We went home early today to avoid the onslaught of protesters in downtown Seoul who were protesting the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. Round two of the FTA negotiations is currently underway in Seoul (round one was last month in Washington, D.C.). I took a risk and drove to and from work today. It took about an hour to come home today, 30 minutes later than expected due to heavy traffic. That, and I had to be extremely aggressive to make headway in the standstill. Once I left downtown the traffic was mild. I received my first honk in Korea for apparently driving badly. Well, that’s a first! Usually I am the one cursing and white-knuckling the steering wheel from bad Seoul drivers.
It could have been worse. Mother Nature dampened the protests today by dumping bucketloads of rain. She either: 1) Felt sympathy for me; or 2) Supports the Free Trade Agreement; because she poured rain down on Seoul all day long. The anticipated 50,000+ protesters never materialized because of bad weather. When I left today, the protest consisted of about 7,000 souls willing to brave bad weather and a threefold number of riot police. The U.S. and Korea are going to need help getting this FTA done, so having Mother Nature as a supporter is a good ally indeed.
I really have to wonder sometimes about what goes through the minds of Koreans. When their neighbor to the North, with which the South is technically at war, launches test missiles, about 20 protesters materialize to protest against the launches. Is an FTA really that much more provocative than lobbing missiles that it can draw 7,000 people on an utterly terrible day?