September 14, 2005 22:51
It is said that in Seoul alone there are 27,000 homes that cannot boil their rice because the city has turned off the gas. During the summer, the average monthly gas bill is W13,000 (US$13) and there are many more homes where the gas could be turned off today or tomorrow because they failed to pay their bills for the last two months. In over 450,000 homes, the power will be cut off next month because they failed to pay their bills for three months. Pictures of elderly people collecting rainwater to boil rice and do their laundry because they can't afford the W5,000 a month for water make it hard to believe that this, too, is the face of Seoul in the 21st century.
A Chosun Ilbo report on the conditions of the "new poor" said that many people are fervently hoping for help from the government and their neighbors as they make do without basic amenities. There are 2.3 million people who are, for this reason and that, excluded from government support despite making less than W1.13 million a month, the current minimum cost of living for a family of four. There are 2.1 million who are potentially poor since they make less than W1.30 million a month. That is one out of the 10 homes that surround us.
Everyone is under pressure to make their way without being able to take care of their neighbors. Even so, the holidays were always an opportunity for us to turn our renewed attention to our neighbors. This Chuseok holiday, even that has disappeared. At welfare facilities, no one is calling or visiting. Even the ostentatious annual surge in charitable feeling of yore is wanting. With Chuseok just around the corner at a nursing home for sick elderly people with nowhere to turn in Seoul's Gangseo-gu, all they had received as of Wednesday was soap gift packs from a major corporation. No word from the corporate and individual benefactors that used to send things every year.
"It's not that there's little outside support; there's none at all," says the president of a nursery school in Seoul's Gangnam-gu. Business was bad this year and expectations were low, but the feeling is even colder than last year, which was already said to be the worst in living memory.
It is not only a warm helping hand has been withdrawn. Even the encouraging voice has grown silent. Not so long ago, the holidays were a time when we were called upon to head to places worse off than our own. Even when times were much leaner than they are now, we took care that there was no home where the fire had gone out in the kitchen and the steam had stopped rising from the rice cookers. This Chuseok, let us all at least enjoy the small happiness of a full stomach.
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