Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Dateline -

View in ParlView

Transcript

This is the commuter belt of one of the busiest cities in the world…row after row of high rise apartments where office workers live. They travel daily to high-pressure jobs in Seoul. The two hour commute and long work days leave little time for rest. Insurance salesman, Beon is one of them and the daily stress is getting him down.

BEON SUNG HUN, INSURANCE SALESMAN (Translation): Koreans live in a fiercely competitive society. It’s a bali bali culture, you have to get things done quickly, everything is about money. So we are all worn out.

The bali bali culture Beon talks about, literally means faster faster and it’s become the modern mantra for living in South Korea. Beon feels caught in a bali bali trap.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): Sometimes I just want to end my life, but I don’t think that’s the best way…

But he saw an ad on TV that he hopes will change his life and possibly even save it.

TV COMMERCIAL (Translation): Do you want healing? Free death experience. Call now.

Unusually the commercial promises you can ‘Recharge your life’ by having a fake funeral.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): I watched it on TV the other day and thought it was really good.

Beon is having his own fake funeral in a few days time and has invited me to come along, he hopes the death like experience will snap him out of his depression.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): I expect to feel like I am being reborn, I am in a difficult situation, so I think I need a moment when I feel I am being reborn.

South Korea has gone from poverty to power in just one generation but there has been a cost, as young people chase success and money Confucianist Family values have been forgotten and old people have been left behind. As a result, South Korea sadly has the highest suicide rate in the OECD, it is a country in crisis.

HONG JIN PYO, KOREA SUICIDE PREVENTION CENTRE (Translation): In Korea, there is a suicide every 33 minutes, the culture of respect for life has recently suffered great damage. 20 years ago, Korean society was entirely dominated by Confucianism. However, individualism and capitalism were rapidly introduced. So the only generation keeping up Confucianism is the elderly.

The pressure to conform and succeed is everywhere, children attend school for up to fifteen hours a day, including evening cram. The job market is highly competitive, South Korea also tops the table for cosmetic surgery, but these are the pressures for the young. Surprisingly the age group most at risk from suicide is the over 65’s. In a slum called Guryong, I try to find out why.

This generation worked hard their whole lives, turning around the fortunes of a nation but now 49% of them live in poverty.

MAN (Translation): I make two to three dollars a day collecting and selling cardboard. I also get the age pension from the government, that’s 200,000 won a month.

200,000 won a month isn’t much, it’s a little more than $200, it’s exactly why this slum is overflowing with people too old to work and living on miniscule welfare payments. Traditionally South Koreans relied on their families to look after them in old age, in modern South Korea traditional family values are falling apart. Some say, with bali bali culture people are simply too busy to look after their aging parents.

We meet a woman who was moved into the slum by her only son, he drops by occasionally to deliver food. My local translator, Taehoon tells me that she does not want to give her name out of embarrassment.

WOMAN (Translation): Sorry the house is so small.

But she kindly invites us inside her home, it’s only about two metres long and two metres wide with a low ceiling.

WOMAN (Translation): Some people just leave their elderly parents here and then move out. I have seen many elderly people die here.

Her hands have seen hard days scrubbing floors as a cleaner for over forty years, now at 81 she has no income and feels ashamed for the hard times she has fallen into.

WOMAN (Translation): It’s a bit embarrassing.

As I make my way through Seoul, I discover different ways the nation is trying to tackle this epidemic. These performers are trying to brighten up the lunch time office crowd in one of the city's subway stations. The concert is branded as a cure for low energy. It may not be working too well on this audience, but the Government says it's doing what it can to try to fix depression.

Not far away I find another Government initiative aimed at boosting Seoul's spirits, a vending machine that delivers little packages of hope for anyone feeling down. For 50 cents you can get advice on a range of problems. A young woman has selected number 22, "Feeling of loss".

WOMAN (Translation): “Medicine for your mind.’

