Saturday, August 14, 2010

"The Jacket"

The dog, "The Jacket" and I

Some time ago in the Netherlands, a person might save an entire lifetime to buy a precious tulip bulb. Surely, at least one person thought ill of this motivation but went along with the masses in order to keep up with the Knickerbacker's. In the survival sense, everything that one spends money on (well, paper money itself is a rather ridiculous notion) that isn't directly related to food, water, shelter, and depending on how one views semantics, reproduction, might seem extraneous.

In a recent study, 68% of Koreans thought that "money" was the ultimate marker of "success". When the same question was posed to Americans and Canadians, the results were markedly different; 33% and 28% respectively. As an American, I was slightly surprised at the results. Upon further reading, here were two possible explanations; America has been wealthy for quite sometime and perhaps people have come to the assertion that amassed riches don't necessarily bring happiness - or - perhaps in light of our recent economic troubles, people are bracing themselves for the worst and trying to make themselves feel better.

Korea, with an economy that boosted 100 USD per capita figures in the 1960's, has rose to the world's 15th largest. There's a lot of money flying around over here and it's a fairly new phenomenon. For example, it's been heard of for people to take out bank loans to buy expensive cell phones. Any item bought on clearance or through the internet is inferior to an item bought at an expensive brick and mortar name brand store. A Papa John's large pizza costs 25 dollars and there are no shortage of people waiting in the line throw down that kind of money.

There's a saying that goes something along the lines of "less is more" but here in Korea it feels like "more is everything"

When Alla and I were at the gym our first few weeks here in Daejeon, we met this nice group of Koreans there and exchanged pleasantries every time we saw them. From that, they invited us to go rock climbing. On the day previous to the climb, I succumbed to one of the 8,000 flu viruses going around. When it became obvious that I could barely lift my head off the the pillow, let alone climb, we called them and cancelled. We both felt bad knowing that they had to make arrangements at the climbing gym to squeeze us in so we offered to buy the group of four dinner.

When dinner came around, we were quite surprised to see the old group of four balloon to seven. There wasn't a whole lot we could do at that point. It's not like we could ask people to go home so we were forced to eat the 100 plus dollar dinner tab. This wasn't a big deal really because if I tallied up all the dinners that have been bought for me over here, well, you get the idea. It was one week later where the situation turned for the weird.

The next week we saw the group at the gym. The oldest man of the group insisted that we come to the Fila clothing store that he managed at Lotte Deparment store to go shopping. We told him that since we'd only been in Daejeon a month, we hadn't been paid yet and therefore were a little short on money. I mean, at the end of the day, I'm a lot of things but a shopper I am not. He insisted further and said we didn't need money, he was going to buy us a gift. After respectfully declining several times, it seemed dude wasn't going to budge. We were going shopping.

A car arrived at our apartment to pick us up then we went straight to the department stores. For those not familiar with Korea, Lotte Deparment store is one of the more expensive places that one can shop. I knew this pre-hand and that's why I deflected so heavy upon the invite. When we arrived at his store I was partially ready for an awkward situation but knowing the competitive nature of Korean men, I should have been prepared for something more akin to the final seen in "Carrie".

We walked around his store looking at the items mostly catered to middle-aged golfers. I've got nothing against middle-aged folks it's the golfing attire I despise. I like my argyle patterns inside of my shoes, thank you. Alla bailed out of contention with a ballsy and bold "it's really not my style" comment and left sole responsibility of making this man happy up to me. We perused and I found two passable items; a shirt and a jacket. I picked up the shirt and was making my way to the dude when Alla intercepted me and vetoed it immediately. "It's ugly. Pick something else." she said. "It's ONLY 90 dollars, let's get the hell out of here." I retorted.
It was then onto the other item that if I wore would only get me mildly made fun of in Montana; the jacket. "That's a nice jacket. Does it fit well?" the man said with pleasure. I requested a size up and about 5 minutes later a jacket from the store room was brought to the register and paid for immediately buy the man. The register screen said "410,000w". In an instant, I'd become the shameful owner of a 400 dollar jacket!

I know the man was just wanting to give me a gift and I thanked him perfusily for that. In the same breathe though, I thoroughly insisted that he need not buy me anything but he pushed and pushed. Looking back, it was one of the more awkward situations I can recall being a part of.

I feel it's worth mentioning that I have owned 6 cars costing equal to or lesser than 400 dollars and if I have any say about it, I will own 6 more of the same value before I die! Fancy jacket be damned!


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