You know…. It’s only when you meet someone different from you, I mean, as a nation or race, or any other classification you may have, that we learn about our deficiencies. And these experiences leave a strong foot print in our mind. I would depict some experiences that I have had since I came to Seoul and however banal they may sound or feel, there is a strong underlying message that caught me wondering…. If only it was like that in my place too. As we Indians have a lot of good qualities from our cultural heritage, I intend to be purely critical in this post. I take this approach because I believe that a critical eye can convey what I wanted to convey, in the most effective manner.
What I DON’T intend to do thru this post is to compare and prove that one country is better than another. All that I just want to say is if we… I mean IF WE are open to other cultures and people, there are a lot of thing that could be mutually learnt to improve ones life. That’s it!
Okay… the first experience happened recently… Before starting that let me come to a common scene that’s in the canteen or my college where I had studied. Many a times I have seen students fighting with the canteen manager saying “this food sucks”, “you gave us much less quantity… its not sufficient” … and the canteen manager replies like “if you want a better food, go somewhere else.”, “With this money you are paying, what do you expect”… All fights and stuff… Basically, the canteen people try to save money by reducing the quantity or compromising on the quality… And that too… at the expense of the health of the students… They JUST DON’T CARE.The same issue prevails with the mess system. I don’t need to remind those who have experienced, the unpalatable things they call food, which is served at the NBH and OBH cafeterias.
Coming to the post, recently I happened to visit one of the smaller restaurants in SNU campus and its more like the canteen and not like the mess (where refill is allowed). We were 8 students and we all ordered traditional Korean food for dinner. The food was delicious and when we were about to finish eating, the old lovable grandma from the kitchen made an extra portion of food for us and served us with a smile. I could actually sense the sincerity and love in each morsel of the food and most importantly her intention. She served us food just as if she if our own grandma and she made food just for us. And give that its a restaurant, she did not charge us, but just gave us the food saying “Eat more my dear children and stay healthy”..
So sweet of her. I was really touched at her actions… I felt really really nice and felt cared for… This dialogue is what our mother or grand mom would say when they serve us food at home right? She didn’t HAVE to give us this food to make us come there again. She didn’t really HAVE to give us this extra food for any reason what-so-ever. That’s the cultural difference in restaurants, which I have faced here. When this really sweet thing happened, needless to say, the next thing that came to my mind was the pitiable canteen walah in our canteen who tried to save every rupee regardless of the effects on health. I still remember getting many mails from the students to the common mailing list complaining about the health issues they had had after eating food on certain days. I still don’t understand all the fights the canteen or mess people had created to save a penny but loose something that is much much much more valuable,
Another thing that I wanted to emphasize the stress on Honesty thats expected here. I know that everywhere the teacher teaches “Be Honest”, “Never Lie”, “Don’t Cheat” etc etc etc… But I wonder how many people (including me) have implemented it in our regular lives. How many times have we tried to stick to these principles when we could have been just fine being honest. Instead, we have gone in the other direction, just for “fun”, to be “brave” etc etc.
Trust me, if someone who is inclined towards cheating and stealing come here, Seoul would be a paradise for him. I have found many street markets in Seoul which sell relatively expensive stuffs worth Rs. 500 – 1000 a piece, left unattended by the owner. And all these take place when the streets are filled with people, and literally you are always physically sandwiched between at least two people all the time. Amidst such an unattended crowd, where ANYONE can just take something from the shop was walk away undetected, the owner just don’t seem to care. First time I faced this, I was surprised… How can he be so careless lest some one steals one or two of what he is selling. After my discussion about this with my friends here I was impressed with the emphasis that the people here give to such qualities. They simply don’t expect you to cheat. That’s the best way to put it. They just don’t expect you to be dishonest
As a result if one is caught red handed, one will be considered a social outcast in the otherwise honest society. Why I was so surprised with this is due to another set of incidents that happened before. There used to about ONE email every week saying, lost mobile phone, lost this, lost that etc etc. And wait!! There even was an incident which happened in the library to one of my senior friends. He was in the library studying and he left the mobile phone on the desk for literally 5 minutes (if I remember right) to drink water and freshen up. And guess what… When he came back, the mobile phone was LOST!! that too from the library!! There was a big row at that time and many of us were surprised at how this could have happened from the library…. To this day I don’t think he got his phone back (correct me if I am wrong).Another bizarre incident that had happened was to one of my batch mates and his friend’s $500 cell phone. He was sleeping in his room with the door open with this cell phone next to him. All that he knows is that when he woke up, the cell phone was lost! How unbelievable!! This incident showed the community, the extend to which some (a fraction may be…) deceitful people would go to steal things which are not theirs. Pitiable to say the least!!This strong contrast caught me thinking… Why cant honesty and sincerity be more common in our society too?? Why can’t people NOT steal? Why can’t people be honest as much as they can? Why cant people control negative feelings like jealousy, revenge, deception etc. as much as possible? I know that everybody will have these in them… but why do they let them go out of control??
I really don’t know if these can be answered ever…
I am sure that you would agree that there is a lack of sincerity and honesty in many sections of our otherwise-perfect society. But If these questions can be answered and once these qualities come to pertain in our society, I can only imagine how perfect it would be….
If you actually see the factsheets, Korea was much much poorer and underdeveloped compared to India in the 1970s and now Korea is at least 10-15 years ahead of India on the same scale of development. Look at Japan… Just another example… It was a true Phoenix that rose from the ashes after the 1945 Atomic Bombing to one of the MOST DEVELOPED NATIONS of the world. I can say without any doubt that the “trivial” and normally overlooked qualities like “Honesty” “Sincerity” and “Integrity” have been the foundations of such rapid growth proven throughout the history…
Without a question, it would be the fastest escalator to progress and make the status of our great nation which saw the birth of many great people, from “A Developing Nation Since Last 50 Years“ to “A Developed Nation – India“ and all the “Vision 2020” and “Vision 2050” can be renamed to “Vision 2009” if not “Vision 2008”…