Wonmisan: Not Quite Lost

Back in September, I wrote about how the municipal government was ruining my favorite mountain in Korea. That is, my local mountain.I figured I’d give a (mostly happy) update about that.

First of all: a (Korean) friend of mine was reading about the so-called “Hope Laborers” and noted that a lot of the guys working on that project weren’t volunteers at all. Apparently, she tells me, it was a job-creation project by the government. Who knows what else motivated it, but job-creation was part of it.

(Why doesn’t government job creation ever target stuff that needs doing, instead of screwing up stuff that’s already good?)

Well, a while back I started hiking it again, and made an interesting discovery, one that contravenes comments made in an email by a friend. He wrote that while I have the right to be angry, annoyed, exasperated, and even furious, I don’t really have the right to disassemble the barricades just because I hate them.

Well, guess what anonymous hikers have gone ahead and done?

Not everywhere, mind you. There are still stifling barriers all over the mountain — rope barriers, unnecessary garden-planted patches covering what used to be rocky trail, and so on. But in fact, except for one small short-cut and one small slope, it’s possible to avoid the stairs completely. Someone — or probably a number of different someones — simply took apart those barricades, same as I did, except they waited until the annoying, rude, and potentially violent workers left.

I’m reminded of how often, in the Tao Te Ching, one is exhorted to be like water. Not to be stiff, but to flow. I get it, now, that this is part of a strategy for dealing with situations where rational systems are not in place. Relax, let the crap sort itself out. Given time, other people will hate the silliness as much as you and dismantle it.

So, Wonmisan is mostly saved. Interesting, though, that nobody’s brought a hacksaw or sharp rope along to cut the rope barriers. Some kinds of barriers, it seems, will stay because they’re sturdier… or maybe just more official.

Here’s hoping they don’t rebuild the blockades using those sturdier forms and materials. Hmmm.

One question raised, though, in all of this: if I didn’t have the right to disassemble the barriers, did the people who went ahead and did it have that right? If so, by what difference is this determined? Race? I mean, I’m a taxpayer, and at the time I was someone who hiked the mountain daily. It was a huge part of my life. I wasn’t born in Korea, but I have lived here long enough (and invested enough of myself in the place and people, thank you very much) to be more than a transient.

It’s an interesting question because it asks to what degree I’m a participant in the country I live in, to what degree its citizens feel I am entitled to be a participant, and to what degree other expatriates come to terms with whether we have the same rights as Korean citizens here. I would tend to think, given what I’ve seen, that my error was strategic — I didn’t wait long enough — rather than any overstepping of the bounds constraining my rights. I mean, if defiance of the law is the status quo or even an absolute necessity for a happy, comfortable life among the locals, why should foreigners have to follow every law, including the utterly mental ones?

I’m not saying I have a perfect answer, but I think it’s a question worth considering.

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