[OUTLOOK]Challenges for a better new year

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[OUTLOOK]Challenges for a better new year

I don't like New Year's resolutions. I stopped making resolutions the year I decided for some idiotic reason to give up Cheetos. Rather, I offer here a few New Year's "ambitions," hopes that I would like to see Koreans work on during the next 12 months.



Quit looking backward



The Christmas when I was 9 years old my brother received a transistor radio from our parents. I had wanted that little radio desperately. Instead, my parents gave me a ruler. Admittedly, it took me a while to recover from that tragedy - maybe 20 years - but I got over it. Koreans need to do the same with the words "financial crisis."

I wish I had a dollar for every time that I have read or heard phrases such as this: "Korean investors in small and midsize widgets have experienced a slump since the financial crisis of 1997."

Or: "Due to the financial crisis that struck in 1997 and 1998, the quality of cold noodles has declined."

Or: "If the financial crisis hadn't happened, my girlfriend wouldn't have dumped me."

To progress as a nation, Koreans must stop blaming every raindrop on a six-month period from another decade.



Think more about safety



Rarely a day goes by that I don't walk along a street in Seoul and see someone using an acetylene torch - barehanded. Or watch a laborer dangling from a high-rise building, strapped to a piece of twine. Or glimpse a motorcycle deliveryman tearing through a crosswalk with eight rolls of carpet stacked precariously high and wide on the back of his cycle.

All too often, Korea appears to be an accident waiting to happen. Take the seemingly innocent sport of squash. The game is responsible for thousands of eye injuries around the world. A squash ball, even one hit by a beginner, travels with the velocity of a .22 caliber bullet. Getting hit in the eye with this small black ball can and does cause blindness, so players everywhere wear protective glasses. At the Seoul health club to which I belong, no one wears protective eyewear, and most players there are beginners, the most susceptible to injuries. When I asked the manager of the club why no precautions were taken, he shrugged. It was probably the same sort of response that the motorcycle delivery guy would have used - if he had survived being rear-ended by that city bus.



Turn off that cell phone



Yeoboseyo? ... Yeoboseyo? ... Click.

Why not switch off that cellular phone for, say, two hours a day? Better yet, why not leave it at home one day a week? No matter how cute the ringer sounds, the phones annoy, because the owners permit them to ring - in concert halls to church sanctuaries. A woman in a supermarket, mulling a carrot, needs to talk. So does a girl using a treadmill in a gym or a businessman standing in front of a urinal. Gotta take that call, even if it requires great manual dexterity.

Surely the worst offenders are people who amble along a sidewalk and, simultaneously, insist on conducting a conversation by phone. Most of these cell phoners have no idea who is in front, beside or behind them as they amble. They're like the delivery guys on the motorcycles. Even as the conversers collide with others, the reaction seems to be, Hey, I'm talking here! They're either talking or they're doing the Samsung Stare. That's the fixed, zombie-like scrutiny of their hand phone, to check who has sent a message. More often than not, no one has.



Stand to one side, please



Koreans are busy people. Always in a hurry, they are forever rushing to get through the day. I salute their diligence and industriousness, but I wish they would stop trying to get on an elevator or a subway car until the people at the doors of those cars have exited. It's a simple act to remember, really, maybe a bit like breathing.

The Seoul city government posts courtesy tips on public restrooms, advice that is not terribly complex. But I would recommend another: Do not use the floor as a commode.

Perhaps the users of Seoul's elevators and subways need equivalent reminders to be taped to doors: Do not greet departing passengers with a goal-line stand.

I have had Koreans straight-arm me as I was trying to leave both elevators and subways. I couldn't move left or right and to step backward wouldn't make sense since I was planning to get off at that particular floor or stop.

Such behavior doesn't matter to unbudgeable boarding passengers, especially those who also happen to be doing the Samsung Stare.


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The writer is a deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

by Toby Smith

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