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Book Portrays Gloomy 20-Somethings

"Sister Still Goes" Kim Hyun-jin; Kaemagowon; 303 pp., 11,000 won

What do 20-somethings look like today? Maybe, they are often called the "blessed" generation living in the materially affluent society created by older generations who had to experience the social upheavals such as Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) and the Korean War (1950-1953) and the extreme poverty in the pre-industrial era.

They are even not welcomed by the so-called 386 generation, the age group who were born in the '60s, attended university in the '80s, and played a pivotal role in fighting for democracy against the dictatorial military regimes in the past.

Are they truly the happy generation? The answer is no, says author Kim Hyun-jin in her autobiographical essay, "Sister Still Goes."

The essayist and scriptwriter, who has a solid fan base from Internet users for her poignant and witty columns in newspapers and magazines, portrays herself as a "loser" who is struggling to survive in Korean society.

The writer said that the 20-somethings are the unfortunate generation who cannot have pride for overcoming such hardships.

She uses the term "880,000-won Generation," a popular coinage that refers to low-paid non-regular workers who earn about 880,000 won (net pay) a month, a new lost generation in Korea as it were. What it means for a lot of young people is the complete failure of an educational system in which graduating from a good university was as good as getting a blank check for a well-paid career in a big corporation.

"Many of the older generation often blame youngsters as 'weak, lazy, spoiled and cosseted children indifferent to the social community and only interested in luxurious items.' Are they really bad or particularly stupid? No way. They are the generation who endured the harsh education from dawn to midnight and sacrificed their youth by shuttling from private study rooms and institutes to school. They are not that stupid at all. All generations have their own adversity and hardship. How about the older generation who experienced the Japanese colonial era, the Korean War and the military regimes? Were they truly happy in their 20s?" she said.

The author said that the biggest misfortune for those presently in their 20s is that they have nothing to brag about ― unlike previous generations in this era ― with nothing particular to fight against except a materialistic and cutthroat competitive society.

"We don't have any great cause like the 386-generation once had. We are just crying out against high tuition fees and employment examinations," she said.

Jobseekers thron the booths at a job fair held last October at COEX in southern Seoul. Recent college graduates have been facing a tough job market, and therefore often called the "880,000-won generation" in reference to their dismally low wages earned from part-time jobs.

They are just struggling to pay high university tuition fees and studying as hard as they did in high school to land a job. Many university students and graduates, including her, are suffering from having to pay off loans for tuition fees while attending university and after graduation.

"For them, university is not a place for furthering studies but a hurdle to overcome to get higher wages if they don't have rich parents," Kim said.

She graduated from the Korean National University of Arts (K-Arts) in seven years and has advanced to a Masters Degree. Kim took part in working on the scenario of the film " Project Make-up," but it flopped drawing only 188,000 viewers.

The author jumps from one company to another and sometimes does part-time jobs. Now she is a non-regular worker and resident who will be evicted from her rental house because of the city's re-development project.

The author is joining protests for the rights of non-regular workers. "I was not a student activist at all. But I am now fighting for non-regular workers because it's our future. If we don't fight now, the problems of non-regular workers will become regular workers' problem tomorrow. Human beings are not accessories to be easily replaced any time just like non-regular workers," she said.

Kim was born in Daegu and her father is a priest. But to her father's dismay, she dropped out of high school as a freshman out of anger against the school's unjust policies.

She said she was not a delinquent but just an ordinary student with just a special interest.

"I was an ordinary high school student, of average height and with average grades, a little chubby with some pimples on my face, except for being crazy about reading something and watching intriguing movies. But I never caused trouble because I was too fainthearted," she said.

Kim recalled her school days when she and her peers had to go to school at 6 a.m. and comes back home at 10 p.m. Her class was full of 53 students who could see the weather only through the windows.

After spending the first few months in high school, she just wanted to make a short film about something happening there with a video camera. But the principal and the teacher blocked her attempt, because her film looked "anti-social." Following that incident, she told her teacher she would quit school, and the teacher who grimaced at her all the time welcomed her decision.

When she came out from the school at midday, she encountered sunlight for the first time in her high school days. "Still, whenever I feel bad, I dream of a nightmare ― returning to the high school days," she said.

Her style of writing is easy and striking to readers and she avoids jargon to express her anger, but keeps her humorous and dynamic tones. She is a compelling master of words, conveying her feelings and impressions.

She takes readers into a realm of psychological penetration with her words, the combination of frustration, wisdom and courage that she embodies every day.

Tags: books / authors, culture

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