Saturday, 10 August 2013

Korea - the Google Instant test

I want to introduce a new feature to my blog this month.  It's something I find quite fascinating, as I've been researching different world cultures for this blog: I'm calling it the Google Instant test.

Since Google introduced Google Instant in 2010, you may have noticed that, when you start typing something in the Google search field, a drop down list of suggested topics appears and changes 'instantly' as you're typing.

The intention is to save users time and, I'm assuming, the suggestions are based on the most googled topics.  Try typing - Are Germans . . . or Do French people . . . or Is China . . . into Google's search engine and the resulting most-frequently-googled questions are often quite amusing, occasionally sad or even shocking!  Some of the questions people ask make me wonder about the future of the human race!  Others are incredibly revealing, honest or relevant - depending on what you think the motivation for asking might be.

Here's what I found when I started asking questions about Korea:

Is Korea going to bomb us?

With variations - eg. Is Korea going to bomb UK? and Is Korea going to bomb America?  Of course, my Google Instant test is English-language based and, undoubtedly, the questions reflect the obsessions of English-language speakers, or those who use the English as their main access-language for the Internet.   

It's quite a sad question really and reflects the genuine anxiety that is out there about Korea - presumably, North Korea and the fear that Pyongyang is stacked high with nuclear weapons, ready to bring down Western civilisation! 

I'm no expert, but I very much doubt that 'Korea' is going to bomb us.  Despite the occasional media-frenzy about countries in the Axis of Evil - as far as I understand it,

North Korea is an incredibly impoverished nation whose government rattles the sabres of war every now and then but, realistically, doesn't have the ability to seriously threaten either the US or Britain.  That doesn't mean that the situation in North Korea isn't worrying, but it's always good to keep things in perspective and see through the politically-motivated hyperbole.

Do Koreans eat dogs?

Dog on Cable Beach by Me
Well, I guess the answer is yes.  From what I've read, Koreans - particularly Korean men - do occasionally eat dog.  Not pet dogs, but a special kind of dog, Poongsan, whose meat is called Gaegogi and is prepared in a special soup called bosintang - which means 'body nourishing soup'. 

As far as I can tell, it's not an incredibly common practice and the consumption of dog meat is restricted to certain traditions and often hidden from foreign visitors.  It's interesting how obsessed we are (at least, we in the West) about other people's eating habits - I touched on this in a previous blog post about allegations of cannibalism in the South Pacific.  

Do Koreans eat cats?

I very much doubt that this is true, although Koreans may have eaten cats in the past.  Again, I think this obsession with what Koreans eat reveals more about us in the 'West' than it does about Koreans!  Eating cats seems to be particularly taboo to me and I was surprised to see this question appearing, whereas I could have predicted the dog-eating question.  I did come across stories of cat-eating, very recently, when I was researching for my blog post about Jersey during the Nazi occupation

Do Koreans use chopsticks?

Yes, they do and I've read that the tradition in Korea is to use metallic chopsticks, rather than the wooden (or plastic) ones that people use in China and Japan.  Of course, Koreans share a lot of cultural traditions with both China and Japan, but they have a slightly different tradition in Korea, where they use chopsticks and a spoon to eat their meals.  The spoon is used for eating rice.

Are Koreans Chinese?

Korean dancer by Brendan Lally
I found this question a bit strange - Koreans are obviously not Chinese, but I guess I can understand why people would ask, especially coming from a society which is remote from East Asia - it's a bit like saying Are Scottish people English?  Koreans share a lot of their culture with China, especially Manchuria, but they have managed to maintain an independent culture, language and, perhaps, outlook on the world.

After the partition of Korea, North Korea was particularly close to China and received a lot of support from its fellow-Communist neighbour.  China established diplomatic relations with South Korea in the early 1990's and, economically at least, it would seem as though China and South Korea are getting along just fine. 

Do Koreans have middle names?

Korean naming traditions are very interesting and I can understand why this question is so popular as it does indeed look as though all Koreans have a middle name.  Koreans tends to put their family name first (opposite to the Western tradition) - the most common family names being Kim, Lee and Park.  Interestingly, most people share one syllable of their first name with their siblings, although this doesn't seem to be a hard a fast rule.

For example, Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, has three children; two girls, Ban Seon-Yong and Ban Hyun-hee and one son, Ban Woo-hyun - one daughter and son share a common syllable hyun.  It's also interesting that Ban Ki-Moon's wife is called Yoo Soon-taek - Korean women don't give up their birth name when they get married.

Do Koreans have eyelashes?

Detail of Hong Sung Chul's 'Eye' by robpatrick
I found this question to be extremely bizarre!  Why wouldn't Koreans have eyelashes?  It's also worrying that this question is the second most popular in the Do Koreans have . . category. 

From what little I know about Koreans - at least, South Koreans - they have a strong sense of aesthetic and, like many people in East Asia, they spend a lot of money on cosmetics, skin-whiteners and fashion.  Seoul has it's own fashion week and Korean designers, such as Andre Kim and Doo-Ri Chung, are known the world over.

These are just a few of the 'top' questions about Korea - I'm very aware that there are other search engines out there apart from Google and other languages apart from English but, still, I think the results are fairly revealing and an interesting filter which shows Western 'understanding' or obsessions about Korean culture.   

Image credits:

The image of the dog was taken by me on Cable Beach, Broome, Western Australia.  

The image of the dancer is by Dance photographer - Brendan Lally - you can see more of Brendan's images on his photostream

The close-up of Hong Song Chul's art work was taken by Flickr member robpatrick

Thanks to Brendan and Rob for sharing these images with us, using the Creative Commons license.  

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