[elephants in seoul]

Topic: Korea

On Wednesday, six elephants escaped from an amusement park and went on the rampage in downtown Seoul (see BBC News and Digital Chosun). Now the JoongAng Daily reports that the elephants were probably suffering from the stress of too much work.

This is a complaint that most Koreans can relate to. South Koreans work among the longest hours of anyone anywhere. It was only in 2003 that the National Assembly approved legislation to roll back the six-day work week to five days. In 2001, bus drivers went on strike, complaining that they were forced to work 11-hour shifts six days a week. When Jenny and I were in Korea, school teachers were agitating to get their Saturday mornings off.

The elephant escapees, having just been moved to their new home (they had previously resided in Incheon), were putting on as many as seven performances a day, every day. (That’s the JoongAng Daily’s number; Digital Chosun says five.) Anyone who has taught English in Korea knows how exhausting it is to put on seven entertaining dumb-shows a day, and those who decided to make extra money by taking on private classes during their weekends tended to lose their minds. The couple we replaced at the ECC Anyang kindergarten were something like those elephants: overworked, stressed out and anxiously eyeing the exits. (They left the country two months after we arrived.) So I feel for those elephants, and I hope they have the good sense to renegotiate their contracts.

Bonus: The Korean word for elephant is kokkiri.