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The Price of Freedom PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 21 August 2008 16:00

Seoul is an enormous city, with high rise apartments everywhere. I was really surprised to find that my friends let their sons, ages 16 and 14, to go alone on the metro system - at night, no less. One of the first nights I was here, Junseo, the 14-year old, was out until 10 p.m. on the metro. He was attending an English practice class for a few hours (during his summer vacation, no less), and had an hour-long trip to return to the apartment.

I also noticed two nights ago that for all the people living around me, it's amazingly quiet at night. No stereos blaring, no loud TVs - nothing. That night Yun-kyung and I were out for a walk along the Han river. It was about 10 p.m., and there were literally hundreds of people out walking, including women walking alone. I asked him why this was possible. In the U.S., parents who let their kids out at night in a large city would be considered negligent or idiotic. Here, it's common - and safe. The crime rate is very low. One reason, my friend said, is that there are strict gun control laws, so if someone wants to rob someone, they might use a knife, at best. But then, in a land that invented taekwondo, you never know if your intended victim has a black belt or not!

But more importantly, he said, people have a sense of respect for others, and a sense of community uncommon in a more culturally and ethnically diverse like the U.S. Here in Korea, the culture has been profoundly shaped by Confucianism, which continues to effect how people behave. In the university where he teaches, he said, within a few weeks freshmen are including the suffix indicating "elder brother/sister" when they address seniors. Individualism has not taken hold the way it has in the U.S.

In the U.S., we constantly are out to protect our individual freedom, whether it is to carry heat, play our music at our desired volume, or whatever. We seem to interpret "freedom" to be able to do whatever we want, but when separated from a sense of community, responsibility, and the needs of others, it leads to a lack of freedom in some respects. I can't really do some things I'd like - take a walk at night, for example.

More on this later - I have to leave with my friends for a trip to Kyungjoo, the ancient capital of the Shilla dynasty, which ended in 918.

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