They're sassy. They're sexy. They're girls from Korea.What makes Korean girls quintessentially Korean?
There's an exodus of poor men who have come halfway around the world just to be with them. You see, in the land of Korean beauties, they can spoil you and then tame you -- their way. And before you realize, you've fallen madly in love with them.
Here's what we hear about Korean girls nowadays:
-- "Korean girls are good-looking and their beauty can last well into their 40s."
-- "Korean girls are 100 times better. I dropped all my French girlfriends. I'm definitely coming back!"
-- "It was trendy to marry Eastern European girls, with names that end with '-kova.' Now it's Asian girls, especially beautiful Korean girls. We wives of foreign men don't like living in Korea."
Are these people talking Joseon Dynasty women in the movies? Oriental mystery is so pass? Today's Korean girls are modern urbanites living in the fast lane. Are they vain? Yes, big time. Substantial? Sure, they know exactly what they want and can get out of changing values and society. At every critical moment of life they stand balancing on a scale that reads "vanity" on one end and "substance" on the other.
In the competitive world of gender identity, they are the champions of ultimate femininity. They learned their lessons from their mothers. You see, their mothers belong to a completely different time, the generation of fortitude and strength; their grandmothers, the generation of perseverance and survival. Their mothers cooked a full-course meal at 5 in the morning for their men. Living in 2002, their daughters don't cook -- at all. But they know where to direct their men to buy a nice meal. Mothers waited for their men to come home. Their younger versions make their men look for them in the nightclub.
Their hard-working fathers put them through good universities, and perhaps a trip or two to Europe or America. They are Daddy's girls, until they find a good husband who's rich enough to afford them.
Korean girls know how to take advantage of the rules -- old AND new. They let their man be a man. They let him make the choices, but in fact, it's the woman who really controls things. In their dictionary of love, juggling several men isn't defined as cheating, but a strategy for an improved life. In their dramatic game of love, they coax and tame Asia's worst chauvinists, while maintaining reasonably distant friendships with their competitive girlfriends. Women with a good career can enhance their value. They may go for sophisticated, coveted positions -- television newscasters, fashion merchandisers or concert pianists. But what good will it do if they don't find the perfect man? Because life without men is just too tough to imagine.
With their killer looks, they can have their men drive, work for and worship them. Whether they can cash out their looks or not, they make it their top priority to look like an actress or model. They are polished, not like those burdensome New York socialite types, but with the potential to grow into one if you provide her with enough. Their fashion is eclectic and comprehensive: cute comes from Japan, chic from Europe, cheap from Southeast Asia and practical from America.
Can looks be everything in a perfect date? They are cleverly well-informed living in the age of high-tech and information. They can speak English well enough to pass a job interview or get by while traveling. They are sensible and worldly in every sense, as if Korea's complex history and change had been left out of its social context. But, oddly enough, their been-there, seen-that attitude, combined with tradition-meets-modernity style, never comes across as cocky nor aloof. To those who have fallen in love with Korean girls, they are simply, "My beautiful Korean girlfriend."
Meet Yoon Hye-jung and Choi Eun-jin. When they walk down the street, they know that the world is watching. Their flawless faces are set with long eyelashes and pink lipgloss. Their long, silky hair caresses their size 0-2 bodies, elongated by high heels. They are sassy, trendy and sexy. They are the most coveted of Asia's Barbie dolls -- Korean girls.
When Ms. Yoon and Ms. Choi enter a popular bar, U.S. 66, in the Hongdae area, the faces of the male clients there brighten up. They are both 24 but appear too young to be entering a bar. They confidently pass by the looks of admiration, find a spot and order drinks -- today, it's Bud Ice. They toast by carrying out their long-time ritual of clinking the necks of bottles. Hye-jung's relationship with her boyfriend has gone sour again. They are stressed out; they need to talk.
