Long story short: "Welcome to the new Korean craze of 'well-dying.' In a country infatuated with 'well-being' — living and
eating healthily, even to the point where tobacco-makers offer
vitamin-enriched 'well-being cigarettes' — training companies are now
offering courses on dying a good death."
The photos above and below accompanied the story, part of a slideshow here.
When death is a reminder to live
Standing in front of a flower-covered altar in a dimly lit room, Baek Kyung-ah is reading out her will at her own funeral.
"I can't believe today is my last day," she chokes through sobs, her voice barely audible above the solemn music.
my husband, knowing that this will be my last time seeing you, I would
like to apologise for thinking only about myself and for not being a
caring wife. To my parents, just thinking about you makes my eyes
teary. I love you," she cries, before heading off to lie down in a
coffin and be "buried".
Welcome to the new Korean craze of
"well-dying". In a country infatuated with "well-being" — living and
eating healthily, even to the point where tobacco-makers offer
vitamin-enriched "well-being cigarettes" — training companies are now
offering courses on dying a good death.
"Korea has ranked number
one in many bad things such as suicide and divorce and cancer rates, so
I wanted to run a programme for people to experience death," says Ko
Min-su, a 40-year-old former insurance agent who founded Korea Life
Consulting, which offers fake funerals as a way to make people value
Korean corporations - from Samsung Electronics and Hyundai
Motor to Kyobo Life Insurance and Mirae Asset Management - send their
employees on Mr Ko's courses regularly, partly to encourage them to
question their priorities in life and partly as a suicide prevention
The course is now such an integral part of training at
Samsung and Kyobo that they have even built their own fake funeral
centres. International companies including ING and Allianz have also
sent their staff on the courses.
Suicide is a serious problem in
South Korea, which has the highest rate of self-inflicted deaths in the
developed world, with 24.7 cases per 100,000 people, according to the
latest report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development. The rate has doubled in the last five years.
blame the sharp increase on the sudden changes in society resulting
from South Korea's rapid industrialisation, which has led to cut-throat
competitiveness and financial stress. "We have seen a lot of social
change over the last 30 or 40 years and people are having a hard time
keeping up with capitalist values," says Hong Kang-ui, president of the
Korean Association for Suicide Prevention. "At the same time, social
support networks have weakened."
But quality of life is also an
issue, with employees working extraordinarily long hours. Mr Ko's
course aims to make participants re-evaluate their priorities. About
50,000 people have taken part since he launched it in 2004, a move
prompted by the premature deaths of his two older brothers in air and
Lee Joo-heung, a 45-year-old company manager in a
yellow Hawaiian shirt, attended a recent course because he wanted to
reflect on his past and prepare for his death. "I have never thought
about not being there for my family, and I realised that if I died all
of a sudden my wife and children would be left alone," he said.
Ko, a smooth talker with a touch of the television evangelist about
him, begins the course with a motivational presentation that includes a
"life calculator" — counting the time until one's death down to the
Then participants are led to a dark room where they
are told to sit at candlelit desks and write their wills, prompted by
some sample questions. If you died today, what would you tell your
family? What would you say about your job and your life?
As they start to write, the room becomes filled with sniffing, women in particular struggling to hold back their tears.
completed, they collect their funeral portraits — participants are
asked to pose on the way in - and enter the "death experience room", a
large, dark space containing a series of open coffins and decorated
with posters of famous bygones such as Ronald Reagan, Diana, Princess
of Wales, and Lee Byung-chull, Samsung's founder.
In front of an
altar covered with flowers and his funeral portrait, Mr Ko instructs
his trainees to choose a coffin, put on a traditional hemp death robe
and then read out their wills one-by-one.
