Is Seoul ready for the G20? - and - an experiment that needs your help!
I had high hopes tonight. Get to work sorting out the photos and notes from the Haebangchon Festival, the Hi Seoul Festival, and the Irish Ceili Music / Dance Festival - all of which happened this weekend.
And then my desktop computer decided to crash. Thanks, desktop. Just what I needed. Anyway, I was reading Joy's post on Seoul and the G20 when the question presented made me stop and think:
Is Seoul really ready for the G20?
You win brownie points if you already knew the G-20 is a semi-annual meeting of central bank governors and finance ministers from 19 sovereign countries (the E.U. sends one representative for its respective countries). We're talking about a major conference that invariably sees a large number of protests (sometimes violent ones), a massive uptick in news stories, and an increase in the number of foreigners coming to Dae Han Min Guk.
The question has two parts - is the CITY ready, and are the PEOPLE ready? That is to say, are the facilities up to snuff (they are) and are the people ready to greet them with friendly, open arms? I think not.
Let's give credit where credit has been earned - the city's population appears well-aware of the summit. People that have been hired to work at G20-type events will presumably be briefed on who is coming, and how they should be treated. Because politeness and courtesy is required for the job, you can expect them to provide as much help and service as they're able to offer.
This, unfortunately, does not represent the average person's mindset. Should a G20-goer not displaying their credentials find themselves in a grocery store or Korean restaurant, all bets are off. Recently, you may have read how the tteokbokki sauce nazi spoke banmal (the least formal style of Korean) to a respected foreigner and his pregnant Korean wife. Let's not even get the Metropolitician started. Virtually every foreigner living in Korea will have a story or three about being mistreated, and I had one of my own last night.
Last night, the Lady in Red and I went shopping around Nowon station; she puts her three selections up on the counter and gets out her wallet. The ajumma, apparently blind in one eye and unable to see out of the other, decides it's more important to jabber with her co-worker about something or other. When a Korean teenager came to the counter, she pointed to my fiancé, as if to say 'she was here first!'. Ajumma proceeds to continue jabbering, apparently not interested in taking people's money or looking like she cares. In the voice I might try with a graffiti-spraying miscreant, I ask the ajumma 'how much' in Korean. It is only at this point that she proceeds to work a calculator and inform us that the skirt on the 5,000 won rack is actually 17,000 won.
Now, imagine I were Mr. Wayne Swan, the current finance minister of Australia. I'm in town for the G20 summit with my wife, and we find ourselves in a clothing store. The ajumma treats me as she might any other foreigner until she sees my G20 Summit credentials. Profuse, rapid-fire apologies! Massive bows! Possible attempts at speaking English! All of a sudden, I'm worth more as a human being! Without that badge / symbol of power, I'm apparently not worth any more attention than an unliked small child.
Simply put, it seems easier to profusely apologize for any rude treatment after the fact than to provide good treatment in the first place. While that strategy may seem to backfire every so often, in practice it's extremely rare for someone to be, say, the finance minister of Australia. That Mr. Swan would be as diplomatic as possible decreases the odds for change to almost nil.
Suffice it to say that the city is almost certainly ready - excellent public transportation, proud signs showing the summit's logos across the city, and a police force hardened by the still-silly-in-retrospect beef protests. When it comes to the people, they've a long way to go.
To assume that every Korean will suddenly become friendly to every foreigner they see during the summit is ludicrous. The summit is so far removed from the average person's life that they'll barely be aware what's happening, or where. That downtown Seoul may resemble a police state during the summit simply gives people a disincentive to visit the area.
No, I'm looking forward to conducting a little experiment of my own. In the interest of collecting good data I won't disclose much about it until after the experiment is concluded. All I'll say now is that I'll need some help.
If you're coming to Seoul, living in Seoul, or visiting Seoul on November 11th-12th and want to participate in a social studies experiment, I'd love to hear from you. E-mail me at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com with 'Social experiment' in the subject line and I'll send you more details. It won't cost you anything to participate, although it won't pay anything either. Your reward will be in seeing the raw data and reactions that come - but again, e-mail me and I'll send more on my idea - chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com
© Chris Backe - 2010
This post was originally published on my blog,Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.