You’ve seen those scenes countless times in Korean dramas… A greedy psychopath hires gangsters to kick out hardworking store owners before their leases are up. Demolishing property. Spray painting graffiti on the walls. Violently attacking people. The police taking the side of injustice. But does that really happen in real life?
And I almost got arrested.
Former Time Korea editor and real estate asset manager turned female entrepreneur Julie Ahn created KOTE, an innovative creator hub for artists in Seoul’s historic Insadong arts district. On November 4, she was brutally attacked by hired goons by her landlord and ex-business partner in direct violation of their rental agreement and the laws of Korea (or what’s left of them). After a slap on the wrist, the police sent the goons back to harass Julie and the businesses who have rental agreements in place. It sure makes me wonder how much the police like their toast buttered. But it doesn’t take a fool to figure out which side.
A similar theme emerges here as it does repeatedly when social injustice flares up in Korea and in many other parts around the world. Villains will always be here. But how far they get after testing their limits is entirely up to us. If we just close our eyes in relief that it’s not us, then guess what? You won’t be so relieved when others close their eyes when it’s your turn to be played by the system. What feels worse is that you know these crooks are not that skilled or talented. They’ve been empowered by our own inaction.
In other nations where societies draw a thick line and back each other up, you have to be a real slick criminal to get away with fleecing people. In some cases your victims may even applaud your genius. But imagine having some uneducated ignoramus consistently make win after win because society wants to sweep this ’embarrassment’ under the rug. Soon that embarrassment takes over and you and the rug will be in the dumpster… with no one else even noticing. Because that’s how feudalistic Korean society had to survive – keep your eyes away from trouble lest you be lumped in there too. However, if you want to keep living in feudalism, take a time capsule. We’ve worked too hard to get to where we are today. You should be the one to go back instead of dragging us down in the name of ‘safety’. That position of inadvertently strengthening the weak bully day by day to where it eventually turns into a cancerous monster? That’s not safe. That’s stupid. That’s risky.
So stop pretending to stay quiet about people’s hardships out of consideration of their ‘feelings of shame’. That’s only teaching our kids it’s shameful to be the victim and glorious to be a villain. It also is selfish. You don’t have to deal with a problem today. And you forget about their problem tomorrow – thinking that time will erase it for the victim too. But it won’t. They don’t get to forget. If they don’t deal with the trauma now with people who come out to support them, there will be years of unraveling a knot that could’ve been a loose tie. And trust me, even if you can convince them that it’s better to stay quiet now, they’ll feel the opposite later when things have died down. And they will resent you. They will remember who was there for them. And they will remember who wasn’t. I know. I do.
Petition to the Blue House:
Profile on KOTE and Founder: