Photo: French postcard from the late 19th century showing Koreans' enormous bowls for rice and soup. Credit: Public domain
Rice Bowl Fight 밥그릇싸움. For Koreans, rice is more than a grain; it is a staple and life-giving sustenance. The Korean language is replete with metaphors involving rice and the vessels that carry it. A “rice bowl” refers to one’s source of income, which may vary in size and strength. Hence, a very secure job is referred to as a “iron rice bowl 철밥그릇”. For many people, the fight over rice bowls is an unseemly kind of fight - not a noble struggle for a higher purpose, but an ugly brawl for money. The doctors’ strike is not resonating with the public because it is seen as a rice bowl fight, with a base desire to protect their own bottom line revealed by doctors who are supposed to be saving lives.