Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Well-being (왤빙)

With my 5th graders in the school cafeteria
How happy are you? Do you measure your contentment in life based upon your wealth, your community ties, or your safety? How does your country measure well-being?

The OECD, which stands for Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, measured well-being in its 34 member countries using 11 topics, some of which include housing, education, governance, and work-life balance.  By exploring the interactive website, one can see the distribution of countries based upon the Better Life Index. With scores close to 8.0, Canada and Australia ranked the highest, when the 11 topics were set equally.

South Korea belongs to the OECD, and its Better Life Index is 5.3. Ten months have past since I moved to Korea, so naturally, I was curious to see how this country defined well-being. Access to jobs, education attainment, and personal safety were ranked the most important components of well-being in South Korea. In comparison, Australia and Canada placed greatest emphasis on housing, education, and life satisfaction.

Some of the statistics surprised me, so I’m including a few. See how Korea ranks!
- At 2256 hours a year, Koreans work the most amongst the OECD countries. The OECD average is 1739 hours.

- 44.7% of Korean men and 7.2% of Korean women reported smoking daily in 2008. Smoking rates for men are the second highest in the OECD, while the women’s rates are the lowest.

- Amongst the OECD countries, Korea has the lowest percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for more than a year. Currently, it is 0.01%.

- Only 80% of Koreans believe that they know one person who would help them in a time of need.  (I was confused that in a country that emphasizes the collective over the individual, people would indicate social networks to be weaker than in other OECD countries.)

- The educational level of Koreans is one of the highest in the OECD. 98% of Korean young people aged 25-35 years old have attained education equivalent to a high-school degree. Korea also has the highest literacy scores in the OECD. The PISA average is 539 out of 600. (Talk to any educator in the Korean public and/or private education system, and they’ll tell you not to accept the numbers blindly. Korea’s education system has its unique challenges.)

While you think about this, let Kanye inspire you. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Let's Go Fishing!

Two weekends ago, I went way up North to Hwacheon in Gangwon Province with two of my Fulbright buddies, Jing and Jillian.  It was a 5-hour trek from Cheongju Cherryland to Hwacheon, but we were so glad to make it to the Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival on its FINAL day.  People paid 12,000 Won to catch fish with their bare hands at this festival.  Included in the entrance fee were the bright orange shirts saggy knee-length pants we could wear in the fishing ring.

The contest began just minutes after we got to the festival site, so the three of us were very confused about what was going on.  Women manning the changing booths shooed us into the line of people shivering and waiting to catch fish.  Spectators bundled in their winter coats watched as one contestant after another jumped into the ring.  The first contestant to catch three fish with his/her bare hands within five minutes would win the contest.  
Those five minutes felt like fifteen minutes! My legs went kind of numb the moment I stepped in.  For some reason, I thought that I could simply pluck the fish out of the water with ease.  Nope! I was in squatting position, crouching with 3/4 of my arm submerged in the cold water, trying not to give myself away to the fish.  Even my bra got wet from hunching over.  The fish can detect any motion, and when you think that you've got them in your hands and squeeze, they slip right out because they're so slippery. I’m proud to say that I caught two fish, both of which I shoved down my shirt, in order to free up my hands to catch the third fish.  Those two were flapping around my stomach, and removing them from my shirt was even worse! AKA see my face in the picture below.
Go Jillian! Last woman standing in the ring!
Taking Flopping Fish #1 out of my shirt. Fish #2 was waiting by my belly button.

Salting the fish (after knocking its lights out) for the oven
Each aluminum foil-wrapped fish cooked in its grill for 30 minutes.
Do you know what the best part of the day was?  Eating the fish I caught just minutes after! Yumm!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I'm Back!

After a three-month hiatus from the blogosphere, I’m back online as well as back in the ROK. Just yesterday I arrived in my homebase Cheongju, a city that is always a pleasure to return to.  I’m quoting Far East Movement in my (lunar) New Year’s resolution to “live free and stay wired.”  In layman’s terms, have all the fun I want traipsing around the world without forgetting to stay connected to my peeps and fambam by being reliably online.

Today is Korea’s Independence Day (March 1st), and it represents the beginning of the movement to win independence from Japan.  On March 1, 1919, when Korea had been occupied by Japan for ten years already, Nationalists tried to read the Declaration of Independence.  March 1st represents Korea’s Independence Movement.  While all governmental offices were closed and Korean flags were hanging from street lamps on every road, much of the country simply treated the day just as any other day to work and consume.  Considering how nationalistic Koreans are and quick to distinguish themselves from their Japanese neighbors, I was quite surprised that this holiday is not celebrated with more grandeur.  My host dad, for example, went to work, while my siblings were excited to have one more day off of school before the new school year begins.  No parades, no parties, no commemorative coins.  Nothing close to the festivities of American Fourth of July (which I missed in 2010 and will miss once again this year). 

And this is how South Korea is commemorating March 1st with the North: flying propaganda-laden balloons over the border

On a different note, tomorrow is the first day of the new school year! The school year in Korea starts in March, unlike the US.   I’m sad that my two-month paid vacation is coming to a brutal halt.  After experiencing the warmest winter days that Los Angeles has experience (87 degrees in February, people!), I’m pouting about the rainy wind and overcast weather in Cheongju.