November 5, 2012
Koreans, Take A Deep Breath
It’s been two weeks since my last post here and I’m making no apologies whatsoever.
Two weeks may not seem like much, but in the blogging world it’s an eternity. A world where you’re constantly told that if you don’t publish content on a regular basis, at least a couple of times a week, then your site will shrivel up and die a lonely death.
That didn’t happen here, though. Sure my page views are a bit lower, but I needed to take some time off for me. My health was getting bad, so for the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been focusing on getting myself back in shape and eating right, rather than stressing out over statistics or trying to find a new place to take a trip to at the weekend.
Every once in a while, it’s important to take some time for yourself, and Gil Dong regularly refers to my blog as my “second job”. I earn money from it, it takes a lot of time – three posts a week, every week, since January – so, why shouldn’t I have a vacation from it every once in a while to re-energize and refocus?
With that in mind, I introduce today’s post, which is actually a guest post on a subject that I feel strongly about – the hurry, hurry lifestyle among South Korea’s citizens. Susan from Travel Junkette is taking the reins here, and I was finger-snapping and amen-ing the whole way through when I was reading this.
You see, we both love Korea, but the population needs to take a deep breath and just chill. Susan explains why.
As soon as I got in line at the Filipino airport for my flight to Seoul, I was overwhelmed. “I’m not ready for this,” I thought to myself.
What wasn’t I ready for?
Koreans. The yelling. The rushing.
Apparently, my relaxed beach vacation was coming to an early end. While walking in a completely straight line, a panicky Korean woman ran directly into me. I realized that hadn’t happened once since I had left South Korea three weeks ago. (And, I had spent time in Tokyo, the largest city in the world!)
As we were trying to pass through security, a massive group of Koreans were huddled around the belt, trying to put on everything, holding up the line, and causing general chaos. The Filipino security guard was clearly frustrated.
While on the plane, people were walking up and down the aisles the entire time at a magnitude I’ve never before seen on any flight. One woman, in such a hurry to get into the restroom, mistakenly started pulling on the cockpit’s door instead of the toilet’s.
I have been hesitant to write this post, as I don’t want to come off as racist or culturally insensitive. Koreans are wonderful people; they are kind, generous, smart, responsible, and extremely hard-working.
But, if somebody wanted me to describe the Korean population in one word, I would use “frantic.”
I am not normally considered a laid-back person. I love lists and planning and often get upset when things don’t go as I had imagined. The Koreans, however, put me to shame.
They are, for the most part, scrambling, hurrying, and stressed. One of the first words I learned upon moving to Korea was “bali.” Having heard it so many times, I finally asked a coworker what it meant. “Hurry up,” she responded nonchalantly.
Even as an elementary school teacher, I witnessed my students undergoing unimaginable levels of stress and pressure. I don’t think that any eight year old, anywhere, should be more worried about getting a perfect grade than about having fun or using their imagination.
A Korean lecturer once told me that South Korea has been invaded an average of every four years since its founding. Though I can’t find online evidence to support this, suffice it to say that Korea’s been invaded a LOT. So, maybe it makes sense that Koreans feel constantly on edge.
And with Confucian ideology acting as the skeleton of their society, holding up family honor is tantamount. These, and other factors, may contribute to Korea’s frantic nature. (These are complete guesses – the only type of theorizing for which I am qualified. For an in-depth analysis of the Korean ethos, I’ve heard that Michael Breen’s “The Koreans” is excellent.)
For those on the outside, Korea’s economic success and education system seem a stunning victory for a country that has been ravaged, enslaved, and impoverished for most of its history. These successes should not be undermined, and are a testament to the work ethic and determination of the Korean people.
But, now that their economy has grown to the 13th largest on the globe, their education system is constantly touted as among the world’s best, and they have won a bid to host the 2018 Olympics, I have one more challenge for the Korean people.
Please, for your sake more than mine: take a deep breath. You’ve made it.
So there you have it, folks. Now, I want to hear from you. What do you make of what Susan has to say here? Do you know of any countries that have a more hurry-hurry attitude of South Korea? Do you think we’d all be better off if we just slowed down and took a deep breath every once in a while? Let us know in the comments below, or shout out on Facebook or Twitter.