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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on June 2)

All News 07:09 June 02, 2016

Hell Joseon 2.0
Recent incidents show reality only gets tougher

Put recent seemingly unrelated incidents together and the chance of one of them happening to you is as follows:

If you are young, you could be crushed to death by a train while working as a repair intern at a subway station. Or you could get knifed on the street by a lunatic in the wee hours after a night out. Or if you are a girl from a poor family, you can't afford to buy sanitary goods and must do with toilet paper. For older people, a morning trek along a mountain trail in the neighborhood could turn you into a victim of a "Don't Ask" murder.

One would say the probability of any of these tragedies happening to you is statistically infinitesimal but what gives significance to these negligible stats is the fear factor, shown by hundreds of Post-It apology notes attached at two of the incident sites, that the next time it could be "you or me."

Once one more layer is peeled away, it becomes clear there is a systematic failure tying all these incidents together, along with other countless unreported incidents all occurring at the same time, and with societal leadership being intoxicated by a quick-fix mentality.

Incident No. 1 was a 19-year-old intern working for a subcontractor on the Seoul Metro, the operator of Seoul subway system, who ignored a basic work rule and was killed by a train. Few could blame him because he was forced to work alone as his firm was short-handed and he was hoping to be hired as a regular worker. Big-shot politicians visited the site and Mayor Park Won-soon called for an overhaul of the system to prevent a repeat of such a waste of young life. The lowdown is that it was the third such incident in the last three years.

Incident No.2 was the murder of a woman in a public restroom by a mentally ill man. An outpouring of grief lasted for days, an unusual phenomenon that could only be explained by the high level of anxiety collectively felt by those her age. The perpetrator was found to be suffering from schizophrenia but police said he had stopped taking his medication some months before. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from serious mental health problems in need of supervision and treatment but many of them are out in society at large. The best remedy police came up with was forced accommodation of the mentally ill, which immediately met with those concerned with human rights.

Incident No. 3 stems from online protests triggered by rising prices of sanitary pads by the leading manufacturer Yuhan Kimberly, a joint venture with the U.S. firm Kimberly Clark, that revealed these necessities are too expensive for potentially tens of thousands of girls from underprivileged households. Consumer advocates called for the firm to stop the price hike but helping these people should be the task of the government.

Incident No. 4 touches the raw nerves of the elderly. A woman was stabbed on a well-trodden mountain trail used by tens of thousands and the arrested suspect is an ex-convict who just got out of jail. The elderly are only increasing in population and so is their desire to live fully. The basic security for their hangouts is in jeopardy with the police's inability to handle criminals and ex-convicts who are likely to cause these citizens harm.

If these incidents make for Hell Joseon, it is important to know the causes and cures.

The causes are the concentrated development of our society, or the "Miracle on the Han River," that many say we have achieved in a matter of decades what other countries took hundreds of years to develop. The chaos we are seeing is its side effects. Only time can cure them but we can shorten the process and smooth it out by being patient and persistent in finding solutions from a long-term perspective. But that's easier said than done.

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