report from The Daily Focus on Wednesday:

Number of STD Cases Among Old People Rising

While the national total number of STD cases has dropped overall, the numbers of people aged 65 and over contracting STDs has risen sharply, it emerged on the 28th.

The Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service presented its “Current Situation Regarded STD Treatment Recipients” report to Assemblywoman Son Sook-mee of the National Assembly Health Welfare Committee, according to the data of which the number of cases of people aged 65 and older receiving treatment for STDs was 44,000 in 2007 and 64,000 in 2009, a rise of 43% in just 2 years.

In 2007, people 65 years and older accounted for 4.0% of all cases of people treated for STDs, but this has risen to 5.5% as of March this year.

Little information to go on unfortunately, but Seoul residents may be interested in placing that into the context of the prostitution culture around Jongmyo Park in Jongno, which caters to the thousands of male retirees that spend their days there. From a “Korean Gender Reader” post in March last year:

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Korean Sociological Image #47: East End Girls, meet West End Boys

Yes, it had to happen eventually! A big round of applause to Nextour (넥스투어) for producing the very first Korean commercial to feature a Korean woman literally dreaming of having a romantic and/or sexual relationship with a Western man, and with no suggestion that there will be anything but happiness once she succeeds.

New readers shaking your heads in disbelief however, then by all means prove me wrong by finding earlier examples. But before engaging on what I think will ultimately be a long and fruitless search, please consider reading other posts in the “interracial relationships” category, especially here, here, here, here, here, and here. And please also ponder the following quote from Hyun-Mee Kim in her chapter “Feminization of the 2002 World Cup and Women’s Fandom” in Feminist Cultural Politics in Korea, ed. by Jung-Hwa Oh, 2005, pp. 228-243 below on the then unprecedented public attention by Korean women on the bodies of the Korean players in the summer, and which gives a big clue as to why it has taken 8 years(!) for such an essentially innocuous commercial to emerge:

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Korean Sociological Image #46: The Language of Exclusion

 

( Source: Mental Poo; reproduced with permission )

A receipt from a recent visit by blogger My Jihae to an upscale restaurant in Seoul, about which she wrote:

I’m not sure how many restaurants do this, and why this restaurant bothers to do this in the first place, but on the top of the receipt they blatantly keep track of whether the guests are locals or foreigners. They pegged me right away, I guess it’s that obvious.

For those of you that can’t read Korean, for now let’s say that waegookin (외국인) on the right generally means a foreigner, and naegookin (내국인) on the left a Korean person. And that does indeed describe My Jihae and her dining partner respectively, although she is actually Korean-American. But why bother to note the distinction between two ethnically-identical customers at the same table?

Some commenters to her post speculate that it may have been done for taxation purposes, and which as I wrote there, would be something good to know if true, as otherwise:

…many expats (myself included) may simply chalk things like this up to Koreans typically and completely unnecessarily pointing out our foreignness, when in fact they may be nothing of the sort.

And see Occidentalism here and here for a similar case in Japan. Unfortunately however, not all perceived Korean tendencies towards exclusion are simply misunderstandings on the part of non-Koreans.

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The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: News Flash

( Source: Metro, Busan edition, 8 July 2010, p. 3 )

A quick newspaper report that caught my eye while preparing the next post in this series.

Of course, I was a little disappointed that it discussed “average” smoking rates for men and women, an essentially useless concept given the diversity within each gender, and also widely inaccurate for women because of chronic underreporting by them. But that is to be expected for a free daily, and for what it’s worth it was interesting to see that Korean men retained the dubious honor of having one of the highest rates in the world. It also takes a step in the right direction by pointing out that female teenagers tend to start smoking much earlier than males too, which will hopefully result in more attention being given to that group:

People Would Consider Quitting if Cigarettes Cost 8500 won a Packet

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