Students Angered by “500 Free Bananas” Apology

KoreaBANG reports the issues that grab headlines in Korea, sometimes those issues are political scandals, sometimes they are horrific crimes, and sometimes they are arguments over bananas. A university cafeteria’s decision to raise food prices by ₩200 without sufficiently consulting with students has led to an explosion of protest, fueled in part by the company’s attempt to appease customers by giving away five hundred free bananas. The fact that the protest happened at the renowned Sookmyung Women’s University contributed to the coverage and to netizen criticism online, as many netizens mocked the young women for protesting a ₩200 (USD $0.19) price increase but happily drinking ₩5000 (USD $4.66) Starbucks coffee.

Proving that the political rallying cry for “half-price” costs still has social relevance, the students started a “half price meals” protest, selling bibimbap in front of the main cafeteria building for ₩1400. Student groups at universities across South Korea have staged “half price” sales protests in recent years in response to rising tuition and cost of living.

Article from Hankyoreh:

“500 Bananas, First Come First Served”, angers Sookmyung Students

Sookymung Women’s University students are angry after the announcement of a ‘500 bananas, first come first served’ policy. The offer was an attempt by student cafeteria manager Sinsegae Food’s to compensate students resisting a unilateral price increase.

A student's sign reads: "Sinsegae Food, are you trying to scrape every last won out of our pockets? We reject your indiscriminate race for profit!"

A student’s sign reads: “Sinsegae Food, are you trying to scrape every last won out of our pockets? We reject your indiscriminate race for profit!”

According to three days worth of comments from the Sookmyung student government, before the start of the the most recent semester, the Sinsegae Food company raised most meal prices by ₩200 (USD $0.19). The price of Korean meals rose from ₩2300 to ₩2500, the price of a general meal went from ₩2800 to ₩3000, and the price of specials rose from ₩3100 to ₩3300.

The Sookmyung student government fiercely protested this price increase, saying the price increase occurred without student input. The student body argued, “At the beginning of this year, Sinsegae Food said it would discuss the issue of raising school cafeteria menu prices in the middle of the first semester with the student body, but in August, we were only notified of the price increase, and there was no discussion. This is a case of disregarding the students.”

According to a Sinsegae statement from October 8th posted an apology on the school’s bulletin board, “we regret not being able to fully discuss the situation beforehand”, however, their statement “First come first serve, we will give you 500 bananas” rubbed students the wrong way. Hyun Woo-ueon, (a 3rd year student in the Cultural Tourism Department), stated “Randomly raising prices and giving away on a first come first serve basis much fewer bananas than there were customers makes me angry.”

On October 20th, as students grew more dissatisfied with the situation, the cafeteria company raised the number of bananas it would offer to 1100 and even included free yogurt. In response, student objections only grew sharper. On the school’s online community, comments flooded in, saying “Yogurt give aways? What is this, a kindergarten?” and “Is a one-time show of compensation enough to resolve the lack of communication?”. One student wrote, “I can’t stand their attitude of thinking they can fix their mistake by throwing monkeys at us, like we were a bunch of monkeys. I realized how much of an arrogant attitude they have towards students.”

In response, a Sinsegae Food representative said, “The plan to increase prices was decided after concluding discussions with the school as the main party. The offer of compensation was part of our effort to fully understand students’ opinions.”

Until they are able to find a middle ground with Sinsegae Food, the student body has decided to create a “half-price food” alternative cafeteria in front of the main school cafeteria.

Students sell "half price" lunches from a table in front of the cafeteria as part of protest against the price increase.

Students sell “half price” lunches from a table in front of the cafeteria as part of protest against the price increase.

Comments from Daum:


First, it was “500”. As the student body protested, it became “1100”. The people who don’t understand the reason for protesting are the real “birdbrained monkeys”


Of all the things why bananas~~


The age of miscommunication, now it almost feels like miscommunication is becoming the hot new thing.


The school cafeteria is also Sinsegae Food, Everland…large corporations are taking everything. [Sinsegae and Everland are famous conglomerate brands]


Trickery. now Sinsegae is treating Sookmyung students like monkeys.


Sinsegae sees Sookymyung students as monkeys~~ and this is such a sensitive age for them~~ giving girls bananas, which could be misconstrued as sexual harassment~~They poured oil onto a house on fire~~


this is too funny ke ke wow…thinking that this kind of act would go over well at a university makes me wonder where their brains were at ke ke


The Starbucks in front of Sookmyung serves coffee for twice the “half price”, and it is always overflowing with people ke ke


It’s not about the 200 won. Did they bribe the general student assembly? They didn’t give them enough money so they started a ruckus. Not all student governments are corrupt, but most of them are. They’re all trash and really don’t know what they’re doing. These guys, they say they love the students, but are they fucking developing the school at all? Each is worried about finding a job and still they chug ₩5~7000 Starbucks coffees without a second thought.


