Yesterday, because I've been planning to hit an herbal clinic, I put the question to my pronunciation students: "Which is better—Western medicine or Chinese-style medicine?" The response was nearly unanimous, and somewhat surprising, as my kids said:
I was so surprised that I failed to ask the logical follow-up question: "Why do you think this?"
Are the results of this impromptu survey a reflection of the attitudes of most modern youths these days? Me, I would have thought that Korean pride, or some other nationalistic or culture-centric motivator, would have impelled my students to vote strongly in favor of Eastern medicine (known as hanyak, 한약, here on the peninsula). How wrong I was.
Are modern Korean college kids more practical than their elders? Chinese-style medicine used to be very popular; sometime between the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the Korean government stopped pharmacies from selling traditional herbal remedies, forcing the drugstores to carry only Western-style, or mostly Western-style, medicine. Perhaps trust in Chinese medicine is, thanks to the government's move, more of an older-generation sentiment these days. I'd like to think the decrease in trust has something to do with the rise in Western-style scientific/empirical pragmatism (the existence of ki meridians isn't scientifically verifiable, after all), but these same kids believe all that nonsense about how blood type influences personality, which doesn't instill confidence in their overall rationality.*
Could it also be that the kids didn't want to offend their Western teacher by waving the sheer awesomeness of Eastern medicine in his face? At this point, I have no idea since, like an idiot, I failed to ask the Why question. However, I suspect this hypothesis is wrong: Koreans, especially in groups, can be fairly opinionated. With proper prompting, one can discover their convictions with ease; if they feel it's the right moment to give an opinion, Korean folks very often don't hold back. This is especially true if they feel comfortable with their interlocutor, as my pronunciation students generally feel with me.
Perhaps I'll ask Why next week.
*To be fair, the American public is prone to its own irrationalities. Note, for example, the oat-bran fad: on some days, oat bran is good for your heart; on others, there's no scientific evidence that it benefits you. Note, too, that an embarrassingly high percentage of Americans believe the Earth is no more than 6,000 years old, that aliens routinely visit our planet and anally probe us, that crystals can somehow focus magical healing energies, and that John Edward can actually speak with the dead in front of a live audience. The American love of lottery tickets is also evidence of my culture's irrationality.