Family ties weakening at Chuseok

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Family ties weakening at Chuseok

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Ahead of the Chuseok holiday, crowds wait in front of a departure lounge at Incheon International Airport yesterday. According to airport officials, around 517,000 people are expected to pass through the airport during the holiday season between Sept. 10 and 14. [YONHAP]


With singles on the rise and the job market saturated, the Chuseok vacation, often dubbed Korea’s harvest holiday, nowadays increasingly means a trip to the plastic surgeon for younger Koreans, or hours spent cramming for exams.

The official holiday, which falls on Monday, is traditionally a time Koreans head home to be with their extended families and prostrate themselves before tables laden with expensive bounties as they bow to show respect to deceased relatives.

But with younger generations more inclined to play online games, tweet on their smartphones and work on raising their chances of landing a job or a date, more people are eschewing the trip home for some home improvement of a more personal nature.

This reflects a significant change to the demographic landscape in the capital city this year, when single-person households started to outnumber nuclear families for the first time.

Now more people are seizing the precious few days off work - the three-day national holiday is highly prized in workaholic Korea - to fly overseas, have the profile of their noses raised or their eyes widened, or brush up on their interview techniques.

Young working women in their 20s and 30s, in particular, head to the luxury medical boutiques of Gangnam to make themselves appear more beautiful and increase their odds of finding that dream job or marriage partner.

“Holidays like Chuseok and New Year are a great opportunity for people to plan surgery, because they need days to recover,” said one member of staff at the Grand Plastic Surgery in affluent southern Seoul. “Even double-eyelid surgery, which is a very simple procedure, requires four to six days’ recovery time, and people can’t get this time off work.”

He said over 90 percent of the bookings at his clinic over the Chuseok period were made by women. Chuseok falls on Monday, but the national holiday extends one day either side of this.

Additionally, more families are using the time to escape the crowded city and head to destinations in Asia. Around 517,000 people are predicted to pass through Incheon International Airport this Chuseok, a record number that marks a rise of 15.7 percent from last year, the airport said. And most are heading overseas.

Kim Jeong-min of Mode Tour, one of the Korea’s leading travel agencies, named Bangkok and Pattaya, both in Thailand, and several Chinese cities as the most popular destinations. He said some 12,000 people have booked overseas tours with the agency from Sept. 9-12, a ten-fold increase from other weeks at this time of year.

“I think many people who didn’t take vacations during the summer are getting away now because Chuseok is shorter and therefore less of a financial drain,” he said. “The bad weather in July and August may also have forced people to delay their travel plans.”

Most college graduates are not so fortunate. For them, the holiday simply means more time to prepare for job interviews or English exams for employment tests that will start from mid-September.

Kim Jun-seong, 27, graduated in February and aims to work in international trade. For him, the next few days will be no different from any other. He will spend them upgrading his business presentation skills and preparing for interviews and foreign language literacy tests with submission deadlines due later this month.

“The holiday means nothing to me,” Kim said. “Every day is a holiday for me now because I’m not working. I have to get a job before the year’s up because there are plenty of younger people waiting in the wings for the same jobs.”

A recent survey by Jobkorea, one of the country’s leading job search Internet portals, showed that over half of the job-seekers it quizzed will spend the holiday studying. Of 164 respondents, 55.5 percent said the holiday meant little more than preparing resumes, applications and cramming for job-related tests.

One wildly enthusiastic posting on the site read: “Forget all the holidays in 2011 and let’s get through the gate of employment!” A number of major Korean corporations, including Doosan, Hyundai Motors, Kia Motors and SK Corp. have set their application deadlines for the middle of the month.


By Kwon Sang-soo [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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