About two months after I arrived in Korea I was on the subway line 2 somewhere near Seomyeon - when I noticed a wall near the track with small yet perfectly legible graffiti which read, in English, "Legalise Free Hemp". I've seen it again a couple of times since and always meant to take a photograph of it but so far the opportunity has eluded me. The longer I stay in Korea the more remarkable that graffiti becomes, even if it turns out to be part of some kind of strange free-speech art project, because graffiti is virtually non-existent here and Korea has a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs. In fact, I've read one or two articles - written by Koreans - that boldly state that there is no drug problem here, unlike in the West.
I have an interest in Japanese history, but I've never developed the same taste for that of Korea. Whereas much of the former's domestic history is what is it, one gets the feeling that a good portion of the latter's is presented to make points about present day ideological and territorial struggles, and while I sympathise with Korea's problems, there's often a fine line between history lessons and modern-day indoctrination. So in my travels around Gyeongju amongst other places of historical note it's a distinct possibility that I was exposed to information about Korean crafts of the past, and let it wash over me with all the other things I was being told at the time. Or maybe the fact that country-dwellers made their clothes and bedding from hemp got lost in the translation.
So the notion of 'legalising free hemp' seems to be a moot point, because it transpires that there's still rather a lot of it growing in the countryside here. Fortunately or unfortunately for the country-dwellers, depending on how you look at it, the concept of smoking the product of this plant simply didn't occur to them - allegedly anyway. Although this is not to say that there wasn't any smoking of substances going on - it seems that there was - but perhaps it genuinely wasn't widespread.
As for the truth of the existence of drug problems in Korea, Korean Father has told some stories about the addicts he used to arrest and the extent of their problems which reveals that at least for some individuals, the problem is a very real and severe one.
Tonight KBS 2 (KBS is a bit like the BBC here) will run an hour-long 'expose' of how foreigners are faking their degrees to teach English in Korea, and smoking pot when they're presumably not working illegally or, prepare yourself, having sex with different partners. Unfortunately, recent scandals revealing the extent to which a lot of Koreans have faked their educational qualifications tends to smack of the pot calling the kettle black, and not just because of the degrees. This is generally not going down too well amongst foreigners here.
Korean tags: 마약, 외국인, 자격