South Korea: A Politician’s ‘Emperor’s Dish’ Enraged Struggling Koreans

In South Korea, a political campaign that supposed to attract voters went backfire and now is rapidly draining supporters and making ordinary people turn against the politician. It all happened within less than 24 hours when a politician from South Korea’s ruling party described the life of minimum wager as endurable, even ‘not short of emperor’s life’. Cha, Myung Jin, a lawmaker from the Grand National Party wrote in July 26 a review of a political campaign ‘Hope UP’ that gave him the experience as a minimum wage earner in Korea. The participants of the campaign are expected to live a day within the spending limit of 6,300 won(USD 5.32), a hypothetical setting of the people who live off from minimum wage. Cha after finishing his rare experience, commented the meals he had was like the ‘emperor’s dish’ and assessed the day as ‘life not fall short of an emperor's’. The current minimum wage per month are 500 thousand won(USD 421) for a person, 860 thousand won (USD 726) for two person in a household and 1.1 million won (USD 937) for three family members. The Ministry of Health and Welfare recently reported that the minimum wage will be increased by 2-3 percent next year and the news did not get huge thrilled responses.

A photo of Cha during the campaign from in the campaign homepage

Cha wrote that he spent 4,680 won (USD 3.95) on three meals. In Seoul a meal in a regular local restaurant is over 5,000 won at least. Cha gave details like he bought a cup of rice, a canned tuna and yellow peach and a premade meatballs, each of them cost less than 1,000 won (US 84 cent), describing it as ‘emperor’s dish’. Cha added that he donated the leftover 1,000 won to a visually disabled person and enjoyed his ‘cultural experience’ by buying a newspaper which costs 600 won (US 51 cent).

The moment Cha’s comment got released to public, Korean internet space went sizzling with ‘Emperor's dish’ phrase. Most internet users upbraided him as an obnoxious and inconsiderate politician and warned that he may have hurt the already broken people's hearts.

What can be easily seen on the blogsphere were sarcastic jokes retorting him that if the life of a minimum wage earner is so bearable and fantastic as he said, then live that life for the rest of his life. A blogger Patriatman, who even suggested Cha to take a mental check-up, stressed that Cha’s rare one-time experience is another men’s unbearable, miserable reality.

딱 하루 미트볼 참치 캔 이런 것 먹어보니 맛있었겠을지 모르겠지만 어쩔 수 없이 그런 것 만을 먹으면서 한 달, 또 한달, 일년을 살아가는 사람들에게는 정말 고역이 아닐 수 없다.
또 그 분들 중에는 건강이 좋지 못한 분들이 많을 수 밖에 없는데, 그러한 분들에게 건강을 해치는 식품인 인스턴트 음식이 과연 황제의 식사에 견줄만한 음식일까? 나도 편의점에서 알바를 할 때 며칠 동안은 삼각김밥에 컵라면이 그렇게 맛있을 수 없었다. 하지만 조금 더 시간이 지나다보니 쳐다만 봐도 손 사레가 처질 정도로 먹기 싫었다. 최저 생계비로 사는 사람들은 유기농아 안먹고 싶을까? 한우가 안 먹고 싶을까?

He may have find the pre-made meatballs and canned tuna delicious because he just ate those for a day. But for people who had to eat those things for a month, months and a year, it is hellish. And among those poor people, there are people with poor health situation. Can he still call that the emperor’s dish in front of those people who keep eating pre-made foods that ruin their health? When I was working as a part-timer in a convenience store, for first few days I found the triangle gimbap and a cup ramen really delicious. But as that continued for several more days, I came to hate them. It is not like the minimum wagers choose not to eat organic foods or (good quality) Korean beef.

As the response is taking a serious turn after several hours later, Cha came to apologize today on his inconsiderate comment and that was not even close to quell the public anger.

A blogger Hormesis pointed out that the Korean society is becoming deeply polarized economically, where poors can barely make ends meet while riches are living truly emperor’s lives.

무슨 할 말이 더 있겠는가. 차명진 의원은 앞으로 황제로 사시라는 말씀밖에 못 드리겠다. 하루 6300원으로도 황제처럼 살 수 있는데 얼마나 많은 잉여봉급이 국회의원 앞에 떨어지는 것인가. 하루 6300원으로 황제처럼 식사할 수 있는 나라에서 대학교 등록금이 연 천만원이 넘어가는 XX이 왜 발생하는지 모를 일이다. 최저생계비만으로 기부까지 하고 살 수 있는 나라에서 왜 자살율이 높은지는…어이가 없어서 헛웃음만 나온다.

