it’s a small town

Many years ago, 26 to be exact, I lived on the island of Guam.

It was a pivotal time in Guam’s history:  The U.S. was relinquishing governance of the territory to the Guamanians, and therefore there was an EPIC political campaign for the highest office.  Streets magically were paved, new jobs were created, gifts were given, festivities planned, and trucks with bullhorns wove up and down all the streets reminding citizens to vote for the incumbent.

Interviewing the people I worked with about who they would vote for, it all amounted to what degree of separation they were from the crooked governor or not.  It seemed that everyone on the island was related either to the governor or the opposition, or owed one or the other a favor.  People there liked to brag about their corrupt relationships.  One individual traced his back-scratching family history all through Guamanian politicians and all the way back to Philippine President Marcos, bragging that he could do anything he wanted to in Guam and it didn’t matter, because Marcos would help him out.

The whole provincial nature of politics on that small island was very amusing, endearingly obvious, and easy to maneuver through.

Korea, on the other hand, is not.  On the surface, it appears like any highly developed Western country:  there are rules and laws which people obey.  The infrastructure is sophisticated, and the daily operations run smoothly.  But under the surface, it appears to be not much more evolved than Guam was in the 80’s. Who do you know.  What favors can you do.  What things can you rig.  It sometimes seems like all of Asia is equally provincial and corrupt.

But Korea is also incubating like America in the 50’s.  In soooo soooo many ways.  And the 60’s are fomenting.  There is the Korean Women’s Development Institute, promoting women’s rights.  There are legal defense groups willing to take on civil rights issues.  There is, with each scandal, a public outcry for more transparency.  All very exciting.  And also terrifying when one experiences the retribution of the entrenched who are threatened by social change.

I will gladly fight for justice here, as anywhere, but I hope I don’t end up like jobless Mr. S., who sadly says, “I care about democracy, but democracy doesn’t care about me.”

Come on, Korea, make me proud.  Let’s change this place without bloodshed and citizens dying.  We will change the laws or do it one lawsuit at a time.  There is no need to be a backwater island anymore.

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