Next, it is time to be
buried. Participants lie down in their coffins, while a man wearing the
outfit of a traditional Korean death messenger places a flower on each
person's chest. Funeral attendants place lids on the coffins, banging
each corner several times with a mallet. Dirt is thrown down on the
lid, as loud as stones on a tile roof. The attendants leave the hall
for five minutes — but it seemed like 30 minutes to those taking part.
the lids are lifted, Mr Ko asks the trainees how they felt. "When they
were nailing the coffin and sprinkling the dirt, it felt like I was
really dead," Ms Baek says. "I thought death was far away but now that
I have experienced it, I feel like I have to live a better life."
Soo-yung, a manager at the Cheonnam Educational Training Institute, who
was considering sending her staff on the course, said the experience
was terrifying. "I felt like I was suffocating. I cried a lot inside my
coffin," she told the FT. "I regretted so many things that I had done
in my life and mistakes that I had made."
Some medical experts
are less convinced of the value of such programmes as a suicide
prevention measure. "I think treating the fundamental causes like
depression and impulsive behaviour is more important and should come
before such programmes," says Chung Hong-jin, professor of
neuropsychiatry at the Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul.
however, says those who have completed his course become more
considerate, and attach greater value to their lives. "Life is a gift
from your parents, but the way you live depends on the choices that you
make," he says. "People realise the beauty of life by experiencing
Wrote Bridgette Steffen in a May 4, 2009 inhabitat article,
"This incredible reclaimed pavilion defies the old 'everything but' cliché — it is entirely made of kitchen sinks.
Built by 2012 Architechten in cooperation with Jeanne van Heeswijks of Jeanneworks,
the structure has risen up as a stainless steel castle tower amidst the
traditional architecture of Utrecht, Vlaardingen and Amsterdam.
inventive example of reclaimed construction, the Sustainable Sky Box serves as a multi-purpose space for cultural activities.
Reclaimed kitchen sinks serve as the pavilion's
principle facade elements, which are held together with scaffolding,
wire and waterproof multiplex boards.
The airy structure is open on top
to the sky and doesn’t feature any specific amenities inside, which
makes it more of a community gathering place than a shelter.
building can also collect rainwater in a tank to water the nearby collective garden.
A stunning example of reclaimed design,
we could envision this type of facade being used more frequently.
sink basins could easily be replaced with windows, and the metal could
be riveted to the building skeleton for a bombproof cladding material."
••••••••••••••••• The Claim: Tattoos can increase the risk of skin cancer
The Facts: As more Americans tattoo their bodies, some have wondered whether there may be a hidden risk (other than the risk of regretting the tattoo a few years down the road).
Many inks are made with metals; blue, for example, contains cobalt
and aluminum, and red may contain mercury sulfide. That, along with the
fact that tattooing can be traumatizing to the skin, prompted suspicion
that tattoos might lead to skin cancer. Studies in recent years have documented a few cases of cancer at a tattoo site.
But Dr. Ariel Ostad, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology
at N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, says that does not mean
the tattoo caused the cancer. Indeed, he said, the ink is unlikely to
do any harm because it is confined to cells in the skin called
macrophages, whose job is to absorb foreign material.
More likely, he said, the tattoo was placed on an existing mole, making any changes in the mole hard to spot. Several case studies have dealt with melanomas that were overlooked because they arose from
moles hidden by tattoos. Dr. Ostad says he is often asked whether
tattoos can lead to cancer, and the answer “is unequivocally no.”
“But people should know that they should always leave a rim of healthy skin around a pre-existing mole.” The Bottom Line: There is no evidence that tattoos lead to skin cancer.
Helpful Hints from joeeze: Asparagus' Breaking Point
Long story short, from Harold McGee's May 6, 2009 "The Curious Cook" New York Times column about asparagus: "The stalks quickly toughen from the bottom up, and it's no snap to tell the tough portion from the tender."
Read his piece and pick up some tips from an expert.
•••••••••••••••• Asparagus' Breaking Point
It's spring at last: prime time for a vegetable that does not go gently
into our food chain, that keeps binding up its harvest wounds even as
it’s shipped and stored, growing and bending upward to find the sun. A
vegetable whose texture horticultural engineers test by tapping it with
a tiny hammer and listening to it vibrate.
