A shared love passes down generationsHow many young people in South Korea would happily inherit their parents’ work?
Unlike in the West, with its model of generational inheritance or that of Japan’s small udon shops, it is difficult to find examples of such customs in Korea. Handing down a family business is rare here as Koreans are accustomed to regarding success as having a fancy career of one’s own.
The following cases may be few, but they’re valuable nonetheless simply because it’s so beautiful to see two generations sharing one spirit. As the Korean proverb goes, “To your descendants, it is far better to teach one decent skill or to deliver one classic book than to inherit an enormous amount of property.” It is time to impress this wisdom on our minds.
Father and daughter pursue high-speed success
Like father, like daughter. Kang Hyun-taek, 44, and his 19-year-old daughter Kang Yoon-su are the first father-daughter auto racing pair in the country. Mr. Kang is the head of the “Tachyon” racing team; his daughter is a racer.
Mr. Kang used to be a truck driver, but he became fascinated by the dizzying speed of auto racing and decided to make a living out of racing cars in 1994. Today, he is a veteran, having won the BAT GT Championship last year in the Touring A class, that is, race cars with 1600 to 2000-cc engines.
Though she once drove an amateur-level car, Ms. Kang now drives the Formula 1800, a set of professional wheels.
“I have wanted to be an auto racer since watching my father’s debut match when I was 10 years old,” Ms. Kang said. When she informed her father that she wanted to be a professional auto racer rather than attend college, Mr. Kang happily agreed with her decision.
“I agreed because I know she really loves racing,” Mr. Kang said. “I felt that it was not a temporary whim of hers. Besides, I’ve encouraged her since I found that she has the talent to become a good racer.”
When the teen debuted on the pro circuit last March, her father said he was more stressed out than his daughter. Although he has strictly trained her as a racer and not as a daughter on the track, his worries ― What if she falls behind and feels defeated? What if she gets into an accident? ― got so overwhelming that he even tried to replace her behind the steering wheel right before the race.
But he suppressed his anxiety after she showed composure, saying, “I will proudly accept the results regardless of ranking.” To her father’s pleasure, she finished third, just as her father had done in his debut.
The duo now dreams of founding a motor sports school in Korea someday. To achieve this goal, Ms. Kang plans to study at an established institution overseas.
Having no regrets about his daughter’s decision, Mr. Kang offered this advice to her: “I hope you will find and enjoy as much happiness as possible in this field. I have been trying to myself as well.”
Bullfighting heritage passed on to fourth generation of a family
At 70, Ha Ui-hyo is the third generation of his family to be involved in bullfighting in Uiryeong, South Gyeongsang province ― the capital of the sport in Korea. The family business was founded by his grandfather.
“Take it easy! You need to soothe a bull rather than act forcefully,” Mr. Ha instructs his youngest son, Jeong, 31, the fourth successor to the family business. Jeong, meanwhile, urges his father to be tougher on the bull.
At Mr. Ha’s ripe old age, dealing with a young, strong bull has become hard work. His son worries about his father, but the elder Mr. Ha remains enthusiastic about passing on the skills and nuances that he knows about raising a good fighting bull.
“You must have a keen sense to choose a good bull for fighting,” Mr. Ha said. “Eyes have to be round and small. Horns should be as right-angled as possible. The distance between two horns should be short. Ears must be tiny and situated just below the horns. A long waist and short legs are also necessary. The front half of the body must be higher than the rear half, just like a lion.”
Following these criteria, Mr. Ha and his son have raised two brilliant bulls: 7-year-old Beom-i, which weighs 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) and 6-year-old Kkeok-soe, weighing 1,200 kilograms. Beom-i deserves the moniker of national champion, having won more than 50 contests; Kkeok-soe is also a contender.
The two bulls bring Mr. Ha 80 million won ($69,500) a year from fights ― twice what he earns from his rice fields. “It has nothing to do with the money. When our bulls win, I can’t be happier,” Mr. Ha said.
Mr. Ha is proud of how his son prepares special meals for the bulls and trains them to fight. “Many people want to buy my bulls, Beom-i and Kkeok-soe. They offer up to 130 million won. But I won’t sell them because the bulls have to be the first champion when an arena opens in Uiryeong.”
New blood in 300-year-old pottery tradition
The father never wanted to hand down the family business to his only son, Lee Hak-su, even though crafting pottery had been a family tradition for 300 years, over eight generations.
His father made him attend a proper private university in Seoul in the 1970s because he didn’t want his son to suffer the ill treatment that potters in Korea often get. As his father hoped, his son was on track to becoming a teacher.
But in late spring of 1974, Mr. Lee, who was supposed to be in Seoul, suddenly arrived at home in Boseong, South Jeolla province, and told his father that he would take over the business. “I will never see you again,” Mr. Lee’s father told his son after receiving the shocking news.
After a six-month-long cold war between the two, Mr. Lee won out; after all, no father can win over his child. That is how Miryeok Pottery, Mr. Lee’s pottery company in Boseong, got started.
“I couldn’t free my mind from making pottery,” Mr. Lee said. “The sound of molding clay constantly lingered in my ears and the kiln’s flare kept hovering in my eyes. So I decided to quit studying and came home.”
Mr. Lee struggled to make ends meet in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when plastic or stainless-steel dishware was the rage. Out of desperation, he opened an eyeglass shop, which he ran during the day. At night, he made pottery. Thanks to a resurgence of interest in traditional ceramic ware in the 1990s, Mr. Lee could finally concentrate on his pottery. Today, the company employs 13 people.
Mr. Lee follows traditional manufacturing methods. After hand-shaping the pottery, he dries it for two or three days before applying glaze. Then he fires it in a kiln for about 10 days. His special creation, the glaze is a mixture of soil and pine-tree enamel. It is applied only once.
“Pottery made with chemicals does not breathe,” Mr. Lee said. “Whether it is kimchi or corn, something will rot if it doesn’t breathe.”
“My eldest son abruptly asked me two years ago whether I would accept him if he would want to succeed me in the family business. Well, I guess this may continue to the 10th generation.”
by Lee Hoon-beom, Shin Eun-jin and Kwon Hyuk-joo