Monday, September 25, 2006

"Police or no police?" That is my question.

It was suppose to be another day, in the end it was. I was spending another Sunday from my precious weekend in Seoul because, well, that is what there is to do around here. A city of 9 million has a lot to offer. The little suburb where I live about 45 minutes to an hour away from Seoul doesn’t offer much but a quiet peaceful life to raise the kids. Part of this quiet peaceful life involves no crime or little that I can perceive. It really seems like there is no graffiti, nobody really stealing anything as the stores all don’t have little bars that have to be demagnetized (although I have heard that middle school kids do sometimes try to steal candy but that is about as far as crime goes where I am at), and also the streets are safe. In fact, I can walk the streets at anytime. Morning, noon, at night, it does not matter. Even little old gray haired grandmas can be seen walking down the street by themselves at 1AM carrying groceries and not even looking the slightest bit anxious or worried that something might happen. If they can do it, I can surely do it.

In fact, I rarely ever even see a policeman anywhere around where I live. It seems like life here is kind of on the honor system (oh but people do drive crazy) where as in the States there is always a police presence and it really is kind of a police state. So the other day I was kind of in for a surprise.

I was hanging out in Seoul, enjoying a nice touristy life of roaming around an ancient palace recently rebuilt. I had been watching people dressed up in traditional dress rehearse how the changing of the guard use to be in the old days (PS. I have a pic of me in traditional dress. If you all are lucky, you just might see it sometime). During the changing of the guard I noticed quite a few media people running around. Upon leaving the luxurious and quite expansive palace grounds I found out why. About six college students had gotten together, decided to protest and decided to do it on the entrance to the gate of the palace and do it during my visit. There they were, shouting anti-government slogans and hanging anti-establish posters. They were young and strong and proud holding their fists in the air, yelling well thought out one-liners. The media was taking pictures and the people passing by were all gawking, me included.

Then all of a sudden the person I was with said, “Lets go. The police are coming.” I turned around looking for a cop car and was thinking, “Definitely not leave, lets stay and watch the police take out these kids.” Then I could not find a police car with flashing lights, like a had seen maybe half a dozen times where I lived the whole two months I was there (By the way, police cars where I live always drive around with their lights on so everyone can see them coming from far away and they are not allowed to have guns). My friend said, “there” and pointed over the hill towards the sidewalk and there I saw the police. I cussed silently thought to myself, “That is not the police, that is a whole army.” They were lined up three rows wide and maybe fifty deep, all marching in a straight lines like the military might do. They were in riot gear wearing helmets, having riot shields, and big clubs that I could only think were for knocking people around a bit.

Needless to say, I was in awe. Six college kids in America means maybe twenty or thirty cops. Here was a hundred and fifty, seemed a bit overkill to me. I watched as they came, and then more came. And then more came. Some climbed on top of the gate to get the kids. I only snapped this one picture; I wish I had gotten more. Before the apprehension of the kids was complete, we left. Turning the corning, I saw many hundreds more police. Some of which were preparing to go towards the main entrance and some of which were guarding additional smaller entrances to the palace. All told, I would not be surprised if more than a thousand riot police were dispatched to handle the situation of six college kids protesting. So considering this astonishing display of police force, I thought to myself, maybe everything is not on the honor system here. While I defiantly don’t see many police where I live, that is not to say they aren’t here. Just get a couple of kids shouting slurs about the president and you will see.

Later on I learnt that the area I was in was a focal point for protests and that also the riot police just kind of hang out in the area waiting for a protest to start. Also, I learnt that unfortunately every single male in Korea has to spend two years in the military or two years on the police force so both are quite large and able to handle whatever might come their way.

So, to sum it all up, security in America is a cop on every corner. In Africa, it is a privately paid security guard with a machine gun standing in front of your shop or house. In Korea, it is hundreds or thousands of riot police that don't have any weapons but lots of pads and can get any job done due to their plentiful numbers.


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