Walking The Walk For Mother Earth
Date- September 11 , 2018
Written by George Balarezo, Intrepid Global Citizen
After cycling in many unforgiving parts of the world, I have become an environmentalist. My passion for tour cycling has led me to experience the reality of the world in its rawest form. I have pedaled along the world’s highest elevated highways (Karakorum and Pamir Highways), hiked through other worldly jungles with the sounds of howling animals blasting in my ears, been scorched by the unforgiving deserts of Oman and Uzbekistan while being food and water deprived, inhaled the fumes of overpopulated cities as the black dust that accumulated around my tear ducts created a dirty, black eyeliner. I have seen, felt and tasted the beauty of Mother Nature and deeply understand the importance of taking care of her. As a result of my worldly experiential education, I have made it my life’s mission to do my best to take care of all sentient being’s mother.
It was due time to apply my mission of being a good steward of the earth to my everyday life back in South Korea. One of my favorite pastimes in Korea is using my two feet as transportation for days on end while chatting up folks from the countryside. Pots of fermented bean paste in grass fields, the smell of drying anchovies in the summer sunlight, stories from elderly folks who witnessed the peninsula’s great transformation from a poor and ravaged land to a prosperous, booming economy fascinate me beyond comprehension.
This time it would be different. Now it was time for me to deliver an important message as a global citizen living in this land of rich history and cultural heritage. I had my poster ready and spent two hours filling in the letters with multicolored markers. It was like working on an elementary school project. This child of Mother Earth had a bold mission. My stash of papers were all printed out in Korean, telling people the actions they need to take in order to do their part to combat climate change and be good stewards of the world. I emphasized two main points in the printed handouts- eating habits and consumer behavior.
My key points were as follows-
-Cows must consume 8 kilograms of vegetables in order to gain 500 grams of body weight. Raising animals for food consumes more than half of all water used in the United States. It takes 9,500 liters of water to produce 500 grams of meat but only 95 liters of water to produce 500 grams of wheat. Therefore, eating 500 grams of beef consumes as much water as taking a shower for two and a half hours.
–Producing just one hamburger uses enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 40 kilometers (The distance from Hoeksoek Dong to Osan). Of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the United States, more than one-third are devoted to raising animals for food.
-To grow the cotton and manufacture a pair of cotton jeans it requires 2,000 gallons (7,570 liters) of water (this does not include the water used while washing the jeans over the time period when you own them.) This is more than the weight of a small airplane or helicopter.
-A typical pig factory generates the same amount of raw waste as a city of 12,000 people. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, raising animals for food is the number-one source of water pollution.
-Of all agricultural land in the United States, 87 percent is used to raise animals for food. That’s 45 percent of the total land area in the United States. About 1 million square kilometers (a land mass the size of Egypt) of forest have been destroyed to create space to produce feed for animals raised for food.
-The meat industry is directly responsible for 85 percent of all soil erosion in the United States. More than 80 percent of the corn grown and more than 95 percent of the oats are fed to livestock. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people—more than the entire human population on Earth.
-According to the Worldwatch Institute, “Roughly 40 percent of grain produced in the world is fed to livestock, poultry, or fish; decreasing consumption of these products, especially of beef, could free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressure on land.
I was so thrilled to hit the road and deliver my message. I spent two to three hours per day after work studying Korean and practiced all the scientific words until my head felt like it was about to split open and my throat was hoarse and sandpaper-dry. All my travel education motivated me to finally do something. The lion inside of me needed to come out. Everything I had worked for to this day came to a pinnacle. I was standing up for what I believe in while doing a good deed for society. It was my turn to pay back our Mother Earth and spread a message of peace to the local people while doing it. Walking and talking were the main goals of this trip and I was more psyched up than a kid who drank ten cans of Red Bull right before final exams.
How would people respond? Being from the other side of the world, people could tell me to go home and deliver my message within the borders of my own country. I had to make people understand that we have to reach beyond the limits of artificial lines drawn on maps and come together to solve the greatest problem of our times. It felt like an Olympic sprinter mistook my heart for a treadmill and was about to bring home a world record. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. It will all be okay. This is your destiny. Now is the time and if you don’t do this you will regret it forever.
My friend Jared and I stepped out into the heat and grabbed our signs with our sweat-caked fingers. I held up my my cardboard poster high in the air with one hand and pointed at it with the other while yelling “jin hwang geong jeok in selg hwal hap shee da.” (Let’s live in an environmentally friendly way). Cars honked. Children rolled down their windows flashing their dimples and smooth-skinned cheeks. A wrinkle-faced grandfather showed us his gap-toothed smile while giving us a thumbs-up sign. A cute woman with way too much red lipstick yelled “fighting” (An English word used in the Korean language meaning “you can do it”). Nervousness vanished and only excitement intoxicated my brain and left me giddy.
