[LETTERS to the editor]Admirable civility

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[LETTERS to the editor]Admirable civility

This past summer, I had the honor of teaching at an English academy for three months, while exploring many parts of Korea and experiencing Korean culture firsthand. Despite my inability to learn much Korean, the language barrier was dramatically eased by the warm-hearted generosity of the Korean people and the many modern conveniences Korea has to offer. One memorable incident above all greatly increased my respect for Korean society.

One day, as I was waiting for a student outside Gangnam Station in Seoul, I saw a very fashionable young couple walk past me on the main street. Clearly, the couple was showing a certain degree of rebelliousness, attracting the attention of other pedestrians to their urban American style. As I watched in amazement, the guy carelessly dropped his cigarette butt and the couple walked on as if nothing happened.

However, a uniformed elderly lady quickly picked up the cigarette butt, then ran and caught up with the young couple. She took out a little notepad and wrote out a fine for the young man. The young man, despite his trendy appearance, bowed deeply and apologetically to the elderly lady, quickly paying the fine for the seemingly insignificant littering.

Witnessing such an ordinary event that occurred in a couple of minutes has greatly increased my respect for Korean society. With the elder woman’s action I saw a country capable of improving her populace through strict enforcement of seemingly unimportant laws. The young man’s sincere apology, unexpected given his outside appearance, demonstrated continuing Confucian tradition with a strong emphasis on social obedience despite Westernized appearances otherwise associated with individualism.

Though I have walked through many cities in no less than 10 countries, I have yet to witness such an act. It is no wonder that Koreans have been able to maintain a stable civility despite increased diversity in their densely populated urban environments. It is an accumulation of such small actions that create a healthy and sustainable society.

It is certainly my hope that other countries in East Asia as well as the rest of the world can learn from Korea by carefully understanding the significance of such small incidents.

Xiaochen Su, Yale Class of 2010

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