Rice cake in a picture 그림의 떡 (geu-reem-eui dduk)

This Korean expression means something that is desired but beyond one’s reach, usually because it’s too expensive.

As I described in an earlier post, in a Manhattan parent support group I used to attend, we began our session by identifying ourselves by gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, race and finally class. Everyone always identified as middle class except one brazen mom who once announced she was upper middle class. I applauded her courage but wish she’d gone further and yelled “I’m filthy fucking rich!” for my base amusement. (Alas it was not that type of crowd). I understood why no one wanted to be labeled wealthy. After all, folks want to be liked in an intimate support group! And the rich are not doing themselves any favors lately.

My friend recently observed that in the past she felt like rich people donated to public works and projects that helped people in times of crisis (i.e. the Carnegies) and we don’t hear about this lately during the COVID crisis. Perhaps the supremely wealthy are all humbly donating anonymously right now but I say, save that “aw shucks” modesty for another time. As my husband sometimes jokes, putting his hand sweetly behind my neck when I am being slow, “look alive!” Richies need to look alive right now. For many Americans, the rich are the Sachlers who seem to wait to be sued to give significant money to charities affecting the opioid addicted; they are the big corporations that fight unemployment benefits for their longtime employees and/or terminate employees for having COVID/taking protected leave, the billionaires going to space and reserving seats for their buddies and the sun-kissed Hampton-ites complaining of having to use their 5 bedroom country homes as their primary home during the height of COVID. (See the widely disliked NY times article that made me want to get a pitchfork and head to the Hamptons, https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/07/24/realestate/coronavirus-second-homes-.amp.html)

For many, a good education is still rice cake in a picture. The plight of the have-nots v. the haves was illustrated a few years ago when my son went to elementary school at a mediocre, not quite flourishing NYC public school (with potential and some great programs/people/teachers). One Spring, my family joined our friends who live in more affluent zip codes for their kids’ public school Spring fairs; I was blown away by the surplus— huge linked courtyards bustling with energy and commerce. We ate cotton candy, had our faces professionally painted, watched harnessed kids jumping the height of a skyscraper on some ride, ricocheted from one elaborate bouncy castle to the next, sampled the offerings of many alluring food trucks and admired the choice goods for sale.

A week later, my son and I went into the small fenced in courtyard where my kid’s Spring festival took place. In one corner, there was a small inflatable slide with a deflated side railing that made it unstable and not fun. Somewhere in the middle of the sparsely populated space, stood an admirably cheerful mother behind a small crate that had maybe three apples sliced up and placed on paper towels–an impromptu and yes, feeble apple-tasting booth. This would have been alright, maybe, if there had been some variety; Granny Smith and Macintosh were the offerings. After this experience, I remember thinking how stellar it’d be if some of the more affluent schools could donate some of their fundraising money to my kid’s relatively struggling school. (I mean then we could really go ape shit and get some Pink Lady/Macoun/Fuji apples!) The fact that this type of communal pot idea has been raised and roundly rejected in nyc proves to me that we should all give the finger to laissez faire, trickle-down economics. For will the rich save the poor in this city? No. In the knowing words of my six year old (after hearing me tell my then 11 year old son I could not comprehend his math homework), “looks like you’re on your own.”

In writing this post, and watching so many class obsessed Korean dramas, I was eager to know how South Korea ranked in terms of class divide. At #12, it trails respectably behind the U.S. (#9) by a hair. (Among the worst offenders are, no duh, China (#2) and India (#3)). Article after article have been written about the increasing class divide in South Korea as reflected in the popularity of the movie Parasite. Most interesting to me, I recently read about South Korea’s “spoon system” of socioeconomic class that has supposedly been a part of Korean popular culture since 2015 according to Wikipedia. (This author is lazy and not citing the footnotes of Wikipedia).

What spoon are you? (For the record, I dislike the names of the spoon tiers. Do the poor need another kick in the pants by being referred to as dirt spoons? )

  • The diamond spoon – within top zero point one per cent of population, with more than $3.2 million ~ $6.4 million annual salary and more than $16 ~ $32 million in assets.
  • The platinum spoon – within top zero point five per cent of population, with more than $1.6million ~ $3.2 million annual salary and more than $8 ~ $16 million in assets.
  • The gold spoon – within top one per cent of population, with more than $800K ~ $1.6 million annual salary and more than $4 ~ $8 million in assets.
  • The silver spoon – within top five per cent of population, with more than $400K ~ $800K annual salary and more than $2 ~ $4 million in assets.
  • The bronze spoon – within top ten per cent of population, with more than $200K ~ $400K annual salary and more than $1 million ~ $2 million in assets.
  • The steel spoon – within top twenty-five per cent of population, with more than $100K ~ $200K annual salary and more than $500k ~ $1 million in assets.
  • The wooden spoon – within top fifty per cent of population, with more than $50k ~ 100k annual salary and more than $250k ~ $500K in assets.
  • The soil spoon – those with $25K ~ 50K annual salary and more than $125K ~ $250K in assets.
  • The dirt spoon – those with less than $25K annual salary and less than $125K in assets.

According to a Korean Language Blog (Are you a Silverspoon? Korean Language Blog (transparent.com), “Even the hit boyband BTS known as a “dirt spoon idol” for their early struggles , tackles the social divide, singing a “Don’t call me a spoon! I am just a human” in the song “Fire.””

Perhaps reflecting the embarrassing dominance of Korean dramas in my life, I sometimes watch these shows and ask myself dopey questions that noone else cares about concerning the characters, i.e., what psychological toll does Geum Jandi in Boys over Flowers have being born a dirt spoon–the daughter of a struggling dry cleaner who gets pummeled, dumped with flour and demeaned by her rich classmates for years until she has an epiphany to become a doctor and marry a tycoon. What happened to all the hostilities she must have stored against the wealthy once she joined rank? Does becoming inordinately wealthy mean she must dislike herself/stick the pitchfork into her own flesh? Alas, we never see her class resentments or her ambivalence/self loathing. She positivity glows as a gold spoon. Kudos to you Geum Jandi! But I’d like to watch a Kdrama where the main character becomes pathologically rich out of the dregs and nurses a huge chip on her shoulder/Robin Hood complex. Anyone else?

Good night my lovely spoons!

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