Confident Korea

While watching TV in my hotel room during my visit to Korea, I caught the end of a live opera broadcast, and saw the entire cast make their bows to the audience. I sensed something about the people on stage. What was it? They exuded confidence. The confidence of having performed the opera well, even though it was composed by a Westerner.

I sense such confidence in people from all walks of life whenever I visit Korea. It’s a kind of nationalistic pride. Koreans seem to feel that, like the opera, whatever other countries can do, they can do better.

This confidence is both the cause and the result of the prosperity they are enjoying now. Korea has become a strong nation. One sign of a strong nation is the influence of its culture on other countries. And this can be seen, for example, in the popularity of Korean TV dramas that are sweeping through other Asian countries, including Japan and China.

The CEO of a huge Euro-defense company who recently visited Korea predicted that Korea – already a world leader in shipbuilding, auto-making, and semiconductor chip production – will be a leader in the aerospace industry as well in 10 years.

The Korean style of management is also spreading all over the world, giving birth to a new term: Kobalization, a portmanteau of “Korea” and “globalization.”

Kobalization can be seen in India. One Indian manager, who works for a company owned by the Korean conglomerate LG, attended an LG boot camp where he went through hard training including running 7 miles every day after only 4 hours of sleep. When he went back to India, he worked long hours, drank heavily, and traveled 20 days a month, just like an industrious Korean businessman, and successfully claimed 30% market share for his merchants.

Kobalization can be seen in Spain also. It is common in Spain for restaurants to be closed between 4 and 8 in the afternoon and on Sundays. But a Korean fried chicken franchise recently opened there and its stores are open from noon to midnight, 7 days a week, and they make deliveries within a 1.5 mile radius, just like their counterparts in Korea.

As a descendant of Korea, I feel proud of Korea’s accomplishment. But I’m also a little apprehensive.

Although Korea has become a wealthy nation, the people are not really happy. According to one study, their happiness quotient is among the lowest in the world. By exporting their all-work-no-play work habits, they may help other countries become wealthy. But if they don’t enjoy their lives because they are too busy working, will it be really a good thing?

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