In pursuit of better lives in Korea

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In this photo released by Korea Life Consulting Co., Hwang Yun-jin, a 29-year-old mechanical engineering major, sits in a coffin in a dimly lit hall during the mock funeral at the head of Korea Life Consulting Co. in Chungju, South Korea. The mock funeral is part of a new interest in the twilight of life in fast-developing South Korea, where a focus on healthy living that is known by the English word "well-being" is transforming into the latest trend: "well-dying."

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In this November 2007 photo released by Korea Life Consulting Co., Hwang Yun-jin, a 29-year-old mechanic engineering major, lies in a coffin in a dimly light hall during a mock funeral in Chungju, South Korea.

AFTER solemnly reading their wills, seven perfectly healthy university students climb into caskets in a dimly lit hall.

"I want to give all of you one more day to live, but it's time to be placed into coffins," a man in a black suit says in a resounding voice. "I hope your tired flesh and bodies will be peacefully put to rest."

Workers nail the coffins shut, then sprinkle dirt on top as the lights are switched off and a dirge is played. Muffled sobs can be heard from some of the coffins. About 15 minutes later, they are opened and the five men and two women are "reborn."
The mock funeral, which aims to get participants to map out a better future by reflecting on their past, is part of a new trend in South Korea called "well-dying."

The fad is an extension of "well-being," an English phrase adopted into Korean to describe a growing interest in leading healthier, happier lives.
"I felt really, really scared inside the coffin and also thought a lot about my mom," said Lee Hye-jung, a 23-year-old woman studying engineering. "I'll live differently from now on so as not to have any regrets about my life."
Other well-dying activities focus on death itself. Websites store wills to be conveyed to relatives after death. Death coordinators help plan funerals in advance in case of unexpected death.

Experts see the well-being and well-dying trend as a sign that South Koreans have grown affluent enough to be able to consider quality-of-life issues. But some dismiss services such as the fake funerals as moneymaking ventures.
Korea Life Consulting Co, which staged the mock funeral for the students in Chungju, 150 kilometers south of Seoul, charges up to 300,000 won (US$325) per customer.


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