south korea

South Korean Horror: An Autoethnographic Perspective (Part 2)

In the first part of my autoethnographic research series into South Korean horror, I described my experience of watching the South Korean psychological horror film A Tale of Two Sisters. This post, the second part of the series, will provide some background information on the text and will be analysing my experience of watching the film.

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When conducting some background research into the film, after watching it, I discovered that the film is loose interpretation of a well-known Korean folktale called “Janghwa Hongryeon jeon” (The Story of Janghwa and Hongryeon). In fact, there were already five adaptations of the tale prior to the 2003 version, and that’s excluding the 2009 Hollywood remake “The Uninvited”.

The folk-tale originates from the Joseon-era of Korean history and tells the story of two girls Janghwa and Hongryeon who, after being abused by their wicked step-mother, both perish at the hands of the step-mother and her eldest son. The sisters, as ghostly apparitions, then go on to kill every new mayor of the town, in the hope that someone would eventually discover their step-mother’s true nature. Eventually, thanks to one brave mayor, the sisters’ get their wish and the step-mother and her son are executed. As a result, this puts the sisters’ souls to rest and ends the haunting. The tale is much more complex, of course, but this is the general jist. With this in mind, I wonder how my experience of watching the film would changed, had I known about its source material prior to watching it. 

The aspect that stands out most to me in both the folk-tale and the film, but particularly in the film, is the representation of family. The film is essentially a horror film about domestic life and represents possible fears of a non-nuclear family.  The role that the father plays, in the film, is particularly interesting as he appears to completely passive and non-fussed about the whole situation and seems to be almost isolated from the rest of the family. This interestingly plays against the male-centric Confucian system, where fathers are generally seen as the head of the household and should be respected by every family member. Yet, in the film, it always seems like the step-mother is undermining his authority and that he has very little control over anything.

This experience in autoethnographic research has been much more enlightening than I had anticipated and has proved to be a good stepping stone for my major individual research, which will see me explore something that’s entirely unfamiliar to me: anime. I hope you have enjoyed these last two posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

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South Korean Horror- An Autoethnographic perspective (Part One)

If you read my last blog post about autoethnography, you’ll be aware that I had the intention of using J-Horror as the topic for my autoethnographic research. However, as I was browsing the research done by previous Digital Asia students, I noticed that J-Horror had been covered extensively, which led me to consider other possible topics. Although I have been exposed to South Korean horror,  through films such as the excellent Train to Busan (dir. Sang-ho Yeun, 2016) and The Wailing (dir. Hong-jin Na, 2016), I am much less knowledgable on South Korean horror than I am on J-Horror, which therefore influenced me into changing research topics. So, in forming this autoethnographic research, I decided to watch the psychological horror film A Tale of Two Sisters (dir. Jee-woon Kim, 2003). My autoethnographic response to the film will be split in two parts:

This week’s post will describe, in detail, my personal experience when watching the film. Next week’s post will be an analysis of my experience and provide some background information on the film. 

How I felt watching the film:

Although I did eventually manage to actually settle properly and concentrate on the film, I initially spent a large amount of time playing ‘Football Manager’ on my phone and pausing the film every 5 minutes for various reasons (mostly internet surfing). Furthermore, since I was watching the film through SBS On Demand, I had to deal with several ad breaks, which managed to break the flow of the film (although I will concede that since the streaming service is free, advertising is necessary for it to keep running).

The first thing to say about my experience watching this film is that I found it to be incredibly scary, both viscerally and psychologically. In fact, there were a few times where I had to distract myself with games on my phone, just to help cope with the film’s intensity.

A Tale of Two Sisters

In terms of the visceral horror, which has more to do with the technical aspects, I found the sound design to be particularly frightening. The creaking of the wooden doors and the scratching of the walls proved to be incredibly effective in drawing a physical reaction from me. I’ll admit, I jumped a few times, and while I usually hate that tactic, the film used it in a clever and restrained way. The techniques used reminded me enormously of those used in J-Horror films such as Ringu (1998), which deal much more with supernatural horror, as opposed to the psychological.