Inside the box are suggestions for movies to go and see, some candy and a map for a healthy stroll around a park.

WOMAN (Translation): “I wish you a speedy recovery and a healthy mind.”

These efforts may seem small, but these so-called soul pharmacies have tapped into a need, I'm told this one prescribes 83 boxes a day. The Government's attempts to curb suicide have extended to a city landmark with a tragic reputation. This is the Mapo bridge, over 100 people a year attempt suicide off this bridge. It's become known as the bridge of death. However recently it was rebranded as the bridge of life with all of these life affirming statements along the railing.

TAEHOON, TRANSLATOR: It says: “The world’s nicest guy.” “The most precious person in the world.” So I guess everyone, every individual is the most precious person in the world to someone. It will give them a meaning of life.

Everyone here seems to have a connection to suicide, including my translator, Taehoon.

REPORTER: So what is it about Korean society that we think means so many people get to this stage?

TAEHOON: In our open society, I would say depression due to highly competitive society.

REPORTER: Can you identify with that?

TAEHOON: One of my relatives tried to kill himself, because he went to the top university in Seoul, which is Seoul National University and he realised that everyone was going abroad, to do their PhD. His family could not afford it. He felt defeated, so out of frustration he tried to kill himself. And worse off, he became half disabled. So he's living a very unhappy life.

I'm leaving the city behind and heading to Korea's farming heartland to meet a social worker. Bae Sun has a particular job out here, suicide patrol.

KOO BAE SUN, SOCIAL WORKER (Translation): There is at least one person a month, and I regularly have consultations with families of suicide victims.

He's taking me to meet a woman whose husband took his own life only nine months ago. They were both farmers.

KOO BAE SUN (Translation): I can say that the main reasons for suicide among the elderly are disease, loneliness and economic hardship.

He's checking in with her because he's worried she's sliding further into depression and becoming a suicide risk herself. We are invited in for tea and Mandarins. Soon Ahn tells us a story that's sadly common for ageing farmers who are struggling to get by.

BAEK SOON AHN, WIDOW (Translation): My husband secretly saved his money, he didn't even go to hospital or buy medicine.

Soon Ahn's husband broke a rib and he was unable to continue working. They'd been married and working the fields together for 52 years, all he could think about after his accident was being a burden to his wife.

BAEK SOON AHN (Translation): Four days before he did it, I was watching TV, he said to me “Come here and lie in my arms.” I didn't want to and just went to bed and four days later, he took his life. I regret that day, I should have lain in his arms.

He took his life with poison. Bae Sun explains to me that pesticides are a commonly method of suicide in rural Korea. This led to the Government passing an act in 2012 banning them, but the ban hasn't been completely effective. Once we are back in the car, the visit has got Bae Sun upset. He fires up on Government inaction on suicide.

KOO BAE SUN (Translation): The budget is too tight, local government or small centres can’t handle all the cases, it’s nonsense.

Bae Sun is not just critical of the Government, his employer, but also of society as a whole.

KOO BAE SUN (Translation): Not only experts have to strive to solve this problem, everyone needs to create a culture that will prevent suicides happening.

South Korea tops the world in many tables, including heavy drinking. They consume twice as much liquor as the Russians. Soju, the national drink, is a spirit and is around $2 a bottle. A night out after work is often compulsory for office workers team building with their bosses, but it's not just a means to build business bonds, for some it's their only source of social support.

HONG JIN (Translation): People used to have family, relatives and friends who listened to their feelings and gave them support. Nowadays the culture is more individualistic, when they are having emotional difficulties, they have no one to depend on.

Today is the day that Beon is going to face death at his fake funeral. This is run by a palliative care expert who got his PhD at the University of Queensland. He calls this the happy dying experience. It will be interesting to see if it helps Beon's depression.

KIM KI HO (Translation): It's a beautiful day today so it's a perfect day to die. I hope you have a good experience.

