April 19, 2010

Violence in Korea

The question I am asked most about life in Korea is: Is it safe? Certainly Korea is very safe as far as crime goes. Guns and drugs are both highly illegal and I have never come across one of the two items of contraband. I never really felt unsafe in the United States but having been here for a year and a half I have never once felt threatened.

I have personally witnessed merely a few violent incidents since I have been here. The first was a man (boy) of around twenty years old repeatedly giving uppercuts to a boy maybe three years his junior. The younger boy did not even defend himself. He just sat on his knees and took the blows. I was amazed that no one stopped to help or even seemed to acknowledge the beating. I have a severe idiot streak and decided to intervene. I called the police and handed my phone to a girl walking by and then tapped the aggressor on the shoulder. This allowed the youth to escape. As I was dodging the inevitable punches that followed the girl had stopped a cab for me. I grabbed my phone and dove into the cab.

The next event was in a singing room. I was out to dinner with a lovely young local (no girlfriend action but damn she was pretty). After dinner we met my local friend "Jack" for some whiskey and singing in a local bar I frequented. The bartender was my friend and she was sitting next to me in the room. Suddenly in burst her husband who struck her fiercely in the face. I was flabbergasted and immediately stood up. Both of my friends instructed me not to escalate the situation. This would make the night much worse for the barmaid. I simply put my hands over my head and walked out the bar anticipating a strike from the husband. He did not swing with his fists. His tongue was the weapon for me. The worst part about it was that my friends both told me never to go back and never to contact her again. Jack had known her for years but their relationship ended that night. Several days later I defied them because I really wanted her to know I felt awful about the situation. A few weeks later her bar closed and I have since never seen her.

The final violent act is a repeat of the above incident and is all too common. I have seen it at least five times. A man striking a woman on the street. This appears to be entirely legal as males have relegated women to such a large degree. Sad but true, domestic violence in my opinion is quite rampant here. I won't even get into the story of the Korean man who proudly displayed his butcher knife to me. He was pissed off at the noise level of a party I was at and I beleive he had every right to be angry. Scraping the knife against the apartment door was a nice touch!

Consider 550 days in Korea and maybe a dozen blows to the head. I can get that at a hockey game in the U.S. The truth is Korea is remarkably crime free and I would say that living here without the fear of a gun being drawn is truly refreshing. I never lived with a constant worry in the U.S. but things became way out of hand a lot quicker back home. I have not spent any time in Seoul. It is possible that there things are different. However, life here for me has been truly liberating. The news and the streets are not full of murder.


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