I am eagerly awaiting the time when I have an internet connection in my own apartment, (tomorrow, maybe!) but until then, I have been hopping down to the coffee shop on the corner, called "Holly's". I have been here enough times now that the young man who works here recognizes me, or so it seems. Every time I order something, we exchange awkward konglish, and he says a lot of things in Korean that I absolutely don't understand. Many of the things he says sound like questions, but I just smile stupidly, nod, and apologize a lot. He also apologizes, which I find sort of funny, since I am foreign in HIS country, and he should not be expected to be able to speak my language. I think this aptly illustrates a certain politeness I feel everywhere I go here. It truly is above and beyond the expected.
This politeness points to a sort of deep respect for other people that surpasses anything I've seen in my travels to any other place. It feels like a cultural belief in basic human decency. I've noticed it a lot when I am interacting with people as a customer, but it's more than that. When I pass people on the street, they aren't overly friendly--they don't really say hello like at home, but as soon as I look like I need some help, they help me as best they can. It's just a given.
Something else which I find to be connected to this idea struck me a few days ago-- it is so clean here. It is quite clean in Portland, to be sure, but since I have been here and been wandering all over Pohang, I have not seen one single example of graffiti. Not one. I also have seen all kinds of municipal workers and store employees grooming the street, sidewalks, and plant life around the city and the local establishments. It is nearly pristine.
Not only that, but I have noticed that people leave their bicycles outside, unlocked. Everywhere. Tony told me that one time, he went on a big shopping trip at E-Mart (equivalent to Fred Meyer), and accidentally left one of his bags on the sidewalk outside the store when he got in the cab. He got home and didn't realize it was gone until a few hours later. When he did realize it was missing, on a chance, he went back to see if it was still there, outside the busy shopping center. It was. It had not been touched.
All of this tells me that in Korea, it seems there is not just a underlying respect for other people, but for things. People treat each other with a certain respect for one another, simply because they are living beings. They treat their own possessions with respect and value, and also respect that when something does not belong to them, it is not theirs to abuse or to take if the opportunity should arise. I think there is more to be said and discovered about this, the longer I am here, but I am beginning to appreciate it. I am curious to know what formed the culture in this way. Or maybe a better question is, how did western culture come to deviate from these values so much? How has theft of unattended items and tagging downtown buildings become the norm? I wonder a lot about these things, and have a few ideas, but for now, I'll leave it as food for thought