The process takes four hours and costs around $40. Kim Ho hopes that facing death will make his students realise that thinker life is worth living.

KIM KI HO: I have found the miracle is inside in the death and dying. So that is why I combine together death and dying and meditation.

Beon opens up about the problems in his life.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): I recently had a big fight with my girlfriend we were both finding it difficult financially and mentally. That's why I think I might be good to have a new life.

Everyone in this room is under 40, and has had suicidal thoughts. They are here because they hope this process will help them rediscover a purpose in life.

WOMAN (Translation): I want to give my son everything, but I can’t. I feel like everyone and everything around me are all...pushing me to death. I feel like I’m useless.

Talking about what's brought them here brings about the first in a series of emotional releases and now they are ready to start the death experience.

KIM KI HO (Translation): Now my families and friends who I love the most come and bow down to my coffin and lay flowers.

They begin to visualise their own funeral and start to surrender to the notion of dying.

KIM KI HO (Translation): Now my coffin will go to the crematorium. What can you see on your tombstones?

After they are led through every aspect of their supposed deaths, they are encouraged to say goodbye with a suicide note.

KIM KI HO (Translation): This is the last letter to people who have been with you.

Korean funerals are filled with symbolism and mythology, and here, no tradition is spared. The participants are dressed in traditional robes of the dead. They are now prepared to face the angel of death, a figure in Korean mythology that will lead them through their last moments in this life.

KIM KI HO (Translation): Now everything is in the past and our time is up.

The fake funeral may feel dark and morbid but it gives people a chance to say things they have been holding in, like this confronting goodbye note from a mother to her son.

WOMAN (Translation): My one and only dearest son, I am truly sorry that mum had to make this choice. Please forgive your weak mother. I've let go your tiny hands, I'm so sorry. I hate myself for being a weak mum. I don't think I've ever said I love you. I love you.

Beon's demons centre round the relationship with his dad. He confesses he's haunted by the toll that bali bali lifestyle took on his father.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): When I was young I didn't want to become a workaholic like dad, now I can see that I am just like you. I understand how hard it must have been for you. I understand more now I am older. I hated it when you even had to work on holidays. But now I don't want to be at home on holidays. I can't remember the last time we all had dinner together - I always wanted to have dinner with you all. I regret I didn’t. All my friends - be happy.

KIM KI HO (Translation): I hope you have a life that you don't regret in the next life. Now it's time for you to face your death.

There's an old Korean super institution that the dead will crawl from their graves so their hands and feet are bound. The hammer signifies the coffin being nailed shut. Now for 30 minutes the students submit themselves to the idea of death in a hope that they will be reborn.

KIM KI HO (Translation): What do you regret from your previous life? When you have another life, what kind of life will you lead?

The ceremony now complete, I’m keen to find out if Beon has rediscovered the value of life.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): I cried a lot, I had always blamed my father but I realized that it might not be the way I‘d thought it was. What he did was not just for himself, now I understand that he sacrificed himself for us. Now I sympathise with him.

Beon entered the coffin caught up in the pressure of bali bali culture and emerged thinking of his parents, perhaps reconnecting him with old cultural values that once held the society together. It seems South Korea's runaway economic success has left the nation searching for its soul. As the old approach mortality with loneliness and despair, the young turn to death for a wake-up call.

HONG JIN PYO (Translation): In Korea... the younger generation especially believe that, even if they die, they can just reset and revive, like in a computer game. If they can sit down calmly and think deeply about what will happen after they die, they can learn that suicide would be a very foolish decision.

As I reflect on their experience, it occurs to me that they have all come to the same realisation - the importance of family. And that restoring this long cherished Confuciusionist tradition could be an answer to healing, for both young and old.


Reporter
Dean Cornish

Story Producer
Georgina Davies
Ana Maria Quinn

Location Producer
Taehoon Lee

Story Editor
David Potts

Research
Raveen Hunjan

Translations
Sophia Ra
Hei Yeon Myung

Story Music
Vicki Hansen

24th May 2016





Dateline.

