Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sociological subway strife

The following is a perfect example of why I decided to stay here in South Korea for a second year.

In this video, which has gone viral here, an older woman basically beats the shit out a middle school girl on the subway after the girl apparently brushes the woman's pants with her foot while crossing her legs on the subway.

You might think: you are seriously depraved, if something as horrible as assault keeps you in Korea. But. That's not what I mean. Let me explain.

(Unrelated: this is on the Green Line (No. 2), which I take pretty much everyday. HOLLA (?))

The partial translation, as provided by Gusts of Popular Feeling:
Grandmother: "I'm an old person? Rude? What?"
Girl: "What do you want from me?"
Grandmother: "Right, I was born in 1934. Why? [Pushes the girl] I was born in 1934. [Push] Why? [Pulls the girls hair, drags her around]"
Girl: [Gets her phone back, crying] "Dad, I really hate Korea! I really hate Korea! I really hate Korea."
The last thing the girl screams, after noticing the person videoing the proceedings, is, "Put it on Youtube!"

A lot of the foreign blogging community here--especially The Metropolitician, who is one of my new favorites--has jumped to the defense of the girl, who ALLEGEDLY apologized twice to the older woman, who continued to verbally berate her even after the girl apologized. But ALLEGEDLY the girl isn't completely innocent, either: rather than simply stay quiet and take the abuse of this older lady (apparently right before the video starts), the younger girl used banmal--or casual Korean--with this older woman, essentially the equivalent of flipping this woman off. This is extremely offensive to older Koreans, many of whom have sided firmly with the older woman.

There's so much conflict going on here! Traditionally, Korea has always been a very Confucian society, where younger people pour drinks for elders and you address your boss more formally than you address your colleagues at work. But. Things are changing a bit--younger people are so much more Westernized (perfect example: This girl screaming, "Dad, I hate Korea"), and have been taught to value things like youth/independence/sass, i.e., not entirely Confucian values.

The arrogant, sassy teenaged youth within me desperately wants to side with this girl. But. The liberal, anti-globalization hippie woman within me wants Korea to remain a place where old people don't get thrown into nursing homes like they do back home. Sociology here is the complete opposite of everything that I know, and even though I might not agree with 100% of Korean mores and everything I see/observe that is different, I feel like I'm participating in a living social experiment here, and EXPANDING MY MIND AND STUFF. Which is (one of the reasons) why I love living here.

MORE OBVIOUSLY: I think assault of any kind is TERRIBLE, my own interest in the cultural implications of this incident aside. I think it is a shame none of the bystanders did anything (besides film and publish this video), and would like to think that if I had been there while this was happening, I would have said something/attempted to help...

1 comment:

  1. According to some reports, many Korean companies use mandatory retirement and age-based hiring criteria to keep their workforces youthful, good-looking, and lower-paid. For a discussion:

    Did you, for example, have to submit a full-body photo with your job application to show that you were good-looking enough to work for your present employer?

    So, assuming the reports cited above are accurate, I'm not sure how much respect for the old Korean society can truly boast of, if most workers (other than the well-off and well-connected) in their later 50s are kicked out of their jobs to live their remaining years doing menial work for low wages.