Korea : The Nation That Doesn’t Steal Anything, But Bicycles

Please see 2 ironic scenes below :

1️⃣ Belongings casually placed on a table.

One’s personal belongings (cell phones, laptops, bags, etc) are randomly placed on a table where there’s literally no one watching over the stuff.

2️⃣ A stolen bicycle

A safely locked front wheel of a bicycle. Obviously, it’s a stolen bicycle.

Isn’t it quite strange? Why would a thief steal a safely locked bicycle, not a bag that’s just hanging there?


Koreans use their belongings to save a seat at a coffee shop.

In Korea, when going to a crowded coffee shops, people need to check if there’s a place to sit before ordering something. They put their belongings (a bag, jacket, cellphone, just anything they bring) to save a seat and go to a cashier to order something. Asking a person nearby to watch over the stuff when going to a restroom is not happening in Korea. ????

Here are some of our guesses about why personal belongings are used to save a seat.

???? Koreans have a good conscience and know it’s not right to steal other people’s stuff. ???? This may sound too ideal and peaceful.

???? Koreans don’t care about others. They might have no interest in what other people are up to.

???? Or upside down, Koreans actually care too much about others. They might concern what others would think or react if they approach other people’s seats and steal something.

???? CCTVs are everywhere. Even if someone happens to steal something, there’s 99% chance that they’ll get caught.

*** Funny thing is, whenever Koreans see a seat with a laptop, they have a deep desire to steal the seat, not the laptop.????


But there are too many bicycle thieves in Korea

Stolen bicycle 1

Stolen bicycle 2

In 2020, the Korean Statistical Information Service announced that the number of reported bicycle thefts was 13,377 and the number of reported arrests was 4,455. But we are quite sure that there are unreported bicycle thefts going on even right now.

Why do Korean thieves love stealing bicycles?

1. It has become harder for thieves to steal things inside the buildings. Most buildings have installed CCTVs and the security is getting tighter. If anything is stolen inside buildings, there’s a high possibility of getting caught by the police. As an alternative, thieves go outside and look for easy-to-steal stuff: bicycles.

2. The bicycle culture is burgeoning in Korea. Many cycling groups are going all over the nation (different cities, mountains, riversides, etc.) and people are riding expensive, high-quality bicycles. As love for the bicycle grows, bicycle thieves become happier because, after all, expensive bicycles are casually hanging out in the streets, with a lock that can be easily teared apart. The thieves steal a bicycle, separate it into pieces, and resell the parts, or they simply resell the whole bicycle on the resale market.

❓ Which market gets all the benefits? The resale market!

❓ Who wants to sell bicycles and make a fortune? Bicycle thieves!

3. Korea is a land of Bok-dong Um, who became a symbol of ‘bicycle king of the East’ and also ‘a bicycle thief.’ Below is a short story of Bok-dong Um, a tragic hero of Korea in the early 1900s.


Korea : the land of Bok-dong Um

A picture of Bok-dong Um

???? Background : The early 1900s was such a painful time for Koreans; Japan had taken over the country. Koreans were oppressed by the Japanese and life was not easy.

???? Love for bicycles : Koreans loved to watch bicycle racing, which first began in 1906. It was their only entertainment to enjoy in hard times. The fast-paced, lively sports captured Koreans’ attention. (The price of a bicycle was four times as high as the wage of a Korean police officier.)

????‍♂️ The advent of Bok-dong Um : Clerks at the bicycle shops participating in a bicycle race was a very common thing to do, mainly because they needed to promote their products. Bok-dong Um was a clerk at a bicycle shop and he, for the same reason, started to join the bicycle race.

???? Who’s the winner : From 1913, when Bok-dong started cycling, to 1932, just before his retirement, he had an incredible record of winning most of the competitions. Winning the Asian Bicycle Competition made him “the bicycle king of the East.”

????‍♀️ Why big deal : He wasn’t a well-trained athlete, yet defeated other elite athletes. He was just a clerk working at a bicycle shop who dominated all the competitions. Also, he overcame the pressure of the Japanese, who surely were uneasy on him.

???? Bicycle theft : Being an athlete, at that time, didn’t guarantee economic success. After retiring at the age of 35, Bok-dong struggled in poverty. He couldn’t endure the pain and joined a bicycle thief, Hyo-jin Lee to steal and resell dozens of bicycles. He was soon arrested by the police and sentenced to 1.5 years in prison.


???? Discussion for Today’s Topic :

Does your country have a bicycle thief? Have you ever had your bicycle stolen?

Please feel free to share your thoughts with us!

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