It’s interesting how the Korean laser-like focus on appearances, frequently at the cost of much interest in substance, manifests itself in some areas of life and not others. People are generally fastidious about their personal appearance. The face they present to the world must be as affluent as possible. Women are still almost universally obsessed with potions and pomades to regain youthfulness, despite the enviably graceful way that they tend to age. (Although it must be noted that chain-smoking, soju-swilling men tend to age fairly badly). The surface appearances of appropriated western or Japanese cultural items are mimicked rigorously, but the meaning behind it is almost entirely lost, or deliberately subverted. A stage performance of heavy, industrial Nine-Inch-Nails-like music by a pvc-clad singer is backed up by a troupe of dancers.
But this careful attention to surface appearances diverges radically when it comes to your surroundings here. Piles of garbage are everywhere, as are puddles of vomit, even in residential areas, that attest to the excesses of the night before. Construction is slipshod, somehow temporary in appearance. Windows, even on shops that have opned that very day (such as the 3rd generation wireless mobile shop at the subway station where I live, which opened last night) are streaked and dirty, and left that way. Litter abounds, and people casually throw more atop it. Men hork and spit great nasty oysters of mucous on the sidewalks, everywhere, which makes it not only traditional, but downright mandatory to take your shoes off when entering someone’s house. Industrial filth and noise back onto residential beehive towers at random. Streets are unnamed, and addresses as we are accustomed to in the west simply do not exist. Traffic rules tend to be a matter of ‘whatever feels right’ rather than any enforceable set of regulations.
So why is this? Why is there this enormous gap between the attention paid to detail and appearance at one end of the spectrum, and what would seem to be a complete lack of it at the other? And why is it so obviously different than the (perhaps cliched) approach of the Japanese, who ostensibly have a greater focus on harmony and order in their surroundings?
I don’t f–king know.