[SCRIVENER]Time to stop doing and just beOne reason foreign men grow to love Korea so much is that, like a good woman, she is a country that invites you to tell it what to do.
If that piece of post-feminist wisdom does not merit a nasty e-mail, consider this: like most wives, Korea tends to ignore the advice she is given. Which means that pretending to listen is a seductive process, a cunning ploy to keep us engaged and investing.
But one area where I think Korea needs to accept serious consulting from outsiders is tourism.
Despite its beautiful coastline and mountains, Korea does not seem to be able to attract people to visit purely for holiday-making. Foreigners usually visit here for some reason other than vacation and a touch of tourism is a kind of side-dish to whatever that reason may be.
Truth be told, Korea is not that good at attracting her own people, either. Koreans are honeymooning in Bali and New Zealand rather than in the island of Jeju. They are taking their long weekends in Guam and Saipan rather than in South Jeolla province. Expatriates here similarly take their short breaks elsewhere in Asia.
One obvious reason is that, despite its wealth, Korea is rough around the edges. It is a hassle to get to places, and frankly once there, it is not always worth the effort. The trinkets in the souvenir shops in Mount Sorak are not much different from what you find in Gyeongju.
Korea may be a rich nation, but architecturally, well-traveled folk say, this country is as drab as Poland and Israel. This sad fact may be a consequence of history, which Koreans seem to have little heart to preserve. As evidence of this the distinctive thatched roof, which 30 years ago was dumped in the name of modernity for corrugated iron, looks unlikely to have any position of value in the nation’s architectural history.
When you look at the holiday-making facilities that are available throughout the country, you find yourself asking, why are there no decent camping sites? Why does everyone seem to go to the same place at the same time? Why are there no resorts like Club Med, which Koreans flock to overseas? Why is there pop music blaring over ski slopes, denying people the soothing sounds of nature and the screams of other skiers thumping into each other as they glide down the slopes?
I dare say there is an answer to each of these questions. But in general, I would say it comes down to a simple observation, which I will reveal here for the first time: Koreans do not know how to relax. They are “doing” people, not “being” people. And that is why the tourism industry here needs assistance from overseas to realize its potential.
In case you are wondering why I am writing another column about tourism, it is because these thoughts came to me earlier this week on a beach on the Indonesian island of Bintan, an easy one-hour ferry ride off Singapore and another popular spot with Korean honeymooners and golfers. Everything there was laid back.
An essential ingredient of relaxing, I discovered this weekend, is to be enveloped in an atmosphere whose elements are pleasing to the senses: nice scenery, colors and crafts, natural sounds, gentle voices, nice smells. Korea is not known for these things.
Massage is a big thing in Asia, including Korea. But our version is a more violent and slappy business than what you find in Indonesia. At the Bintan resort, you are allowed to choose the aromatic oils and body scrubs and can have them kneaded into you in a "couples massage." This is something I would recommend for it allows you to calmly reflect on what it means to relax.
* The writer is managing director of Merit/Burson-Marsteller and author of “The Koreans.” He is a member of the JoongAng Daily Ombudsman Committee.
by Michael Breen
More in Columns
What a column is all about
No footing on the ground
Splitting the difference
Paying through the nose
A government illusion