[Campus commentary]A poverty of the spirit“Give me chocolate, give me chocolate!” a small crowd shouts. Barefoot Korean children, aged between 5 and 10, who are short for their age and have dishevelled black hair, run after American soldiers. It was a common sight after the Korean War in the 1950s.
At that time, it was hard to have even one meal a day. Korean people then dreamed they would someday fly to the “chocolate country,” America. That was because Korea was so destitute. It is hard for the younger generation now to imagine and understand how dreadful Korea’s situation had been. However, while I was in Cambodia for a school project, I got a glimpse of what Korea might have experienced five decades ago.
“One dollar, one dollar!” Those pitiful voices still seem to echo in my ears, even four months after my return home. Groups of Cambodian children followed us strange foreigners around, shouting like the Korean children probably did. They were skinny with big, innocent eyes, dressed in tattered clothes. Some held out pitiful things to sell, urging us to, “Please buy.” If one of us tried to show a little interest in their goods, suddenly a whole bunch of kids would circle around the foreigner. A small girl who looked only 6 years old carried a baby securely on her back.
About 120 stood in line to get food, although there was only enough for about one-third of the line. Even in their dreadful situation, the children exclaimed, “Thank you!” with a smile, although they could receive only a little piece of bread. It was the day’s only meal for them. If there was any food left over, a little hand would pull a plastic bag out of a pocket to take the crumbs home for those who didn’t have a meal that day.
When I returned home, I realized the situation we are in is more pitiful. Although we are more affluent now, we are living in a rat race and have lost the true meaning of happiness. The situation is not much different on school campuses, as everyone’s attention is concentrated on GPAs, the Toefl and term papers. Everyone is always in a hurry to get better off than others. Even I tend to get exhausted by the end of each day, forgetting how to enjoy things such as preparing for an uncertain future. I have come to believe, like everyone, that it is crucial to have a brilliant career.
In one class, I heard about a student from a professor. The girl was good in all her classes and got straight As. The professor said he would recommend her for a great job so she could work during the school year. She refused. She said, “I like to read books even when others tell me it’s a pity to spend life that way. However, I don’t want to give up my right to this pleasure. I treasure my time in school; I will never get to enjoy this time once it’s gone.”
Many may not agree with her, but the anecdote reminds us to slow down. The best moments of your life could be right now.
*The writer is the vice editor of University Life magazine at Kyung Hee University.
by Yoo So-hee