Korea’s Fake Funerals.

REPORTER: Dean Cornish


This is the commuter belt of one of the busiest cities in the world…row after row of high rise apartments where office workers live. They travel daily to high-pressure jobs in Seoul. The two hour commute and long work days leave little time for rest.
Insurance salesman, Beon is one of them and the daily stress is getting him down.

BEON SUNG HUN, INSURANCE SALESMAN (Translation): Koreans live in a fiercely competitive society. It’s a bali bali culture, you have to get things done quickly, everything is about money. So we are all worn out.

The bali bali culture Beon talks about, literally means faster faster and it’s become the modern mantra for living in South Korea. Beon feels caught in a bali bali trap.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): Sometimes I just want to end my life, but I don’t think that’s the best way…

But he saw an ad on TV that he hopes will change his life and possibly even save it.

TV COMMERCIAL (Translation): Do you want healing? Free death experience. Call now.

Unusually the commercial promises you can ‘Recharge your life’ by having a fake funeral.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): I watched it on TV the other day and thought it was really good.

Beon is having his own fake funeral in a few days time and has invited me to come along, he hopes the death like experience will snap him out of his depression.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): I expect to feel like I am being reborn, I am in a difficult situation, so I think I need a moment when I feel I am being reborn.

South Korea has gone from poverty to power in just one generation but there has been a cost, as young people chase success and money Confucianist Family values have been forgotten and old people have been left behind. As a result, South Korea sadly has the highest suicide rate in the OECD, it is a country in crisis.

HONG JIN PYO, KOREA SUICIDE PREVENTION CENTRE (Translation): In Korea, there is a suicide every 33 minutes, the culture of respect for life has recently suffered great damage. 20 years ago, Korean society was entirely dominated by Confucianism. However, individualism and capitalism were rapidly introduced. So the only generation keeping up Confucianism is the elderly.

The pressure to conform and succeed is everywhere, children attend school for up to fifteen hours a day, including evening cram. The job market is highly competitive, South Korea also tops the table for cosmetic surgery, but these are the pressures for the young. Surprisingly the age group most at risk from suicide is the over 65’s. In a slum called Guryong, I try to find out why.

This generation worked hard their whole lives, turning around the fortunes of a nation but now 49% of them live in poverty.

MAN (Translation): I make two to three dollars a day collecting and selling cardboard. I also get the age pension from the government, that’s 200,000 won a month.

200,000 won a month isn’t much, it’s a little more than $200, it’s exactly why this slum is overflowing with people too old to work and living on miniscule welfare payments. Traditionally South Koreans relied on their families to look after them in old age, in modern South Korea traditional family values are falling apart. Some say, with bali bali culture people are simply too busy to look after their aging parents.

We meet a woman who was moved into the slum by her only son, he drops by occasionally to deliver food. My local translator, Taehoon tells me that she does not want to give her name out of embarrassment.

WOMAN (Translation): Sorry the house is so small.

But she kindly invites us inside her home, it’s only about two metres long and two metres wide with a low ceiling.

WOMAN (Translation): Some people just leave their elderly parents here and then move out. I have seen many elderly people die here.

Her hands have seen hard days scrubbing floors as a cleaner for over forty years, now at 81 she has no income and feels ashamed for the hard times she has fallen into.

WOMAN (Translation): It’s a bit embarrassing.

As I make my way through Seoul, I discover different ways the nation is trying to tackle this epidemic. These performers are trying to brighten up the lunch time office crowd in one of the city's subway stations. The concert is branded as a cure for low energy. It may not be working too well on this audience, but the Government says it's doing what it can to try to fix depression.

Not far away I find another Government initiative aimed at boosting Seoul's spirits, a vending machine that delivers little packages of hope for anyone feeling down. For 50 cents you can get advice on a range of problems. A young woman has selected number 22, "Feeling of loss".

