09 November 2008

Stark reality AND hope

As I was joyriding in the subway yesterday, a rather loud cell phone conversation of a nearby young fashionista proved to be quite telling.

Her repeated use of swear words first caught my attention. Apparently, she seemed a bit upset that she was about to be sacked from her job. For that matter, every woman, and every contract employee, was being sacked, while a rather unqualified male colleague was staying on the job just because he was male and permanent.

It's proof that discrimination exists in the South Korean society, and that still remains reality. It's common for women to be denied jobs that they are perfectly qualified for, simply because they are women; moreover, many jobs tend to pay men more for the exact same job description. Seriously, a penis is worth a fortune! And the plight of temporary/contract employees (which also allows employers to duck benefits, union regulations, and other "headaches" that apply to permanents) has been well-documented.

The strict Confucian hierarchy is to blame. The bootstrap argument, which is justified in South Korea's rapid economic growth, and is one of several major factors that keep Korean-Americans voting Republican, is another. Change is coming to the society though, as the people of my generation have a completely different mindset; for example, the old Confucian family census register, which penalized people hailing from nontraditional families, is now history. Nevertheless, change can't come soon enough for many.

I am also concerned that just as abused children tend to turn into abusive parents themselves, the young South Koreans who take abuse from the old Confucian conservative society/guard end up doing just that - carrying the Confucian biases into the next generation. But I am nevertheless hopeful. In the wake of Proposition 8 back in California, I've even emailed a number of sympathetic Californians that in a generation, when the more liberal generation of my age (and slightly younger) become the establishment, both the US and South Korea WILL legalize gay marriage - together.

Until then, a reality check will be in order. I continue to read up on US based automotive sites on anything related to the Hyundai Genesis, and the reviews and discussions do seem to indicate that in addition to being a political statement for me, it will surely be hell of a nice ride at a bargain price. Many consider the car to be as much of a shock wave as the original 1990 Lexus LS400, which had taken "made in Japan" to an unprecedented level of respect and prestige; certainly, "made in Korea" will no longer be synonymous with "cheap crap" either, if the other recent Hyundais, such as the Sonata, the Azera, and even the Elantra, did not make that clear already. But I will also need to remember that over here in South Korea, the only way for a woman of my age to drive a Genesis will be by marrying a rich man. And for that matter, the only way for a man of my age to drive a Genesis will be by being a venture capitalist (or by having ultra-rich parents). It's simply unheard of for a young, single woman to be able to afford a luxury car, and certainly impossible for a transwoman, who will definitely have neither the job nor a rich man.

As much as I hate to admit it, my new Genesis will be as much of a nod to California as it will be to South Korea; even though the conservative immigrants, including especially the Korean-Americans, have destroyed what little "tolerant spirit" California may have once had, California, and to a lesser extent the US as a whole, remain places where one's qualifications, not his/her place in the Confucian social hierarchy, determine one's eligibility for a job (and therefore the earning potential). And I am feeling very fortunate that I am far less affected by the current economic crisis than the vast majority of the population, and that I have enough money to blow on the Genesis (and still have a handsome amount left over).