Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Differences

Alright. Expansion.

Visit my previous post if you're not sure what I'm talkin' bout Willis.

I love animals. I've thought about what I'd like to do if I won a substantial amount of money in a lottery, which is never going to happen, as I don't buy tickets, but still. I'd buy myself a fancy hat and maybe a couple subscriptions to some magazines I miss reading, and then I'd open up a bunch of animal shelters in Korea and start a PR campaign to try to perhaps shift attitudes about animals- especially the homeless ones I see wandering the streets daily. Often called "dong-ge" (shit-dogs) I see these mutts wandering the streets, picking through the piles of garbage in my neighbourhood looking for a meal, and trying to avoid being hit by cars and scooters who seem to actually veer out of their way in an attempt to flatten them. It's a hard-knock life, being a dog here. Especially if you're big and delicious looking, chances are you'll end up soup. Then again, there are many other countries where it ain't easy being a dog either. Cats often don't have an easy time here as well. As I've said before, most Koreans are scared of cats and their knack for reading people's minds and stealing people's breath. And fish.

If you are a dog here, and you actually have an owner, chances are you'll live outside, tied up to something. Forever. Unless you're small and yappy and have your ears and tail dyed bright pink, in which case you'll spend your time in some girl's purse or backpack or pocket. I understand how seeing the same dogs, day after day, tied to the same spot with no apparent attention from their owners can grate on one's nerves. As far as intervention goes, be it feeding or befriending or setting said dogs free, well I don't think that's a good idea. I've done it though (NOT set any dogs free, but fed a couple of them - search "Barky" on this blog and you'll know what I'm talking about.) Now I've got these two dogs following me around whenever they spot me, waiting for food to come out of my bag. I kick myself for thinking they might become reliant on my generosity, and also because I don't want to become known as "Crazy Dog Lady" in my neighbourhood, like I'm St. Patrick - but with dogs instead. And in Korea instead of Ireland. And with a bag of doggy treats instead of a flute.

But it's not awful being a dog here. Maybe I've just tried to harden my heart because I couldn't bear it if I were, say, a card carrying PETA member. I'd never get any work done, being required instead to stop and protest every few meters.

I mean, what do I do about this?
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They're on their way to a pot.
Do I whip out my bolt-cutters, set them free, take them home, and name them Stewie, Soupy, and Chow-Chow? No. Do I wait until the truck owner comes out and lash into him?
No.
There's nothing to be done, as far as I can figure.
People eat dogs here, even if they do look like Huskies.
And have cool laser-beam eyes.
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And as Charles notes, (see previous post)there is something to be said about my cultural values versus the collective values in place in this or any other country.

A long time ago, when I was just about to graduate from highschool, I remember applying for a cultural exchange program "Canada's World Youth." My best friend had urged me for a couple years to join - as she had spent 6 months in British Columbia and Africa. As it was, I wasn't accepted into the program, which was fine by me because the thought of spending 3 months in a mud hut in Mali with bugs the size of my fist freaked me the hell out. The interview process was quite intense though, and I spent a whole Saturday with a bunch of other hopefuls at a group workshop thing. There, we participated in various team building exercises and discussions. I remember we had to work in groups to figure out some moral issues one might encounter about being submerged into a new and different culture. One of the dilemmas was whether or not we would attend an important cultural event in which we were faced with happenings which went against our set of personal beliefs. I think an example listed might have been something where animals were sacrificed. I remember saying I would attend the event and suspend judgment. I was there for a cultural experience, afterall, and wasn't going to miss out on something important in my host country because it conflicted with my own sense of what is right and wrong. I was the only one in the whole room who thought that way, and I wasn't swayed by the rest who tried to convince me to stay put in the mudhut and expunge our moral outrage together.

I never found out what the answer the facilitators were looking for in that scenario. Perhaps they weren't even looking for a "yay" or "nay" but rather a resolution and sense of conformity in the group. I dunno.

