I’m really enjoying our little project here. It’s already gotten me to take more notice of the the little things that surround our life in Seoul. This photo has helped think about something that’s been on my mind since we got to Korea ten months ago. A few days after we landed, I flipped on the TV and there was a news report about a group of people from Yongsan who had participated in an event where they made kimchi for the poor. That was before I began to understand kimchi’s importance in Korean culture and diet and before I had even tried it. The report stuck with me though and made me curious about the people who would be on the receiving end of this … ummmmmm … smelly gift.
The first time I saw someone begging in Seoul, it took me completely by surprise. A man was scooting himself along, stomach down, on a dolly through a busy market. What was left of his lower body was wrapped in some sort of rubber material, protecting it from how it was dragging on the ground. Having moved to Seoul from the DC area, I thought begging wouldn’t surprise me, but this was different from anything I’ve ever seen. This was pure NEED there on the ground in front of us.
From what I’ve seen there seem to be many, many more homeless people in the US compared to Korea. After a little internet searching, the numbers confirm that impression. Korea has somewhere around 4,900 homeless people in the entire country (depending on who you’re talking to), while the state of Indiana (roughly the same land size as Korea, but with 13% of the population) has around 6,500. The social researcher in me should point out the differences in cultural and practical definitions of homelessness, differences in how data is collected, etc, but for now just think about those numbers. It just makes me curious about the differences in our cultures and how that impacts social responsibility and government decisions.
I was walking next to the Yongsan wall on Sunday morning. There is a road 8 lanes across to the left and the wall that encloses Yongsan on the right. Between the sidewalk and the wall there is this woodsy area that is 6 or 7 feet wide. When you walk down the little worn path in the middle, it’s hard to imagine that you’re in the middle of the city. I passed someone sleeping on a bench and a few steps later noticed these shoes. I wonder if the owner was the person on the bench. Were they discarded or were they set in a place that person would consider their “closet”? It prompted me to think about the poor and the homeless in Seoul again. As expats (and in my family’s case, as Christians), what is our responsibility to the poor in this country? How do we help in a country that is not our own? Does our responsibility go outside of the post walls?
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Maybe the question is not so much about should and can, but how and when.