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The psychological aspect of the film, however, was far scarier and dealt with ideas that aren’t often addressed in Western cinema. The main aspect, which I refer to, is the fear of non-nuclear family. A large part of the plot revolves around the two titular sisters’ deeply unstable relationship with their step-mother. I cannot recall the last time I saw a film which explored non-nuclear family life in such a manner. Personally, I found myself relating with the two sisters, as the step-mother was indeed terrifying. Every look that the step-mother gave, particularly to the sisters, was sinister and nothing she did indicated a genuine attempt to form a bond with them. I often found myself shocked at the step-mother’s actions and even more so at the father’s reluctance to react on said actions. It’s only in the film’s final revelations, that I then understood the what I had seen (more on that next week). However, I was undeniably shaken by the film’s unique exploration of family relationships through a horror-sensibility.

 

Heading back into the man’s game

Understanding my assumptions throughout It’s A Man’s Game:
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Using our own culture and experiences to understand another is something that we all do on a regular basis; autoethnography puts this into an academic setting where we can use personal aspects such as perspective and opinion to contribute towards research to develop a deeper understanding. I attempted to tackle this unnecessarily-difficult-to-say word and the meaning behind it by recording my personal experience of Korean culture – my thoughts during the documentary State of Play. State of Play is a documentary that looks into the eSports profession in South Korea. It is centered not so much around the actual gaming, but more so around the hysteria that exists within the gaming industry: the fans, the hours of training, the huge stadiums, the money, the sacrifices the gamers make and, overall, the intense and fierce nature of the eSports scene. For me, it was difficult to concentrate on much else than the gender roles that were screaming at me. Literally. Women were only portrayed as screaming, adoring fans whilst the men were the talented, moneymaking gamers. Watching and recording how I felt was the easy part. Understanding how I came to my assumptions is the in-depth process, the autoethnographic process.

The most common thing I did throughout the viewing, was compare my culture to that of South Korea. For example, “but what isn’t obvious throughout the documentary is whether girls even try to compete at a professional level, whether any of them are interested, whether they just accept the gender norms, or if there are girls out there who are frustrated by the fact that men dominate the gaming industry and they are expected to just scream and squeal for the boys until their throats are sore, at which point they just fall to their knees and present the gamers with gifts, even when they’ve lost.” Words such as ‘them’ and ‘they’ provide obvious disconnections between myself and South Korean women, even though we share so much in common. It is my lack of experience with the gaming culture that creates my disconnection. But naturally, as a human being, I grasp on to any sense of familiarity by recalling memories of being a celebrity fangirl myself as a young teenager, as the South Korean girls are portrayed. This was how I made sense of what I was viewing, this is how my personal experiences shape my understanding. Ellis et al. describes this as they way we “systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (2011).

It is interesting to consider how my assumptions throughout State of Play were sometimes very different to that of my classmates (see Digital Asia blog). This is where the individuality of autoethnography is so obvious: since every person has different experiences, different knowledge and different perceptions, the way that we perceive things can vary immeasurably.
For me, one of my biggest passions in life is gender equality, and so I tend to pull this out in every possible opportunity. Specifically in State of Play, gender equality was nowhere in sight, and so my personal understanding of South Korea shifted. Upon reflection and research, feminism is actually surging within this country. Leading the pack is Megalian.com, a website which uses technology to promote gender equality and to humorously bash the misogyny that exists within South Korea. “To see the misogyny that is today taken as acceptable social behaviour and spat at South Korean women every day: to turn it around so men and women alike can witness it in its honest, raw form – discrimination.” Having this new knowledge answers some of the questions I considered upon my initial viewing of the documentary: I genuinely did not know if anyone was interested in women empowerment or if traditional Korean culture was just happily accepted. With this new knowledge, my next viewing of State of Play would probably provoke all new assumptions, highlighting the nature of autoethnography and how each experience can hugely impact each perception.

Autoethnography allows us to critically understand the assumptions we make and what they say about our cultural experiences and understanding. It makes us consider why we feel a certain way about something to, in turn, lead to a deeper understanding and more useful and reliable research.

 

What is Inside Game and Life

Ellis, Adams and Bochner explain, writing autoethnography is writing something about ones own personal experience within another culture and use it to understand ones own cultural experience. It is how you write an autoethnographical account by describing the cultural experiences patterns. In my first post, I watched the documentary “State of Play” and experience a Korean culture. Thank you for the comment about the summary linking and aspects. And now, it is time to expand the ideas.