I have intervened here on some occasions. Last winter when I passed a pet store and saw the birds dying because their water was frozen, I went inside and pointed it out to the owner. I was polite about it, too. Likewise, passing caged rabbits everyday last summer, who never had water to drink even though it was stupid-hot started to really bother me. So I went and bought a water bottle at a pet shop, and then drew a picture of a happy rabbit drinking from the upside-down bottle (really, just to ensure they figured out how to attach the bottle to the cage) and then asked my boss to write a nice note, "Here's a present for your rabbits!" (Actually, the original note written by my other co-worker was something like "Hey Dumbass, rabbits need water to live." She took my joking suggestion at what the note should read literally.) It's better than painting up some protest signs and marching back and forth in front of a pet store or a property. It's something.

Surely the stupidest thing I ever did to intervene was to jump into the middle of a fight I came across in the streets of Masan when I first came to Korea years ago. The wasn't because I'm against public displays of violence (though I'm surely not FOR them either) but rather I worried that the two guys beating the one guy were going to actually kill him, and I wondered about what watching a man die in front of me was going to do to my psyche. Really, I pleaded for someone to do something for a minute or so. There were quite a few people watching the fight, but no one stepped in. I jumped in, lowered my head, and begged "STOP!" hoping the sight of a white woman with her arms out might shock them into halting their kicks to the guy's head. It worked, but the adjummas watching went nuts, yelling at my Korean friend to get me the hell out of there. Afterward adrenaline took me over, and it was about 2 hours before I stopped involuntarily shaking. This was something I did without much thought, any thought really, to the possible outcome. Not a good idea sometimes.

I've wandered off here. To wrap it up, though, I'd really suggest open-mindedness when it comes to being a guest in another country or culture. You will inevitably come across things which may go against your own personal sense of right or wrong, but it's best to remind yourself that your beliefs will almost never match up to another's. Listening to my co-worker talk with her mouth full of food every single day makes we want to jab a letter opener into my ear. But I say nothing, because I realize this is my own personal thing, and besides - she's not doing it to piss me off.

I think if you feel you really must intervene, do so thoughtfully and considerately, keeping in mind where you are and that the system of values and beliefs is bound to not match up with yours. Sometimes it boils down to a honey versus vinegar thing. Most importantly, consider that every action has a reaction and consider the possible consequences of your actions. It often makes like easier if you just consider things around you as they are, instead of slotting them into "good" or "bad."

5 comments:

baduk said...

It is best for foreigners to stay out of many events unless you speak excellent Korean and know really what is going on.

The fight you mentioned could be an indignant brother beating up a guy who tried to rape his sister. In that case, Koreans feel the anger of the brother. And, they will stand around and cheer the brother.

Too primitive. Maybe. But, wouldn't you feel much better to have a brother like that? No guys in the neighborhood will try anything on you after seeing the guy bleeding on the ground.

Do not interfere unless you know enough about Korean society. Korea is highly developed in moral sense of what is right and wrong.

Do you know, in Chosun dynasty, a window was buried together with her dead husband? Different value system, different moral standard.

A country that can not put OJ to death should not throw mudd on Korea.

baduk said...

Come to think of it, some places in the US, like Texas for example, people will do the same. They will cheer the brother beating crap of the assailant.

Korean people are not savages. They have good sense about what has to be done.

g^2 said...

baduk,
I live in Texas. And as far as I know, people don't go around beating the crap out of would be assailants. There is such thing as innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Jelly,
It's commendable that you have the capacity for open-mindedness to cultural idiosyncracies.

Jelly said...

HI g^2, thanks for stopping by!

Baduk, I don't know what the fight was about. My Korean friend told me they were gangsters (all) but probably she wasn't 100% sure.

As for the bit about a country not being able to put OJ to death,...

I'm Canadian. We don't do the death penalty thing. And this post wasn't intended to "sling mudd" in any way.

I've met a lot of Koreans in my time here, and their individual versions of what's right and wrong varies as vastly as they do from person to person back home.

As for the Chosun dynasty, mmm hmmm. Lots of things were done in the past that would seem horrific and unexplainable these days. In Canada, they used to eat each other. Go figure!

Bonnie Loves Cats =^..^= said...

Jelly,
I wish I didn't have to know about this. It makes me sick.
Bonnie in Virginia
It is all in how one is brought up and how much there really is to eat, but in America no one is that hungry unless it is their own fault!