Saturday, October 31, 2015

Korean "Dirt Spoon" Bingo

By now, you've probably read an article somewhere about a silly viral meme called "Dirt Spoon Bingo" (흙수저 빙고) which is meant to be a kind of satire on the poor economic condition faced by young Koreans today. It's a game to determine if you were born with, not a silver spoon, but a dirt spoon in your mouth. The Bingo card spaces are filled with situations most economically-disenfranchised young people would be familiar with. Check off a line of 5 and BINGO! Congratulations, you're poor!

흙수저 빙고
One common version of Dirt Spoon Bingo being passed around.
Cleaner-viewing versions can be found here.

It's part of a larger social issue on what many consider to be the dire economic condition facing young unemployed Koreans today. A nice English-translated introduction was on Korea Bang the other day [Korea Bang | Korea’s ‘Give Up’ Generation], and it got attention on the KT [Korea Times | Young vent frustration with 'Hell Joseon']. I thought it was pretty amusing, and figured I'd try my hand at translating it into English, so readers of this blog can play along too.

Please note that for some of these I tried to translate more the meaning or feeling behind them, rather than being literally exact. For example, as Westerners don't use jeonse I simply left it as "pay monthly rent". But I think overall these pretty accurately reflect the mood of the game.

영어 흙수저 빙고 English Dirt Spoon Bingo
English "Dirt Spoon Bingo"

Actually, while making this, I discovered that someone had basically beaten me to it. Reddit user u/monkeyshow has done a truly outstanding job not only translating the squares literally but offering some cultural background explanation. It's really a great analysis and deserves to be featured in more places than just a Reddit comments thread. I nearly missed it myself. I'll reprint it here.
[–]monkeyshow 12 points 2 days ago
i'm a noob at reddit formatting but here goes. starting from the top left and going down:

  1. 'has a plastic tub to collect water in the bathroom' (old apartments often have problems in plumbing so when they do maintenance and the water shuts off, people collect water beforehand)
  2. 'no bathtub in the house' (small houses often don't have tubs)
  3. 'there's a lot of frozen items in the freezer' (assuming you buy in bulk to save money)
  4. 'divorced parents'
  5. 'the house your parents live in is a monthly rent or the deposit money was less than 1 hundred million won' (전세 is a weird korean housing contract where you pay a lump deposit up front and live without paying rent for 2 years)
  6. 'lives in "연립주택"' (연립주택 or 빌라 refers to low cost houses, usually 2-4 stories tall, with red bricks. High rise apartments are preferred over these cheaper homes)
  7. 'floor panels in the house are damaged'
  8. 'parents nag you often to not waste food'
  9. 'wear only 1 or 2 pairs of shoes for the entire year'
  10. 'spend lots of time online looking for items with the lowest cost'
  11. 'never received new year's pocket money that was more than 100,000 won' (it is customary during lunar new years for older folks to hand out pocket money to children. usually high school kids would get anywhere from 50,000 - 500,000 won)
  12. 'parents do not have a hobby' (assuming they're too busy working to enjoy leisure)
  13. 'household debt'
  14. 'has vinyl tablecloths underneath the glass' (some dinner tables are topped with glass, but have a layer of tablecloth underneath for aesthetic purposes. clear plastic implies no nonsense, no spending money on beauty-type of mentality)
  15. 'no family members have a car or has a car that's more than 7 years old'
  16. 'has had a part time job in the past' (the word 알바 comes from the German word 'arbeit' which i think means work?)
  17. 'parents obsess over their children's education' (based on the korean dream of going to a SKY university that will automatically open doors to a better life)
  18. 'meat is often cooked with lots of water' (implying grilled meat is consumed too fast, so you stretch it out by creating stews and soups, etc)
  19. 'no bidet in the house' (a previous comment said this seemed like a first world problem, but in my humble opinion, it seems more like it's based on what you consider luxurious or 'first-world'. Bidets usually come preinstalled in most modern homes in Korea, so a house without a bidet would be comparable to say.. a house without air conditioning or a house that's referred to as a "fixer upper")
  20. 'lots of clothing in the closet from a previous fashion trend'
  21. 'parents do not receive regular check ups'
  22. 'the TV is a CRT or a flat panel under 30 inches'
  23. 'have done business over 중고나라' (중고나라 is like craigslist where people buy and sell second hand items)
  24. 'don't have an air conditioner or even if you do, don't use it often in the summer' (keeping the AC on during the summer can rack up quite the electric bill, especially during the summer. a lesson i learned the hard way..)
  25. 'fungal growth in the house' ('mold' would be the more common term, i suppose)

This great info comes from a larger discussion over on Reddit, where you can also find an interesting sort of rebuttal to the whole "dirt spoon" generation idea. Overall, Reddit's been offering up some pretty interesting reads lately.

I'm not going to comment much on how well scoring a Bingo in this game proves your poor status. One the one hand, you can't help but feel the burn when reading stats like this:
The top 10 percent of the richest South Koreans, in terms of assets, own 66 percent of total wealth, a study shows. The 50 percent on the lower end, on the other hand, own a mere 2 percent. [Korea Times]
But then again I certainly do notice a kind of, not entitlement, but just a kind of looking-down on the idea of thrift, especially when appearances are at stake. Gotta have a good-looking phone/suit/car, anything people see, even if it means eating ramen twice a day (privately). The worst attitude, I think, is the idea that spending beyond your means now is going to somehow ensure your prosperity in the future. I had a chat just last week with a friend who just left his job to open his own business. His first step? Buying a brand new high-end car. The guy is 27 years old, recently married. I know his family history and know for a fact he cannot currently afford the payments on that car. But he assures me that he "needs" this car to be taken seriously as a businessman, and that projecting this image of success will help him in the long-run.

Hey, I get his logic, I really do. And it's not like this is a uniquely Korean problem. I don't know. Maybe I'm getting old. But I can check-off most of those "dirt spoon bingo" spaces, and I turned out not so bad. In fact, my parents used to pride themselves on the thrift and frugal tactics implied in this game. IMHO, these are lessons the current generation's grandparents already learned. Maybe it's time to teach the younger ones.

Apologies for this becoming just a Reddit copy-paste-link post. I had meant to just post that dumb English version of the Dirt Bingo thing and be done.

And finally, in case you haven't got your fill of Bingo mania, check out Expat Bingo to see how many stereotypical foreigner experiences you can claim. I definitely have been guilty of a few.

Happy playing.

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