[LETTERS to the editor]Know thy neighbor

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[LETTERS to the editor]Know thy neighbor

I’m writing in response to a viewpoint on North and South Korea, “Unity is Korea’s missing gold” (Aug. 29). The column suggests that Korea has failed to achieve the most important value - cooperation and unity -which would have been as valuable as a 14th gold medal for Koreans in the 2008 Olympics.

Whereas the author believes that the anti-Korean sentiment among the Chinese during the Beijing Olympic Games is correlated with the cold atmosphere between North and South Korea, I’m concerned about more potent factors that might have contributed to the expression of antagonism.

Prior to the Games last month, many Chinese were already enraged at how most Koreans look down on them as being outwardly unclean and vulgar. This is only based on prejudice and subjective opinions of some people. Although this is clearly not the case for every Chinese, Koreans have a strong tendency to belittle them for no precise reason. [From some analyses] this was the strongest factor that led to extreme hatred of Korea.

To make matters worse, a Korean broadcasting station, SBS, aired the rehearsal of the Olympic opening ceremony without permission from the Chinese authorities. This self-interested behavior also stoked Chinese resentment.

Whatever the reason for the anti-Korean sentiment that has shocked many Koreans, I believe mutual understanding of each other’s culture and respect for each other’s characteristics will lead to better economic and diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Inhye Bae, a senior, Suwon Foreign Language High School, Gyeonggi Province

Bridging cultures

A Chinese friend offered me a taste of her food, as we usually do in our common kitchen at the International House in Daehangno, Seoul. I replied that I am observing the Ramadan fast. As she asked me questions, I was thinking how eager we are to learn about each other despite cultural differences. India’s pluralistic society, where I was born and brought up, is a mosaic of cultures, religions and languages. Despite our cultural differences, we learn rules of interaction in the country’s institutional setting and learn to respect, defend and criticize each other. Probably in this sense India is the best laboratory for showing unity in diversity.

In a cosmopolitan city like Seoul, which shows a lack of cross-cultural awareness, I was similarly unaware about the rich cultural heritage and tradition of Korea before landing here. It is our duty and responsibility to exchange our thoughts regarding our cultural heritage and traditions to bridge the gap.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and fasting is obligatory; it’s the fourth pillar of Islam. The Ramadan fast is ended with a big celebration, called Eid ul-Fitra. On that day, Muslims wear their nicest clothes and offer prayers in mosques.

Korean society is known for hospitality, therefore I am sure Koreans would extend support to people who fast during Ramadan.

Here are some ways to interact with them in this month of the fast. Please avoid asking Muslims to go on a trip, to a party, or stay up late during Ramadan. They shouldn’t be invited for lunch, but late dinner will be acceptable (after the sun sets). They should be given some ease in doing physical as well as mental work if possible. And of course in Islam alcohol is absolutely prohibited. In universities teachers could also extend some ease to Muslim students. Most Korean professors are well versed with multi-cultural societies, thanks to the education system which hires not only the best but also diverse minds educated in both East and West. However, there is a need for special consideration to those who work in science and engineering laboratories. I wish this Ramadan will enrich the human soul and expand peace across the globe.

Sohail Ahmad, an Indian citizen and a graduate student, Seoul National University.

*e-mail to eopinion@joongang.co.kr or via fax to 82-2-751-9219
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