WOMAN (Translation): “Medicine for your mind.’

Inside the box are suggestions for movies to go and see, some candy and a map for a healthy stroll around a park.

WOMAN (Translation): “I wish you a speedy recovery and a healthy mind.”

These efforts may seem small, but these so-called soul pharmacies have tapped into a need, I'm told this one prescribes 83 boxes a day. The Government's attempts to curb suicide have extended to a city landmark with a tragic reputation. This is the Mapo bridge, over 100 people a year attempt suicide off this bridge. It's become known as the bridge of death. However recently it was rebranded as the bridge of life with all of these life affirming statements along the railing.

TAEHOON, TRANSLATOR: It says: “The world’s nicest guy.” “The most precious person in the world.” So I guess everyone, every individual is the most precious person in the world to someone. It will give them a meaning of life.

Everyone here seems to have a connection to suicide, including my translator, Taehoon.

REPORTER: So what is it about Korean society that we think means so many people get to this stage?

TAEHOON: In our open society, I would say depression due to highly competitive society.

REPORTER: Can you identify with that?

TAEHOON: One of my relatives tried to kill himself, because he went to the top university in Seoul, which is Seoul National University and he realised that everyone was going abroad, to do their PhD. His family could not afford it. He felt defeated, so out of frustration he tried to kill himself. And worse off, he became half disabled. So he's living a very unhappy life.

I'm leaving the city behind and heading to Korea's farming heartland to meet a social worker. Bae Sun has a particular job out here, suicide patrol.

KOO BAE SUN, SOCIAL WORKER (Translation): There is at least one person a month, and I regularly have consultations with families of suicide victims.

He's taking me to meet a woman whose husband took his own life only nine months ago. They were both farmers.

KOO BAE SUN (Translation): I can say that the main reasons for suicide among the elderly are disease, loneliness and economic hardship.

He's checking in with her because he's worried she's sliding further into depression and becoming a suicide risk herself. We are invited in for tea and Mandarins. Soon Ahn tells us a story that's sadly common for ageing farmers who are struggling to get by.

BAEK SOON AHN, WIDOW (Translation): My husband secretly saved his money, he didn't even go to hospital or buy medicine.

Soon Ahn's husband broke a rib and he was unable to continue working. They'd been married and working the fields together for 52 years, all he could think about after his accident was being a burden to his wife.

BAEK SOON AHN (Translation): Four days before he did it, I was watching TV, he said to me “Come here and lie in my arms.” I didn't want to and just went to bed and four days later, he took his life. I regret that day, I should have lain in his arms.

He took his life with poison. Bae Sun explains to me that pesticides are a commonly method of suicide in rural Korea. This led to the Government passing an act in 2012 banning them, but the ban hasn't been completely effective. Once we are back in the car, the visit has got Bae Sun upset. He fires up on Government inaction on suicide.

KOO BAE SUN (Translation): The budget is too tight, local government or small centres can’t handle all the cases, it’s nonsense.

Bae Sun is not just critical of the Government, his employer, but also of society as a whole.

KOO BAE SUN (Translation): Not only experts have to strive to solve this problem, everyone needs to create a culture that will prevent suicides happening.

South Korea tops the world in many tables, including heavy drinking. They consume twice as much liquor as the Russians. Soju, the national drink, is a spirit and is around $2 a bottle. A night out after work is often compulsory for office workers team building with their bosses, but it's not just a means to build business bonds, for some it's their only source of social support.

HONG JIN (Translation): People used to have family, relatives and friends who listened to their feelings and gave them support. Nowadays the culture is more individualistic, when they are having emotional difficulties, they have no one to depend on.

Today is the day that Beon is going to face death at his fake funeral. This is run by a palliative care expert who got his PhD at the University of Queensland. He calls this the happy dying experience. It will be interesting to see if it helps Beon's depression.

