Thursday, 14 October 2010

Is Seoul Ready for the G20?

Foreigner Joy asked the intriguing question, "Is Seoul Ready for the G20 Summit"? over on her blog; have you heard that the G20 is coming to Korea?  Well, it is.

Living downtown, I'm starting to see flags, placards and signs all over the place that the G20 is coming.  Seems some of the higher-ups, or at least the people who hang flags on light posts, are pretty excited about this.

Joy looks at the cleanliness and safety of some parts of the city, and the efficiency of the transportation system, then she references The Metropolitician's post about Koreans who are being trained by their own media to suspect, and maybe hate, foreigners, and concludes that because of the provincial, nationalist mentality of people in Korea, the country's not truly ready to host the G20 Summit yet.

Along that vein, Chris in South Korea chimes in, agreeing that while the hardware is there - infrastructure, facilities, etc., Korean people's mindset is not really global, and that Koreans will treat foreigners as if invisible, until it is revealed that they are associated with the G20 summit, at which point the special treatment will come out: he cites incidents where Koreans were more ready to apologize when their bad service led to upset people, than just to give good service in the first place.

Chris says, in light of the coming summit:
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.
Except... that has happened before.  I wasn't there personally, but from all accounts, Koreans, and Seoulites, are pretty good at putting their best food forward when the occasion calls for it: during the 2002 World Cup, every person I've talked to who was there remembers Koreans never being friendlier, warmer, kinder.

No, sir, the question is not how Koreans, on the whole (and I apologize for referring to Koreans as if it were just one person, with just one personality) behave when the world is watching.  I have no doubt that once the cameras are pointed at Korea, most people will do their best to put on a show.

The question, and the true test of Korea's status as a globalized country is this: after the diplomats go home, next time a foreign English teacher does something like this, or this, of if, heaven forbid, an English teacher ever actually is caught molesting their students, what will happen?

Anybody can put on a show for a one or two-week summit.  World Cup 2002 was a whole month of peace love and understanding... but in 2002, in the middle of the happiness and love, there was a black undertone: on June 13, two girls were killed by a US Armored vehicle.  During the World Cup, nobody did much about it, but just as soon as the international soccer fans went home: after the world cup ended on June 30, Korea embarked on a series of anti-American protests called an "orgy of hate" by the Chicago Tribune - that story is meticulously documented by ROK Drop here, in one of their most important posts.

I'm not really interested in how Koreans act during the G20 Summit.  I'm more interested in whether that half-Indonesian kid entering Kindergarten this year is given a chance to fit in with his classmates.  I'm more interested in whether the Filipina bride in the countryside is given information about recourse, in case her husband starts hitting her.  I'm more interested to hear whether, during the office dinner, somebody speaks up to defend the interracial couple across the restaurant, when one of the team members starts grumbling that he doesn't like seeing "our" women with "those kinds of men."  I'd like to know what steps are being taken to make sure that those mixed kids don't fall behind in school, or on the all-important tests, or, since we're talking about the disenfranchised, I'd like to know whether Lee Eun-eui, who won her sexual harassment suit against Samsung is being viewed as a one-time anomaly, or as a sign that such behavior will no longer be tolerated, which other women look to, in order to feel more empowered at work.

Yeah.  The subways run fine and they're on time.  There are a lot of new, very pretty buildings all around the city, and I bet every hotel employee in the whole damn country is learning a few phrases in English, French, Arabic, Spanish and whichever other languages will come in handy.  And those diplomats and finance ministers will be well-enough shielded from street protesters and drunk belligerent ajosshis, I think the question of how regular folks will behave during the G-20 is mostly moot.  International events aren't a good barometer of this stuff, in my opinion: a better measure of Korea's true globalization would be how easy it is for a foreign English teacher to get any or all of these things:

