I've been saying it for the last few years: it seems Korea is becoming more and more violent, marked by my anecdotal notes of how many more cases of direct, unprovoked violence both I and my friends have been experiencing over the past few years. I'm talking from anti-foreigner frustrations to the students in the exchange programs I both participate in and partially administer being subject to many more violent encounters. And in terms of violence against women, in a single year recently, I had more female friends and acquaintances be the victims of violent attempted sexual assaults.
But of course, pointing out that when I came in the mid-1990's, I never worried about my personal safety here in Korea, nor did I worry about that of my female friends. But Korea in the 2000's is different. I know it in my bones, because I DON'T feel safe anymore, assured in the belief that if I don't mess with someone, I won't get messed with. Nor do I feel safe about sending my female friends home by themselves anymore.
Of course, I'm called a racist Chicken Little by other foreigners, for example, inevitable because of some comparison to America, with its guns and occasional mass murder/suicides. Or when I point out that persons from Korea or its diaspora are actually responsible for the top 2 number-topping mass gun killings in world history, or that the #1 cause of death for people in their teens, 20's and 30's is suicide, or you hear anectdotal stories more and more of people engaging in random acts of violence against their peers.
For some reason, people want to maintain this image of a perfectly calm society against the image of a gun-totin,' gangster-havin,' mass-murderin' America. Well, such a comparison is useless and misleading. Because anyone who LIVES here and KNOWS this place shudders at the factor that would really make such a comparison useful -- the prospect of a Korea in which people had open access to handguns in Walmarts.
Lawd have mercy.
But now, people are starting to track this stuff.
The office categorized 37,671 cases reported in 2005 as crimes perpetrated “out of a sudden loss of temper.” The figure rose to 101,670 in 2006 and 123,401 the following year. It reached a record high of 159,833 in 2008, the latest data available. (HT to the Marmot).
I've been noticing it anecdotally, since the Korea I live in now seems dangerously different from that I first encountered 16 years ago for the first time: conspicuous consumption is less naive and more desperate, the people I see on TV look more alike yet more bizarre to me now because of outrageous plastic surgeries, people seem to bustle busily around, but there is a more somber and helpless tone to things than when the economy was described in terms of being a "tiger" or "miracle."
Of course, one says, "Of course."
Makes sense, right? A lot of things have changed. Economy's not in a state of permanent boom, unemployment is up, UNDERemployment is rampant, and people just can't seem to find that magical endpoint in Korean life when one can say, "Ah, all my efforts have resulted in me now being able to relax." What's the point of giving up a real childhood for school? Or studying English to never be good enough? Or thin enough? Or rich enough? Or from a good enough school? Or not fear being fired from being a middle manager at a large company at 50 and end up driving a taxi around a Seoul you actually never learned?
One thing about being a foreigner that has always been a source of respite for me even when things are rough AS a foreigner, or when Koreans often ask me, "Why in the world would you want to live HERE if you're American," is the fact that AS a foreigner, I don't have to live with most of the pressures that Koreans do.
Thanks be to God.
Because me pointing out that Korea is becoming an increasingly psychically and even physically violent society isn't something I do lightly, without ample thought and bolstered by years of informed observation; it is also not "racist" in that I have a pretty good idea of what many of the underlying causes of societal anger and frustration are here, factors that would start sending ANY human beings to or over the EDGE. Koreans aren't genetically predisposed to this; they are conditioned towards it by life in a particular environment.
I make the assumption that human beings are essentially the same, save for the window dressing that we tend to call "culture," which makes us appear different precisely because we are actually mostly the same underneath its gaudy veneer. And I make these observations with the full knowledge that there, but for the sake of God (or being a privileged American not subject to the same social expectations and pressures as a Korean), go I.
Thank the Lord Jesus and pass the samgyeopsal.