Too insensitive, too generous

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Too insensitive, too generous

Not so long ago, I had lunch with staff at the Japanese Embassy in Korea and the Seoul correspondents of Japanese newspapers. When I asked them what the biggest difference between Korea and Japan is, their initial response was ambiguous, a typical reaction as the Japanese are known for being reluctant to express true feelings. Then, one quietly said, “Korea and Japan are mostly similar, except for the fact that Japan is a little quieter.”

Some Koreans may find it shocking, as they are appalled by the loudness of the Chinese. But from the Japanese point of view, both Koreans and Chinese don’t care about the people around them and are insensitive to noises. The noises that Koreans don’t notice insensitively, or endure despite unpleasantness, are nearly torturous to the Japanese.

Some taxi drivers keep the radio volume high whether there is a passenger or not. Some people talk on mobile phones in subways, sometimes using speaker mode. Some use portable speakers and MP3 radios on hiking and walking trails, enjoying music whether others like it or not. These noises have become a natural part of our lives.

Recently, I had an awkward experience while walking the tree-lined trail to a temple in a national park in Gangwon. I didn’t expect to be faced with disturbance while breathing the clean air and clearing my mind on a “path of healing and meditation.” A monk was singing and playing the guitar to raise funds, and he had a speaker to amplify his music very loudly. I had to rush to get as far away as possible.

The culture of lacking consideration for others allows people to do whatever they want to do to be happy.

One of the notable scenes in a society insensitive to noise is the National Assembly disturbed by the government-authored textbooks controversy.

The ruling and opposition parties pour out their positions without discussions or talks. The leaders of the Saenuri Party and the New Politics Alliance for Democracy issue statements and remarks at morning meetings every day. And the reporters take nearly 10,000 words of notes. However, they are reading scripts prepared by aides and try to speak longer than the other side. So not a single sentence of the 10,000 words is relevant and worthy of reporting. Sometimes, a meeting ends after a 40-minute introductory remark.

While the Korean political parties have a decades-long tradition of “agenda-setting and message promotion through morning meetings,” I wonder if there is any other country where political leaders pour out 10,000 words every morning. When Moon Jae-in became chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy in February, he attempted to change the convention of producing “meaningless noises.” But he had to give up, as some argued that they had become Supreme Council members to have the chance to give introductory remarks. Koreans have become too sensitive, and generous, about the noises at the National Assembly, on the streets, inside taxis and on hiking trails.

The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 6, Page 34

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