This month I was privileged to again travel overseas to South Korea to visit my daughter, Erin, for a couple of weeks, and the two of us also flew to Osaka, Japan for a few days. As always when traveling, I enjoy the new experiences and a different perspective on life.
While spending a few days in Japan, one thing really stood out to me: The subway trains have specific cars for WOMEN ONLY. The place to wait at the station is also clearly marked WOMEN ONLY. What a wonderful gift this is, in my opinion. No, it doesn’t solve the huge problems of sexual harassment, but it does provide an immediate answer for a woman’s safety and peace of mind for today! Needless to say, Erin and I happily used this feature as we traveled to and from Universal Studios – we enjoyed a couple of days at Harry Potter World in Osaka. It was a truly magical time!!
While in South Korea, I spent a lot of my time just being present in this lovely country. Knowing that North Korea and our president’s dealings with that country’s leader did give me some pause as we were less than an hour from the DMZ. But at the same time, North and South Korea were deciding to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics together, and sending positive messages of cooperation. So I felt relatively safe, and enjoyed walking around Cheong-na International City, where Erin lives and works.
One thing that always impresses me is that even the police do not carry guns. Only the military carry weapons. The most common phrase I hear as I visit other countries or teach the Chinese children online, when I talk about visiting them, is “Don’t bring your guns!” Apparently most of the world believes that every American walks around with guns – well, many do, but not me, thanks. I often am told when I ask about them visiting America that “nope, that country is too scary — too many guns!” I’m sure most of us have seen the internet videos of cops in other countries arresting and taking down criminals without using guns – it is possible! Personally, I think more weaponless training is an investment that communities and government should support, as well as more restrictions on gun control. If other countries can do it, why not us?
Another obvious difference from the USA was the universal healthcare that South Koreans enjoy. Even my daughter, as an English teacher from America, qualifies. A dental visit runs her less than $10, her prescriptions from the pharmacy are just a couple of bucks, and a coworker who broke a leg had emergency room visit, xrays, casting, followup treatment, and physical therapy – with just a few dollars out of pocket. These folks are even able to see dermatologists frequently, and have excellent skin care (while most of us here get put on a 9-month waiting list for a VERY expensive visit to a specialist to have our skin checked for problems, including melanoma!)
In Cheong-na, along the canal that runs the length of this lovely city, is a lovely park where families ride bikes, shop, dine, walk, run, and even exercise! Under the bridge overpass for the street level above, are free exercise bicycles and ellipticals and other equipment, some of which are hooked to computer games to encourage exercising! I saw people of all ages stopping to do a free workout during their walks. It is a natural part of their everyday life. They also have plenty of comfy seats/tables and even platforms to rest on! The local construction workers stop after lunch to lay down and nap for a bit before returning to work — who doesn’t love naps!?!?! The sidewalks in town also have inserts all along the way in bright yellow with raised bumps for folks with eyesight difficulties – it makes it so easy to see where to walk, where to cross the street, where the bus stop is…what a nice feature!
The intergenerational families living together, and grandparents taking babies for walks in their strollers during the day, made me smile. Many Asian families share their living space and grandparents are often the day care providers so both parents can work. I also saw older people out in the mornings, picking up trash in the public places – a couple hours of work paid by the government helps them financially, and also keeps the city clean. Elderly people are highly respected, and treated well. Even on the subway trains, free for those over 65, they were waved to a seat by a younger person getting up to let them sit. As a foreigner, I was treated the same, which made me smile.
Two lovely customs which I really appreciated are: 1) always take/offer money/receipts with two open hands and a lovely little bow of respect, whether paying for a meal or buying at a store, regardless of the amount of money. And the other custom, 2) Whenever you enter a place of business, immediately soft voices welcome you with (in Korean) “Warm welcomes” and as you leave, no matter if you purchased anything or not, again soft voices send you off with “Thank you for coming to our business, have a nice day.” The South Koreans definitely have mastered the art of customer service. It impressed me how lovely and gentle voices can make a difference in the atmosphere of your daily life!
A huge factor in Korean life is RESPECT FOR OTHERS. Even in a large apartment building with excellent soundproofing, one does not run the vacuum or make loud sounds in the evening/night as “it is not respectful of others”. People on the subway actually do not sit in the reserved seats for pregnant women/disabled/elderly, even when all other seats are full. Conversations between people in public are kept to a very quiet tone, and headphones are used for music/social media as “it is respectful of others”. It really was a pleasure to walk around in a safe and respectful little world, even in a large city much bigger than most of us live in.
No, everything is not perfect in South Korea. The educational pressures are very high on children from a young age. The pressures to drink socially at an alarmingly horrible intensity are even worse, connected to your career and your bosses. No place is perfect, but I understand why Erin is choosing to live over there in South Korea, and is reluctant to come back to America with its divisiveness, political mudslinging, police shootings, and crime. Sad to say, but saying you’re from Canada is met with more respect and well wishes than being an American!
I enjoyed the gentle serenity of South Korea, especially in Cheong-na, and the lovely people. Not only did I expand my horizons by traveling overseas to new countries, but I also gained personal experiences so my perspective has expanded! This is definitely one of the best benefits of traveling!
From my bookshelf:
“Using a fetching face to make men do as you wish is no different from a man using muscle to force a woman to do his will….Both are base, and both will fail a person as they age. No, she had not approved of seduction as a tool.”
–Words of Radiance, Book Two of the StormLight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson, 2014