By Hu Young-sup
Korea has just finished successfully hosting the G20 Seoul Summit. We Koreans, as private-sector hosts of the summit, are satisfied to hear many foreign participants and journalists say the near perfect preparedness of our government, including the skilled chairmanship of President Lee Myung-bak, was pivotal in ensuring its success.
Most of all, I think the voluntary cooperation and understanding of Seoul citizens played a big part in the event’s smooth proceedings. People willingly agreed to endure inconveniences by leaving their cars at home during the two-day summit. They also made few complaints against the stiff traffic controls imposed by police around Coex in southern Seoul, the main venue for the summit.
Once again, the success of the G20 summit owes a great deal to the mature citizenship and self-sacrifice of the host city, which I think is needed in many parts of the global village these days. It’s good to see the citizenship of our people improve, as the nation’s economic grade gets higher year by year.
Yet, I can’t help calling popular attention to the fact that not a few Korean people still tend to show somewhat unfriendly attitudes to foreigners. I am even afraid it might have appeared to be xenophobic in the eyes of foreign visitors, some of whom have complained a cold atmosphere surrounded them here. This is due mainly to the deeply-rooted Korean consciousness that they are a racially homogenous nation.
The Chinatown here ― or the lack thereof ― provides good proof of the collective insular tendency in Korean minds. As it is, Seoul may be one of the few metropolises in the world without a Chinatown. In other words, we don’t want any foreign native societies to thrive on Korean soil. Although there are small, isolated Chinese quarters in Seoul, they have fallen far short of forming a town. They can hardly be compared with Chinatowns in foreign metropolises, including Paris, London and Los Angeles. Yes, there is a Chinatown in Incheon, a western port city. Despite its long history, however, the town is quite small in size and lacks the liveliness of its foreign counterparts.
Most of us Koreans cannot help but admit there are anti-Japanese and anti-American sentiments in our minds. We have watched so many street protests against Japan or America in the past, which are rooted in historical and ideological inferiority complexes. Today, we see a new sort of anti-foreign sentiment based on a superiority complex ― against people from less developed countries. We hear the incessant streams of news about abused foreign wives or overdue wage payments to foreign workers. There are many foreign brides married to Korean men who live in farm villages. It is also not fair to force guest workers to remain as outsiders despite their valuable contribution to our society.
A case in point was ``Little Manila,” which was introduced in a series of Korea Times articles a few months ago. The market, which opens every Sunday for Filipinos on Daehangno Street in Hyehwa-dong, Seoul, had to be all but closed for a while due to complaints from neighborhood residents. Fortunately, the issue was settled through the mutual understanding of the Filipino community and local residents. It taught us how to embrace one another and co-exist in this globalized world.
If some discontent and unresolved conflicts still remain, I think the most important thing for different ethnic groups to make peace is to show a tolerant attitude to one another. Now there are a number of foreign societies in Seoul. Besides Little Manila for the Filipinos, the French people have formed their own village in Seocho-dong, while the Japanese throng around Dongbu Ichon-dong. Hannam-dong and Itaewon-dong have been mainly foreigner towns for quite a while.
I believe many of them must have watched how the G20 summit proceeded here last week. And they might have hoped it would serve as an occasion for us Koreans to overcome our deep-rooted racial prejudice.
No single nation can live alone in this era of globalization. Koreans should know they themselves become foreigners in other countries. This explains in part the reason the citizens’ cooperation with and the understanding of foreigners shown during the G20 summit is also needed in our daily lives. And this is also why the global citizenship summit at a grass-roots level should start right here and now.
The writer is a freelance columnist living in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.