By Oh Young-jin
If anything goes wrong in Korea, the "ppalli ppalli" culture is to blame.
The logic behind it is that Koreans tend to do whatever it takes to get the job done ppalli ppalli, or on the double.
When the Sewol ferry sank, this mentality or, more exactly, an extension of it in the form of cutting corners, took the blame. The big ferry took on more freight than allowed and failed to secure it properly inside the cargo bay. The result was comparable to items in an overhead locker being shifted during a turbulent flight. A top-heavy modification reduced the ship's ability to bounce back after listing to one side and sank it. Two-hundred-ninety-five people, mostly students on a school trip, were killed with nine listed missing.
The same goes with the problem of Samsung Electronics' Galaxy Note 7, whose production and sale have been terminated for good after some devices were reported exploding. The media and experts blame Samsung for making too much haste in launching the latest jumbo smartphone ahead of its rival Apple. The result is that they say Samsung remains clueless about the cause of the explosions
The fingers of blame are being wagged by both Koreans and foreigners. But it is not incorrect to say it was foreigners, from their third-party perspective, who first identified this weak point standing in the way of Korea's last push to becoming a fully developed country.
Their rationale: Koreans have turned their country from the world's most impoverished nation into one of its leading economies in a short period of time. As a result, their ability to pay attention to detail and consider safety first, traits common within developed nations, were lost in the transition.
They would tell Korea to get rid of it or remain a second-rate nation. Now, it is a one-size-fits-all diagnosis for anything going amiss with things Korean.
So often Koreans find themselves on the receiving end of this lesson and have come to take this analysis as a matter of fact.
Now is the time to vet this whether it is bad for us, before the life of the nation is being seriously threatened.
Was the cause of the Sewol sinking ppalli ppalli as often believed? First of all, this type of tragedy does take place all over the world. Two years prior to the Sewol disaster, an Italian cruise ship, Costa Concordia, ran aground and capsized with 4,299 on board. Eleven people died and 24 were listed as missing. However silly it may sound, the cause was its homage-paying custom of approaching an island on its route. On the night of the accident, it came too close and its hull got a gash 70 meters long. The captain beat the passengers and crew off the ship and escaped as the Sewol skipper did. In other words, ppalli ppalli alone can't explain it.
What about the Note 7 fiasco?
Did Samsung cut corners? They didn't. If they did, they could not have reached where they are: the world's top tech firm.
Any leading firm is under pressure to get its products out ahead of its rivals. Then, the ill-fated smartphone was also lauded as a pacemaker with its variety of new functions including waterproofing and rapid recharging. Such an innovative product always carries with it unseen risks. The Note 7 was hit by the perfect storm of an eagerness to start a new generation and beat Apple, but a mechanical gremlin got the best of it. That is called risk-taking, a pivotal part in any innovative firm.
Samsung decided on an all-out recall as soon as the fires were reported. Would Apple take the same bold move for consumer safety? Samsung took the ppalli ppalli attitude. If it were the cause of its current troubles, then, it would be equal to attributing the demise of Nokia and Blackberry to ppalli ppalli culture.
From Korea's perspective, it's important to exonerate ppalli ppalli.
First, it is part of the nation's DNA so telling Koreans to lose it is the same as telling them to stop being Korean. It is deep in the national character like patience is for the British, craftiness for the Japanese, American pragmatism, North Korean single-mindedness, Swiss sense of neutrality, etc.
We had President Lee Myung-bak, who took pragmatism as a new national character. It didn't work.
We need more of it, not less of it.
This culture has taken us so far and we should let it take us further.
The reason why we are stuck on the slippery slope is that we are trying to imitate others' strong points and emulate their success formulae.
Ppalli ppalli is part of our success formula. Even for our age of rapid change, it will be in a greater need. After all, we don't have all day.
In the event that our culture proves problematic as claimed by others, we can always hire them to fix them. Meanwhile, it's time for us to get going and get ahead with it as far as we can go.
Oh Young-jin is The Korea Times' chief editorial writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.