Being an endangered species in SeoulDictionary.com defines the term “jaywalking” as the act of “[crossing] a street carelessly or in an illegal manner so as to be endangered by traffic.” Given the reckless nature of Korean drivers, even crossing the road in a legal manner is to be “endangered by traffic.” When asked about their irresponsible habits, I simply reply, “It’s Korea.”
Inadequate? I don’t think so. Quite sadly, Korea has built a negative reputation in many areas, driving being just one among several disappointing developments. When these problems arise, I find it easier to dismiss them as a growing part of “Korea.”
Those close to me know that it has become something of a reflex. “It’s Korea” started out as a light comment made by one of my close friends. After being rudely bumped repeatedly in a subway terminal by a bustling crowd, I expressed my displeasure with a string of expletives.
When I brought this subject up with him, he merely replied, “Who cares? It’s Korea.” It was funny at the time, but it unearthed the rather unpleasant underbelly of Seoul ― no one cares enough to apologize after knocking another person over. No one cares enough to make safe driving a priority. No one cares that the streets are littered with pirated goods.
Before moving to Korea, I considered myself comfortably at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can imagine how shocked I was to come to Korea and find all the video games I could ever want lined up in rows, all pirated and burned onto cheap CD-ROMs. When the initial wave of shock had just begun to recede, another one came crashing over my head. The rudeness, the smog, and the unfriendly atmosphere of Seoul were completely foreign aspects of this so-called “culture” to me. Korea, in all its pirated glory, seized the serenity of my childhood and throttled it until it went limp.
Eventually, I started to respond to Korea in the same way it did to me: with a rude air of indifference and smugness unrivaled in the world.
Ending this piece on such a negative note would be counterproductive ― what’s criticism without construction? Rather than simply dismissing actions of your own and others as part of that negative Korean culture, shape up. Realize that being just another person who is skeptical about society and typically rude is not going to help the situation. Do not let your actions be dismissed by the phrase “It’s Korea.”
by Ian Choe
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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