 

In the beginning, I tried to express the feeling “excited” to the documentary. It is not normal as watching a documentary. Documentary is using pictures or interviews with people involved in real events to provide a factual report on a particular subject. The subject this time is gaming. I did not feel any distance away from the film, which I felt so close to the characters because I did have the same dream far back before. However, the excitement was the unknown mystery of gaming in Korea. When I heard Korea gaming, it popped out “Well, the title suits the film, from what I know about the gaming industry in Korea.” and I used the word “Honor”.

 

Then, when I talked about Lee Jae Dong, one of the StarCraft players, I made a lot of assumption based on my own experience. For example, the gender assumption towards the fans he had and the economic incomes by playing only games. I also pointed out the difference between Australia and Korea in terms of being a professional gamer.

 

So far, I do find my own response too personal. One of the reasons is about the comparison between Australia and Korea. I have not learnt or saw any big news or team from either Australia or Korea back then. The gaming type people play is different back then too. Maybe it is because the fact I was not in Australia in 2012 that I was still in Hong Kong. Now I think more critically and subjectively, but still the thought is following Asian culture rather than Australian culture, which proves that my response is based on my own Asian culture experience to analyze the film.

 

The development of gaming in Australia became big since the Ninja Fruit mobile game. Australia is more focus on developing games instead of participating gaming events or competition in 2012. The research I can see my own analysis was cross over different years and tried to compare them together, and it is not really match the gaming industry in Korea.

 

In Australia, I get in touch with online games and video games all the time. My daily routine is starting the game and play with friends. I do not have the feeling to be competitive or aggressive. But somehow when it comes to a system related to ranking, I get nervous every time I play. This observation was made last week and I was really hoping I could win without losing any games because of the rank. The observation provides the similar view of myself making assumption of those gamer in Korea, they were competing for the ranks in the games. The top they are, the better reputation they have.

 

The reflection proves myself the cultural identity I have towards the experience I had while watching the film.

State of Gender Equality in South Korea

Today I am analyzing my own auto-ethnographic account of the South Korean documentary on professional gaming ‘State of Play‘.

Autoethnography as defined by Ellis et al, 2011 refers to the act of observing a cultural experience and discussing how your own personal cultural experiences affect the way in which you experience this.

In my initial autoethnographic account of ‘State of Play’, I was left dumbfounded at some of the situations exhibited in the documentary. This included the huge amount of fame given to professional gamers, these gamers then giving the majority of their ridiculously high earnings to their parents and the lack of equality exhibited in gender roles through South Korean society. After the initial shock of these differences wore off, I conducted research into South Korean traditions and values and found many answers to my questions of cultural difference.

Despite only 1% of South Koreans actively identifying as Confucianist today, many of their social values and traditions are based upon Confucianist ideologies. The family is integral in Korean life and the father, being the head of the family is required to provide food, clothing and shelter and must approve of any marriages of members of the family. Many families trace back their ancestry through male ancestors for over 500 years and Confucius’s teachings denote how individuals should behave and outlines obligations of people depending on their relationship.(Commisceo Global, 2016)

Further children in Korean society are raised to believe they can never repay their parents for bringing them up and are forever in their debt. As the act of bringing them into the world and giving them life is seen as the ultimate self-sacrifice.(Commisceo Global, 2016)

Now how does all this relate?

The cultural values exhibited in Korean society and their values bring light to a lot of the things Lee Jae Dong did in the documentary ‘State of Play’ which confused me in my initial viewing.

For example, I was thoroughly perplexed and mildly pissed off when Lee Jae Dong’s exclaimed that he gave all of his winnings to his father. Growing up in capitalist Australia my initial reaction was to accuse the father of stealing and question his use of emotional manipulation tactics. However, upon research and reflection, as Korean society places the family’s welfare above that of the individual’s, and Korean children are raised in debt of their parents by Confucian tradition, this act made sense. Despite the fact my upbringing still makes me view this as ridiculously unfair.