1. A fair shake from the police if a fight breaks out between him and a Korean
2. The approval of his/her fiance's parents
3. Fair treatment according to Korea's labor laws
4. The health care he/she was promised when he/she signed that contract, and a way to press his/her boss if it turns out he/she illegally wasn't registered
6. A smartphone, without jumping through ridiculous hoops from the phone company
7. A membership on any sign-in website in Korea
8. The benefit of the doubt
9. A contract re-negotiation if the labor board finds that their contract is illegal, and
10. Release from a bad contract, along with the right to find other work instead of having to then leave the country

and an even better barmometer would be how easily a Southeast-Asian could get each of these things.  Now, I'll say for sure that it's easier for we waygooks to get most or all of these things than it used to be... but I'll also say that there's a ways to go, because who cares what a visiting diplomat says about Korea (other than quote-starved "Tell us how much you like us!" reporters), really? I'd rather know what the long-term expat residents say, to see how far a country's really coming.


chiam said...

The G20 is a 3-day summit which will take place behind a giant container wall at COEX. The average Korean isn't going to give a fuck. You know who will give a fuck? Trade unions and farmers. You just wait and see the shit storm that's going to happen at COEX in November. HAH!

Brian said...

Interesting discussion, but you're looking more at the concept of G-20 rather than the actual event.

All Seoul needs to be ready for is parts of its city shut down to accommodate diplomats and other elite who wouldn't give two [expletives] about Korea in the first place. The G20 was in Pittsburgh last year and I don't know a single Pittsburgher who was happy about it, considering downtown was closed---businesses, roads, entertainment---and commuters, residents, and merchants inconvenienced, all while thousands of protestors did their best to trash what's considered among the most livable cities in the country.

I hope, for Seoul's sake, the riff-raff doesn't contaminate the city like they did in Pittsburgh and London.

Erik said...

Ultimately it comes down to people treating one another like human beings. I have great experiences in Seoul every day and that (and a certain someone) is what has kept me here for nearly six years.

At least once a day, usually on public transportation, I also see people pushing and shoving each other out of the way to get somewhere five seconds faster. The shover never acknowledges that the shovee is another human being, but rather just begins pushing without regard to the potential consequences (i.e. the shovee's leg getting stuck between the subway train and the platform).

How to solve this? Educate people on how to use words to quickly negotiate such tricky situations and encourage them to do it through on-the-spot awards from government monitors in busy areas.

Just a note for those of you who see me around Seoul: I'm much more likely to move out of your way if you say excuse me, 실레합니다 or even 잠시만요 than if you push me.

Foreigner Joy said...

Great point of view and answer to the question.

Erik said...

This article from several years ago is great food for thought, describing how the mayor of Bogota, Columbia use creative techniques to change what was considered socially acceptable behavior.

Would something similar work in Seoul?

This Is Me Posting said...

"World Cup 2002 was a whole month of peace love and understanding"

... and cheating. Don't forget the cheating.

Also, peace, love and understanding... except, of course, if you were Japanese.

The whole exercise of co-hosting the World Cup was because they felt neither country would be able to host it solo and to try to bring the two countries closer together: to work together.

What a failed experiment that was. It was so bad that FIFA vowed never to try a similar exercise again (although with the 2018 and 2022 bids, we'll see if that holds).

BOTH parties were equally childish, don't get me wrong. You had one side saying everyone was going to die from a North Korean attack and another side saying everyone was going to die in an massive earthquake. Smooth. But I have to say, my absolute favourite part was the pettiness in calling it "Korea-Japan" instead of "Japan-Korea."

Korea can't even work together with a G8 country, what on Earth makes them think they'll be more hospitable toward the other G19?

This Is Me Posting said...

G18. Sorry. Forgot to count Korea.

Chris in South Korea said...

Of course Korea will put on a show. And what a SPECTACULAR show it will be. Subways will run on time - wow! Seriously - why can't other countries do that? Buses will arrive according to a computer screen installed in seemingly every bus stop.

I've been told that the bigwigs are likely to be escorted, coddled, and treated like the VIPs they are. Are they likely, then, to deal with the same sort of things a local would, or an expat living here? Of course not. Their handlers would step in, explain in Korean who these people, and we'd then see people groveling on hands and knees.

I love Korea. Pure and simple. That's one reason why I'm still here. There's plenty of room for growth, of course, and one way is exactly what you mentioned - what happens when the spotlight isn't on them.