Reality Check

Trip Start Feb 12, 2006
Trip End Mar 02, 2007

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Sunday, March 19, 2006

It's so easy to become complacent about your environment, whether it's foreign or familiar. While I know I've lived a sheltered existence in my small part of Australia, I figured getting out and seeing the big wide world would open my eyes a bit. I thought that's what was happening, living here in my cushy apartment, making lots of money and cruising around shopping centres in all my spare time. Even outside my comfort zone I still live the privileged existence I have come to expect and take for granted.
South Korea is a developed country. It is at the forefront of the technological world with the one of fastest growing economies on the planet. I live in a city of a few million people - a city that didn't exist twelve years ago, that sprang up from the rice paddies apparently in the blink of an eye, creating more and more infrastructure for an enormous population that seems to have limitless household budgets. I've heard my local area referred to as 'millionaires hill' a number of times, and assumed that the 'millionaires' were only a little better off than most other Koreans.
Before I left, my mum asked me if there was a welfare system for the unemployed or disabled. I didn't know the answer then. I do now.
As I was triapsing through La Festa with my friend Erin I noticed through the throngs that the pedestrian traffic was stepping over something that lying on the ground. Not thinking much of it as there seems to be piles of innocuous junk everywhere in this country I arrived at said pile of junk and almost fell over in shock. Lying on the ground face down was an old man. He had no legs and was wearing a pair of long pants made out of old car tyres. He pushed at little cart with a music box along in front of him, dragging himself along on his hands on the filthy street where people spit and vomit and piss when they're drunk enough.
This poor old man obviously lost his legs in the war, fighting for his country. And here he was, dragging himself across filthy streets on his stomach in freezing temperatures wearing rubber pants, with hundreds of people stepping over him, completely oblivious.
It's moments like that when you realise how truly shallow an existence you lead.
I mentioned earlier that I live in a new city - actually called Ilsan New City according to the bus windows. Christie took me along on a bus ride to old Seoul on Saturday to go to markets there. I'm used to getting about Seoul on the subway; clean, efficient, safe. This bus trip was a real eye-opener. There are things above ground of which I was completely unmindful.
There are parts of Korea not 15 minutes from my home that still look like a war zone. Barbed wire, huge holes in the ground, desolate wasteland. The works. I'm told some areas still aren't safe to go into because there is a risk of mines. It's 2006 for God's sake. Why hasn't anything been done about this? The inhabited areas around these wastelands made me want to cry. They are real slums. Places that barely have roofs, corrugated iron walls, no taller than my head, little bigger than your average ensuite bathroom in Oz. I had my camera, but felt too sad to take photos. I wouldn't know where to point the lens. I don't think I have the art of capturing those sorts of images to do them justice. The people who film the ads for World Vision have it down pat, I would only make it look like a big old unfortunate mess, when it is so much more.
From what I've seen, Korea isn't a pretty country by any stretch of the imagination. Interesting, yes definitely, unique, of course, but there is a side of Korea out there that I could have remained oblivious too.
Seeing it gave me a good slap in the face. Here I am sitting in my heated room in front of a new laptop computer. Yes I have a cold. Yes I want a new pair of jeans. Yes I'm too tired to cook tonight.
But my God.
I truly live a blessed life.
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