14 hours a day lugging piles of used cardboard through the alleys of Seoul for 2 dollars a day? People still do it in 2021. South Korea still has the highest elderly poverty rate in OECD countries. Almost half of the population over 65 is living in poverty.
OECD report 2019
It's hard to speak with these senior citizens on camera or even get a picture. They don't want to lose face admitting their lifestyle to the public.
They are people's moms and grandmas and grandpas working hard to earn two dollars a day. They can be still found in many alleys and street corners in the major cities including Seoul.
The woman here in the picture I see every morning. She is not alone. On the way to work I pass by senior citizens carrying loads much bigger and heavier than themselves.
I did a little research into this and found I am not the only one who is curious how these grandmas and grandpas live. One youtuber had the chance to get a close up interview with a woman whose attitude is strikingly thankful and joyful even though she does this kind of work in all kinds of weather for 14 hours a day.
His video has almost 3 million views now. He made sure this grandma will never go hungry again, but he also teamed up with an NPO to make sure that thousands of elderly around South Korea could be supported.
This is the paradox of South Korea. It is a country that fundamentally is based on Confucius traditions of respecting the elders. Yet practically speaking it is only going to get more difficult for the increasingly growing aging population of Korea.
South Korea is an amazingly technologically advanced society and Seoul is a wonderful city but everything happened so fast and in the race for advancement some important things have been left behind.
When I traced the story of Ms. Yoo, her occupation went from box scavenger to Youtube influencer. This was pretty cool, but it wouldn't have been possible if somebody didn't have the guts to come up to her and ask her, "would you like to talk."
The elderly I have met in Korea have graced me with stories and gems of wisdom as well as eccentric and unique behavior and language. The group that grew up during the Korean War is a very special group that laugh even in the face of suffering. They are not highly educated or in tune with what is going on around the world. When Ms. Yoo was asked if she knew what is "Youtube" she had no idea. But what she has is insight and wisdom and joy that needed to be shared to the world.
In Asia there may be a tendency to cover things up that look ugly or dirty and put it out of site, but in doing so they miss the greatest treasures. These treasures come to life when they are exposed to the light.