[TRADING PLACES] A siesta might be the cure for stressed-out Korea

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[TRADING PLACES] A siesta might be the cure for stressed-out Korea


From left, Juampi Postigo, in his fifth year of residence in Seoul and a student at Yonsei University, Jeon Young-woo, CEO of Mua, a start-up that incorporates Korean traditional designs and arts into products - an idea he came up with after living in Barcelona for a year - and Spanish Ambassador to Korea Gonzalo Ortiz discuss their experiences in Korea and Spain at the Spanish Embassy in central Seoul on Sept. 25. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Jeon Young-woo took off to Barcelona on his first backpacking trip at the end of 2012 simply because it was the cheapest destination among plane tickets to Europe at the time. It changed his life for the better, he said.

Jeon Young-woo: I had just finished my military service then and planned on traveling throughout Europe for some two and a half months, but I ended up staying in Barcelona from the beginning to the end. I fell in love with the country. I returned to the city in 2014 in my third year of university on an exchange program.

Jeon: During my year there, there was one thing that I could not completely get used to - this sense of relaxed approach to life that people seem to enjoy there. You see, from when I was a student in Korea, I was geared to operate and think in ways that would lead to higher achievements and scores. My roughest time in my life was no doubt my last year in high school. People cannot stand out in this academic system that is strictly based on scores, and students are asked to conform to the norm.

Jeon: But people I met in Spain told me to stop thinking of life as a list of achievements and things to achieve, but to try to live my life slower. And I saw that friends around me were simply pursuing what they wanted to do in life.

Jeon: That is one of the reasons why I started my company here. Ever since I was little, I wanted to open up a business. I used to write down business ideas from as long as I could remember, in a notebook that I would carry around everywhere, and now I have a shelf full of these notebooks. In Spain I started to hope again. So I planned this business I’m running now while I was in Spain and I submitted the business plan three days after I landed back in Korea in 2015.

Jeon runs a start-up company called Mua, which designs products carrying designs that represent various traditions of Korea to raise awareness and interest in traditions of the country.

Part of his interest in the way things were in the past in Korea may have to do with his close relationship with his grandfather.

Jeon: I grew up with my grandfather from when I was little. We spent so much time together in his fields as I helped him out in farming. I still call him every three days or so.

His attachment to his grandfather was evident in an unexpected encounter on the trails of Camino de Santiago in 2015.

Jeon: My parents came to visit me in Spain and we walked about half of the Camino de Santiago for a month in the summer. Somewhere on the trail we met a man named Pepe, he seemed to be about my grandpa’s age. He didn’t have any companions on the road so we became his for a few days before our paths parted. The night before our parting, he told us at the dinner table how he loves his wife, who had passed away, and his children and grandchildren.

Jeon: And all of a sudden I started bawling at the table, though there were so many people around me, because I couldn’t stop thinking of my own grandfather back home and how I missed him. The next morning, as I continued to walk on the trail, I could see clearly that in many places of this world, like in Korea and in Spain, family is such a gift.


Left: Jeon Young-woo, second from right, arm-in-arm with a Spaniard named Pepe that he met on the Camino de Santiago in 2015, who he said reminded him a lot of his grandfather back in Korea, his best friend since he was young. Jeon’s father, second from left, and mother, center, traveled with Jeon on the trail for some 400 kilometers (248 miles). Right: Juampi Postigo, second from right in the second row, with his mother on the right in the front row and his 14 siblings who came to visit him in Seoul last year. Postigo says his younger siblings usually wear similar outfits for outings because it’s easier to keep track of them and make sure they don’t fight over different outfits. [JEON YOUNG-WOO, JUAMPI POSTIGO]

One people, one country

If tourists and Spaniards walk the Camino de Santiago and end up reflecting a bit on their life, visitors to Korea get a similar experience out of a temple stay, said Spanish Ambassador to Korea Gonzalo Ortiz.

Gonzalo Ortiz: I stayed at a temple in Seoul for 24 hours in 2015. It was an extraordinary experience, but also a good time for reflection - you have all the time in the world during your stay. You can meditate about your life, to really try to put your worries and thoughts in order and reflect about yourself. And I think the same happens when Koreans visit the other side of the world for the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Part of his job as a diplomat is to learn the mindset and culture of the host country.

Ortiz: Personally, I think there are two types of diplomats - those who only make paperwork and those who are genuinely interested in the host country, try to gain more contact with the locals, make friends and visit different cultural sites and regions. I hope that I belong to the second type.

Jeon: I agree that one needs to experience the culture of the host country to better understand how the locals think and behave. I remember the first time I came across a botellon [nighttime social event in public, usually with drinks] in Spain. I was living at a house located near the square of a town in Barcelona. People would congregate in the square late into the night and talk and drink together. The noise used to bother me, I couldn’t sleep at night.

Jeon: Then one night, my roommate, a Spaniard, said, let’s go out drinking. I thought he was taking me to a bar or a restaurant. But he bought two drinks, then we came to the square to sit down with the strangers there. He introduced me to them as an exchange student from Korea and I got to talking with some of them.

Jeon: It’s funny, because after that encounter, I found myself going to bed every night, no longer stressed because of the noise, but wondering what the people out there were discussing that night. It became a comfort, part of my life there.

Following his calling, the top envoy has been to one of the most sought-after destinations for Koreans - the summit of Mount Paektu, which lies on the border between North Korea and China.

