Interesting piece in the Korea Times today about Dr. John Linton called, “I am Korean.”
The doc’s family has lived on the peninsula for four generations, and he describes himself as “a countryman from Suncheon,” which is where he spent most of his boyhood following his birth in North Jeolla Province in 1959.
Linton, whose place on the Park transition team and feelings on dicator Lincoln were recently written of by uncle Marmot, is an interesting guy and the story of his family is a great read, but today’s article and interview kinda got me depressed.
While I like to think myself a reasonably intelligent person, it turns out I will never understand the meaning of “jeong” –the uniquely Korean feeling of kinship to both each other and objects, that cannot be translated into English and, says the doc, can only be deciphered by Koreans.
Linton, who describes himself as “Korean to the bone” and has drank heavily of the ondol-aid, is one those fortunate enough to grasp it:
Jeong is a very particular sentimental attitude that is without equivalence in other countries of the world. It is unique to Korea. It is difficult to translate into English because it is a special one that goes beyond mere affection and loyalty.
And while the rest of the world is segregated from the knowing, we are at least welcome to visit:
Korea has a virtuous tradition of offering warm hospitality for guests. For instance, the current immigration office has been teaching languages, providing places for wedding ceremonies and hosting bazaar events for multicultural families, which is hardly seen in any other nations.
As far as embracing multiculturalism, California, with its government-published driver’s handbook printed in Chinese, Russian, Tagalog, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese, might argue with Linton’s assertion. But, as a nominal Californian myself, I won’t bore you with that which you most likely could not understand –unless you’ve lived in the Golden State.
Perhaps I am simply jealous due to my inherent incomprehension of jeong, but there is a hint of consolation.
According to a paper presented at the UCLA Medical Center entitled The Significance of “Jeong” in Korean Culture and Psychotherapy, by doctors Christopher K. Chung & Samson Cho, even Koreans themselves may not fully understand this unique concept.
Unlike other emotions, such as depression, anger, and anxiety, jeong is not entirely definable even in the Korean language; it is ambiguous and amorphous. The best description is that jeong has multiple faces.
Thankfully, Chung and Cho do take a crack at it in their paper –thus allowing me some insight:
Jeong is difficult to define. One Korean-English dictionary defines it as “feeling, love, sentiment, passion, human nature, sympathy, heart.” Although it is complicated to introduce a clear definition of jeong, it seems to include all of the above as well as more basic feelings, such as attachment, bond, affection, or even bondage.
Well, there you go —I’m almost there, man. All I have to do is tackle the elusive concepts of “love,” “passion,” and “attachment” and boom, I might well get this jeong thing down.
Before I get carried away, the paper does discuss the negative aspects of jeong and the pursuant “corrupt behaviors” of an “in-crowd versus out-crowd” mentality and how…
greater emphasis seems to be placed on loyalty, jeong, and commitment than in logic, reason, or the law in many Asian countries. The opposite seems to be true in Western culture.
Well, there you go. Again.
For some reason the article and my subsequent reading of the UCLA paper got me thinking about that line in The Avengers when Captain America is told that Thor and his brother Loki are “like gods,” to which the Cap’n replies: “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”
At any rate, I am handy with chopsticks, I love kimchi and I eat chili peppers with the best of them. All of which, according to some of my Korean friends and associates makes me —regardless my understanding of jeong— “Korean”, too.
As for those times when they affix me with the label upon seeing my love of chili peppers, I usually reply: “No, you are Mexican.”
That usually goes over well.