A look at the overturned bus on Jeju, from today's Dong-A Ilbo.
As we learned yesterday, two students from Suncheon's Hyocheon High School were killed in a bus accident while on a field trip to Jeju. They were killed when the driver failed to turn quick enough, and police, according to a Joongang Ilbo article, "suspect that it was a result of the driver taking the curve too quickly." The accident happened a day before Parent's Day, an unhappy coincidence.
And anybody who has been paying attention for the past year knows that this latest accident comes roughly a year after five students from Maesan Middle School were killed in a bus accident on Jirisan on May 25, 2007. That time, the bus driver was trying to pass other buses in his caravan of four up the hill, and evidentally lost control coming down the other side. There is suspicion that a brake malfunction caused the accident, although obviously unsafe speeds would contribute to that. Jirisan is the highest mountain on peninsular South Korea---second-highest in the country, behind Jeju's Hallasan---and is, as you'd expect, particularly treacherous. From a Joongang Ilbo article at the time:
The accident site, 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Seongsamjae, South Jeolla, a rest stop for motorists on the mountain, is at a 70-degree grade and is known as a dangerous area for driving.
As I wrote in my previous entry, if I were a parent I'd be very apprehensive about letting my children participate in field trips, especially if they were headed for Jirisan, Jeju, or other mountainous areas. No way I'd let my kid get on a bus that's travelling up or down one of the highest peaks in the country.
Flipping through the internet's papers this morning I came across an article from last May, in what appears to be the last English-language media mention of the Jirisan bus accident. The Joongang Ilbo article concludes:
The bereaved families, gathering at the funerals at Suncheon Medical Center, also urged relevant authorities to take measures to prevent such a tragic accident from happening again.
That article is from May 28th, and I haven't come across any English-language updates since. I'm curious if anyone with Korean-language skills could tell me what has transpired since. Naver will turn up videos and pictures of the accident and its aftermath, and here are a few photos, tough to look at, from a memorial service, from 데일리안:
Both Korean- and English-language sources are juxtaposing these two accidents, as they happened a year apart and happened to the same town. I've also noticed a few other interesting juxtapositions that I find striking given recent events. As you've read, there is a lot of scare-mongering going on in the media and in the public consciousness about the risks associated with American beef. The media has been using the fear of Mad Cow Disease---one program said 94% of Koreans are genetically more likely to contract it than Americans or British---as a tool to protest the impending import of American beef, a component of the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement. There have been candlelight vigils in Seoul, and even students have been encouraged to get involved. Gusts of Popular Feeling did a little write-up about that, as did Korea Beat. An excerpt from their translation of a Joongang Ilbo article, reminding us that young people are stupid:
13-year old middle school student Go, who came to the vigil after finishing an exam at school, said, “on the fan site for Dongbangshingi I saw a message saying let’s gather in Yeouido. I’m here because of Dongbangshingi.”
Many came because of what they read on the internet. 21-year old Myongji University student Kim Seon-ah said, “I received a message that said let’s stop mad cow disease, there is a candlelight vigil. So I came.”
Students’ distrust of repeated government messages that the beef is safe remains high. 17-year old high school student Jo pointed out, “we don’t believe everything that gets written on the internet. But if there is a danger then stopping this from the beginning is the right thing to do.” Lee Jae-myeong, a 19-year old freshman at Gyeonggi University, retorted, “there is a lot of wrong information on the internet, like saying that mad cow disease can spread through the air, so I don’t understand, but the government hasn’t released any detailed information so I don’t think a hasty agreement is ok.”
And, one more from the Joongang Ilbo, via The Marmot's Hole:
Getting up on stage, the student said, “Has the United States taken everything from us? It seems North Korea’s Kim Jong-il is greater. Wouldn’t it be better to stand up to the United States like North Korea?” He also said, “‘Doing it our own way.’ Doesn’t that sound nice?”
These bullshit media reports have been addressed and pretty-well debunked by bloggers and even some of the English-language papers (here and here). Also interesting is that these vigils have been compared, by papers and by bloggers, to those that sprang up in 2002, after two students were accidentally killed by American military vehicles. The Chosun Ilbo wrote, for example, on the interest in food safety that has materialized out of thin air recently:
A government official said the situation is baffling because the movement is beginning to take on an anti-American hue, just like the 2002 death of two schoolgirls under the wheels of a U.S. armored vehicle led to an anti-American wave swept the entire country.
