Korea For The Cu­ri­ous seoul

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

IFIRST W ENT to Korea over a decade ago at the in­vi­ta­tion of the Korean gov­ern­ment. It was one way to see the coun­try: state guest, guide, in­ter­preter, limo with driver, meet­ings with se­nior of­fi­cials and for­mal din­ners in fancy restau­rants. Though I went back a few years later for a con­fer­ence, it was the first trip that stayed im­printed in my mind. I had been to Ja­pan just be­fore I went to Korea and some of the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the two coun­tries struck me as in­ter­est­ing. with ap­pear­ance. No Ja­panese per­son you see on the streets of Tokyo will ever be badly dressed. The Kore­ans are like that but they take it to ex­tremes that I did not no­tice in Ja­pan.

To be­gin with, there’s the ob­ses­sion with skin­care. Such Ja­panese cos­metic giants as Shi­seido have taken Ja­pan’s makeup and beauty tech­niques around the world. But they have noth­ing on Korean brands. Korea’s beauty tra­di­tion is now so world­fa­mous that cos­metic shops in Seoul are thronged with for­eign cus­tomers. There’s even a name: K-Beauty – just as K-Pop refers to Korean pop mu­sic.

Over a decade ago, a Korean com­pany in­vented Cush­ion Foun­da­tion, in which the com­pact con­sists of a cush­ion of sponge soaked with foun­da­tion. That prod­uct has now been copied all over the world, be­cause Korean woman have – or ap­pear to have – flaw­less skin.

But it’s not just the women. There’s a whole sub­cul­ture in Korea of so-called “Groom­ing Men” who are make-up ob­sessed met­ro­sex­u­als (i.e. straight men who like girlie things). They trim their eye­brows, wear eye­shadow and con­tour their noses. There are make-up lines di­rected at men and it is not con­sid­ered un­usual for guys to wax their legs if they want to wear shorts in sum­mer.

W hile “Groom­ing Men” tend to be rel­a­tively young, their beauty reg­i­men is treated as es­sen­tial for all job-seek­ers. W hen men go to em­ploy­ment in­ter­views, they usu­ally wear make-up. Ac­cord­ing to my host­ess in Korea, Choi Jung Hwa, “base makeup is es­sen­tial for a good first im­pres­sion at job in­ter­views”.

If you have a blem­ish or a spot on your face, you may not get the job. So men wear foun­da­tion, eye­liner and a lip balm with a matte tex­ture so that their lips do not seem chapped.

Yup. It’s all true. I kid you not.

It’s not just the face. The body is as im­por­tant. There are few paunchy guys in Korea. They all work out to get ‘choco­late abs’, their term for ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles that are as flat as a choco­late bar. The women diet and work out to keep their weight below 45 kg and dream of be­ing Korean size 44 – which is US size 2, or a UK size XS. W omen who are a size S be­lieve that they are too fat.

You can guess what comes next: Korea is num­ber one in the world for peo­ple who un­dergo plas­tic surgery. In the trendy Gang­nam district, made fa­mous by the song, cos­metic surgery clin­ics are ev­ery­where. There is no dis­cre­tion needed: they put up huge neon signs.

Then, there’s the food. For the Ja­panese, food is like a re­li­gion and the search for nir­vana is never-end­ing. The Kore­ans are slightly less ob­ses­sive than the Ja­panese but the food is ter­rific. Tony took me to Poom, one of Seoul’s best modern Korean

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