December 02, 2013

The Bridge of Life

On the surface, Seoul is the most perfect place I have lived in. The benefits of living in the Korean megapolis are aplenty:
  • All manner of commercial establishments stay open day and night
  • An extensive public transit system augmented with moderately priced cabs 
  • Safe and clean environs with an honest and hygienic populace
  • High speed trains and express buses which allow me to easily explore the rest of the country on weekends
  • Blazing fast broadband and wireless internet speeds 
  • Main courses at restaurants that come with a healthy assortment of side dishes, which are refilled for free
  • Public restrooms are easily available so I do not have to improvise during emergencies
  • New shipments of K-girls roll out of the beauty factories of Sinsa and Apgujeong at regularly scheduled intervals
  • Heated floors
  • Toilets can wash and dry nether regions at the push of a button (if pressed in the correct order)

Once you peel away the layers of benefits afforded by the 24/7 conveniences of Korean life, the rotten core is revealed. A society catapulted from subsistence to modernity in a handful of decades always leaves some behind. Alcoholism, prostitution, domestic abuse, plastic surgery, video game addiction, chronic mistreatment of international heartthrobs, and long hours at the office are commonplace.

Most struggle day to day to keep up appearances and conform to societal norms, to show their friends and neighbours that they are just as successful as them (or slightly more so), and to push themselves and their offspring into continuing the loop of never-ending education and work required to accumulate additional wealth and status.

It comes as no surprise that South Korea is annually number one in the world suicide rankings. Samsung tried to convert the suicide hotspot of Mapo Bridge into a place where such deadly actions could be averted. Portions of the railings on the interactive Bridge of Life light up with message beacons as one walks by. 

A string of hopeful phrases written in Korean bring about anticipation of a better future or elicit recollections of happy times - “A loved one waiting for you at home.”, “The best is yet to come.”, and so on. Unfortunately suicides actually went up after the conversion of the bridge, as the publicity it created drew more members of society to its edge. 


"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.