Monday, December 14, 2009

Children's Day. May 5.

Again with the Love Day reference, this holiday is dedicated to the cute little monsters that plague the countryside and cities. It was founded by the Korea's answer to Dr. Seuss back in 1923. Its fascination by well-written foreigners knows no limits. Pack up the aspirin because it's going to be a long day...

Thought Korean kids were spoiled? Today you are so right. Today, Korean children are calling the shots. Highways packed, zoos overcrowded, ice cream screaming for its life...poor little vanilla never had a chance...there will be sweets consumed today. Oh yes. There will be sweets.

Vanilla Ice Cream Doesn't Want To be Eaten
Speaking of spoiled, it might benefit everyone to take a moment and analyze why exactly this is the case. I mean, by some Westerner's standards, Korean kids are little princes and princesses. We have a maxim in English that comes to mind; "Spare the rod, spoil the child". Well, plenty of Americans think that this is crap and it basically sets the kid up for failure in the future. I can speak for my family in that my parents did like many others by not giving into a child's demands. But can I just say that I have been asking for a trampoline for Christmas since I was like four? Lousy Santa has been holding out on me...

Anyways, this cultural difference begs to have another idiom throw around "Can't see the forest for the trees". The problem lies in the timing. Korean parents know what they are doing, just as in America, but it's done a little bit later in life.

In America, we stress at a very early age to be self-reliant. If a five year old can't tie their own shoes, most would agree that it is better to teach the child as soon as possible instead of just tying it for them. This transition period where the kid can't figure out why on earth his shoes aren't already tied (he did say 'please' ) is very common in America. It takes a bit more time to teach instead of simply doing, sure. It is stressful for the child and adult but ultimately follows a normative cultural expectation. Remember "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll feed himself for a lifetime." It is in the child's best interest to learn as soon as possible. Similarly, when a kid acts up in the grocery store, American parents are generally quick to reprimand the child with negative reinforcement in hopes that in the future they will become socialized. I myself once received some negative reinforcement in the form of my mother walking away in disgust whilst leaving my father holding me in his arms crying bloody murder, my big brother eating a box of not-yet-purchased saltine crackers in the shopping basket, and my oldest brother shrieking in terror over the little cartoon devil on the Deviled Ham package. Oh good times at the Piggly Wiggly.
Deviled Ham
Where was I? Oh yeah. Well, this is the same in Korea (socialization, not deviled ham). The ultimate goal is to socialize the child. However, until a child in Korea reaches a certain age, they can get away with (relative) murder. Why?

Simply put, their little lives will suck later on in life. Korean adults know this. They know the pressure, they know the concern, they know the shock that will ensue once they hit junior high. So what is a caring parent to do? Let the kids enjoy their childhood. When viewed through a different set of cultural lens, this makes perfect sense.

So, the timing is a little different - American kids get socialized pretty early on while Korean kids get a free pass until primary school. But make no mistake, Korea has social etiquette down to a science and, frankly, puts America to shame in the formal manners department. This isn't to say that Americans are inherently rude, but it's a little unfair to battle hundreds of years of detailed, refined social hierarchy. Oh well. We invented the chocolate chip cookie. Live with that, world.

So days like Children's Day are to celebrate children and allow them to enjoy pleasant memories with family relatives. Yes, a day for children to run free, play games, and just be kids. Just don't forget the aspirin.