Let’s Talk Crime in South Korea

Well, I have only been here a week, so by no means am I an expert of any kind, but I did a little research on the Internet, and coupled with my own observances, I think I can talk a little bit about it. You can get in depth statistics at this website: http://www.nationmaster.com/country/ks-korea-south/cri-crime

Compared to the United States, in which the States rank top five in nearly every, if not first, in every category, South Korea’s crime rate is astonishingly low. I’ve already seen a lot of evidence of this in just the past week. For example, as shoes are not worn in schools, restaurants, etc… they are often left at the door, and there are no qualms about anyone taking them. It is seemingly unthinkable that any individual would be so crass as to steal people’s shoes while they were enjoying a meal. I can’t quite so confidently say the same of the States. In fact, I’m inclined to feel like at least one crass individual would find it a good idea.

Secondly, items of almost any kind are left generally unattended without any fear of theft. This is most obvious with bicycles, but it also holds true for mopeds, umbrellas, toys, etc… In fact, on one of my nightly walks, I passed a motorcycle and moped outlet with no less than sixteen motorcycles and mopeds left outside, totally unguarded and without any locks of any kind to chain them down. With items so easily picked up or rolled away, I can’t possibly imagine the same holding true for America.

Now, I don’t want to paint South Koreans as saintly people. A large portion of this low crime rate is probably due to the incredibly large CCTV (closed circuit television) culture of South Korea. It is nearly impossible to walk into any business, restaurant, school, etc… without seeing a CCTV sign. Cameras are absolutely everywhere. I’d heard that England had a very large CCTV culture (as many as one camera per 14 people), but I hadn’t realized it was as large in South Korea until I got here. I don’t know any exact statistics, and I don’t really feel like looking right now.

Of course, having comparably little crime doesn’t mean no crime. In a conversation with Soohyun last week, I remarked on my surprised that pretty much every child at school, including those that are as little as seven years old have cell phones. She explained that this is because parents want to be in constant contact with their children, for fear of kidnapping. I balked a little and asked if they were just afraid, or if it was actually a large problem, and she said that it was.

I’ve been watching the news almost daily the past week, gleaning what I could from it (which isn’t much), but one story that is covered for at least ten minutes of each 40 minute broadcast is the story concerning the murder of a child. I don’t know if it’s a story local to Cheonan, or a national story, but it receives a lot of attention on the nightly broadcast. I have no real way to know exactly how recently has occurred. All I know is that the suspect is in custody (a relatively young male that looks my age or possibly a little older) and that he doesn’t seem to be talking much. The first time I saw the story, it included news footage of the funeral and the bereft mother (which I thought was a little distasteful at best), crime scene footage, arrest footage, and footage of the ongoing investigation, including interviews with what I’m assuming are either the police chief or DA.  Also included are witness interviews, but to protect their identities, their faces are blurred, they are filmed from behind or below the bust line, and their voices are altered to make them sound very-high pitched (like Asian chipmunks).

Another instance in which the South Korean people seem not at all shy about breaking or bending the laws are traffic laws. I have to say that traffic here is pretty goddamn atrocious. This is largely due to the fact that there don’t seem to be many places that South Koreans don’t think it’s unacceptable to park. This can include anything from simply at the right hand side of a four lane road with no shoulder, the median in the middle of the road, the crosswalks, etc… If parking on your side of the road is scarce, then it is completely common to see them park on the other side of the street against traffic.

To compound this, many of the other stand traffic laws are regarded as merely polite suggestions. For instance, unless the intersection is busy enough to warrant a stoplight, there aren’t any stop signs anywhere. It is merely considered common courtesy to stop at an intersection to make sure no one is in the way. Even the lights themselves are treated rather rakishly. If no one is in sight, it is completely acceptable to run the light to save time (in Korea traffic is often busy and left-hand turn heavy that it is common for only one direction to have green at a time, which can account for a long wait at a light). Another of the biggest differences I’ve seen is that U-turns are pretty common place. While there are a good amount of U-turn specific lanes, there’s also a good amount of just plain old wanting-to-U-turn South Koreans. I noticed in the first day or two that no one ever crossed a road on foot against the light, and now I understand why.

Well, that’s enough of that. I’ll get to a little of the recent news, though there wasn’t much from the weekend or the week so far.