Saucer-eyed Hye-jung has golden hair; almond-eyed Eun-jin has ebony. Hye-jung wears a thigh-high miniskirt; Eun-jin wears skintight jeans. They are different, but have a lot of things in common. They've been best friends since grade school. They are both from the southern port city of Busan. They went to the same university in Seoul. They both live alone, in officetels in Gangnam. They share the latest information on shopping, weekend parties and their love situations. They meet at least twice a week and hang out in the trendy spots around town.
What do they talk about? What do they do? What do they plan? They shared their lives with the Joong-Ang Ilbo English Edition:
Where do you get your clothes?
Yoon: Everywhere, from Galleria Department Store to small boutiques in Apgujeong-dong! I love Gucci and Chanel, but they are too expensive. Someday I'd love to own a real Chanel bag.
If a man ever offers you a real Chanel bag, would you go out with him?
Yoon: Maybe about one week.
What is your favorite magazine and who are your favorite models?
Yoon: Our favorite read is Elle, and favorite models are Gisele Bundchen, Caroline Ribeiro and Kim Won-kyung.
What is your dress code?
Choi: I have to dress conservatively at work. If I didn't, I'd get into trouble. My boss would not say anything, but he'd come up with an excuse to fire me later. Sometimes, I run into my colleagues at parties, and they are shocked at the way I'm dressed. But, because many of them are either foreigners or gyopo [Koreans raised overseas], they are more understanding. If I want to go out after work, I go home and change. The most expensive clothes I own are two short dresses from Versus and Fendi.
Do you own fake goods?
Choi: Doesn't every Korean girl own fake bags? I do. Isn't that embarrassing, though?
Isn't it trendy to have cosmetic surgery in Korea?
Yoon: Oh, yes.
Choi: But we're too scared to do it. Our friends have gotten their eyes done over the weekend.
Over the weekend? Do they look O.K.?
Choi: Of course, they look a little puffy, but it's common.
If you were to get one part of your body fixed, where would it be?
Yoon: Our boobs! We're so flat. We wear Korean Wonder Bras to create the curve.
Choi: But men can tell the difference between the real and the fake right off. When a woman with fake boobs lies down, they stand up like a pair of rice bowls.
What are your parents like?
Yoon: I come from a very conservative family. I had to get rid of my home phone because they kept on calling to see if I was home or not.
Choi: When I passed the university exam, all my friends went out to a rock cafe. My friends' parents got angry, but my father asked me if I needed a ride. Because my parents left me alone, I became more responsible.
What's it like to visit home?
Choi: We're used to living alone. When we go back home, the first two days are fine, but afterward we feel uncomfortable. We rarely go home except for big holidays.
Do you cook?
Choi: Never, I eat out.
Work and Money
Where do you get your money?
Yoon: I had a job at a record company. I always had to work overtime and the work was physically demanding, so I quit. After that, my parents have given me money whenever I needed.
Do you save?
Choi: I used to save 500,000 won a month, I stopped because I spend too much. I'm busy paying off my credit card bills. On average, I spend about 700,000 won on clothes, about 250,000 won on books and CDs, about 250,000 won on going out. Hye-jung has a rich boyfriend who gives her everything she needs, like new furniture.
Yoon: For me, it really depends. I usually spend about 250,000 won at once. When I go out, I spend about 60,000 won a day. My phone bill is not so much, about 50,000 won a month. I don't save.
Love, Sex and Marriage
What is your status?
Yoon: I just broke up with my musician boyfriend of three years. We have been on and off actually. He is conservative, always checking up on my social life, so we had fights often. Besides, my parents were against my dating him, which bothered me, too. The way I see it, with my boyfriend, love doesn't necessarily lead to marriage.
Choi: Yeah, right, I've seen her do it so many times. She will make up with him tomorrow. My relationships don't last too long. The longest was one year. I'd been on and off, too, but I've been single for seven months now.
Don't you want a new boyfriend?
Choi: Yes, but it's not easy to find a nice guy. Sometimes my friends and colleagues arrange a sogaeting [blind date] for me. I'd like to meet a man to whom I can talk about my latest read, but not many guys are into reading. I have my own Web site where I post my writings and get about 100 hits a day.
