Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

I landed in Korea on Friday.  I went out downtown Saturday, partied hard and was a little delirious and dizzy with jet lag.  I got myself into a cab at 5am and with a little help from my awesome Korean friend Chloe, the driver was able to take me to my school.  At 5:30am I took on my ten minute walk from my school to my home (because at the time I had no idea how to tell a cab driver in Korean how to get to my house).  It was amazing to me, that nobody bothered me (I hardly even noticed if anyone was staring at me), nobody approached me and I felt perfectly fine walking home at that time of day.  Having been here for almost 6 months, I can still say the same thing.

Now, back home this would never happen.  There have been times when I've walked home from a bar at 3am, but have been subjected to car honks, bad pick up lines (the ones I hated the most was when I was fulfilling my street meat cravings and some jerk always has to walk by with a "enjoying that hot dog/meat eh?") and always being worried about walking past groups of people.  I'm less scared than some people, but there is always that element of being a girl by herself at night that has been engrained in society and perpetuated by the media.  Yet in Korea, even at 5:30am, with all the neon lights (I call it the Neon Jungle) and the drunk or late-nighters out at all times that only worry about themselves, its hard to find yourself worrying. 

Another thing about myself, I can be a little careless.  Thus far, I have dropped my cell phone in two different places and surprisingly, always gotten it back.  The first time in a cab, where the driver drove back (after a couple of hours) and gave me my phone, and the second, (this surprised me the most) I dropped my phone on the street (please don't ask me how or why) near Camp Walker, the army base, and had a soldier return my phone.  I'm not saying I don't trust people, but except for my friend Maria having extremely good luck, I have never heard a story of someone losing their phone and then getting it back almost right away- especially by a waegookin (foreigner) outside of Korea.

This notion of moral perfection stems from Confucianism that Korea has adapted even more strongly than China from where it was founded.

According to Wikipedia, "Humanity is core in Confucianism. A simple way to appreciate Confucian thought is to consider it as being based on varying levels of honesty, and a simple way to understand Confucian thought is to examine the world by using the logic of humanity."
It follows five main elements:
Ren - humanity
Yi - righteousness
Li - ritual
Zhi - knowledge
Xin - integrity

I first learned about Confucianism briefly in World Religions class, however, in Korea it is only considered a philosophy.  Something can be gained from having a country follow the same principles in order to attain a higher level of being.  It was a little hard to comprehend that in Korea you can get your phone/wallet back without a hassle, and with no extra long-distance charges on your phone or money missing from your wallet.  Sometimes it just blows my mind how honest a society can be.  The hardest part is thinking about what will happen when I leave Korea.  But then I guess, I'll just have to work on my carelessness first.

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