KIM KI HO (Translation): It's a beautiful day today so it's a perfect day to die. I hope you have a good experience.

The process takes four hours and costs around $40. Kim Ho hopes that facing death will make his students realise that thinker life is worth living.

KIM KI HO: I have found the miracle is inside in the death and dying. So that is why I combine together death and dying and meditation.

Beon opens up about the problems in his life.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): I recently had a big fight with my girlfriend we were both finding it difficult financially and mentally. That's why I think I might be good to have a new life.

Everyone in this room is under 40, and has had suicidal thoughts. They are here because they hope this process will help them rediscover a purpose in life.

WOMAN (Translation): I want to give my son everything, but I can’t. I feel like everyone and everything around me are all...pushing me to death. I feel like I’m useless.

Talking about what's brought them here brings about the first in a series of emotional releases and now they are ready to start the death experience.

KIM KI HO (Translation): Now my families and friends who I love the most come and bow down to my coffin and lay flowers.

They begin to visualise their own funeral and start to surrender to the notion of dying.

KIM KI HO (Translation): Now my coffin will go to the crematorium. What can you see on your tombstones?

After they are led through every aspect of their supposed deaths, they are encouraged to say goodbye with a suicide note.

KIM KI HO (Translation): This is the last letter to people who have been with you.

Korean funerals are filled with symbolism and mythology, and here, no tradition is spared. The participants are dressed in traditional robes of the dead. They are now prepared to face the angel of death, a figure in Korean mythology that will lead them through their last moments in this life.

KIM KI HO (Translation): Now everything is in the past and our time is up.

The fake funeral may feel dark and morbid but it gives people a chance to say things they have been holding in, like this confronting goodbye note from a mother to her son.

WOMAN (Translation): My one and only dearest son, I am truly sorry that mum had to make this choice. Please forgive your weak mother. I've let go your tiny hands, I'm so sorry. I hate myself for being a weak mum. I don't think I've ever said I love you. I love you.

Beon's demons centre round the relationship with his dad. He confesses he's haunted by the toll that bali bali lifestyle took on his father.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): When I was young I didn't want to become a workaholic like dad, now I can see that I am just like you. I understand how hard it must have been for you. I understand more now I am older. I hated it when you even had to work on holidays. But now I don't want to be at home on holidays. I can't remember the last time we all had dinner together - I always wanted to have dinner with you all. I regret I didn’t. All my friends - be happy.

KIM KI HO (Translation): I hope you have a life that you don't regret in the next life. Now it's time for you to face your death.

There's an old Korean super institution that the dead will crawl from their graves so their hands and feet are bound. The hammer signifies the coffin being nailed shut. Now for 30 minutes the students submit themselves to the idea of death in a hope that they will be reborn.

KIM KI HO (Translation): What do you regret from your previous life? When you have another life, what kind of life will you lead?

The ceremony now complete, I’m keen to find out if Beon has rediscovered the value of life.

BEON SUNG HUN (Translation): I cried a lot, I had always blamed my father but I realized that it might not be the way I‘d thought it was. What he did was not just for himself, now I understand that he sacrificed himself for us. Now I sympathise with him.

Beon entered the coffin caught up in the pressure of bali bali culture and emerged thinking of his parents, perhaps reconnecting him with old cultural values that once held the society together. It seems South Korea's runaway economic success has left the nation searching for its soul. As the old approach mortality with loneliness and despair, the young turn to death for a wake-up call.

HONG JIN PYO (Translation): In Korea... the younger generation especially believe that, even if they die, they can just reset and revive, like in a computer game. If they can sit down calmly and think deeply about what will happen after they die, they can learn that suicide would be a very foolish decision.

As I reflect on their experience, it occurs to me that they have all come to the same realisation - the importance of family. And that restoring this long cherished Confuciusionist tradition could be an answer to healing, for both young and old.