Monday, January 24, 2011

It's a Big World After All

From Wikipedia: “South Korea is noted for its population density, which at 487 per square kilometer is more than 10 times the global average. According to 2005 census, Seoul had a population of 9.8 million inhabitants. The Seoul National Capital Area has 24.5 million inhabitants making it the world's second largest metropolitan area (after Tokyo) and easily the most densely populated city in the world.”

Having gone out in the car again today with my host, I believe it—every single one of the 24.5 million inhabitants must have been on the highway. On top of that, it was snowing and when we finally escaped from the maddening crawl of highway traffic to some back roads, we had to negotiate some hills and were slip-sliding on the snowy streets.

But we managed to make it to the restaurant alive and it was worth every little scream and yelp. The multi-course lunch of traditional dishes was among the most artfully presented and delicious meals I can remember in a long time (the last such meal was in Beijing). Among the dishes were bi-bim bop and jap chae, whose musical names I plan to incorporate in my teaching tomorrow. Seems like every language without fail has alliterative words and phrases that tickle the ear. Yet another point for the universality of the human experience. 

Back to the population question. At the same time that it is so densely populated, South Korea’s  birthrate is the world's lowest.—around 9 births per 1000 people. If this continues, its population is expected to decrease by 13 percent to 42.3 million in 2050.

World, take note., The planet could do with a few million—or billion— less people. (My browser page informs me that the Apple Store has just reached 10 billion downloads.) Of course, I need children for my profession, but I’m willing to concede that the low birthrate population-reduction strategy is much-preferred to mass genocide or disease.

It is when I travel that I often am in awe of how many people are on this planet. In my cozy home town of San Francisco, with its relatively stable population of 750,000, spending the bulk of my time with the 500 or so kids, teachers and parents at my school, shopping at my neighborhood stores, I feel a human-sized proportion that almost has me believing we can change the world one-mind/heart/soul at a time. But once you’re out in the world amongst the teeming throngs, your confidence that you are affecting the world shrinks considerably. Perhaps best to let go of the “saving the world” fantasy and simply live as fully as you can. And right now, I need to save myself, since the heat has mysteriously gone off in my room. Off to negotiate with the fellow downstairs with the universal gesture of shivering. Wish me luck!

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