[Letter to the editor]Drowning in ‘global’ culture
Your article (on June 30) caught my attention: “Can Seoul create its own culture?” Good question.
I teach English just across the water from you. It takes just over an hour to fly from Yantai, China to Incheon, Korea. We’re almost neighbors. I will begin my fourth year teaching at Yantai University in 10 days. My students, English majors for the most part, would identify with that young man on the bottom of page 6: cool, chic, rich, intelligent ― look at all the books behind him ― and handsome. My students admire Korean TV and the lifestyle they see. Most wear the universal uniform of the young: jeans. Tight for females, loose for males. You even see, I hate to say it, “I Love New York” T-shirts with “love” spelled with a big red heart. And yes, if they could afford it, they would dine at McDonald’s or KFC, drink Starbucks coffee, watch “Desperate Housewives” and “Prison Break,” and listen to the Back street Boys at a volume set to deafen the ears. I find that sad.
Five thousand years of high culture comes down to jeans, sugar, fat and noise.
I ask myself, and on occasion my students, where does the Chinese culture lie? I have not received an answer. When will a Chinese fashion fad grip the young the way jeans and T-shirts capture their current fancy? Old women wear traditional Chinese clothes. “Too old for me” or “only old women wear that,” I am told. Why doesn’t someone design modern Chinese (read Korean) clothes that appeal to youth? I get the feeling things Chinese are not “cool,” a word I’ve come to despise.
Yes, urban culture grips the world. Last October my daughter, who lives in Manhattan, came to China. We took in the autumn moon festival from a rooftop bar/restaurant in Shanghai. Except for the neon, we could have been in New York. I suppose we could have been in London, Rio or Seoul. These cities we build around the world become the same, generate the same culture of traffic, stress and glass towers. An urban chic enjoyed by the rich, envied by “the others.”
Thank you for asking the question of culture. I don’t feel alone in my thinking anymore. I want to think the students I teach today will create their culture for tomorrow. Or should I say, find their culture? Both Chinese and Korean cultures go back thousands of years. Jeans and urban-fad-chic culture represent a mere blip, a bump in time. Yet in the rush to be cool, those blips and bumps become mountains.
David McCreary, an English teacher at Yantai University, China