Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Safety in Korea

True to my word, I've actually started going for daily runs along the river in Yeoju. To my surprise  I've found that you can run there after dark without running into unwanted company! The first time I went down there it was near sunset, so I thought I'd have to check it out and leave before the creepers and druggies showed up...but then I remembered I am in rural Korea. In fact, although I rarely see people doing anything alone here, I was joined by lots of girls who appeared to be getting their late evening work out in....though I'll say that they don't go for runs like I do...they all stare as I huff, puff, and wheeze passed them. It kind of feels like running in a smoggy sauna, but I guess I'll get used to it eventually. Also, people in Korea seem to have a lot of fancy work out gear considering that many of them don't appear to do much working out.

By the river at night. Crappy camera, it isn't actually that dark.
Anyway, the point is that I realized in America I think I would be hard pressed to find a riverside trail where single women felt comfortable running and walking alone at night. The path isn't even lit, there is just enough residual light from the street above to help you see where you're going. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, Koreans tend to work late and thus do things like getting in a workout much later than people would in the States. In general, shops, stores, restaurants, and other places of business are open much later here than I think they would be in small town America (*cough* St. Louis *cough*).

See? Lovely pedestrian street all light up at night.

Second, crime rates are much lower here. I'm not saying Korea is perfect, it definitely has its problems, but I think the lack of crime can be attributed to Korean culture and values. As my friend and I like to joke about the Chinese, "upholding the family honor" is just as important in Korea. People consider their actions not just a reflection of themselves, but of their families too. This certainly holds one more accountable for one's actions. Third, drugs are extremely taboo, and not in the American "it's illegal and people do it anyway way", but seriously...not that I would really know, but drug culture here appears to be almost non-existent.

When you don't have to worry about drug abuse and crime, a lot of possibilities open up...running along a river at night, wandering around at night in general, lots of public bathrooms, etc. Now I'm not suggesting that America tries to go drug-free Korea style. The war on drugs is already fruitless and costly, and I think it's already way too ingrained into mainstream culture (the glorification of the 60s and what not). However, although Korean society is much more restrictive in many ways, it's interesting to consider the possibilities, should I even say, the freedoms that arise when you don't have to worry so much about crime. It's not just Yeoju. Given its size, Seoul is considered one of the safest cities in the world, with minimal violent crimes and even low rates of theft and pickpocketing (not to say it doesn't happen, I know people in Yeoju who've had their motor bikes stolen).

Here you can see the arches I was talking about.

Especially with the new healthcare legislation being passed in the United States, I've been thinking a lot about Korean vs. American political and social values. What laws, social norms, and traditions really lead to the kinds of freedoms I've experienced here? I've never felt safe walking around at night in the States the way I do here. People may stare or say things, but it's harmless compared to worrying about being mugged or worse. Of course, there is certainly a trade-off; because of the high pressure put on individuals here to represent the achievements of themselves and their families, mental illnesses are seen as weaknesses rather than medical conditions that need to be dealt with seriously. Suicide is a huge unresolved issue here.

But...to end on a lighter note, here's some other funny things I discovered while wandering the streets of Yeoju at night (my new favorite activity). Plus it makes me feel like I'm working out more...

Squid tank in front of a restaurant....see? You can have your squid and eat it too! Okay I admit I really just wanted to make that joke...

I think it's a bar...clearly a business in the front, party in the back kind of place.

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