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A 10-million-won check to celebrate wife`s 60th birthday
JUNE 21, 2014 06:49  
In Korea, a feast celebrating one`s 60th birthday is called "suyeon." If both husband and wife are alive, they receive bows and wine glasses from their children together regardless of whether the husband turns 60 or the wife does. At suyeon, the husband and the wife are one. In Korean tradition, the husband and the wife do not offer presents for the 60th birthday.

Kim Myung-soo, the nominee for education minister, has become the talk of the town because he was found to have given a 10 million won (10,000 U.S. dollars) check to his wife in 2012 to celebrate her 60th birthday. He was then a university professor. I have heard people say that it is new tradition for an "able" husband to give his wife a hefty amount of money in check. Between a couple, cash (or a check) is king. When women get together, some brag about the check they received from their husbands. Some say that a one million won (1,000 dollars) check is nothing to show off. Perhaps, the amount goes up to 10 million won because the 60th birthday is so special.

The expression "able husband" probably refers to the ability to make money other than salaries. Kim reportedly wrote in a letter sent to his wife together with the check: "This is a small amount of money, but I saved this money for you. Please spend it as you wish." The "small amount" is just an expression of modesty. It is extremely difficult for salary earners to give their spouses one million won, let alone 10 million won, by saving pocket money. So how was Kim "able" to make the money? Maybe, some of the money came from research funds he won by publishing a thesis by one of his students under his name, as he is alleged to have. There are wild speculations about the source of the money.

When life expectancy was under 70, people held a feast to celebrate the 60th birth. The times have long gone. Still, a husband`s present for his wife`s 60th birthday carries special meanings. If a husband has not been sweet or financially able enough to give decent birthday present to his wife, the 60th birthday present can be a huge gift in the later years of their marriage. No one can blame Kim if the 10 million won came from his savings of legitimate money. Still, I envy his offering the hefty amount. I feel as if I were hearing many couples quarreling over birthday presents.

Editorial Writer Song Pyeong-in (pisong@donga.com)

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