On Wednesday, all the lights at the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs building in central Seoul will be switched off at 7 p.m. Announcements will be made urging staff to stop working and go home.
This not a wartime exercise or a fire drill. But it is a more desperate operation for the ministry, which is struggling to counter the country's low birthrate, even within the organization.
It is a ``Family Day'' event, where all staff members are encouraged to return home on time every third Wednesday each month and spend quality time with their family, and moreover, hopefully, have more kids.
Well, if you read the rest of the article "Ministry Plans Blackout for 'Procreation'", you'll see that it's largely bad writing, and the introduction of birthrate every time the Ministry is named, that makes my headline seem true. Interesting to note, too, that the day is "패밀리데이," family day written in Hangeul. It will be held every third Wednesday.
South Korea is very concerned about its low birthrate, the lowest in the world, even though it's one of the most densely-populated countries on Earth. But the story hits on another issue besides birthrate: overwork.
South Koreans were named the hardest-working people in the world by Forbes magazine in 2008, though the statistics and our observations tell us that they work long rather than work hard. In my post on that topic I demonstrated---with a quotation from T.R. Reid's excellent book Confucius Lives Next Door---that "productivity" is a loaded and ethnocentric word, but the point nonetheless remains that Koreans spend a lot of time away from home.
So do their children, for that matter, and the ironic thing here about "Family Day" is that while daddy might come home from the office at seven---one night out of the month at least---little Minsu and Sumin will be at their cramschool until 11.