I don’t think I need to explain what happened last Saturday in Itaewon. It’s a tragedy and it’s amazing that such a thing could happen in an open area with no obvious catalyst. In any case, let me just quickly go about with my musings.
First off, I appreciate all of the calls of concern I got from people. I live near the area and I could easily have gone to celebrate Halloween that night. Fortunately for me, I had a very busy week, and I wasn’t really in the mood to go out for Halloween night. Also, the tragedy happened on a Saturday. The big Halloween parties usually happen on Friday nights in Itaewon. I’m guessing the crowd was bigger on Friday night than it was on Saturday, so it’s a mystery as to why the tragedy occurred on Saturday while nothing happened on Friday.
And yeah, when the tragedy happened, I was out having a meal and drinking somewhere else close by. I was so tired, I was home by around nine, watching crime shows on Netflix. The gravity of the news didn’t really hit me until the next morning.
Itaewon has a really interesting history. It was first seen as the foreign underbelly of Seoul. While popular, people would rather hang out in other, more hip places. Itaewon was simply just a place for foreigners to hang out. Then the song “Itaewon Freedom” came out and made it a popular place among the locals. Halloween made it particularly popular, with people dressing up and everything. A sexy nurse here, a Harley Quinn there… it was prime fodder for social networking material.
Then covid hit, and many of the bars and restaurants were forced to closed down. Several places I used to frequent are no longer around. Many of the small restaurants and buildings have been demolished, and now a lot of spaces in Itaewon are under construction, bound to be giant buildings or office spaces in the next couple of years. Last year, people started to be more comfortable going out in Itaewon. Business was starting to pick up. People even celebrated Halloween, I remember. But this year, with this thing happening over Halloween, I’m afraid it’s going to once again scare some business away from the area. After all, who wants to party where over 150 people died in one night? It’s such a grim scenario.
There are videos online of people chanting “push, push, push” as the crowd tried to move, regardless of what was happening a few feet from people. People don’t directly see what’s happening a few feet from them, so they could be unwittingly crushing someone as they’re going with the crowd which is chanting “push, push, push.” A smaller version of this happens every day in trains. I experience it regularly. People would push their way in, not considering the people already inside, regardless of whether the train is already packed. These people would ignore the discomfort their causing and pretend everything is normal as they hug the doors of the train. Selfishly, these same people would not move out of the way or just step out of the train for a bit whenever people want to get out, probably in fear that they would not be able to push themselves in a second time around. When a simple “실례합니다 (Shil-leh-ham-nee-dah)/ Excuse me” wouldn’t do, I have to resort to “Get out of my damned way.”
Now imagine about a hundred of these train jerks in the Halloween crowd just starting to push themselves through in one direction. One pusher multiplies his/her force via domino effect. Now imagine a hundred more pushers going on the opposite direction, unwilling to compromise, pretending that each push is not inconveniencing or hurting other people, the same mentality of the person squeezing himself in at the crowded train door. Then add in a chant of “push, push, push.” Push, push, push. Then you can stop wondering why such an incident could happen.
On April 16, 2014, a ferry, the MV Sewol, full of high school students sank in Korea, killing 360 people. In memory of the tragedy, people wore yellow ribbons. People are already comparing the Halloween incident to the Sewol incident, and now I see black ribbons online for the tragedy. It is certainly something that has shocked the nation and made them aware of life’s fragility. I think this will be seen in the same light in the future, the same collective PTSD. Right now, the small alleyway and the are around it is still closed off to the public. Who knows what will happen to the area in the future once things have settled down. Will businesses be affected? Will people still go to Itaewon to have a good time?
Some people in the government are blaming the tragedy on the lack of police presence to prevent such tragedy. I’m not sure if more police would have prevented the tragedy. I don’t think young people and definitely inebriated foreigners wouldn’t pay much attention to Korean police. They have such a weak presence in the country and don’t really command that much authority.
The lack of police presence could be attributed to political rallies happening close by. The president moved his political headquarters close to Itaewon, and it made the area a hotbed of protests and counter protesters during the weekend. Who knows, maybe if the president was more popular, there wouldn’t be too many protests. And there would’ve been more police available for the Itaewon Halloween celebration. It’s an interesting “what if,” but as I mentioned, I’m not sure more police presence would’ve prevented the tragedy.
Will this prevent future Halloween celebrations in Itaewon? Probably not. There would probably be a memorial set at the alleyway where the tragedy happened, but as for young people partying, I don’t think there’s no stopping it. If not Itaewon, there’s always Hongdae and other places. You don’t have to look far really. Hebangcheon is just a few minutes walk from Itaewon, and it’s filled with bars and foreigners (though not clubs).