When I walk the streets of Korea, I sometimes wonder if what I’m looking at is a libertarian or tea partier’s dream nation come to reality.

A burgeoning, high-tech based economy with towering skyscrapers, a growing economy with a highly motivated, closely knit family culture, and workers more than willing to put in 10+ hour days.

Those are a small few of the many bright points to Korean society.

But then I see food stalls built into the sides of junkyards.  Groceries without any semblance of sneeze shielding over most produce. Streets with parking on both sides and two-way traffic where you couldn’t fit a single American style SUV. Solid glass bathroom doors in hotels designed to pivot at one end in a way that leaves 3-4 inches of a gap at the hinged side where the door might close on your hand.  The very SAME door in use in nearly half the commercial or government buildings I’ve set foot in.  Meals here are often served buffet style, frequently on folded legs on the floor, with your food sitting in a giant tin out in the open for everyone to share.

There are no trashcans anywhere in public parks.

The national power socket standard is installed in such a way as to truly boggle the mind in regards to safety.

DSC00311.JPG

GFCwhatyousay?

Look at that.

Look closely.

Now, here’s what’s directly across from it:

THE SHOWER.

There’s nothing protecting those two gaping holes from getting wet.  The design of them seems to beg for it, as the bottom of each socket is the ground connection.  Inset, rather deeply, to each socket are two plugs for 220 volt AC power. There is no “ground fault circuit interrupt”, or “GFCI” breaker as is required by law in the United States since the 1970′s when the socket is even just over your goddamn sink. Look at your bathroom and kitchen sockets.

Go ahead, the page will still be here when you get back.

It’s got a breaker, doesn’t it?

That’s because there are agencies out there helping you avoid killing yourself, and more importantly, helping you avoid being killed because the guy who built your house was a cheap fucking idiot.  (Well, okay, Mom.  Your house… maybe electrical power wasn’t exactly a priority when it was new.)

We also have health inspectors who make sure the food stalls and carts we visit don’t let people spread the next plague because a kid sneezed his Captain Trips virus all over the waffle cones. And we have construction codes that require buildings with doors that open into thin air two stories above a concrete sidewalk get sealed.  Or at least marked!

I’ve had mixed feelings about Korea since we arrived here.  It’s a great country, and I’ve really liked the people I’ve gotten to know.  They’ve been almost uniformly friendly and helpful, and people serving you in restaurants and shops seem to have a level of courtesy that went out of style in the 1980′s back home.  The person who “owns” home base regularly takes his employees out to lunch up the street – at his mother’s house.  Ten people, sitting on folded legs enjoying a huge spread of a meal this older lady puts on every single weekday.

What’s not to like and respect about a culture that gives me the impression that’s a more natural thing than it would be back home?

Unfortunately, a number of things.  They’re small, but they’re out there.  And they’re emblematic of problems inherent in the philosophy of a minority of people back home who seem to be getting a disproportionately loud voice.