Another aspect of confusion for me was the very structured, rather sexist ritual of female fans presenting Lee Jae Dong with gifts after he would play in professional gaming tournaments. Although it appears gift giving has very strict etiquette rules to follow in South Korea. As the female fans admire and respect Lee Jae Dong, and want him to perform well, these gifts signify support and love from the fans. Some of the etiquette rules to follow include handing over the gift with both hands, wrapping it nicely (a gift wrapped untidily is a sign of disrespect), and giving 4 of something in a gift is considered unlucky where giving 7 of something is lucky. (Commisceo Global, 2016)

The fact that everyone has a specific place in society with rules and obligations they must follow accordingly means the disparity between genders is very large. South Korea ranked 111th out of 136 in the gender equality index. As the documentary highlighted through its significant lack of female professional gamers and immense number of fangirls which I originally found quite alarming, the country has a long way to go for gender equality. (Kim, J Lee J-W, Shin, K 2016)

Just because these social exchanges make sense, doesn’t make them agreeable or right for the me and this seems to be the case for others as there are many feminist groups fighting to raise women’s place in South Korean society.  There is a 55% female participation rate in the South Korean labor force compared to the male rate of 77%. South Korea’s importance of raising a good family places immense pressure on mothers, who are primarily responsible for rearing children. Korean workplaces have been found to provide inflexible environments for working mothers and a lack of affordable, convenient and quality child care. (Kim, J Lee J-W, Shin, K 2016)

One of the more extreme branches of these movements is ‘Megalia‘ who have spoken out against, misogyny in South Korea. Their website is a space which has been dubbed by Reddit user ‘SexyMcSexington’ (I know I’m sorry) as the ‘female Korean 4chan‘ which I find is an interesting perspective.  The group have been surrounded in controversy as it attempted to ‘mirror’ the misogynistic comments male users would write about females.

However much of the backlash I found was very similar to the backlash against feminism in Western cultures and Megalian’s tactics could be easily compared to ‘Feminazis’ online. Where men would have similar arguments stating that the feminists are worse than misogynists and accuse them of attempting them of suppressing men’s sexual freedom. (Singh, E 2016)

The group have been responsible for shutting down ‘hidden cams’ on the website Ticketmonster, which would film females in situations where they were unaware of being filmed. They lobbied for the removal of misogynistic banners from Hanshin University, donated over 6 million KRW to Aeranwon an NGO which helps single mothers, and most notably has stopped the sale of high concentrate hydrochloric acid which has been used as weapons in hate crimes against women by men. This was all done by lobbying and protesting by the group and are all significant measures which enable better safety and security of South Korean women.

Their logo I absolutely love, it is satiric in nature and alludes to the novel by Gerd Braten Berg, ‘Egalia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes’, where the genders are reversed. So males are at constant risk of sexual assault and it’s considered their fault and women are given the upper hand in society due to their ability to give birth. It also alludes to the constant objectification of women through use of hand gesture used to signify small male genetalia. (Singh, E 2016)

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I love that there are feminists fighting for their voices and right to equality in South Korea as there was a very defined divide between genders throughout the documentary. The only females shown were the gamer’s mothers and sisters and then the fan girls whose only purpose seemed to be to worship and offer unyielding support for the players. Which I found very unsettling considering its 2016.

I apologize for going off on a feminist tangent however I feel I didn’t delve enough into the issue in my original autoethnographic account. Through analysis of my original post, I have gained greater understanding of the Korean Culture and the state of society (pun intended) exhibited in the documentary ‘State of Play’ through research and reflection.

 

In Retrospect: Autoethnography & State of Play

It was only a few weeks ago that I attempted to expand my horizons and experience Korean gaming culture with a set of fresh eyes. This autoethnographic experience was enlightening, and brought my attention to the fact that I was ultimately an outsider when it came to eSports, gaming and Lee Jae Dong. Despite this, here I am, trying to make sense of my initial assumptions and interpretations of my State of Play experience (which you can read about here).