Overall, reactions were great and people supported our mission. In restaurants along the way, many locals paid for our dinner and gave us offers of help whenever we needed it. We slept on the beach listening to the sounds of waves crashing along the South Sea and crept into dreamland while inhaling the salty humid air.
It was Liberation Day. On August 15th Korea celebrates its independence from the decades-long Japanese occupation. My friend and I needed liberation from the dehydration, the rank stench emitting from our pores, and penny-sized blisters on our toes. We approached a fishing village as the sea breeze cooled us off from the sweltering climate. In the distance, a loud muffled voice filled the airwaves. “There has to be something big going on there. Let’s check it out,” Jared and I said while picking up our pace. The sounds of a festival lurked ahead of us and fed us with the zest needed to carry on.
A few minutes later, we literally and figuratively stumbled upon a soccer game in a small village in the Masan area. The MC’s voice echoed through the air, detailing every pass, fancy dribbling maneuver, and shot on goal. The crowd screamed in suspense as one player fired a ball that ricocheted off the top goal post and slammed into an empty seat in the bleachers. After spending so many days walking through sporadically populated rice fields and beach towns, this was the most people in one place we had witnessed in a few days. There were way too many people in attendance compared to our rural surroundings. Perhaps the soccer game was the only major event happening within a one hundred football field radius What a perfect opportunity to spread my message. I need that microphone. I crept up to the announcer and flashed my sign at him during a timeout.
“Ney. Sam boon man duel eel key yo.” (Okay. I will give you ten minutes.)
Here was my big chance to grab the mic in front of a big crowd of soccer fans. My heart pounded and I jumped up and down to get myself psyched up to project my words clearly throughout the stadium. This trip took on a new meaning now and I had a chance to connect with one hundred people at the same time. For the past few days, we struck up conversations with groups of two or three people, but this was a whole different animal. One with sharp teeth and claws making me knees shake in its presence.
Come on now. You are a professor. Your job is to share your knowledge and experiences with the world. This is what you were born to do. It shouldn’t matter what language your words are in. You have been pounding vocabulary and grammar rules into your head for the past several years. Step up to the microphone and tell everyone what they need to hear. Their lives will be better for it. Your life will be better for it. You will never forget this moment.
My nerves faded away and I turned to the crowd and began to speak. My words came out clearly in rapid fire Korean. I spit out statistic after statistic and told onlookers the story of our walking journey, while Jared roamed the field below flashing his sign everywhere. Fragmented Korean sentences, pronunciation blunders, filler words and awkward pauses. It didn’t matter anymore. My mind became clear and ears rang as my words echoed through the liquid-soaked summer air. Before I knew it, the crowd began to applaud and the master of ceremonies signaled for me to finish up.
No applause. Little reaction. I stepped down from the stage and walked through the outskirts of the stadium as no one paid me any mind. Well then, it looks like my effort did not get through to the crowd. At least I gave myself a new comfort zone challenge and took action in the face of fear, nervousness and mental tension. A few steps later, watermelon armed wrinkled women waved me over to cool off in the shade and began shoving the fruit into my face. The normal interrogation began- age, workplace, marital status, hometown. I was more than accustomed to the questions. A look of astonishment filled one of the woman’s eyes.
“There is a kid here who attends that school. Where is Minseok?” she asked the crowd.
A tan kid wearing knee-high white socks and a bright red soccer jersey dashed in my direction, pushing people out of his path as if he were an ambulance worker coming to help a heart attack victim. The boy grabbed my hand with so much vigor that it nearly crushed my wrist.
“I am friend Hyeonook. He taking your class. My name Minseok.I calling Hyeonook now.”
A few seconds later Hyeonook got on the line and we were face chatting it up. Hyeonook’s face lit up with laughter-produced redness as his friend passed me the phone.
“Wow! Georgie! Minseok my best friend. You walking there is so fantastic. You having fun Minseok. I miss you Georgie!”
My former student was in utter disbelief that I was way out there in the village where his friend grew up. What are the chances a guy like me would have such an encounter a five hour bus ride outside of Seoul?
Minseok invited Jared and I to his parents’ fish restaurant, which was originally closed for business during the holiday. We plopped our sweaty bodies at one of the ankle-high tables and threw down our bags on the floor. Finally, a middle aged man flipped on the lights and ran into the kitchen. The man looked like a fifty year old version of Minseok. The same wavy hair, forehead structure, and disarming smile was a delight to encounter twice.
“What kind of food you liking? We have so much fish. You liking fish? My father make food.”
