The Lectern: Last thoughts from Asia
1) A German graduate student at my conference in Korea asked me if I was afraid to be in Korea, given the possibility of a North Korean attack. It turns out the German Foreign Ministry put out six pages of instructions to Germans in Korea about what to do and where to assemble in case of North Korean attack -- basically, at local U.S. military bases, it turned out. I hadn't given the much thought. The South Korean press is, not surprisingly, filled with news involving North Korea, including the saga of the ship headed to Myanmar, though media stories are unanimous in saying that nobody has a clue about what's going on inside the North Korean "black box." I asked a number of Koreans about the danger of a North Korean attack, and nobody seemed to be worried, saying North Korea is constantly making threats.
2) Over a third of the population of South Korea is Christian, by far the highest percentage in Asia. I asked a Korean colleague why this was, and he said it was a mixture of respect for involvement of Christians in anti-colonial efforts against the Japanese before World War II (when Korea was a Japanese colony) and the establishment of universities by Christians in Korea, especially important in an education-crazed country. I was also told that in Xi'an, China, in the relatively remote interior of the country, Chinese Christians come out in public parks on Sunday mornings to worship (next to people doing tai chi exercises). Xi'an, the end (or the beginning!) of the Silk Road, also has a Muslim community boasting a large mosque that looks like a Chinese Buddhist temple rather than mosques common in the rest of the Muslim world.
3) The penchant for order and organization in Confucian cultures comes out in swine flu preparedness. I noted in an earlier blog post that on arriving in China, people came on board the plane to check to see whether anybody had a fever. In Korea, we went through a temperature-taking machine. In the Seoul airport on my way out, I picked up a copy of the Straits Times newspaper from Singapore. The lead story was "Targeted actions for schools," detailing anti-swine flu measures. When the new term begins next week (it is unclear just how long summer vacation might be in Singapore, but it doesn't seem to rival the prodigious summer-school break we have in the U.S.), students and staff will be temperature-screened on entering school and then twice each day. Plans for e-learning for students kept home or schools shut down have been set in place. The paper also published a two-page list of emergency centers in neighborhoods where quarantining might take place.
4) And, finally, "green sprouts" department: When I had last travelled to Asia in late February, I wrote a blog post entitled, "Yes, Virginia, there is an economic crisis," noting, among other things, that my flight on Singapore Airlines was hauntingly empty. This time, I can report, the flights were filled both ways, including in business class.
Posted by Steve Kelman on Jun 26, 2009 at 12:08 PM