If you've been following over the last couple of posts, you might be thinking that the cramped living spaces and a stressed population would be a recipe for craziness, and possibly even violence. You would probably be right if you were talking about any place other than Korea.
I'm not exactly sure how they've done it, other than to program it into their DNA (which really wouldn't surprise me), but Korea is safe. Safer than any place I have ever visited. It might be the robotic like schooling they receive, or even the two years every male must spend serving Korea in some fashion (armed forces, police, or coast guard are the options I believe), but whatever it is, this is a country where you really do feel, and are, safe.
Bikes go unlocked. Shopping bags, full of loot from the mall, are left at the bus stop while the owner finds a public washroom (which are everywhere, and pretty darn clean), only to return and - amazingly to me when I first saw this - find no one has taken, or even touched their goods. Sidewalk cafes are literally, in some cases, tents on a sidewalk. The owners simply zip up when closed, leaving refridgerators full of food and booze there with a lock smaller than the ones we used to keep our lockers at school shut. Tables, chairs, you name it are simply left where they belong - no chains, no guard dogs, no nothing.
Women aren't harassed, men aren't acting all macho, and there does not appear to be a neighbourhood you don't want to be in at night.
It is incredible. And it is nice.
Now I am not so naive as to believe this is a utopia where nothing bad ever happens here - just refer back to my last post - and a friend of mine did have his $20 bike helmet taken, but they left behind the $200 quick release seat and a saddle bag with a camera in it. However, reading about all the horrible stuff curently happening in the world, and at home in Canada, has got me truly appreciating what Korea has been able to create here.
Children behave. Teens behave. And adults behave - except for the few who like to howl at the moon on occasion at 2 in the morning after leaving the Soju hut. They seem to truly enjoy their lives when at the beach or at the mountain. Families are everywhere, and seemingly all are having a good time. And there is a tangible feeling here to the saying, "it takes a village to raise a child." Kids run and play in the parks and beaches, and everyone has an eye out for the other. A baby crying?? Instead of rolling their eyes and being annoyed, people make faces and soothing sounds. Want to act up on the bus?? Instead of asking, "Where are this kid's parents?", they will say to the culperate in Korean something along the lines of, "I am going to beat your ass if you don't sit down and shut up!" or I assume something to that affect because the kid doesn't even seem to consider talking back. And then some lady will probably offer some candy as a token of appreciation.
And to top it off, they are as friendly and helpful as anyone I've had the pleasuer of coming across.
Despite constant language barriers, Koreans are always quick with a smile and a helping hand. Twice, we've not only been given directions to a place we wanted to go when coming out of the subway (which by the way is as efficient and clean a public transport system I have seen), but we've been guided. On both occasions these people took the time from their day to help a couple of confused looking foreigners, but then literally went out their way to show us where we needed to go. Sure it's meant a few akward minutes of stumbling through English, Korean and a combination of both with some sign language thrown in, but it has always left me with a nice feeling - knowing I am never going to be left to my own devices while here. Which is a truly comforting thought when considering my devices.
So Korea is good. A little cramped, a lot stressed, but ultimately enjoying themselves in the safety of their family - which just happens to be everyone. Nice.