26 April 2004

Pop Sociology From Seoul

After a cool, drizzly grey day there is nothing like cozying up to a nice warm laptop computer and working.

Hey, a piece of my shirt may be in a Korean TV show or something. They were filming a TV show or movie in the Kimpo metro stop, and I walked right behind the actress. That may be as good as the chance for the headlights of my truck to be in a movie they were filming in Austin a few weeks ago, when I was driving north on Congress and heading south was one of those movie trailers with the car on it with the actors pretending to drive down the street. Oh how close to fame I keep coming, yet so far...

So anyway, a little pop sociology (as the headline so subtly suggested). I have heard several people now talk about the new sense of "empowerment" of the people in Korea -- so much so that they claim the politicians fear the people now, and any small mistake someone makes must quickly be apologized for and perhaps even be punished. This is a far cry from the Korea of the 1970s and 1980s, when the military government had a very firm grip on the people, not the other way around. But the new-found strength is also contributing to a social change, where people consider themselves first, and their neighbors and nation a distant second -- or so I keep being told by Koreans with a tone of disdain in their voice. If they recognize this new self-centeredness, though, then there is certainly a chance for a social backlash against it, a space for a sense of civic pride to emerge, and nationalism to take hold.

Interestingly, another trend I keep hearing is that Koreans are recognizing that Korea is not the greatest power in the world, and probably never will be. But this isn't said with a sense of defeatism, simply an emerging acceptance of reality. That said, it certainly isn't stopping them from TRYING to make it a great and powerful nation. This emerging rationalism is quite anathema to the national Korean character, which is based more on emotion that rationality. How this will play out will be interesting to watch.

I am staying in one of many areas of Seoul designated a "New City" -- which roughly translates to being designated for total demolition and complete from-scratch reconstruction. New roads, new buildings, wider straighter streets, more central planning in the layout and design. Even relatively new buildings, just a year or two old, are slated for destruction to make way for the New City. For the people who live here, that means property prices are rising, as the government and companies will have to buy them out at whatever cost. Of course, it also means that in a few months o a few years, they will have to move and watch their houses, apartments and shops be bulldozed.

Well, tomorrow its off to the DMZ. Until then, I'll be pondering over how the Uri Party and the GNP can reshape themselves before the start of the new parliament session and whether either of the dominant parties can find a way to become unified in policy and plans, rather than fragmented entities.

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