Trash Pension

In an attempt to get over my teenage phase of being angry at everything in lieu of not having a real personality, I make a conscious effort these days to reserve my bile until I really need it. The problem is I don’t always know what is and isn’t worth getting angry about.

A little while ago I told you about the advertising biker ninjas that are rife in Korea, even though what they are doing is tantamount to drive-by littering. I want to talk about something far more insidious and nowhere near as cool.

There’s a generation of South Koreans who grew-up through the hardships of the immediate post-war period, but were too old to build careers by the time the ’80s economic miracle could help their children. Pensions and social support seem to be lacking, because everywhere I go, I see the middle-aged and elderly packing up recycling, working in convenience stores, and doing work generally suited to those much younger and less desperate than they are.

Something that always enraged me when I first came here was seeing people walking around street corners with satchels full of glossy A6 flyers, taking out a few at a time and chucking them on the street. I recently moved closer into the heart of my city, and I now see it every night; streets slathered with ads for whatever new bar or noraebang that won’t survive three months before replaced by an identical establishment. At first, the lapsed environmentalist in me wanted to smack these people in the face. At best, this is advertising to drunk people. At worst, it’s the most bare-faced form of littering and disrespect to the Earth you could commit.

Now, though, I can see it for what it is, simply one step in a self-perpetuating network of paid chores that keeps the elderly on some kind of (barely) living wage. I leave work around 9pm and watch these guys sling reams of dead trees on the roads. Then, next morning as I walk to work, I watch old women sweep them up into bags and sort it amongst the rest of the trash and recycling. And so one hand washes the other, I guess.

But who should I be angry at? Should I be angry at someone? As a bleeding-heart Bevanite myself, it breaks my heart to see people who can’t even right their own posture have to sweep up after each other to get by, and I want to know who is responsible for making them do such damaging work and who in government is failing them. When people ask me why I’m here, I often say it’s so I can watch a recently developed country evolve firsthand. It’s unique, it’s fascinating, but it’s also sometimes disgusting.


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