The Comfort of Safety in Korea

Night Street Light

Night Street Light (Photo credit: Sheffield Tiger)

I remember several years back, when I was living in the US, walking home one night after university.  I was only walking from the bus stop, which was less than a 10 minute walk.  It was later, maybe 10 or 11pm.  I came to a darker street of the walk and one of the street lamps was out, making it darker.  I stopped, hating the idea of walking down the dark street at night, alone.  I just imagined being one of those news stories you read where the girl gets attacked and everyone asks ‘why was she walking alone at night on a dark street?!’  I looked up at the street lamp and just wished for it to come back on.  Much to my surprise, it did.  It didn’t light the street up very much, but I suppose it was more of a symbol of safety for me.  So I proceeded, walking quickly as I usually did after dark and keeping my eyes alert for any suspicious noises or people.  I made it safely, thankfully, but that night reminds me of the fear that I always felt having to walk alone at night.

I don’t know if others in the US feel this fear as well.  I know that those with OCD like me tend to be on the more paranoid side to begin with.  Some people say the US isn’t as bad as I think it is for crime, but how can I help but think that way when night after night the news stories involve random people being attacked on streets, in parks, in their own homes.  Assaults, robberies, shootings and stabbings of guilty and innocent people alike.  There are also hundreds of stories of people snapping and going on killing sprees.  The fact that ‘going postal‘ is now a well-known phrase in American English vocabulary is an indication of how often this type of thing happens.  Everywhere I went I never felt truly safe.  I hated that feeling.  I live an average life.  I am a good person.  I shouldn’t need to feel like I’m walking on egg shells everywhere I go.   It was stressful.  My body and mind felt tense.  I love to walk at night, but as a woman living alone, I didn’t always have the luxury of someone to go with me, so I felt trapped in my own home when I’d rather be out enjoying the moon and the cool air.

Then, I moved to Korea.

I heard it was safe before I got here, but you never really believe it until you experience it.  It’s funny, you can always tell who the recently arrived Americans are because they are the ones clutching to their bags and wary of those around them.  I was one of them.  Now, two years later, I am noticing the effects that the lack of crime here has on me.

Just the other night I was walking home from dinner, my friends headed in another direction, so I was off to walk home by myself down a few dark, seedy looking streets.  I wasn’t sure exactly which streets to take so there was a chance I’d get lost.  It was about 11pm or so and there weren’t many people around.  I got to a dark part of the street and it reminded me of the night I described above where I felt so much fear.  I kept walking (still alert, but relaxed) and took the time to reflect on what it feels like now to feel the comfort of safety.  My body is so much less tense now.  I am relaxed and can actually enjoy a nightly walk without having to walk fast and hope I don’t run into any unsavory characters.  I passed groups of men and plenty of drunks, none of whom bothered me.  As a woman, I cannot tell you how liberating that feels.

It’s not just walking alone at night.  It’s not just the fears that women normally fear.  This comfort of safety can also be felt in other areas too, such as being able to leave your iPhone or bag on a table, walk away and know it will still be there when you get back.  You can break out every fancy electronic device you own on the subway and not fear getting mugged.

I’m not sure of the exact reason that it’s so much safer here.  Some say it’s the idea of family vs. individual because doing a wrong here affects the family name and the respect of your whole family.  Others say it’s the presence of CCTV and knowing you could easily be caught.  Or perhaps it’s simply the lack of guns and drugs roaming the streets.  And for those in America who blame violent video games for their children’s violent behavior, I say, think again, because Korean children play the same video games with much more intensity than the American children do and I do not see the same types of juvenile crimes here.  My students may be able to draw AK47s with frightening accuracy, but they don’t intend to use them to harm their friends or classmates.

I know that crime still happens here.  I’m not ignorant of that.  I still maintain the level of alertness and ‘street smarts’ I learned throughout my childhood, as should everyone to be on the safe side, but the possibility of experiencing crime first hand is much lower than what I am used to.  So when people ask me why I don’t wish to move back to the US, I tell them the lack of paranoia and stress is worth the small sacrifices I make by living outside of my home country, outside of my supposed ‘comfort zone.’

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The Northern Winds of Change…

Deutsch: Macchu Picchu, ein UNESCO-Weltkulture...