As aforementioned, autoethnography as a methodology aims to “facilitate the understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders”, drawing on “subjectivity, emotionality and the researcher’s influence on research” (Ellis, Adams and Bochner). Reflecting on one’s experience of a cultural phenomenon can be insightful and explorative. It not only highlights “dominant narratives” and “ways of thinking” about culture but seeks to understand such experiences on a larger cultural scale (Warren, 2009).  In my first auto ethnographic account of State of Play, I made several cultural assumptions and addressed ‘dominant narratives’ I felt were essential in the documentary. Re-examining my initial interpretation, and by conducting a little more research, I have once again become a more culturally aware individual. Read on, and you can be too.

After watching State of Play, I was admittedly astonished that gamers in Korea had such celebrity status and were afforded with privileges similar to those of professional sports players. Little did I know that gamers around the world, — not just in Korea, — earn millions when they put their skills to the test. “DoTA has actually gone on to host the largest tournament prize pool, with nearly $11 million for their 2014 International. That’s a larger prize pool than the Masters Golf Tournament” (Aaron, 2015). The above graph highlights this. Furthermore, gaming tournaments attract global sponsors and intrigue audiences in the millions — eSports are now broadcast on networks like ESPN, making them accessible to all. Gamers make similar commitments and moreover share in the sacrifices that other professional sports players make to create a career. By reducing these individuals to “just gamers” in my first experience I failed to understand the deeper meaning behind gaming culture.

After scrolling through more ‘research’, I became acutely aware that whilst there were no females battling for the tournament prize pool in State of Play, female gamers do exist. “According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 44% of all gamers in the U.S. today are female” (Gaudiosi, 2015). Perhaps most notably, “one of the great things about eSports is it’s one arena where there is no difference between men and women; they’re both equal in the game” (Gaudiosi, 2015). Just because the representation of women in State of Play was skewed, that doesn’t mean that women are missing from the global gaming ‘narrative’. Another cultural assumption bites the dust.

Autoethnography requires one to be self-reflexive and open in order to understand a cultural experience. By drawing on additional information from scholarly sources, media articles and social commentary my experience and understanding of Korean gaming culture has reached a new high. Adding layers of information onto my autoethnographic account of State of Play has shifted my perspective on eSports and the Korean gaming phenomenon dramatically.


References:

Aaron, J., 2015, ‘The Controversial Dichotomy Between Sports and eSports’, The Huffington Post, Article, 19 April, viewed 29 August 2016

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P., 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1.

Gaudiosi, J., 2015, ‘This Company Wants More Women in eSports’, Fortune, Article, 17 November, viewed 29 August 2016

Warren, J.T., 2009, ‘Autoethnography’ in Encyclopaedia of Communication Theory, SAGE Publications, p.68-69.

Hello. Again.

To be honest, I did groan a little at the term ‘autoethnographic research’ as it sounded like a load of academic vomit. However, I must give this term the benefit of the doubt, as four weeks in, referring and thinking in this way has actually been really interesting. For once you get to consider and challenge your own perspective and opinion as an outsider, which is often what you are told to suppress in research. This blog post is me revisiting my autoethnographic account for my first text in the Digital Asia subject.

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Two weeks ago our Digital Asia seminar consisted of watching State of Play, a documentary on the eSports competitive gaming scene in South Korea. Watching and recording noticeable factors throughout the documentary was the easy part. When I looked over those notes, it was extremely interesting to see how I referred to such a scene. I used words like ‘they’ and took note of critical differences between South Korean culture and my own.  For example, “They give all of the prize money to their Dad’s”, or “They carry around the keyboards with them”, or “In South Korean schools they sing the national anthem of a morning”. I was noticing and recording the key disparities to my own culture as that is what made sense to make note of.

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Such “interactions and the conditions that make them meaningful, can be labelled ‘culture’” (Sinclair N, 2015). I was studying a different culture from the context of my culture; An Australian, female, non-gamer, which is first and foremost the major consideration to remember with this research method. Essentially, this form of research is a way to “systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (Ellis C. Et al, 2011), which in this case, is eSports in South Korea through my eyes. Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 3.55.50 PM.png

In continuation, this research method really allows you to pick up on your cultural biases and stereotypes that are usually what you are required to notice and dismiss in other research methods. That is not to say that ethnographic research doesn’t require objectivity. The research method is academic and requires to uphold academic integrity, however we get to bring to light our own perceptions which is different in the academic sense.

