How many times have you breathlessly powerwalked along the endless road to the West Gate only to discover that none of your friends have arrived yet? Can you count the number of times when all your teammates arrived on time for a group meeting? Have you ever lied to your friend that you’re “on your way” when you’re actually still in your room getting ready? Regardless of which category you fall into – the one who’s always late or the one who’s always waiting – people have become indifferent to this breach in the concept of scheduled times.
It seems like long ago when the term “Korea time” emerged, raising the issue and its definition of Koreans always being 10 minutes late to anything from friendly rendez-vous’ to business meetings. Now, however, that doesn’t even seem that bad; people are at least 10 minutes late. Even worse, some notify that they’ll be late just before the meeting time when the others have already departed their stays to arrive on time at the designated place.
What’s ironic about these situations is that people use the phrase “I have a yaksok” to say that they already have plans to meet someone. When I arrived in Korea to attend KAIST after years of living abroad, I was pleasantly intrigued by the fact that the word yaksok translates into “promise.” However, my feeling towards the word was shattered when I realized how loosely the term was used. What is the point of making a promise if it is to be broken, often by lateness and delays?
It is interesting to see the concept of time being turned into such an abstract idea when efficient use of one’s time and the art of time management are considered to be the keys to success. Perhaps it is our very obsession about success, or our inherent selfishness that cause us to take punctuality less seriously. We are too concerned about how we look and how much we are prepared that we do not consider the person who’ll be waiting for us when we’re late. Lateness has become so common that even those who wait have learned to not be offended by it, despite the time wasted doing nothing but purely waiting for someone else to arrive. Late people expecting others to not mind the waiting and the punctual people expecting others to be late has created a vicious cycle that excuses lateness and consequently undermines the severity of the issue.
Being late occasionally is understandable. However, it becomes a problem when one is consistently and persistently late and don’t even feel bad about it. Punctuality is, therefore, a virtue not of the bored but of the considerate. 10 to 15 minutes may not seem that much at the time, but these small minutes pile up and create an enormous amount of time wasted for the people who wait. Being on time is not hard: all one needs to do is take into account the time it would take to travel to the promised meeting place and start getting ready correspondingly earlier. If one has a six o’clock at the West Gate, don’t leave at six but a few minutes ahead of time. If others are late, point it out to them and make them feel bad about it. It is only when the issue is made aware of that a hope or even a sign of change will appear.
Ji Ha Kim