Protestin’ for Bus Station Something Whatever

One of my students was an hour late for class. Apparently the city of Bucheon has decided to convert one of its bus terminals into a housing zone, and some people don’t like that. So they lay down in the street and held up traffic tonight… for over an hour. Now, I can see the point in protesting something like that, but… when you know you can lay down in the street and hold up traffic for an hour, for just about anything you disagree with, then it seems to me that:

  • you’ve lost whatever stake the protesting had. You can count on people not running you over, so what’s the great sacrifice you’re making my laying down in the road?
  • you’re alienating the very townsfolk whose cooperation you ought to be trying to provoke (or at least invite).
  • you’re definitely not communicating anything useful to anyone who needs to hear your message.

I know, I know, culture difference &c., and I know that provoking the response and cooperation of citizens is hard, but it seems to me holding them up in traffic and thus pissing them off is only going to make it harder to get them to see things your way. It brings to mind the words of my old co-worker Nick, who said that in his opinion, the culture of “public protest” in Korea was, well, never anything calm about them… if I remember rightly, it seems like he’d seen a lot of protests that ended up in (minor) violence.

I don’t know, since I have only seen a few protests in the past five years since I came here. However, I seem to have gotten this sense that you have your candelight vigils, and you have your all-out riots, and there’s very little in-between. Laying down in the street is a strange, and interesting, combination of both. It has all of the control-function of a riot — a sudden takeover of the city’s infrastructure, via one simple bottleneck — and yet it also has the passive-resistance vibe of a candlelight vigil at City Hall.

A co-worker shared a piece of writing that went on and on about how Eastern culture is a culture of negotiation and of harmonious reconciliation, of brokering peace and compromises, but it seemed to me to contradict not just what I’ve experienced, but also the words of a Korean professor I used to teach, way back in the day. This man claimed that Korea did not really have the kind of tradition of compromise that Europe had developed over its history. Such long periods of authoritarian rule, followed by new authoritarian rule, had led to a kind of absolutism of mind that, met with difference in thinking or approach, could only really respond with rejection. So, he said, when you get two people who disagree, they don’t seek harmonious synthesis or reconciliation transcending difference, but rather, so he claimed, they seek to convert one another to their own way of thinking. (Kind of like evangelical Christians and other familiar types do in the West.)

I don’t know, of course. I haven’t read enough to know about the scholarly traditions of debate, though I’d like to, and finally have some resources that look promising. But I do know that what I see of political life here reminds me more of the jingoism and silliness I see on American TV when it comes to politic, than anything I saw in Anglo Canada growing up.. Whoever’s campaign song has the best song attached, played through the loudest stereo, with the most nationalistic slogan crammed in, wins. And that, really, is unfortunate.

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