Last night, I awoke to confrontational sounds coming from the hallway. A Korean couple (I am currently in Seogwipo on Jeju island, Korea), were clearly not getting along very well and their voices were raised. This was not my problem, nor was it something I had any right to get involved in, but I pulled on a t-shirt and headed out into the hallway. To my untrained ear, the voices were aggressive, but it is hard to tell when listening to a language that is alien to anything that I know.
In the dark stairwell, two floors up, I found a young couple. The girl was sitting on the stairs and the guy was standing over her.
“What’s going on?” I asked, somewhat aggressively. I am generally, quite a calm person, but this situation caught me by surprise. The guy backed away and explained in broken English that the girl was very drunk. I looked at her and found that she was indeed very drunk. Other than this, she looked mildly distressed, but unhurt.
“He… is… crazy, crazy, crazy,” the girl told me. For a minute or two, I sat with them, then I offered the girl the chance to come into my apartment, to sit down, to have some water. She apologised over and over, before agreeing that she’d like water. Then she got up and ran back down to the street.
“Sorry for you no sleep,” the guy apologised, then ran out after her. He dragged her roughly down the street as she swayed heavily and then they were gone. I do not know what one should do in this situation, but my response is hopefully to raise a little awareness and highlight some key issues concerning these topics.
Firstly, both of them kept apologising. In Korea, people are very polite and the both appeared genuinely remorseful about disturbing me. In reality, I wanted only to help and the ‘disturbance’ was not a problem (see point three). In this situation, like most people, I wanted to find a remedy, but this leaves me with the dilemma of getting involved and making things worse or doing nothing at all. Sadly, I tried to help, but the help was not wanted and it is possible that I inadvertently made things worse. Getting over that fear of opening a problem to others is a gradual change that may take generations. If only we could remedy the whole world and deal with problems together, life would be so much easier (watch this fantastic TED talk by Andrew Solomon about depression and how communication with others can help us to overcome problems).
Secondly, Koreans drink a lot. After research, I found that the average rate of consumption of pure alcohol from liquor in South Korea totals 9.57 litres per adult, per year. That is more than any other country in the world and contrasts heavily with 2.41 litres of alcohol from liquor in the UK and 2.65 litres in the US. It is possible that what I witnessed was a simple drunken argument. Although the guy wasn’t drunk, drunk people can be very irrational and the girl was clearly intoxicated.
Thirdly, after further research, I found the following information on abuse in South Korea:
According to the 2010 Korea National Survey of Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence, 53.8 per cent of respondents who had been married had experienced spousal abuse in the previous year, and 16.7 per cent had suffered physical abuse. Over the course of a marriage, the figures for physical abuse rose to 23.5 per cent of respondents, with emotional abuse marking 50.7 per cent, economic abuse 13.9 per cent and sexual abuse 13.5 per cent.
According to the study, many people see abuse as a private issue and maybe this is why the couple kept apologising and the girl refused the sanctuary of my help. However, what shocks me is how high the statistics are and why it is ‘accepted.’ I sometimes wish it was easier for people to seek help, but oftentimes, people are afraid (this is a whole new topic of debate).
I could continue down this path for countless pages, but that is a discussion reserved for another site. This is not the right platform to address these issues, but I wanted simply to offer a little snapshot into life in another culture. I know little of the above mentioned issues, but to anyone who knows Korea and the culture, is this normal? Is this acceptable? Surely it shouldn’t be.
If you are a victim of domestic violence and need help, please consider visiting The National Domestic Violence Helpline (UK) (or the US version). You wouldn’t let it happen to your friends. A quick internet search will reveal more helpful agencies in your local area, but please be careful about which computer you use as computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear.