A date, a big kiss, a bonbon or 200You want to ask a young Korean woman out, but you’re not sure if she has a boyfriend. Here’s a suggestion: Ask her first if she’s got any plans tonight. If she breaks into a smile and says she has an appointment in, say, Apgujeong or Sinchon, it means that she does. In truth, she’s been waiting for this appointment for a long time, for today is White Day. What’s White Day? Well, it’s a special day falling annually on March 14. In terms of romantic fussing, it ranks right up there with Feb. 14.
In Korea on Valentine’s Day, it’s women who treat men with those armfuls of chocolate. It’s just the opposite on White Day. Based on the strict give-and-take rule, today is the time when a boyfriend showers his girlfriend with a bucket of candy. If you’re asking what all this commotion is about, the answer is love. And money, of course.
For the haves and the have-nots, it’s a night to remember or forget
The plan: drowning misery with pals
Not everyone is lucky enough to find his significant other. Kim Si-chul, 24, a college student, says he’s going to drink this evening away with his buddies. “I wish Valentine’s and White Day didn’t exist.”
A young woman, identifying herself only as Ms. Park, says, “I don’t care about all the hustle and bustle over such days. It’s just nonsense to spend so much on chocolates, and I’m on a diet anyway.” Ms. Park will likely sleep -- and hide -- through the evening in her room, where she’ll be alone.
Yoo Jae-rim, 20, however, is dying to celebrate White Day. “I know it’s nothing but a sales pitch from confectionery companies, but it’s fun,” he says. The only thing Mr. Yoo is missing, which seems rather crucial, is a girlfriend. He broke up with his just two weeks before Valentine’s Day, a split that he now greatly regrets.
This White Day, he says, is the first one he’ll face without a girlfriend since his teens, which makes it even harder. “I should have thought twice before I said goodbye to her. Back then, I never imagined that I would be this lonely on Valentine’s Day and White Day.”
But at least he’s got a plan tonight -- he’s ready to drink like a fish with his pals, all of whom hold seats in the same sad little boat. Mr. Yoo won’t do his drinking in downtown areas, though, he says. “I don’t want to stand out among all those guys with candy buckets in their hands.”
The plan: drowning misery with pals
Jin Min-kyu, 24, a journalism major at Yonsei University, believes that it’s a sin to forget White Day. “On Valentine’s Day last month, my girlfriend gave me a box of chocolate that she had made with her own hands. This time, it’s my turn to impress her.”
Oh, yes, today marks the 462d day since the lovebirds met.
Mr. Jin has come up with a special gift for his girlfriend, Kim Hyun-joo, 24, a nurse at a downtown hospital, tonight. He was reluctant to talk about this surprise in advance, except to say it will be more creative than what he gave her last December on her birthday. Back then he blew up 10 balloons, wrote on each “I Love You” and then stuffed this unusual bouquet in her car’s trunk.
On a recent night in Sinchon, Mr. Jin stopped in Art Box, which sells all sorts of White Day accessories. It takes some courage for Mr. Jin to go into the shop and select candies, for Art Box is usually packed with young women, but was not this recent evening. In fact, the shop was packed with men, mostly in small groups, arguing over what they should get for White Day. Art Box has a wide variety of choices -- from taffy to bonbons, in all colors and shapes. Packages of the sweets are usually done up with lots of pretty ribbon and paper with plenty of big, showy hearts.
It’s a privilege for couples to exchange chocolates and candy on special days. But one wonders if Mr. Jin will still be giving candies to his main squeeze when he’s 64. Mr. Jin tilts his head back and says, “Well, I don’t know about that. When I feel uncomfortable in picking out candy on White Day, it means that I’ve probably become an ajeossi, a middle-aged man who does not care much about being sensitive to matters of the heart.”
The last thing Mr. Jin wants to do is be a 45-year-old stuffed shirt. So, he says he’ll keep the tradition of White Day going for as long as possible.
After all, a tradition is something made to be kept.
Love makes the heart ― and cash registers ― go pitter-patter
Song Seung-wook, who runs Sinchon’s Art Box, which sells mints, lollipops and stationery, says his best months of the year are February and March. Last year, of 270 billion won worth of sweets sold in Korea, more than one-third of those items went out shop doors during the Valentine’s Day and White Day period. Kim Kun-young, the head of the planning department of Art Box, confirms that February and March mark the biggest season of the year: “In Korea, Valentine’s Day and White Day are even bigger than Christmas.” On average, a man spends about 20,000 won ($16) for White Day, while a woman splurges at least 30,000 won. And this laying out of cash is not reserved for lovers. Some people at work pass around leftover sweets -- just for fun.
Nobody is sure when these two days started. Mr. Kim says in the late 1980s Lotte Department Store in Seoul promoted the first Valentine’s Day. White Day supposedly originated about three years later, in response to Valentine’s Day. Since then, the two days have for couples on the peninsula been almost like wedding days.
But the hubbub does not end this month. Stirred by the heart and, presumably the pocketbook, young Koreans now mark the 14th day of each month. Thus, there are Black Day, Rose Day, Photo Day, and so on. It’s safe to say that many Koreans do not know one day from another.
To keep up with the trend, some firms offer special deals. Kookmin Credit Card Co. came up with a “14th Day Love Card,” which offers special gifts on a14th day. On Nov. 14, dubbed Movie Day, Kookmin card provides free movie tickets.
Days of wine, roses and agenda books
It’s hard to find a true love. What may be harder in Korea is to keep track of the many special days for lovers. Valentine’s Day and White Day seem easy. Same day, one month apart. But what month for, say, Black Day? And by the way, what does Black Day represent? Or Photo Day, for that matter? To bring you up to date, here’s a list of days you ought to know, at least if you want to remain young at heart.
Jan. 14 -- Diary Day
Koreans came up with this day only earlier this year. After lining up every 14th day from February to December, only January was left without. Because Jan. 14 was the first 14th of the year, creative minds named it for the organizer that many folks start in a brand-new year. A guidebook on how to make the 14th day right, which circulates around among young Internet users, says Diary Day works best when guys or girls hand it over with a bundle of flowers.
April 14 -- Black Day
Time for lonely hearts to strike back. To deal with any bitterness, solos are expected to get together this day at Chinese restaurants to soothe their aloneness with a bowl of jajangmyeon, a Koreanized Chinese noodle, with black bean paste. The day requires a strict dress code as well -- all black. Couples should stay away from these black noodles on this day no matter how badly they may want to have that dish. Why? It’s become a symbol of singles.
May 14 -- Rose Day
For lovers who have had enough sweets by now, it’s time for roses. It’s generally believed that florists, who did not see huge profits on Valentine’s Day and on White Day, came up with this day. Rose Day is not only something for lovers, but it can be between friends. The guidebook to the 14 day celebrations says that there are rules regarding the colors of roses. Yellow roses mean farewell, white ones are for friendship and red ones are the right color for lovers, though nobody knows why.
June 14 ― Kiss Day
If you gave red roses a month ago, it’s time to step up to another level. If you’ve been vigilantly watching for a chance to kiss your beloved, this is the right day to steal a smooch. Do not part with dry lips on this date. And no garlic, please.
July 14 ― Silver Day
It’s that time of the year to confirm your love by exchanging silver “couple” rings. Why silver? No one can say exactly, except that presumably silver looks cool on hot summer days.
Aug. 14 -- Music Day
By now, you’ve been together for quite a while and you and your lover need some refreshments. One of the best medicines is to head to a nightclub to dance. Or stay home and listen to sounds that you both like.
Sept. 14 -- Photo Day
Under the crystalline sky of a beautiful Korean fall evening, lovers are inspired to have a photograph taken of themselves together -- in every imaginable and affectionate pose. By having such a photo, lovers can officially announce their devotion to the world, or at least to some of their friends in the world.
Oct. 14 -- Wine Day
Soju may not be the ideal drink to have with your lover, unless perhaps your lover is a he and so are you. On this day, heterosexual couples are expected to tarry at a wine bar, drinking to the depths of their lovers’ starry eyes. Singles? They’re generally found tossing back large amounts of soju. But why wine on this day? The answer: Why not?
Nov. 14 -- Movie Day
Time to head out and take in a movie. The “right” movies for this special day are a horror film or a romantic comedy. Better yet, go see “Scream,” “Scream II” or “Scream III,” and you’ll combine wiggles with giggles.
Dec. 14 ― Money Hug Day
Lovers, especially men, have a responsibility to do what their beloveds want on this particular day. That is, spend money. Lots and lots of it. That done, a hug will surely follow. Sometimes two hugs.
by Chun Su-jin