Image via Wikipedia

There are many times when I feel like Juliet Binoche’s character in Chocolat.  The pull of the winds tells me when it is time to move on.  One day I am amusing myself with thoughts of staying in the current city/state/country for a few years, and the next day I’m itching for a change and ready to take flight instantly.  It is so easy to get into a routine and forget that there is better out there for you.  So I am thankful for these demanding winds that remind me of all the places I have yet to see.

At times my desire to travel and see the sights is so strong that it is akin to the longing that can be felt for a distant love.  Today, for example, I was teaching a lesson on vacations (standard chapter in many ESL books) and looking at the pictures of Easter Island, Taj Mahal, Macchu Picchu, Grand Canyon, etc., I actually felt an ache in my body.  I felt sadness because there are so many places I have yet to see and my current job does not offer enough vacation time to accommodate them all.

However, I am hopeful, optimistic and quite determined to make my traveling desires become a reality.  I just need to find the right combination of income vs. travel opportunity in my next job to make it happen.  That is my priority.  I have always said that I do not care to climb the corporate ladder nor be rich.  It’s not about money for me.  It’s not about status either.  If I become a well-known magazine writer, awesome.  If I become a little-known waitress or barista, equally as awesome.  It’s about happiness.  I only want enough money to travel comfortably without worrying about the budget.  I spent too long daydreaming; now it’s time to MAKE IT HAPPEN.

On that note, I have posted my list of places I want to see (which grows every time I glance at it).  I posted this a few months ago elsewhere, but thought it was a good list to put on here as well so we can all share our traveling dreams together.

I ask you, where do YOU want to go and how are YOU going to make it happen?

Here are the Countries/Cities/Sights I want to visit, by region:

SOUTH/CENTRAL AMERICA/CARIBBEAN:

  1. Argentina – tango classes, the southernmost tip of the continent
  2. Brazil – rainforest
  3. Bolivia – suggestions?
  4. Chile – las montanas, el hielo
  5. Colombia – Santa Marta, Cali, Andres Cepeda concert/restaurant and perhaps volunteer with one of the Pies Descalzos schools for awhile
  6. Costa Rica
  7. Cuba – a country without American influence for 50 years!, the music
  8. Dominican Republic – beaches
  9. Guatemala
  10. Mexico – saw Cancun, want to see the ruins and the less touristy beaches
  11. Panama
  12. Peru – obviously Macchu Picchu amongst other things
  13. Puerto Rico – el Yunque
  14. Venezuela – Angel Falls

AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST

  1. Egypt
  2. Israel – Dead Sea
  3. Jordan
  4. Madagascar – biodiversity
  5. Morocco
  6. Turkey – saw Izmir, want to see Istanbul
  7. UAE – Dubai – architecture and salsa

EUROPE

  1. Austria
  2. Croatia – AGAIN!
  3. Czech Republic – Prague
  4. France – southern France
  5. Greece – Santorini
  6. Iceland – beautiful geology
  7. Ireland – castles
  8. Italy – AGAIN!  Florence, Tuscany, Roma, Milano
  9. Monaco – to see what the big deal is
  10. Poland
  11. Portugal
  12. Russia – St Petersburg, Moscow, Siberia and maybe Trans-Siberian railroad trip
  13. Spain – AGAIN!  Miss it immensely and have yet to see Barcelona or Malaga, and visit my Aunt/Uncle
  14. Scotland – highlands and castles
  15. England/Wales – AGAIN!  more castles and visit family

ASIA

  1. China – pandas, great wall, architecture
  2. India – Goa
  3. Indonesia – Bali
  4. Japan – salsa, style and food
  5. Macau
  6. Malaysia
  7. Philippines – swimming with whale sharks!
  8. Singapore – the zoo, the cleanliness
  9. Sri Lanka – resort vaca
  10. Taiwan – waterfalls and hot springs
  11. Thailand – elephants
  12. Vietnam – culture

ANTARCTICA – For the penguins of course, and to see a continent of ice

OCEANIA (AUSTRALIA FOR THE AMERICAN FOLK)

  1. Australia – salsa, animals
  2. Fiji
  3. New Zealand

NORTH AMERICA

  1. Alaska – animals, cruise
  2. Quebec – for the French influence
  3. US – 4 corners – more red rock, Grand Canyon
  4. US – SF – hills, bridges and liberal culture

P.S.  Got my renewed passport today (which btw is processed sooo much faster when outside the US) and they are actually much nicer and more interesting than those from the last decade.  I’m determined to need more pages added to my passport before this one expires!