A few of the names are familiar back home, like Samsung or Hyundai, but we know them only as bit players in the worlds of home electronics and cars. With this introduction, I was not prepared for the all-seeing, all-seen power of these brand names in Korea. They have their fingers in every pie— red-bean and cuttlefish ink alike. Home appliances, department stores, personal health insurance, heavy manufacturing, you name it. The company names are ubiquitous to life on the peninsula.
Another big player is Lotte.
Anyone who's ever wandered into a Korean corner store has seen some of the many Lotte offerings: "crunky" chocolate bars, a wide variety of snacks including Pepero— for which the company sponsors a national "Pepero Day" were children offer up the chocolate-covered cookie sticks to friends and teachers— also noteworthy is a soda called Milkis, which, although carbonated, has the exact flavour of an orange Creamsicle. Confections aside, Lotte also operates casinos, telecommunications, retail stores, pharmaceuticals, and a massive theme park in Seoul called Lotte World.
Now you're probably wondering, "Lotte doesn't sound like a very Korean name."
I was surprised to find that the company is named after the lost love of the titular character in German romantic poet Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther."
Yup. Founder Shin Kyuk-Ho was so taken with Goethe's sob story that he named his then meager chewing gum empire after the Germanized nickname for Charlotte. Coming from King's where Goethe's name is golden, and the "Sorrows" is continually crammed up the noses of FYP students like so much wet paper towel, I couldn't help but stare dumbfounded at my can of Milkis, now understanding that it contains trace amounts of Werther's heady, German tears.
"I possess so much, but my love for her absorbs it all. I possess so much, but without her I have nothing." - The Sorrows of Young Werther
Translation: all the Pepero in Lotte World won't pull the trigger for you, so spare us the agony Werther and let fly.