Ortiz: I was at Mount Paektu in June. I got off the plane in Yanji, China and from there took a bus full of Chinese tourists. I was on the bus for four hours and went straight to hiking the mountain. I was lucky, because the sky was clear that day and you could see the fantastic lake from the top of the mountain.

Mount Paektu is commonly referred to with some nostalgia among the older generation in the South, as it will be back within reach once the two Koreas are unified. The cause of peaceful unification of the two Koreas is also dear to Ambassador Ortiz.

Ortiz: In the Korean mentality, division is something like a disease that should be healed, and sooner or later, I think unification will come out of peaceful means. The Korean nation is one nation, it should not be divided. And now there are greater chances [for peaceful unification] as Korea now plays a wider international role and you see that there are lot of initiatives inside and outside of Korea, by Koreans, who organize forums, seminars and take the initiative to secure peace for the world and respect for human rights.

Big brother to 13

Juampi Postigo, born fifth among 18 children, knows one or two things about being a big brother. But the Korean culture of seonbae-hubae [senior-junior in Korean] relations is something on another level for him.

Juampi Postigo: One of the best experiences I’ve had in Korea was playing football with my teammates on the football clubs at Seoul National University and Yonsei University, where I have studied. There I was able to make Korean friends, experience Korean culture, cry and laugh together and win and lose games. There I also learnt the Korean way of drinking and the seonbae-hubae relations, which at the beginning was quite tough but now I love.

Postigo: I remember at one of the practices, not long after I’d joined, I was told by a seonbae that I could not get a drink of water while a professor, who was also playing with us, was giving us a talk. At the time, I was quite shocked - now I understand that it was disrespectful to do that because a professor was in the middle of a talk. Now I enjoy buying lunches and dinners for hubaes and the whole relationship hierarchy is sometimes used as a joke in my conversations with my seonbaes. For example, I’d ask a seonbae out for a lunch, and I’d start off some conversations with “Hey buddy,” but he’d shoot right back at me with “I ain’t your buddy, buddy.”

But to his siblings, no matter how much younger, Postigo is just their buddy. All of them came to visit him in Seoul last year.

Postigo’s parents, Jose Maria Postigo and Rosa Pich, were selected as Europe’s Large Family of the Year by the European Large Families Confederation in 2015. Postigo and Pich also come from big families, as he has 13 siblings and she has 15.

Postigo: These large families are also not very common in Spain as they are uncommon here in Korea. But my parents had so much fun growing up with so many siblings, so they wanted to hand down that gift to us. Many of my uncles have many kids - one has 8, another has 8 and another has 7. And so when the whole family - grandparents, uncles and aunts - get together, we have about 100 people in the house.

Postigo: Last summer, my immediate family came to Seoul, and my mother launched her book, “Rosa, What’s Your Secret? Raising a Large Family with Love,” here. We visited places throughout Seoul but our favorite trip was one to Kkottongnae [a town in North Chungcheong with welfare facilities for the homeless, elderly, mentally ill, disabled and orphans]. My parents were so happy to meet the children there. Since then, I have been there four times.

Postigo came to Korea on Aug. 27, 2012, straight out of high school. His reason was quite simple: He wanted to live somewhere in Asia.

Postigo: Korea seemed to be a good option because I tried to pick up Chinese and it didn’t work out in the end. Now I’m taking classes at Yonsei in my major of business administration and textiles, and three of them are completely in Korean this semester.

Though he speaks fluent Korean, he has faced inevitable distinctions here because he is perceived as a foreigner.

Postigo: Now the difficult thing is to realize that I will never become “fully Korean” - even if I speak like a Korean, even if I know its history and live the culture, even then I will look like a Westerner and be treated as so.

But that does not stop him from settling down here with high goals in his heart of bridging the textile industries between Spain and Korea.

Postigo: I hope to work at Mango [a Spanish fashion company] - begin with in-the-field work at a store, then office work and move onto the sales department before I ultimately work on expanding Mango here.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

Spanish Ambassador Gonzalo Ortiz

Ambassador Gonzalo Ortiz was appointed to the post in Korea in October 2014. Born in Madrid, the top envoy previously represented Spain as ambassador in Vietnam, as consul general in Shanghai, Sydney, Auckland and Rio de Janeiro, and in additional posts in India, Japan and Germany. The ambassador has a bachelor’s degree in law and economics. He is married with one daughter.

Juampi Postigo

Juampi Postigo is a student at Yonsei University, western Seoul, studying business administration and textiles. He came to Korea in August 2012 upon graduating from his high school in Barcelona. He is fluent in Korean and hopes to pursue a career here at Mango, the Spanish fashion chain. He was born fifth among 18 children from his parents in Spain, and is now the second oldest among his siblings because three of them passed away due to heart defects. His parents were also born to large families - his father has 13 siblings and his mother 15. In his free time, Postigo likes to play football and paddle, and cycling and skiing.

Jeon Young-woo

Jeon Young-woo went to Barcelona on a backpacking trip in 2012 and fell in love with the country. He returned to the city two years later as an exchange student and lived in the city for a year. Jeon is a student at Hallym University in Gangwon, but he put his studies on hold after returning from Spain and launching a start-up company, Mua, (www.selflessmua.com), which incorporates traditional arts into products. He and a group of friends are running the business together after he returned from Spain with the idea.
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