This chic 51-year-young woman was my tour leader, Lee Kye-suk (이계숙). She has an endless supply of story on her mother land, Korea. Along the tour, she narrated various real-life stories. She may tell us about her two sons who just finished military service today, her late mother another night, her 84-year-old father the morning after, and so forth. She spoke so much in Bahasa Indonesia.
Rose Lee, that’s how she introduced herself to us, said Indonesia is the heaven of married women like her. That said, she meant no exaggeration. In Korea, it takes a fortune to pay full-time household assistants, drivers, or gardeners. In Indonesia, she found it really easy to find affordable household assistants,drivers and gardeners long time ago before the 98 crisis hit Indonesian economy so badly. She lived in Geger Kalong, Bandung.
Having so many helpers ready to assist, however, doesn’t necessarily mean she can wash her hands off of the most vital household chore of Korean women: preparing foods for the family. Korean mothers, she said, can’t just let others cook for their family. Food eaten is a decisive factor to maintain family’s health and well being and putting health at stake is too risky. That’s why Korean mothers keep cooking for their family in spite of employing several domestic asisstants in their houses. It is quite the contrary once you see Indonesian (urban) mothers . Most of them prefer their foods prepared by helpers.
In terms of gender equality, Korea might be one of the most men-centered societies throughout the globe. Korean patriarchal way of life is easily noticed in any aspect. And that naturally translates to the notion that women are assumed to be lower than men. Ladies are strongly expected to take great care of family. It’s a full time job, and they can’t complain about it whatsoever. Korean women after marriage are to be held responsible for being the domestic helpers of their family (and the husbands’ too). The labor cost is surprisingly high in Korea, which makes women think a thousand times before working and climbing corporate carrier ladders. Hiring a baby sitter or domestic helper can be half or almost the entire sum of one’s current salary. Rose Lee said these manual workers make money 1.5 million won every month. At the same time, a career woman in Korea (with college degree) in average may earn around 2.9 million won. Women without college degree earn considerably lower than that. Thus, hiring helpers seems very much like a waste of money.
While here in Indonesia, career women can comfortably rely on the service of maids and baby sitters and their parents, Korean women have to struggle more as their parents have no intention to help them raise children. It’s not because they hate their own grandchildren but they want to take a rest. Raising children is way too energy consuming and the elderly shun such an idea.
Rose Lee later explained why we hardly find Korean spouses with 3 children. “One child is the most reasonable. Two tops!” she emphasized several times. “The ratio of children number in a typical Korean family recently is 1.1,” she added.
And because raising children is considered burden here, Korean people are currently facing a new problem. Like the neighboring Japan and our neighbor Singapore, Korea is also worried as day by day they have more seniors and fewer babies.
The aging population needed a handysolution. The innovative Korean government came up with one: subsidy. The government launched a subsidy campaign to boost more babies around Korea. The subsidy worth 500K won is aimed only at families having more than 3 children.