Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Koreans Fall Victim to Crime Overseas

The Interiror of Korea's Incheon International Airport (Random trivia: Incheon Airport is the 2007 world's best airport according to the Official Airline Guide.)

This is interesting.

More Koreans Fall Victim to Crime Overseas

As increasing numbers of Koreans travel overseas, fears grow that they are becoming targets of abduction by foreign militias and organized crime groups since they are seen as rich. “Some Korean tourists are inviting trouble by showing off their wealth abroad. There is a widespread belief that Korean tourists carry cash instead of credit cards and traveler’s checks among foreign organized crime groups,” said Prof. Lee Chong-hwa of Korea National Police University.
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I agree with this completely. In Korea, it's very safe to walk around with wads of cash. Seriously. This is because the highest bank note is the 10,000 won bill (around $9 to $10 USD depending on the exchange rate.) And, Seoul and Korea, in general, is a pretty honest place to live when it comes to issues like theft. They might be dodgy on other issues, but if you drop your wallet or accidentally leave you cell phone on a bus seat, a Korean is more likely than not going to be honest in that situation. That leads to a general atmosphere of being more trusting.

Where I'm from not being very vigilant about your money at an ATM is inviting someone to trail behind you and jump you. It's also why back home I'd maybe have $20.00 cash on me and would mostly rely on personal checks or credit cards. If someone steals your card you can get a new one. If someone steals your checks, which happened to me in San Francisco, you can report it to the police and not be responsible. However, if someone takes your cash you're just out of luck. I'm just someone who is from the big city and who has been the victim of theft a few times: cars and an apartment broken into, checks and valuables stolen, etc. Luckily never a physical crime, so I'm grateful 'cause I know most "stuff" can be replaced. I still have a higher alert meter even though I've lived here for awhile. I tend to look over my shoulder more and just be more cautious in general.

I had to teach students in the Japanese Tourism department this last term. Even though they'd just taken a class trip to Japan, quite a few had no idea what traveler's checks were and why they would be preferable on certain types of international trips. I'd say to Japan not so much as it too is a pretty honest place. However, when I travel to other spots, I like the security of knowing if my purse or wallet is lost or stolen I'll get my money back. I brought some checks into class so they could see what they looked like up close. I had a student ask why have these instead of cash. I explained that if I took his wallet full of money then he's just out of luck. However, if I take his wallet full of traveler's checks and credit cards he could get a quick refund or replacement, depending on the company. It sunk in for them then. I also stressed that they need to keep the traveler's checks receipts in a different spot because the receipt is essentially your claim form.

I just think it's interesting to watch. In general, Koreans tend to be much more trusting and open in public re things like money and status symbols. Like the article says they do flaunt their new money and the status that comes with it. That makes them targets. In contrast, most people I know back home, even if they are rich, don't go out of their way to wear their net worth on the sleeve.

Flaunting your status here is a relatively safe and common thing to do here in Korea. It ties into a lot of aspects of their culture where what you see is taken very seriously. In contrast, when I worked in a clothing store in the Beverly Center, some clerks learned real fast that simply because someone wasn't flaunting their money didn't mean they had none. I do worry for some of my friends when they travel abroad. I gave a girlfriend of mine a crash course in Surviving European Pickpockets 101 before she left for Europe recently because I was worried.

Plus, I've heard stories of some Koreans traveling, acting as if they were in Korea. Examples: leaving a hotel room door unlocked to chat with a travel companion in the next room and coming back to a missing suitcase which had cash and travel tickets and about a Korean girl who'd traveled to Paris, had her stuff nicked by the famous Parisian pickpockets and ended up crying her eyes out at the base of the Eiffel Tower. I know that I even let down my guard at the Musée d'Orsay the last time I was there and another tourist was kind enough to tell me that she spied my bag being opened out of the corner of her eye (nothing had been stolen...thankfully.) However, I didn't want to hear a similar story from my friend.

I think a lot of it has to do with the high amount of new money and the Korean tendency not to discuss unpleasant topics. They've definitely got to start talking about them more as more Koreans start to travel abroad.

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The end of the article, I chose not to quote because there may or may not be a significant correlation between the US, crime against Koreans abroad and terrorism. The same argument should also hold for Japanese traveling abroad, and I haven't seen the numbers for them. I would agree that it doesn't lessen their chances one bit. However, framing it that way sets the stage for blaming the US any and everytime Koreans have some misfortune abroad.

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