Relocating from rural Alberta to the second largest metropolitan area in the world (nearly 25 million people reside in Greater Seoul) means a marked difference in population density. In fact, if the density of Seoul were applied to my hometown of Rocky Mountain House, our 7,000 residents would jump to 214,000. Similarly, Calgary could house 12 million (85 million if you included its sprawling suburbs). Similarly, if the population density of South Korea was reached in Canada, we could fit 72% of the world’s population, although I admit it’s unlikely that 249 million people would suddenly migrate to Baffin Island unless Global Warming proves itself as an imminent threat.
Okay, just bear with me for a couple more statistics. So 17,000 people actually occupying a square kilometer sounds suffocating, that still would provide each individual with about 60 m2 / person. It’s when you enter certain public place like the subway, the bus, or the market that you really become part of a wave of people that sweeps you along (although the view from 6 feet 2 inches is always less obscured).
So in the case of Korea, how does being packed together filter down into regular life? Would people respond to this invasion of privacy by shrinking their ‘personal bubble’ to retain a sense of privacy amidst a crowd? Conversely, could they, as a collectivist culture, reject the need for personal space, and simply act in a familial way towards all those strangers?
Okay, I don’t really know if there’s a clear answer, but I observed one incident that relates to this. A Korean friend was parking her car and completely boxed in another vehicle. We questioned this apparent disregard for a strangers’ welfare, until she pointed to a phone number on her windshield. Most Koreans voluntarily leave their cell number under their windshield so others can request they move their car by phone. So no worries about that, but its when the cars are on the road that still scares me.