Travel in Cameroon, Africa and the world > An African Looks at Korea and Koreans


25 Jul 2006

 

A typical South Korean is likely to be an urban dweller and certainly residing in an apartment in a high-rise building. A common language and common heritage unites Koreans and they have a strong nationalistic attachment to their country. In Africa, one is likely going to refer to subjects in a possessive way such as ‘my wife’, ‘my child’ and ‘my country’ while in Korea you are most certainly going to hear the collective appellation ‘our wife’, ‘our child’ and ‘our country’.

(Click here for housing photo: http://www.njeitimah-outlook.com/albums/album_image/2075996/1060689.htm

Koreans are hardworking and are obsessed with succeeding. It is not uncommon for someone to commit suicide if that person judges that he has failed the family or society. When it comes to dressing, Koreans appear to be some of the most westernized people on earth. They respect elders and fistfights and noisy quarrels are rare. Most Koreans would rather vent their anger hitting a wall or something than hitting their adversary. Crime rate is very low and the police and fire service are efficient. Surveillance cameras are common in most public places. Most people do physical exercise regularly and it is common to see both young men and women smoking. Teachers and doctors are among some of the highest paid workers in Korea.

Fifty years ago, South Korea was almost at the same level of development with some African countries but today there is a very wide gap between Korea and those countries. Korea is today an economic powerhouse with an enviable infrastructure and a leading player in the field of global information technology. ‘Dynamic Korea’ is the state brand slogan and logo of the Republic of Korea. The country is indeed dynamic.

(photo: Seoul street http://www.njeitimah-outlook.com/albums/album_image/2075996/1060667.htm

I used three days to go around Seoul (pop.10m) and Suwon to acquaint myself with life in Korea and also to visit sites of attraction and friends. It is sometimes difficult for non-Korean speakers to communicate but if you make an effort, you can always find one Korean who can speak some English. They are receptive and always willing to help. I got stuck in central Seoul when I went out for sightseeing on Jul 12th. I could not easily trace my way back to Incheon where my hotel was. An elderly man recognized that I was in difficulty and opted to help me. Lee gookgun told me he was a ‘goodwill guide’ volunteer. He took me pass through a police cordon that was facing thousands of anti-free trade demonstrators. We got into the subway, took a train to one station where he put me on another train that will take me to where I could get a bus to my destination. In all, Lee spent more than thirty minutes just to help direct a stranger. South Korea should be proud to have people like him.

(photo: Lee & protesters http://www.njeitimah-outlook.com/albums/album_image/2075996/1060681.htm

In a chat with Ji-Eun Jeon (OhmyNews staff) about family and marriage in South Korea, she said the marital regime is monogamy and that most girls get married after 25years of age. “You can be pardoned for being ugly but not for being unemployed.” She said, referring to the fact that Korean men are unlikely to get married to unemployed women. Gifts called‘yemul’are exchanged during marriage by both families, although the quantification of the gifts going different ways differ. Divorce rate is high and parents prefer that their children get married to Koreans. Single mothers are rare, prostitution exist and birth rate is low. On the qualities she expects from a future husband, Ji-Eun said; “He must have good character, be employed, be family-oriented and he should always smile”.

(photo: With Korean friends including Ji-Eun (top right)

http://www.njeitimah-outlook.com/albums/album_image/2075996/1060167.htm

I used the Seoul City Tour Bus to view some important landmarks in the city. The two hours tour took me to such places as Yongsan station, War memorial of Korea, Myeondong, Seoul Tower and Changgyeonggung palace among others. The monsoon rains were persistent throughout my stay in Korea.

In the evening of July 15th, I moved to Suwon at the invitation of Tandia Vernasius- a Cameroonian and phD. student at Sogang university. Suwon is the city that houses the imposing world headquarters of Samsun-a company that has come to serve as a showcase of S. Korean economic success. I braved the ceaseless rain the following day to visit the magnificent Suwon world cup football stadium and also attend a church service at the Kyongsong Presbyterian Church. Pastor Sohn Shik gave a sermon on how “Jesus disappeared from the sphere of the seen and temporal into that of the unseen and erternal”. An estimated 41% of South Korea’s 49 million people are Christians. The rest practice Buddhism and Indigenous beliefs.

(photo: with Cameroonian friends, hostesses and pastor Sohn: http://www.njeitimah-outlook.com/albums/album_image/2075996/1060165.htm)

My visit coincided with the time that the small Cameroonian community in Korea was meeting in Songtan- a town that came into existence as a result of the American military base nearby. In a chat with those Cameroonians I met, I urged them to conduct themselves in a dignified way so as not to abuse the hospitality extended to them by Koreans.

During my stay in Korea, I met so many nice people beginning with the OhmyNews staff, fellow conference participants, Lee gookgun, pastor Sohn, Tandia and his brother Terence, Justine Seliwah (who became my mother in Suwon) and several others that my little brain could not retain their names. I am indeed indebted to all of you that kept me smiling.

 

 

 

 

South Korea Fact Sheet

Form of Government

Republic

Population

49m

Population density

500 persons/sq km

Official Language

Korean

Share of urban population

81%

Life expectancy

75.8 years

Literacy rate

99%

Area

99268 sq km

Coastline

2413 km

Monetary unit

Won (about 1000 won equals 1 USD)

Capital city

Seoul

GDP per capita (U.S $)

12 630

Country’s official name

Republic of Korea

 

Njei Moses Timah