[FOUNTAIIN]‘Turf’ on streets and rails

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[FOUNTAIIN]‘Turf’ on streets and rails

In the world of animals, males risk their lives to stake out their own territory. The males mark their territory and attack if there are any intruders, and the size of the territory is usually in proportion to the size of the animal.
The territory of a lion is sometimes larger than 100 square kilometers (24,700 acres) while sparrows live their whole lives within one square kilometer.
Male cats urinate in the middle of a road or on a tree stump where it is likely to come across a rival. This use of urine or feces is a territory-marking technique that many wild animals use. When males mark their territory, they try to make it at as high a place as possible to suggest to rivals that they are big for their species. That is also the reason that male dogs lift their legs high when they urinate, to mark the tree as high up the trunk as possible.
Dogs also eat feces as another way to defend their territory; it eliminates another dog’s smell from the area. When a zebra excretes on top of other zebra’s feces, it is recognized as a challenge and a decisive fight takes place.
There is a difference in degree, but human beings act similarly. Men have a stronger desire than women to stake out territory. In a restroom with three urinals, the one in the middle is the least often occupied, because men want to avoid any tension from being too close to another male. A researcher once showed that in a restroom with only two urinals, men tend to take a longer time to urinate than in larger spaces.
Here in Korea, other than fights among gangsters to stake out turf, the most common place where you can see men lording it over newcomers is on public transportation, when men are among strangers. When someone sits next to a male on a bus, the seated man could easily move a little to make space, but many will not budge at all, continuing to take up two-thirds of the seat. Men who spread their legs wide when sitting in a subway car are also making a display of widening their territory, similar to a dog’s effort to get his leg as high as possible when he urinates. The wilder the animal, or the less developed the human culture, the more extreme this tendency is.
The reason that wild animals lord it over the newcomers is because there is nothing more important to them than securing territory to maintain their species and protect their individual lives. But in a cultivated society, such displays are just publicizing that they have no manners. Men, don’t think of the man next to you as an intruder on your turf. He is just another guy, as stressed with work as you are. Be a gentleman.


by Lee Hoon-beom

The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.
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