What can I say to him? The only thing I can say is that I wish Cha to continue to live an emperor’s life. In a country where you can live like an emperor just with 6,300 won, why so redundantly fat paychecks are given to the politicians? In the country where you can dine like an emperor with only 6,300 won a day, why the university tuitions surpass 10 million won(USD 8.4 thousand) a year? In the country where you can even make donations from the minimum wage, why the suicide rate is so high?… This is a bad comedy.

Just a modicum of net users defended Cha from harsh criticisms, reminding angry public that at least Cha tried. Cha is the first politician from the conservative Grand National Party who actively involved in the campaign. Still, even to them Cha’s ‘emperor comment’ was totally unnecessary. A blogger KimCoco1 commented that some of Cha’s point are accurate, except the ‘emperor’ one.

차 의원님 말씀도 중간중간에 옳은 말씀을 하였습니다. 통신비 책정이 안 되어 있다던지…방세가 너무 작(게 책정되었)다던지 하는 좋은 말씀을 하시던데, 왜 유독 식비에 대한 부분은 그렇게 말씀을 하시는지 도저히 제 상식으로 이해가 되지 않습니다…아무리 물가에 대한 좋은 정보를 가지고 있다고 해도 하루 6,300원으로 살아가기는 어렵습니다. 우리 사회의 최저 생계비가 작게 책정된 것은 사실입니다. 또 그렇다고 세금만 많이 거두어 이런 분들에게 무조건적인 지원을 한다는 것도 한계가 있습니다.

Mr. Cha said right things here and there in the review. He pointed out that the communication fee had not been considered when setting the minimum wage and the housing cost was so under-calculated and so on. But still, I cannot understand why he said those things on the food expense…Even though you have a good knowledge on the price, still it is tough to live a day with 6,300 won. It is true that the minimum wage was fixed low. However, giving an unconditional (financial) supports to low income earners from our higher tax clearly has its’ limitations.

The word ‘Working Poor’, is a term referring individuals and families who stand near or below the poverty line despite their current employment status. According to the Korea Statistic Office’s report this year, it is believed almost 10 percent of Koreans are the working poor and around 30 percent of the employees belong to the inescapable working poor class. More than half of the working poor comprise of the new working poors who have been recently dragged below the poverty line. A blogger Streming09 blamed the unrealistic appreciation of the minimum wage.

최저 생계비에는 주거비와 가구 집기비, 식료품비, 의료비, 교육비, 교통 통신비, 교양 오락비, 심지어 경조사비, 종교 헌금, 세금이나 사회 보험료등이 모두 포함된다. 최저 생계비는 한창 커나갈 어린이의 점퍼 내구 연한을 6년으로 여성용 팬티는 3년에 9점, 브래지어는 2년에 2점, 남성 양말은 1년에 4켤레로 잡는 등 현실성이 떨어진 다는 지적도 많다. 국민의 80 % 이상이 쓰는 휴대전화 요금은 아예 포함되지도 않았다. 교육비는 5만 5302원 밖에 안된다. 주거비 역시 논란인데 복지부는 21만 2575원을 책정한 반면 빈곤 사회 연대 조사에서는 임대료와 관리비, 대출이자 등을 포함 59만 6634원으로 조사된 바 있다.

The minimum wage includes the housing cost, the home appliances, the food and medical expenses, the communication fee, the education and entertainment expensed, the (unexpected/expected) expenses from the marriage or the funeral, the religious offerings, the tax and the insurance. They (the government department) had set the minimum wage based on the hypothetical conditions where a rapidly growing kid uses a same jacket for six years, a woman uses nine panties in three years and two brassieres for two years and man wears four socks for a year. There are criticisms pointing out this is an unrealistic setting. The cell phone, which used by 80 percent of Korean population is not even included in the setting. The education fee is expected to be about 55,303 won (USD 47). The housing cost is also a controversial one; while the Ministry of Health and Welfare set the housing expense at 212,575 won (USD 180), the Anti-Poor Association’s report measures it to reach 596,634 won (USD 500) including the lease, the maintenance cost and the mortgage.

Still, Cha’s effort needs to be appreciated, as several banters on the web claim that this caring politician intentionally said such offending comments to draw public attention to the issue.

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