Do you meet guys whom you met online?
Choi: I made a rule never to mix online and offline relationships.
Where do you hang out on weekends?
Yoon: Our favorite spot in Hongdae has been MI for the past five years. When we get bored, we go to NB, but it's too crowded with American soldiers. We've been to King's Club and Hollywood in Itaewon, but decided not to go there unless we're with dates. We went to Boss, you know, one of those "booking" clubs. We were taken by the waiters and ended up never seeing each other.
Choi: Until we went home. Those waiters never left us alone.
Did you get to meet anyone special there?
Choi: No. We don't limit meeting men to bars, though.
Yoon: Exactly. We never know where and when we're going to meet the man of our life.
Choi: In Gangnam, our favorite spot is S Bar and Amaranth.
Where do you hear about parties?
Choi: Through friends.
Travel and Foreign Men
Have you traveled overseas?
Yoon: During my summer vacation in college, I went to New York City to study English. It was my first time traveling abroad. While working in a record company, I went to France to attend a rock festival. French musicians are so handsome! I was embarrassed hanging out with a bunch of ordinary Korean ajeossi [middle-aged men].
Choi: My first trip abroad was to Hong Kong a few years ago. I went to Tokyo once. I found Chinese and Japanese girls were not pretty. When my girlfriend and I walked down the streets in Hong Kong, people made way for us and admired our beauty. That made me feel great. I didn't know that Korean girls' beauty was appreciated so much outside Korea. I thought Hong Kong guys were so gorgeous. Japanese guys were so cute; they know how to dress.
What do you think of foreign men?
Yoon: To my taste, American men are too big and casual. After seeing such stylish French men, my favorite is definitely French men. But all my friends tell me Italian men are better-looking! I want to go to Italy!
Any vacation plan this year?
Yoon: We're planning to go to Thailand. Bangkok clubs are supposed to be really big and fun. We heard about Thai men who are more beautiful than women.
Korean Girls, Korean Men
What do you think of Korean men?
Yoon: We learned that Korean men are not as kind and good-looking as foreign men. So many of our friends now date foreign men because their former Korean boyfriends didn't treat them nicely. If Korean men don't change their attitudes, all Korean girls will marry foreign men!
Will you date foreign men?
Yoon: We'd like to, but most foreign men living in Korea don't have decent jobs; they're English teachers.
What about those cute younger boys?
Choi: It's a big thing on TV, but we don't like to date younger men. Cute younger men remind of us our little brothers! The oldest guys we've ever dated were men 11 years older.
What about Korean men from abroad?
Choi: Because I work in a multinational consulting company, I get to meet a lot of gyopo. From our experience, they have an attitude problem. Because they are different from Koreans here, they think they are better.
Who was the hottest guy you ever met?
Yoon: We went to a cool party at S-Bar last weekend and saw the most handsome man we've ever seen -- David McInnis from the movie "The Cut Runs Deep"! We watched him from a distance because he was just too good to be true.
What do you want to do in the future?
Yoon: Maybe I'd like to marry a diplomat. I'd like to come back to Korea to settle down, though.
Where do you want to live?
Choi: In many countries. I could marry a consultant so we could travel together. Or I may ask my parents to send me to New York City to study fashion or something.
Will you become an ajumma one day?
Yoon: No way!
Choi: We can't let that happen!
Your mothers became ajumma, though, right?
Yoon: Maybe I should have only one child, then it will be O.K.
Choi: Did you hear that only-children usually turn out to be too spoiled?
Yoon: Hmm ... really?
Top to Bottom
height, 163 centimeters
weight, 47 kilograms
Key Hair Points
getting that perfect color
"coating" is out
home-dye is in
hoops, craft beads, mobile phone
Estee Lauder, Guerlain
Getting Dressed to Kill
Korean "shell bra"
or Wonder Bra
inexpensive bustiers from around Ewha Womans University
sandwich, tteokbokki, coffee mocha
the super long-leg look
in gold or silver
by Inēs Cho