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  • Embodied Subjects of VictimizationThe Year in Korea
  • Heui-Yung Park (bio)

On December 5, 2014, right before takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Korean Air Flight 86 suddenly taxied back to its gate. Leaving chief crewmember Pak Ch'ang-jin1 behind, it then departed for the Incheon International Airport in South Korea. Commonly referred to in Korea as the "ttangk'ong hoehang sakŏn" [nut-fly-back incident], it resulted from a temper tantrum by Cho Hyŏn-a (Heather Cho), vice president of Korean Air and the oldest daughter of its CEO, Cho Yang-ho. Because macadamia nuts were served to her in a bag instead of on a plate, she became furious with the flight attendant, accusing her of not following the in-flight service manual correctly. Though she soon learned that she had been wrong about how the nuts should be served, Cho blamed Pak—the team leader for the entire crew—for not providing her immediately with the manual and therefore causing her trouble. She then ordered Pak off the plane.

In early 2009, five years before the Korean Air incident, actor Chang Cha-yeŏn committed suicide at the age of twenty-seven. She had been suffering from severe depression for some time, largely because of abuse by Kim Chong-sŭng (also known as Kim Sŏng-hun or Jason Kim), the CEO of her entertainment management agency. Kim often had Chang entertain his male acquaintances or business partners, ordered her to have sexual relations with some of them, and beat her when she rejected his requests or for other unknown reasons. At Kim's birthday party in August 2008, Chang was also reportedly sexually harassed by Chosŏn ilbo journalist Cho Hŭi-ch'an. Despite the horrific crimes by Kim, journalist Cho, and several other men, which in all probability led to Chang's suicide, Kim was sentenced to only four months in prison and one year of probation. Cho and the remaining suspects were released, due to insufficient evidence.

Pak's forced removal from the flight and Chang's suicide resulted from kapchil culture in South Korea, which stems from the unequal relationship between the privileged and the "other." Borrowed from a contractual term, kap indicates an individual or group who has the upper hand over the disadvantaged ŭl in society, and [End Page 114] chil is a derogatory word for bad conduct. Kapchil therefore refers to the offensive behavior of those with economic, social, and/or political power toward the less privileged. As an employee, and as a lesser-known actor, Pak and Chang were the ŭl, and therefore vulnerable due to their unequal relationship with their superiors. As a woman, Chang was especially susceptible to Kim's abuse in Korea's male-dominant culture. Though occurring less frequently in recent years, women are often treated as objects in workplaces and can be ordered to entertain their male associates, superiors, or business partners.

Life writing published in South Korea from 2018 to 2019 displays the varying ways that people present their own stories and/or those of others. Chosain ŭiro salda: Pak Mu-ik hoegorok (2018), Irŏk'e sarado twae (2019), and Usŏn Kim Myŏng-jun chasŏjŏn (2019) record the writers' personal and/or professional achievements during their careers. In Yi Myŏng-ok hoegorok: Nae ga kiŏk hanŭn abŏji wa na (2018), Yi weaves together stories of her father and herself, foregrounding their father-daughter relationship. Pak Mang-nye, idaero chukŭl sun ŏptta (2019) is a collaborative work, in which Pak Mang-nye2—who was diagnosed with dementia—and her granddaughter document their adventures when visiting several parts of the world, including Australia, Japan, France, and the US. All of these works testify to the wide range of Korean life narratives operating on a personal level.

Works such as Pak Ch'ang-jin's P'ŭllai paek: kapchil ro ŏgŭnnan sam ŭi kwedo rŭl paro chapta (2019) and Yun Chi-o's 13-bŏntchae chŭngŏn: 2009-nyŏn 3-wŏl 7-il (2019), however, not only...


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