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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

(Social categories) It's "sômin" time again

Now that the election time is approaching again, we will be most likely seeing competition over who represents the "ordinary people" the best, or who most genuinely belongs to the "ordinary people" herself, or who gets the most genuine support from the "ordinary people." This category of ordinary people is sômin (庶民), to which I've paid a lot of attention since I noticed how widely it is being used in Korea, both by the ordinary (or not ordinary) people themselves and by politicians and all, newspapers. (Scholars on Korea on the other hand have been for a long time been harboring the idea that minjung (民衆) as a concept of "people" would have a specific meaning and a special significance in Korea. Those who go around and talk with and listen to people will have a different opinion. But let them have their idea of the "progressiveness of the masses", to which the minjung concept suits brilliantly.)

Now couple of notes on the title topic.

"Ordinary people's food samgyôpsal knows no bad economy" ('서민형 음식' 삼겹살 불황 모른다); an infomercial article in Chosun Ilbo about the good prospects of samgyôpsal (English?) beef restaurants despite of the economic slump. This kind of "ordinary people's food" (sôminhyông ûmsik) is popular at the time of bad economy, and the usually good rate of steady custom (? tan'gol) base and quick and quick change of customers (meaning they don't stay too long) makes it an attractive shopkeeping alternative. For reference let's jot down the shop opening expenses in the two cases introduced in the text. (1) Franchise fee 5 mil W, interior 45 mil, equipment 10 mil etc; expenses without shop space 55 million [37 000€]. Monthly sales average 35 mil, net income (sunsuik) 7000 000 W a month. (2) Shop space excluded, combined expenses 90 million [60 000 €]. Average bill per customer 10000W, monthly sales 45 mil W and net profit 8 million.

Chosun also laments the state of the ordinary people under the first year or Roh in today's editorial. Or perhaps in this case, sômin should be translated as "poor people" or the "not-haves", as it's about the growing income gap. In 2002, the top 10% tier's income was 8.25 times that of the bottom 10%, but in 2003 the difference was 8.93 times. Chosun's measures are less populism and old ideologies, acknowledgment of the limitations of social programs and distribution, and economic growth. (Doesn't actually sound that different from the current North European social democracies...)

Here's also a bit older "ordinary people" reference from Hankyoreh21 weekly; "Sômin scrathing for the big turn of life" (subscription doesn't seem to be needed), story on how the government is filling its coffers and emptying the ordinary people's pockets with the help of all kinds of lotteries. The idea that the article conveys is that while income taxes are kept relatively low, all kinds of leisure and gambling taxes are bringing in good income for the government, and thus burdening the "ordinary people stratum" (sôminch'ûng) more than the wealthy.

Here's sômin also in a usual context, at the losing end of government measures; as concept for people who are dreaming of a big lottery win (taebak), used in a somewhat patronizing sense.

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