Saturday: I walked around a bit, but chose a boring direction. I eventually got dinner at a place called Pizza School — pija seukul — which was okay, I suppose. They only had one size of pizza, essentially a medium, for five dollars, which was a lot cheaper than I expected Western food to be. The catch was it was only to go, and I was about a twenty minute walk from home, so it was lukewarm at best when I got home. It was okay for pepperoni pizza. Nothing special, not awful.

Sunday: I woke up with a terrible stomach ache and ended up pretty much spending the entire day in bed reading or watching TV. I spent about ten minutes fiddling around with my Korean washing machine before I got it to turn on. I bought laundry detergent and shampoo earlier in the week, which was shockingly expensive at 17,000 won — around $15 dollars. I don’t have a dryer, so I had to hang dry the clothes. I’ve only got enough room for about four days worth of clothes as I’ve discovered. With it taking 1-2 days to dry, I feel like I’m going to be in a state of constantly doing laundry.

Monday: I had to travel to Incheon today to administer a placement test to a new batch of kids in the program. It’s about a two hour drive from Cheonan. I went with Mr. Park. Once there I met another foreign teacher named Evan that’s been in South Korea about seven months now. I had a good time getting to talk to someone fluently again. We’re Facebook friends now. I spent three and a half hours asking kids from first through fourth grade: What is your name? How is the weather? How do you get to school? What do you want to be when you grow up? What did you do yesterday? etc…

Since most of the kids were either really young or just beginning to be enrolled in an English program, most could only answer two or three questions. Sometimes I feel like they’re under an intense pressure to learn English, because when they don’t know an answer they all seem to feel just absolutely awful about it. There were a couple that actually spoke English surprisingly well, and Evan explained that there’s a small population of Korean kids who were born and raised abroad for at least a small portion of time, so they’re about as fluent in English as any seven year old can be.

I got back to Cheonan around 6:30 PM and made a quick stop by the school to clear up the next day’s schedule. I’d noticed and Evan advised me that in South Korea that schedules are highly prone to change. Lots of times it can be the night before or day of that you find you may have to be doing something significantly different than you had planned, but it’s just how things work in South Korea, so it’s best not to get cross and just roll with it. I saw Michele and she said that Arianna had asked why I wasn’t at school, since I had promised I would be. Talk about a kick in the nuts. As soon as Mr. Lee asked me to go to Incheon, I knew I was going to feel terrible about it. Ultimately I’m more committed to what my boss asks me to do, but I feel like a pretty big douche bag for reneging on my promise to her.

Tuesday I’ll be back in Buldang, thankfully. I really want to be able to form a routine of some kind. Constantly having to travel to X or Y city for A or B purpose is really draining. Wednesday I have to go to Daejon to get my ARC (Alien Resident Card), and after that hopefully I’ll be done running around. The ARC is the ID that I need for pretty much everything in Korea. You need it to get Internet for yourself, your own cell phone, a bank account, a foreign person’s driver’s license, etc… I’m hoping that by Thursday or Friday, certainly next week at the latest, that I’ll be able to start settling into the schedule of going to Buldang every day.

Last note of the day: Lunch was awful. Some kind of seafood stew. Pretty much everything from the slice of fish with scales and fin still attached, to the whole crayfish, to the portion of pig intestine, to the suspiciously brain-matter looking stuff in it all made me want to hurl. I mostly stuck to the broth and rice. That is the last time I let Mr. Park order food for me.

Dinner was much better. I had tonkatsu, deep-fried pork cutlet, at the little shop near my home I usually go to. It’s probably one of the very few, if only, native South Korean dish you can eat with a knife and fork and not look like a complete tool. I doubt it’s particularly traditional, and probably has its roots in the post-Korean War atmosphere, but it’s quite good. It’s served with a sweet brown gravy, a couple slices of sweet Dill pickle, the Korean equivalent of cole slaw, and the normal sipping soup and banchan.

When I go home I have to start taking down my laundry and probably start up another small load. Constantly sitting on the floor to eat at nice Korean restaurants that Mr. Lee takes me out to means lots of kimchi stains on the calves of my khakis.


One Response to “Let’s Talk Crime in South Korea”

  1. tonkatsu is japanese in origin. i don’t know about ‘ton’, but i do know the derivation of ‘katsu’. it is a shortened version of how japanese pronounce cutlet ‘ka-tsu-ret-tu’.

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