Feminism in Korea

Korea is advanced in so many respects; they have a multitude of modern technology, an efficient society and some of the smartest students in the world, (ranked third in this assessment). However, there is still an obvious gender inequality that is infested in everyday life. Personally, I believe that this disparity tarnishes the persona of Korea as a modern, progressive country.

Within my school, girls generally score better in tests, they have a sharper focus and tend to enjoy studying more than their male counterparts. Obviously, this is only a microcosm of Korea, but if this prevails in every educational environment it appears that women should be set to be the most intelligent and highly educated of the two sexes. Therefore, they should be the most attractive candidate for the highest paid and most powerful jobs in the country.

This has already happened in the case of the female president, Park Geun-hye, who is single and often claims to be married to her nation. Nevertheless, in the ‘industrial armpit’ of Korea, also known as Ulsan, it is rare for women  to be the breadwinner; in fact it is more likely that the mother will be a housewife, whilst their husband earns a wage. Actually, only around 57% of women are actively employed in Korea. Also, it is typically expected that a woman will give up her career once she is married in order to focus on concocting domestic bliss. The identity of a successful woman has metamorphosed into one who stays at home rather than one who goes out to mould her own life. This identity has permeated into the minds of young students whose life dream is to be a housewife, even though they are the smartest in their mixed sex class.

The cracks are beginning to appear, because men are forced to work long hours, or even multiple jobs in order to provide for their family. It is quite common for a father to live separate from his family in order to have a better job. Therefore, they have precious little time that they can spend with their kin. However, women are hardly encouraged to enter the workforce, as they will be hit by the reality that women make on average 39% less than men.

Female students study just as hard, if not harder than the boys in their classes. They attend multiple academies and shirk valuable sleeping time in order to stay up late in the night to study for the extent of their adolescence only to throw away all their hard work to become a homemaker. If a girl’s dream is to become a housewife, then she should be able to take her foot off the pedal during her student days and enjoy the freedom that childhood provides. The effort and money put into achieving top grades are wasted if a career is not part of the outcome.

Children watch the matriarchs of their family cooking, cleaning and serving the men throughout their national holidays. Young girls grow up to believe that this is their chosen path. Regardless of the fact that these women despise the work that they are expected to do during the festivities, they never desist what is expected of them. These women who are potentially more astute than their husbands, and have studied just as hard a as them during their youth, duly accept to be used like a servant. It’s necessary for a change to occur in the older generations in order to modify the mindset of their juniors. 

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Cheonyong Music Festival

 When it comes to culture, Ulsan is somewhat lacking. Luckily, it’s nestled between traditional Gyeongju that offers a glimpse into Korea’s past, and modern, multi-cultural Busan. Both cities are only a short train ride away, allowing Ulsanites to fulfill their cultural quota. However, every October Ulsan hosts an international music festival which compensates for what can be a very dry city.

The festival descended on the city this year during a three day weekend, so events started on the Thursday evening and spanned through to Sunday. There is no entry fee, and you have access to three stages playing a variety of music from around the world. Alongside some mini stages which offer traditional Korean performances, including dancing and poetry. Also, there is an array of arts and crafts stalls, and international food tents from multiple countries prepared by natives. The diversity of the cuisine was like taking a tour of world flavours alongside the music.

The combination of so many different bands from around the world meant that there was a real richness to the music. One band might be a European gypsy band closely followed by a Chinese rock band. These alternative sounds might be considered to clash with one another; however, the contrast in sounds only intensified each artist’s flair and finesse.  

The festival lures such an assorted crowd, that it is not uncommon to be dancing with a Korean family one minute and a Russian rock star the next. There is a friendly vibe that makes the weekend perfect for a family outing. Also, all the bars in the area cater for before and after parties. If you’re ever in Ulsan, I highly recommend the weekend of Cheoyong.  

Tourist in Japan

Japan is like a breath of fresh air. Of course I love Korea, but sometimes you need space in order to truly appreciate what you have.

In February I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo, as an ignorant European I hadn’t really heard of any other Japanese cities, and I was too lazy to do my research. Since that trip I have realised that there is something almost identical about metropolises; once you’ve visited one you’ve seen them all. Subsequently, I investigated other Japanese cities that might offer something more than international streets flanked by skyscrapers. I chose three cities: Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. They are located close enough to one another to be able to explore them during a single trip. Also, each city is unique from the others.

  Upon landing I jumped straight on the JR train and headed to Nara. Nara is quite a small city and is easy to navigate via bus. The main attraction for tourists is Nara Park which is home to Sika deer; they aimlessly roam around scaring school kids and eating anything that they can. They will approach you and lick your hands, so if you are adverse to that walk quickly! The park itself is utterly beautiful, large trees shade the pathways which wind through the acres passing ponds and stumbling upon temples and shrines. Also, residing within the park is Todaiji temple which houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. It is phenomenal, and you literally have to strain your neck to gaze at his head.  

Kyoto was the most touristy of the three, it offers an abundance of temples, shrines and museums, each one radiating a traditional Japanese aura. In fact there were far too many things to cram into my short stay. The highlight of Kyoto for me was Gion, this is geisha area of the city. Each peaceful street snakes past picturesque tea houses, beautiful men and women wander around the area clad in exquisite kimonos. There was something otherworldly about the whole neighborhood.

Another must-see in Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji temple. The grounds of this temple are sensational, despite the crowds there is a certain peacefulness that fills the air. Kinkaku-ji is home to the famous golden pavilion which sits alluringly on the edge of a pond, its shimmering reflection doubling the breathtaking view. The temple also offers a taste of traditional green tea served by kimono clad women.  

In the south of Kyoto lies Fushimi Inari Shrine. Behind the main building are webs of paths which gradually hike up the hillside, these trails are straddled by thousands of gates which form a bright red tunnel for visitors to pass through. Initially, the shrine is congested, but as you work towards the peak the tourists thin out.  

The focal point in Osaka was the castle which sits encompassed by lush expansive gardens. The palace itself is sumptuous both inside and out. If you do venture inside there is a large museum which winds its way up each floor. On the uppermost floor there is a viewing balcony where you can gaze out over the city, as emperors gone by probably have done.  

Osaka appeared to be the best option for somewhere to stay, as it is the liveliest of the three cities, offering the most bars and restaurants. It offered a vast array of food, and there wasn’t a single meal that wasn’t impressive.  

From my experience, public transport in Japan is impeccable. There is only a brief wait between trains and I never encountered one that was late. All routes are clearly highlighted, but if you do have a problem the workers and public are more than happy to help. All transportation methods ran smoothly and were relatively well priced.