It’s time to enjoy having free time

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It’s time to enjoy having free time


Robben Island is about a 30-minute boat ride away from Cape Town, South Africa. I visited the island on Aug. 11 during my business trip to Africa. Robben Island is a shrine dedicated to preserving the history of human rights activism. Former South African President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here from 1964 to 1982. The entire island is a museum and has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The island was a leper colony and later became a prison mainly for political prisoners in 1959. It was a combination of Alcatraz and Sorok Island. During World War II, Robben Island served as a defense fortress for British Forces from German and Japanese attacks. The bus tour around the island stopped at old bunkers and cannons.

A handsome black tour guide pointed at a cannon and explained, “The encampment was built during World War II, but the construction was so slow that it was completed in 1947, two years after the war ended.”

He jokingly added, “The Europeans may have a watch, but we’ve got time.” The extreme incongruity between the scenic island and Mandela’s 18-year-long imprisonment was impressive, but upon returning from the trip, I couldn’t stop thinking about the guide’s joke.

I may be one of those people who has a watch but doesn’t have time. My friends and co-workers who came back from summer vacation said, “The one who needs a vacation the most is someone who has just returned from one.” While the happiness index in Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nigeria is higher than Korea’s, it may be just subjective happiness. Korea became prosperous thanks to older generations that devoted their lives to make a living.

Until recently, middle-aged Koreans were reluctant to take a week off from work. So it may be too arrogant or self-deceiving to spend a few days in an underdeveloped country and call it “a place where time has stopped.”

Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that we live with serious obsessions and stress. During my trip to Africa, I read “Stopover,” an essay by Mori Kitamura, who suffered from a panic disorder. He had been a workaholic and an editor-in-chief of a trendy magazine, but he had to resign when he was eventually diagnosed. “I was always ready to deal with crises at work but was insensitive about my body,” he confessed.

Many vacationers make tight schedules and focus on taking pictures and seeing the sights rather than enjoying the moment and taking a break. Hikers march along the Dulle and Olle trails in a militant fashion. Older generations may have become used to vacations without relaxation, but the younger generations should not inherit that lifestyle. It is about time we enjoy having “time.”

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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