In Korea’s bali bali (hurry hurry!) culture, safety is often sacrificed for the sake of time and money. Constructing new buildings and remodeling is done at incredible speeds, yet I don’t often see workers wearing hard hats, even while acrobatically walking along poles four stories high. To speed things up, most motorists pretend to be colorblind (well, maybe 10% are) and believe that the red light is green and run through it without care. I have not seen one traffic ticket given out.
If anything good came out of the tragic events of the Sewol ferry, it is the recognition of the lack of safety procedures in Korea and the initiative to focus on preventing further incidents from happening.
In particular, my school has held two recent events to promote safety. Last week, the sixth graders and faculty learned CPR and how to use the AED device. While I was certified a few times during my lifetime working at the YMCA and in public schools, my coworkers surprisingly never once got certified. After watching several boring (especially since it was all in Korean) videos with poor acting, we practiced on dummies. It was entertaining to watch the students bob up and down in unison while counting to thirty in Korean. I’m now comforted that a 12-year-old poop-joke comedian can resuscitate me in case of an emergency.
This week, there was fire safety training. Two of my classes were canceled for the drill. During my almost two years here, I never participated in a fire drill. Growing up, however, we had unexpected drills every month, an exciting time to miss class for a moment. I’m glad that my school finally had this practice. At the scheduled moment, the fire alarm went off. My coworkers and I exited the building where the students were lining up on the soccer field. For their first fire drill, they were exceptionally well behaved. Perhaps they were mesmerized by the firefighters.
Yes, firefighters came in a truck followed by an ambulance. They took this drill to the next level. Fake smoke was escaping from a classroom and the firefighters wastefully sprayed liters of water from the powerful hose to “put out” the “fire”. In the backdrop of this scene, a student was pretend-injured and pushed in a stretcher into the ambulance. Very dramatic. If they were to make a Korean drama, it would be called The Fire Sale.
After the show, the students briefly learned how to use a fire extinguisher. The thick white foam blanketed the air as the two students released its gases for the first time. It was actually my first time seeing an extinguisher in action, and surely the students’ as well, so I was ooh-ing and aah-ing right along with them. I’m glad that they are equipped to evacuate in case of a fire because I always plan cooking classes for summer English camp.
Despite some of the safety concerns that Korea must catch up with, I still feel infinitely safer as a woman in Korea than I ever did in America, even with our northern neighbors’ occasional bluffs.