A few minutes later, Jared and I were surrounded by small white plates of freshly made food. There must have been at least fifteen dishes filled to the brim with fermented vegetables. Stained red cube-shaped cabbage, paper-thin seaweed soaked in a salty clear liquid, bright orange sliced tuna- tender, raw and succulent- ready to slither its way into the taster’s palate. True craftsmanship.
Minsoek and his family glared at the two guests with curiosity, intrigue, and pride as we stuffed our faces full of Korea’s best tasting restaurant food. Their pure innocence allured me. Everytime we took a bite we complimented the chef. “This is the best meal I have ever had in Korea.” Minseok and his father’s cheeks turned to a light red hue of embarrassment as we lavished on the praise. Korean humility. One often downplays or denies compliments and praise in South Korea in order to appear humble in the presence of others. Minseok and his father remained silent, smiled and continued to observe our enthusiastic chopstick shoveling. Their innocent look of satisfaction will forever be etched in my memories. This was true hospitality and we were the recipients. What a great feeling to stand up for what you believe in and be rewarded by a meal made with all the workings of a masterpiece. This heartwarming moment made all the worry and effort worth it.
How to Always Receive a Discount
After making so many great memories on my walking trips in the countryside, I was determined to bring my message forward in everyday life. A true global citizen walks and breathes his mission every second on this planet. My next target location was my own backyard- Daebangdong, Seoul. I morphed into a talking machine campaigning for a cleaner, more hospitable earth everywhere I went. After all, if we take care of our Mother, she will take care of us.
After so many successful interactions in the countryside, the logical next step was to take a strong stand in the capital city. People in Seoul are some of the busiest and hardest working folks on the planet. It is often hard to pin down friends for a meeting date due to their busy schedules, especially when preparing for an important exam or job interview. Competition makes everyone work harder and drive their economy further up on the worldwide stage. Would busy Seoullites even care about what I had to say? Or perhaps their high education level would make them appreciate my efforts even more. My heart filled with vitality as I imagined myself stomping around my neighborhood while telling others what was on my mind.
My first order of action was to voice my opinion on plastic usage at the local supermarket I frequent, Daebang Discount Market. Plastic bags are used without question when weighing and pricing produce at every shopping venue I have ever visited in South Korea. I refuse to buy anything packaged in plastic and tell all the store employees exactly how I felt about their standard practice of wastefulness.
Shoulders back, neck straight, chest out. I beamed with confidence now that I repeated my monologue hundreds of times in the rural areas. My voice deep and loud, eye contact fiercer and more intense, my stare failed to waver as the employee reached for plastic as he weighed my sweet potatoes.
“Whoa! Hold it right there. I don’t use plastic.”
“No plastic? What am I supposed to do them?”
“Please stick the price sticker right on the sweet potatoes. I brought my own bag. There is no need to pollute the earth.”
“If I do that then my machine will get dirty and it will create so much more work for me. I have to use the plastic bag.”
“What about Korea? Have you noticed that yellow dust and fine particulate reports are now on the news every day? When I first came here nine years ago that was not the case. Isn’t it a human right to be able to breathe clean air? Are we really helping this situation by using plastic bags? I will buy my vegetables somewhere else if you really insist on dirtying the world.”
The words fired from my mouth without hesitation as my glare became more and more intense. My eyes widened through my wire-rimmed glasses, my shoulder-width stance and slightly bent knees had me ready to pounce on anyone that dared challenge me on this one. Come and convince me that plastic bags are good for the world. Try it. I want to hear what the naysayers have to say. I was not simply a guy trying to break the harmony that is so intricate to the Confucius philosophy and Korean spirit. As someone thousands of kilometers away from my place of birth, I still have to breath dirty air everyday in my neighborhood. It is my duty to voice my opinions. Surely, there were plenty of citizens ready to back me up on my stance. Discussion and conflict can only result in a positive shift for the world. Plastic bag culture must change and I was ready to start the revolution in this supermarket.
A hush took over the store as only the blaring K-pop loudspeakers and humming of refrigeration machines remained. The man pondered on my argument for several seconds while twitching his neck slightly to the side and rolling his eyes up to the ceiling.
Two short haired women in their seventies watched the whole interaction go down with dropped jaws of curiosity and astonished eyes that enhanced the leathery creases on their foreheads. Maybe the two ladies had never witnessed a light-skinned guy from North America speaking with such conviction in their mother tongue, or perhaps they had never seen anyone take a stance on plastic before. Either way, I had an audience of two. All the better if it was ten thousand. I wished I would have been in a stadium of spectators that day with a spotlight, LCD screens and high definition speakers to broadcast the discussion to the masses. The more people that hear about the broken culture of plastic bag use the better.
