The demonstrators are still at it in South Korea, I see on CNN tonight.
When I was in Hanoi this month I was sitting on the front steps of my guesthouse waiting for a van to take me on a day trip when all of a sudden a tall, young good looking guy appeared at my side. He was obviously Asian, but never knowing if you are talking to an American, or an Asian from some other country, I asked where he was from. South Korea he said. Then we traded travel stories. He is traveling long-term. He has excellent English and is obviously well-educated. Hmmm, well-to-do, I thought. He wissoft-spoken…not anything like his older countrymen that I have come across. I said that I had noticed that a lot of South Koreans weren’t happy these days. He laughed. Oh, yeah, he said, we don’t like your country selling your beef to us. But, I said, we aren’t getting sick from Mad Cow Disease. Then we get down to it.
South Korea has a strong long-held tradition of dissent. My son’s best friend, Mike, who lived in Seoul for 10 years teaching English told me once that many young demonstrators are paid by in-country interest groups, like the many unions, to demonstrate. Every week almost, there is a demonstration against something…they’ve got it down to an art, he said once.
However, in this case South Koreans are not so much unhappy with the U.S. as they are with their own new President. He has disappointed them. He is not conforming to the will of the people on many issues, my friend in Hanoi said. Like why do we have to buy beef from the U.S. which competes with our own farmers. And your beef is more expensive than ours. Why does our president have to do everything the U.S. wants? Seems his new president is a little too chummy with us. You wouldn’t know this from listening to the media reports in the U.S. But, he said, we have a soft spot in our hearts for you Americans because you defended us in the Korean War. Then we talked about how the U.S. wants a lot of things from many countries. Then his van arrived. I have to go, he said, as we shook hands and said goodbye. As he darted for his ride, he looked back and said, “I don’t want to leave you!” Of course I loved that conversation! This is one of the great moments when traveling.