[NOTEBOOK]Departing From Long-Standing Customs

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[NOTEBOOK]Departing From Long-Standing Customs

Wallowing in the current social and political woes, are you feeling a bit oppressed or confused about which way things are going?

Two issues are now the talk of the town. The first is the terrorist attack on the United States of Sept. 11, and the other is the so-called "Lee Yong-ho-gate."

To qualify as a hot social issue, an event should have both a significant social effect and arouse people's passions. Indeed, although the United States is already planning a counterattack, the outline of how the original attack occurred is still foggy, and the United States has no clear target for reprisals.

Similarly, the more closely the prosecutors investigate the Lee Yong-ho matter, the more rapidly the scandal expands. Thus, both the U.S. terror attack and its aftermath and the local scandal qualify as "hot topics."

Although we try to gather all the information we can to understand the situation fully, a clear outline seems to be always beyond our grasp. That makes us feel confused, dizzy or oppressed.

Sometimes continued discussions of even important events and issues leads to a dead end. Conversations on social issues has become a kind of fashion; if a person cannot participate in what sometimes amounts to no more than "relevant chatter," he may be seen as not a man of the world - not a man of intellect.

So it becomes convenient to follow the same familiar trends in conversation.

On the other hand, following these conversational customs is what makes our lifestyles so similar to each other - the glue that binds us together. The Internet, cellular phones, our cars, summer vacations, soap operas on TV and blockbuster movies - there are so many things which we just adopt because that is the prevailing social atmosphere. It makes us so common and homogenous.

So why not depart from these long standing social customs? Even though reality may intrude into our efforts to block them out, let's give it a try.

Yesterday morning, I met a friend on the street who came to the office by bicycle. In the elevator, he opened his hands and showed me a few horse chestnuts, asking me, "Do you know what these are?" It was refreshing to see a man of such a leisurely and calm nature enjoying bicycling in Seoul and picking up horse chestnuts on his way to the office.

Indeed, departing from long-standing customs is not that big an issue.

Let me talk of travel. On weekends, going to a famous tourist site where many people flock together is not always a good way to travel. Instead why not try to take a day off on a weekday and let your children have the day off from school as well, and go somewhere together? The world will not stop turning.

But we don't do so - because we can't escape from our minds, which are plagued by our adherence to so-called "long standing customs."

And on weekends, why not look for places nearby, instead of driving to distant places. There are many spots to enjoy the natural environment and our ancestors' heritage and the secrets of our culture - we merely miss those places, being so accustomed to our long-standing habits .

People say Korea is the number one Internet country in the world. Yes, it is a good thing to be a leader. However, can the Internet substitute for the book culture which human beings have accumulated over a long time? Though Internet web surfing is a pleasurable activity, isn't it another joy of life to curl up with a book? Autumn, especially, is a splendid time for a great novel.

Do you say that reading a book in autumn is another long-standing custom? Well, there are interesting recent statistics on that. According to the Kyobo Book center, one of the biggest book stores in the country, sales in autumn (September to November) account for only 21 percent of their annual sales, a small ratio among the seasons.

There are so many things like these - I cannot list them all. But please think what we do in order to just follow the fashions and fads, and what we do simply by habit in line with long-standing customs.

Let's rid ourselves of things that stick to us like a leech. Then we may truly relish this fresh autumn season, instead of being continually confused and dizzy.


The writer is culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Tae-wook

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