The Korea Times had pretty much the same thing a day later:
Thousands of protesters launched a candlelight vigil in downtown Seoul Friday evening to call on the government to revoke the beef deal. The protest is reminiscent of a candlelight vigil to mourn two Korean middle school girls killed in an accident by a U.S. armored vehicle in 2002. There are concerns that the beef issue might see a return of the anti-American sentiment as seen in the death case.
Thing is, the same sort of panic didn't accompany the discovery of bird flu on the peninsula. My students and coworkers, following that inflammatory "expose" last week, all told me they were afraid of dying from Mad Cow Disease and even some students said they weren't safe living down here. I'm not sure what that meant, but I think there is a greater risk of contracting bird flu than Mad Cow Disease . . . hell, bird flu was found only a few towns over. Seems food safety is only a worthwhile issue when it can be used as a weapon of xenophobia.
Same goes with traffic safety and the deaths of those two school girls in 2002. Everyone knows Koreans are shitty drivers, and I don't even have to give you a link for that. Few use seatbelts, few look where they're going, and few seem to acknowledge the pedestrians sharing the road. Well, if you need links
Jeong Yoo-mi used to hold her infant son in her arms in the back seat on family trips. Now that he is 3, Ms. Jeong, 33, a middle school teacher in Seoul, buckles him up next to her in the back.
“I heard it is good to use a car seat and actually I do have one, but I don’t use it because he behaves well in the car. My friends also don’t use one because it is difficult to set up and the car seat takes a lot of space,” she said.
“We don’t have to do what foreigners do in their countries. We have our own way to take care of babies,” another posting at the agency’s Web site said.
The article mentions that 12% of Koreans use car seats for their children, compared to 90% of Swedes. Yet for years Koreans were up in arms after two middle school girls were struck and killed by an American military vehicle in 2002. I would make light of this hypocrisy a little more were the protests not so extensive, so violent, so ugly, and so recent. Certainly a nasty reminder of what our neighbors are capable of when they put their mind to hate-mongering.
The issue of traffic safety leads to another juxtaposition, this one accidental and done by the Metropolitician. A few days ago he posted an entry he originally wrote back in December, 2006, on the topic of seatbelts, child safety, and that 2002 incident. Much of the entry is quotable, but here's an excerpt:
What makes this ironic and unfortunate for the Korean peninsula is the fact that children are getting run over daily here, and nothing is being done to change the circumstances that lead to the high number of children being killed here. That road remains as is, unchanged, for all the many who yelled Miseon and Hyosun's names and were apparently shocked at their deaths.
What is sickening to me – an American, yes, but a man who started out his experience in the Korean countryside teaching in a middle school for two years – is that the nation wasn't protesting or even apparently angry (aside from people from the local community near where the two girls died) when the two girls actually died; it was only when the politicized trial and its outcome was an apparent insult to the nation that it became an issue.
Given the complete disinterest we've seen among Koreans toward both food safety and traffic safety, unless they conveniently play into an anti-American agenda, it's not too crass to say that my students ought to be more frightened of dying on field trips than of dying from American beef. The last line of the Joongang Ilbo article on the Jirisan bus accident is painful to read a year later:
The bereaved families . . . also urged relevant authorities to take measures to prevent such a tragic accident from happening again.
I'm genuinely ignorant of what happened in the eleven months between then and now. Did they determine a cause? Was the driver found guilty of anything? Did the parents receive any compensation? Were there any protests or any demonstrations held? I have no idea and would like to know. I do know that students should get their heads out of their asses and get the hell away from these anti-beef vigils, and that these puppetmaster teachers need to get their hands out of their students asses and pull them the hell away from these anti-beef vigils. And that's not me writing as a hypersensitive American who hates to see his country dragged through the mud by an ally. There is no need to imagine a threat from overseas when students are dying right here right now from institutionalized ignorance. In the past 12 months, seven teenagers from Suncheon have died on field trips. Zero have died from Mad Cow Disease. Can people please stop lighting candles in the name of public safety when there is such blatant disregard for it in so many other areas? Can parents and teacherse stop herding students to anti-American rallies when these young people really ought to be holding vigils for their friends and peers dying now?
(ROK Drop wrote a good post on Mad Cow Disease today, but I didn't have occassion to link to it. The Metropolitician had a good one earlier this week, too.)
* Update 1: Got an article on this topic in the Korea Times today.