Friday, January 20, 2012

Greece and Korea - "Kaimos" and "Han"

Friendship Pins

We have a saying in Greece. "Είδε ο γύφτος τη γενιά του και αναγάλλιασε η καρδιά του/Eide o gyftos ti genia tou kai anagalliase i kardia tou". It translates as "The gypsy saw his kind and his heart rejoiced". It means that we met or saw someone whom we hit it off with, who understands us or is like us and we love that. I could say it if I bumped into a relative or friend outside or mostly when I meet someone I have nice conversations with. Someone who "gets" me. My kind of person.

I have been talking about this issue for a while now, in different places, be it comments or posts. So I decided to make a piece on it a while back and then I postponed it a bit. But an article that came out today reminded me that I was supposed to have gotten this done already, on account of me wanting to do it. I'm weird, I know.

As I've mentioned a lot in the past, Korea feels like Asia's Greece, sometimes. I am not talking about history or politics. I am not educated on those issues and others could talk about them better than me. I am also not talking about our geography or love for food, as a nice post on this issue from the Korea blog mentioned. The one which reminded me that I need to do this piece. So, thanks to Angeliki for that.

I am talking about certain elements of living and culture, behaviors, habits, things that somehow feel so very familiar, things that I don't see in other cultures, past the ones I already know are like my own and also know the reasons behind our similarities. They are things that give me a feeling of watching something from my own country, unlike anything has ever done before.

I feel they are too many and I would like to talk about them in separate articles. I want to give as much information on them as I can and I feel that they also need some explaining in order for people of other cultures to somehow understand why they feel so familiar to someone like me. I know these exist in many countries, but I can only compare Korea and my own.

As I said in the beginning, I am no historian. I do not know the origins of these elements and I am not saying the countries are the same. We have many differences, in fact, and I will talk about some of those as well. I am a simple person. A simple Greek who has been exposed to another culture through certain mediums and finds certain things that ring very familiar bells.

I also don't know how much of this is just used for entertainment and how much is accurate. A lot of things that I find familiar are in dramas and movies, so I can't accurately say that is what Korean society is like. As we all (hopefully) know, the fictional depictions of a place are not always in keeping with real life and especially when it comes to Korean dramas.

I think we can be sure Koreans don't give piggybacks to each other as often as in dramas

However, I assume these certain things I have spotted do come from a real equivalent, as they are sometimes a bit too specific and consistent and not so much part of the "grip" a series has on viewers. Like Greek series, we use "ideal reality" a lot, for the sake of entertainment, but you can still see our culture in it. I am assuming it's the same in every country. Showing your culture through storytelling is not something you can really fight.

The first topic would be "han". Believe it or not, Greeks have "han" too and it's a feeling so indescribable that you can't fully understand it unless you feel it. But here are some things I recently wrote about it in a comment at a Hancinema article.

I feel "han" is possibly and in some ways similar to the greek "καημός" (kaimos), which can mean longing, deep sorrow and literally "burning". It's a feeling of injustice, of a terrible stifling weight in one's chest, about a burden they have to carry and a regret they might have. Also, a pessimism about the future can be part of it. It's woe, in a sense.

It is very personal and each person's "καημός" is something only they can feel the weight of (which is why we have the expression "my καημός is"), but it's also something that brings people together in the form of cultural identity. We know we all feel it, even if each of us suffer through theirs alone. So, in a way, it creates a feeling of unity and comfort. We know that our fellow people feel it and it is something that does not need to be conveyed in words.

It's also something which is more present in older generations. They have lived through wars, the junta, terrible times, so that shared feeling of sorrow, along with each person's burden they carry is something that is more intense in older people.

Our generation (the ones under 30 or so) have lived a "life in feathers", as we call it. We have not been through major events that would create that unity, neither have we been through times as terrible as those our parents and grandparents went through.

So, this is a concept that is less likely to be used as anything but a common "sadness/complaint" meaning word by younger people. The word "kaimos" we use today is not the same as the concept of "kaimos", in that sense.

Which is why a lot of the older greek movies had themes of revenge, war, pain, ruining other people's lives as a means of seeking relief from one's own problems and other such themes. Quite similar concepts to such Korean movies which are quite focused on despair.

"Han" and "kaimos" are elements found very much in entertainment and art, because those are expressions of our cultural identities and our mindsets as people. And it is through those mediums that we can also find them in each other. Music is one place where I've spotted this (as have other Greeks, I'm sure), and it seems some Koreans have too.

The characters of "Cyrano Agency" listening to Greek artist Baltsa's "Aspri mera kai gia mas"

Music is often about the emotion. It's the reason why we can enjoy music in any language, if the rhythm and the way it is sung touch our hearts. Which is why, as I wrote in my previous piece, we sometimes hear Greek songs or tunes in Korean entertainment.

When you hear Agnes Baltsa's "Aspri mera kai gia mas", do you feel this sadness? Do you suddenly feel as if everything bad that happened in your life, every sorrow, even those of other people, those who lived before you and those around you is suddenly crawling all over your skin and reaching into your gut? Or when you hear a song like the "Hymn of Death", do you get goosebumps all over you and feel like crying, even if you don't understand what it says? And do you feel this sense of nostalgia and warmth at the same time, as if the words or the tune or the person singing or even those listening to it are sighing with you and hope with you?

Then congratulations. You are much closer to understanding "kaimos", and I imagine "han" as well. Now you know how it feels.

I have not picked a topic for next time, but if this topic does interest you, there's plenty more where that came from. "Han" is maybe a bit too abstract, but there are also quite more concrete similarities and I will be talking about those as well. I will also, as I already mentioned, speak of some differences and also negative sides we both seem to have in our mindsets.

Just keep in mind that I am expressing opinions and observations here. What I say is what I think and feel. If something is inaccurate, do tell me, but it's not something I know about, if I write it here inaccurately.

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