Asparagus is the hardest-living stalk in the produce business, a challenge to
farmers and grocers and cooks alike. The stalks quickly toughen from
the bottom up, and it’s no snap to tell the tough portion from the
Asparagus spears are the day-old shoots of a perennial in the lily
family. In spring, the persistent root mass unlocks its stores of last
summer’s sugars, and fuels the growth of shoots above ground. The
shoots normally grow into stalks several feet high, stiffen themselves
against the elements, and unfurl feathery branches to photosynthesize
and bear small flowers and fruits.
I’ve never succeeded in growing asparagus, but those who have know
that once the plant breaks the soil’s surface, it can shoot up 6 to 10
inches in a day. A single day’s growth is what’s usually harvested,
still mainly by hand.
About half the world’s asparagus is harvested white, the spears
protected by soil or row covers from sunlight that triggers chlorophyll
production. It is somewhat bitter, sweeter and more delicately
flavored, and more expensive.
Green asparagus spears, cut down just hours after they’ve hit
daylight and turned color, are the most lively of all our vegetables,
furiously turning the sugars absorbed from their roots into energy and
The harvest doesn’t stop them. Even cut off from their roots, the
asparagus spears keep growing at the tip. If they’re stored lying down,
the tips rise away from the pull of gravity, and can bend 60 degrees or
more from the stalk before they run out of energy.
This negative geotropism doesn’t harm the eating quality of
asparagus, just its straightness. But the spears also lose much of
their sugars, using them to toughen their wounded ends with an
increasingly fibrous sheath, which lies just under the green skin and
quickly becomes too stringy to chew.
Most of this loss of sweetness and toughening happens in the first
day after harvest. Farmers can minimize it by chilling new-cut
asparagus right away. But a delay of just four hours between harvest
and chilling causes the spears to toughen significantly. So does
allowing the chilled spears to warm up to 60 degrees or more in a
grocery display or at the farmers’ market.
Hence the cook’s challenge. Some portion of each spear’s butt end is
inedible. White ends are unfailingly tough, but green ones can be
almost as bad. Peeling deeply will remove the fibrous sheath (and is
essential for white asparagus), but it’s a lot of work and the spears
end up oddly two-toned and two-textured. So how do you know where to
trim a spear so that it won’t be unpleasantly stringy at one end?
The standard advice, going back to Fannie Farmer and beyond, is to
“let the asparagus tell you” by bending the stalk until it snaps,
which, according to this doctrine, is at the point where acceptable
texture meets tough. This practice apparently derives from a
centuries-old harvest method. Michigan asparagus is largely
snap-harvested, and is said to have less white and fibrous tissue than
spears cut from the roots.
I’ve been a spear-snapper too, but I’m regularly annoyed by fibrous
spears among the tender ones, and I have wondered just how reliable
snapping is. Over the course of a few weeks, I snapped a total of 130
spears, then steamed them and bit into the wide end. About a third were
unpleasantly stringy. Some bunches from a farmers’ market on a warm day
had more stringy ends than tender ones.
I got much more reliably tender results simply by cutting the spears
evenly to between 6 and 7 inches from the tip. But this can leave
almost half of the stalk behind. So I tried slicing all but the very
bottoms into millimeter-thin rounds. Fibers cut that short are barely
noticeable. The rounds are ringed in green and crunchy when raw. I
munch on them while cooking and scatter the rest around the cooked
spears for contrast. They also cook in seconds in a hot soup or
One other tip: thick, short spears give the greatest proportion of
tender tissue to stringy. And apparently we barely know what thick is.
According to the food scholar Alan Davidson, some 1930s French
varieties produced bland spears 2 inches in diameter and more than a
pound in weight. Bland or not, those sound like heirlooms worth