This research method does have limitations and difficulties such as being able to comprehend and analyse why you think the way you do. You also need to consider context and additional influencing factors that may affect your opinion such as racism or gender roles. Many facets come in to play when you are observing a culture different to your own. In revisiting my first recordings of the the documentary, I got to recognise how limited my opinion is, due to the lack of knowledge on South Korean culture.

Overall, autoethnographic research is a bloody long-winded word, however moving on from that fact, I do think it is a very valid way to undertake research, as for the most part it encourages you to be natural and record your truth. You then get to discuss why you took note of the points you did and how this is as a result of culture. I’m looking forward to choosing my own text and using the autoethnographic research method in my next blog.

 

By Abbey Cubit

Sources:
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1.

Nicholas, S 2015, ‘Ethnography’, Research Starters: Education (Online Edition), Research Starters, EBSCOhost, viewed 21 August 2016.

Images: 
https://www.crossed-flag-pins.com/Friendship-Pins/South-Korea/Flag-Pins-South-Korea-Australia.jpg.
https://www.google.com.au/search?q=state+of+play&espv=2&biw=1068&bih=554&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjr3PzY7dbOAhXLj5QKHZKlCpAQ_AUIBygC

 

 

Understanding State of Play

A Collection of Thoughts

Following on from my first blog about the film ‘State of Play’ based on South Korean pro gamers playing Star Craft, I have done some research into certain thoughts and epiphany which I observed whilst viewing the film.

The first point I broke down through research was; “Korean culture is very minimalistic players don’t own many possessions and sleep on thin mats instead of in beds – this was very interesting to note”. Research revealed that Koreans spend a lot of time cleaning their floors due to the lifestyle centred on the floor. Dining tables are normally very low to the ground as dinner is usually eaten on the floor. Even today, most people sleep on the floor (Lee 2016).

My second point which I researched into focused on players living together. “Professional players live together in a house with up to 14 players under the one roof. Is this…

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State of Play- The tool of tourism

As mentioned in week 2 of blogging, Autoethnography is a self reflective documentation of experiencing a culture (in this case) other than your own in order to understand that culture in your own individual way. This is done with an honest opinion while drawing on elements from the culture and narrating them. Some even describe it as analysing epiphanies or a ‘stream of consciousness.’

Analysing the documentary, state of play ,as discussed in blog post two, I will focus on three specific concepts that I experienced during my viewing of this South Korean documentary.

Korean food, was not in short supply during this documentary, with a lot of the central celebrations surrounded by food and family. This is interesting to view however after I read that during the beginning of 1995, there was a crisis in food shortages all around North Korea. This could describe the feeling of food worship, as well as the idea of using it as a celebration when the gamers came home. A blog post by Nick Rose who experienced the food in South Korea stated ‘I think they believe that people will spread the word that North Korea is a prosperous society, where people are happy.’ With this being said, small samples of food are often served, so people can enjoy an array of dishes. The portrayal of the food within this documentary, could be used as a marketing tool, to sell South Korea to the viewers.

The film was very confusing for me due to never even hearing of E-sports culture before, that’s why when characters started to compare the culture of E-sports with soccer, I understood the basic concepts such as, winning, losing, rivalry and patience. This created a universal understanding, reaching out to those in different cultures. There’s even a specific website that can help you compare sports you like, so you can pick an e-sport game that best reflects the sport you are familiar with. Here is an example of a Autoethnographic experience regarding Korean music through a American experience. The way E-sport was portrayed during the film felt as though South Korean culture as a whole was very welcoming, drawing on westernised elements, in order to make every culture feel welcomed and accepted even in a culture that is extremely traditional. Again could this be another tourism concept?

The coherent universal story of father and son relationships, as well as most relationships within the film, seemed to be constructed in a westernised way. It was very easy to follow along due to the multi-layered elements which were easily relatable. I mean, I think every teenager has been asked by their dad ‘what are you doing with your life?’, as well as preparing you for failure in the nicest way possible. I took to google to understand the Korean Family dynamics, and was quite surprised. I think what effected me the most was I thought parents were supposed to be clingy and want to know what you are up to, similar to the Korean dynamics, but I based this on my family interactions and the way I was brought up rather than a culture as a whole which may experience family differently.