Monday, May 26, 2014

Getting the Vote: Campaigning Observations in Korea

I've really enjoyed seeing all the color and enthusiasm as Election Day draws near in Korea. June 4th is the big day and a couple of weeks ago I noticed a well-dressed man with a sash around his torso  standing on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in my city Icheon. Right by the bus terminal, I couldn't figure out what he was doing; he didn't have a bag or a suitcase and he was just standing there, arms straight at his side, waiting patiently. When the light changed and the traffic started rolling by, he began bowing. Deeper than the standard-everyday greeting bow, his bows lasted a few seconds. It is something I won't soon forget! "Oh, wow," I thought, "He's bowing to the drivers."

It was really touching for some reason. That level of respect and honesty, again, is something wonderful, Korea. Once the light changed to red, he turned to us waiting for the walk sign and started handing business cards - I accepted one with both hands. Nice head shot and clean and simple card design.

Campaigning has picked up since then. The tiniest and cutest campaign vans drive around the various neighborhoods blasting music and showcasing big posters with the faces and names of their candidate. Last week, things got super adorable at the Icheon roundabout. Each candidate appears to have a color - red, light blue, dark blue, yellow... each candidate also a big group of supporters. On each side of the roundabout, in the middle of traffic, stood four groups representing four different candidates. Their colors stood out against each other as they all smiled and bowed to the traffic.

One of the groups at the roundabout had the actual candidate running for office -- he was the only male in that particular color and stood in the middle, two supporters on each of his sides, bowing, smiling, and vigorously waving both hands. Sometimes if the candidate is not there in person, the supporters wear masks printed with the candidate's face on them (complete with eye holes) if that's your thing. It's tickled me pink to see the groups standing alongside the busy intersections and streets, showing support and rallying others to support their candidate of choice.

Lastly, groups of political posters have been duct-taped on the big retaining walls and on the sides of buildings. What's been shocking about this is that people actually stop to read them. I don't know anything about Korea's government, its system, or even specifically what the candidates are running for, but it feels different, much more active and enlightened, than back home in Midwestern U.S., of which I know just slightly more about. We have June 4th off from work - it's Election Day and people have got to vote!

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