[FOUNTAIN]The Residue of Workaholism"Art professors in Seoul would normally talk to students by saying, 'What concerns you these days?' When I went to the United States to study, an American art professor would ask his students, 'What do you enjoy these days?' Those two sentences sound alike, but they have very different meanings," Kang Ik-jung, a Korean artist who works in the United States, said a couple years ago in an interview.
Mr. Kang was being cynical about workaholic Koreans, but what he said is worth contemplating. He is, after all, admired by the famed video artist, Paik Nam-june. Mr. Kang made his remarks at the Venice Biennale, where he received a merit award.
When I saw Mr. Kang afterward, I told him, "What you said was just remarkable." Mr. Kang shook his head. What he said next caused me to nearly suffocate. "My professors in Korea scolded me a lot. They said they felt sorry that I misinterpreted their devotion. They also said I had grown up to become disrespectful."
Workaholism is almost a disease in Korea. Workaholism is an inescapable complication that developed in the Park Chung Hee dictatorship. In the 1960s, labor was considered the only thing valuable amid Confucian solemnity.
In that climate, having fun was a good target for witch-hunting, and was considered sinful. As a result, Korean family members stopped interacting and doing things for each other. Parents gave their children pocket money and told them, "Just study." Keeping out of trouble, parents believed, was what proper children should do. Respect for elders and filial duties seem to have disappeared long ago. A popular phrase nowadays goes, "This society only creates and grows frustrated." The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund's survey results last week about "teenagers without respect" bore that phrase out. However, let's look for a tiny bit of hope here. Unexpectedly, within the chaos created by fun-loving teenagers in this country, lies hope.
Do solemn people feel convulsion when they hear, "Let's have fun"? Don't worry. This is only a commendable gesture to overturn the culture of keeping superficial solemnness and throw away the commercialism of television. This is only a search of alternative culture, whose slogan says, "Let's have fun." It is a genuine gesture of homo ludens or humans who know how to enjoy. The second Youth Festival in Yeouido, which begins Friday, will be attended by many young people who want to enjoy life. If you want to have more fun this weekend, I recommend that you attend the fair to be held in front of Hongik University.
The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Ilbo publications.
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