The worker’s puzzled expression never floundered as he shook his head back and forth and whispered something under his breath that was too faint for my non-native ears to understand. The man stuck the price sticker on the sweet potatoes and then gently scooped them up into my cart. Compliance, victory and satisfaction!
Over the course of the next few weeks, the worker warmed up to the idea a customer who refused to use plastic bags. Time and time again, I trained him and before long he came to respect my controversial shopping habits.
He quickly observed that I did not purchase any meat or processed items. My cart was always full with fruits, vegetables, rice, and beans.
“Wow! I could never eat the way you do. That is amazing.”
“I am simply doing my best to stay healthy and protect the earth.”
He quickly picked up on this and we had several productive discussions about my eating habits. He was surprised to know about the large effect the meat industry has on climate change and admitted that it would be too hard for him to make the same personal sacrifices I do. From that moment on, his attitude morphed from one of skepticism, bewilderment and confusion to respect, admiration and appreciation. Thirty to forty percent discounts on all of my groceries became a regular treat. I pay $6 to $7 for every $10 dollars of food I buy. If the man is in a particularly good mood, sometimes I even receive massive discounts of 50 percent on my food and acquire extra free pieces of fruit as a gift. Everyday has become a discount party whenever I go shopping at Daebang Discount Market. The employee changed his views on my shopping and eating habits and now helps me do my best for our Mother Earth. Indeed it pays in various forms to stand up for what you believe in.
Lesson Learned- People Respect You More When You Take a Stand
Often times others are afraid to voice their opinions and take a stand for something they believe in. Social pressure, fear of judgment, and lack of confidence are strong impediments to speaking up in everyday situations. The desire to be accepted by others often overtakes the urge to speak one’s mind. Potential criticism from our peers can be haunting for some. Therefore, the easiest action is to stay silent. The safest road is the one with the least resistance. The one with least resistance leads to little personal growth and unfulfilled potential. Without growth one dies. The key to feeling alive and flourishing is to grow and reflect through challenges and difficult times.
If our thoughts and feelings stay repressed, inner turmoil may result, which can stay with one for decades. Repressed inner conflict may manifest itself through other areas in life such as passive aggressive behavior, depression and sadness. For example, unexpressed anger manifests itself on the surface as sadness.
I experienced this first hand during my meditation practice as repressed conflicts and emotions often come to light once again. Sitting still with my eyes closed can make the mind go wild and events I have not thought about for years resurface during each passing moment. Through my meditative experiences, I have come to the conclusion that the most important thing in my life is to stay true to myself. The only failure in life is not staying true to your beliefs. I must live and die for my truths or else my soul will slowly become weak and eventually reach a deathlike state. That deathlike state is a worthless existence and is the equivalent to being buried six feet under the ground or burned to ashes.
The person who lives out their personal truth is one others trust more easily. Their peers know exactly where their boundaries are and respect them without question. This is the way one becomes more magnetic and polar. Those who share your truth become drawn to you and you will always have a tight bond that is difficult to separate. Others who oppose your truth will be repelled and distance themselves. You naturally become a leader and role model to people who do not know themselves and are curious about your path in life. They may share your values, but lack the courage to stand up and take action. Due to your transparency, people will try to help you along the way because they find you trustworthy and charismatic. Charisma is nothing more than making one’s intentions transparent and being consistent to one’s values.
During my walking trip and experiences grocery shopping, it became apparent that I was respected simply because my thoughts, words, and actions aligned with one another. I was literally talking the talk and walking the walk. An intentional life can only be lived when one’s thoughts, words, and actions become one. When this is clear to others, respect comes very naturally. People become drawn in and fascinated by your path in life and try to help you any way they can. This is why I receive discounts at the grocery store and was treated to a full course restaurant meal during a holiday in the villages of Masan. People are good at reading others and know when they find someone living and breathing their truth. Everything you do in life must be aligned with your mission and truth. Settling for anything less will only lead to inner conflict that can send your mind into a tailspin. Life is too short to live outside the boundaries of your truth. Find your mission and live by it and you are bound to be successful at anything you do.
- How did Cho Chunsam become interested in the preserving the environment?
- Describe how eating habits relate to environmental issues.
- How much meat do you eat in an average week? Would you like to change anything about your eating habits? Why?
- How often do you go shopping for new clothes? Do you ever stop and think about how your consumer behavior effects the environment?
- How did Cho Chunsam get a free meal in Masan?
- Describe how Cho Chunsam gets discounts while grocery shopping.
- Describe how you can easily gain the respect of other people.
- What is your mission in life? Are you living by that mission?
- Describe a time when you stood up for something you believed in.