Monday, May 10, 2010

Will Korea Ever Have a 'Slow City'?

Market days, every five days, were an important part of old Korea. People would meet in the center of town to talk, look over the merchandise, buy what they wanted, eat and leisurely enjoy the time away from home. It was a "slow life."

A priest writing in a Catholic magazine tells us about his trip to the International "Slow City" in Italy. Slow cities welcome and support people who prefer to live at a slower pace than the usual city dweller. Traditional ways of doing things are valued-- no cars, no chain stores, no fast food, little noise, fewer crowds, and a desire for the dolce vita.

The Italian city, surrounded with a rampart and situated on a mountain, does not allow cars in the city. Cars are left at the outskirts of the city where public transportation is made available to visitors. In place of supermarkets and fast food stores, two market days a week offer buyers fresh food from the countryside; bread baked with no preservatives, and all kinds of handicrafts. Practically everything shuts down from noon to 3:00 o'clock for resting and a leisurely lunch. In the evening, the plaza in front of city hall becomes a favorite meeting place for many.

The writer tells us that the Indians in the old days, when riding a horse, would stop occasionally to allow their spirits to catch up with them. The idea that a too busy life is without spirit, without soul, is found in the Chinese character for busy 忙 (망), meaning to ''forget your spirit." The writer admits that the busy life has given us material prosperity but usually with an accompanying loss of spirit.

Nature gives its abundance at a very slow pace. Following the rhythm from nature allows us to be more attuned to God, and will tend to open us up to a healthier spirituality. Slow city is not God's kingdom, but the effort to slow our generally hectic daily routines is a prequisite.

The Koreans see that one's personal life has not kept pace with the economic development of the country, making it the world's 13th most powerful country. Although they will continue to argue over the relative merits of development and spirituality, I do not think we will be seeing very many slow cities in Korea soon.