My sympathies to the students, but compared to outside campus, it’s still cheaper.


At Starbucks, if the price of coffee went up by 200 won they would all be talking about how the coffee suddenly tastes better. Haha You guys if the price didn’t go up by 200 won, the farmers would have had to swallow the difference. So just eat it~ and drink less coffee.


ke ke And then they go to Sinsegae [the department Store] and ask their boyfriends to buy some brand name items


Nowadays students are full of it… too busy trying to pad their resume to pay attention to politics, so they don’t care about politics… they are happy to drink their expensive coffee even if they have to starve themselves of food, …who can hope to take care of you?


all this protest while they drink a few cups of expensive coffee a day…

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  • What the hell?

    $2.50 to $3.00 a meal is still bargain. It’s very difficult for restaurants to survive in Korea.

    • lonetrey / Dan

      holy crap, I want to eat my meals for that cheap. I’d eat in their cafeteria everyday at that pricing -_-

    • This is a big corporation you are talking about, they make things on an industrial scale, hence the low price. Still, $3 for the special is cheaper than my university, with prices that go up to $8 T_T

    • DK

      Not when minimum wage is around $4.70 over there~

      • chucky3176

        hourly wage rates don’t mean anything in Korea, when typical Koreans on salary are expected to work 10 to 12 hour work days on the average – which brings down the average hourly rates. Three to four thousand US dollars a month is pretty middle class. Two thousand a month is about lower middle class, and pushing the upper lower class – and it won’t get you first choice in desirable marriage partners. Anything under two thousand a month, you’re fucked as a working poor, and nobody respect you as human being. Having said that, I bet that most of the mom and pop restaurants in Korea, which there are a lot of, would be lucky to make even $2000 a month, since their prices are so comparatively low and the competition very stiff.

        • Eric0912

          Ever heard of the W880,000 generation? Hourly wages mean a lot.

  • Brett

    The distributor buys the raw foods, pays for labor and serves meals at a price where they can make some money. Why should students get to decide on price increases/a corporation’s profitability? As far as I’m aware, the students aren’t forced to purchase food on campus. They are taking themselves too seriously.

    The “free bananas solution” is funny though. Who thought that up?

    • lonetrey / Dan

      I think it’s more of a pride thing. I mean, of all the things they chose bananas as compensation…. it does kind of give me the idea of appeasing monkeys.

      • David

        True, but it was not like a bunch of white guys were giving them bananas, it was a Korean corporation who thought it was a smart idea (somebody in their PR department needs to be fired).

  • lonetrey / Dan

    …….This shit, is BANANAS! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

    • symon

      Ooooh, this my shit, this my shit.

  • vonskippy

    LOL – Students thinking they have a say in the real business world – bwahahahahaha.

  • 金3胖

    butt hurt students are butt hurt.. after their racist comments on internet by calling other races as monkey, at the end their country company treated them like monkey…..
    By the way, 3000won is still cheap if compare with CJ cafeteria ( 4000 won)

    • Sillian

      I’m sorry but are you 12ish years old?

  • commander

    What western visitors to koreaBang need to have in mind while reading the article is that student governments had been a powerful force protesting dictatorial regimes in 1970s and 1980s, swayed by the communist theories.

    The demise of the Soviet Unions diluted influences of communist ideology on student groups. Nevethless many student groups remain focused on fighting what they view as injustices fron the leftist standpoint.

    But the problem with student bodies in universities is the lack of representation on campus.

    The vote turnout for elections to pick up a student president is so low that voting periods are often extended to fill a minimum portion of votes cast that is required to grant legitimacy.

    Also problematic is that student governments are capitalized on as a channel to enter politics, putting more of a focus on social issues than a broader sense of education in universities.

    For example, they are liable to remain less focused on the quality of lectures on campus–a crucial element that students coughing up an exorbitant tuition should demand from school authorities.

    Many general courses and major classes are often proceed in a large auditorium, with few teaching assistants.

    Although an unjustifiable hike in tuition and prices within the campus is a matter of meriting studeny government bodies, student bodies need to reflect on why the vote turnout has been persistently low, instead of blaming it on the loss of what they think of as deplorable among university students: a sense of justice.

    The lack of representation and the future role of student governments are deeply intertwined, presenting a challenge of defining student representatives’ ultimate goals in what is the so called the cradle of knowledge.

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