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Free Hugs Conquer the World
Australian movement spreads to China and Korea
Eric Shackle (Shack)     Print Article 
Published 2007-01-24 19:41 (KST)   
Find out more about Eric Shackle at his Web site The World's First Multi-National eBook.  <Editor's Note>
Australia's highly infectious Free Hugs Syndrome, which is sweeping through the western world, causing normally sane grown men and women to embrace strangers in public places, is also affecting young people in Asia. The latest outbreak has just been reported from mainland China, where young netizens have started playing sillyhuggers.

"Hugging for Chinese people is as rare as speaking English at home," says a report in the national English language newspaper China Daily. "But free hug campaigns are spreading across the country's major cities, such as Beijing, making this alien custom more popular."

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Dancing teacher Yu Le, the founder of a Beijing free hug group, said that she was inspired by a YouTube video about Australian Juan Mann. Juan said that after noticing how sad everyone looked he "launched a mission to reach out and hug strangers to brighten their days."

Yu told the China Daily:

"As a stranger in the city myself, I felt the estrangement and apathy keenly at times. I felt the impulse to start the group immediately."

Using a personal Web site, Yu gathered a group of like-minded people, who began hugging AIDS patients, disabled people, helpless migrant workers, and people in terminal care wards in hospitals.

However Yu and her friends faced many misunderstandings because their behavior is so unusual in Chinese society, and they have even been scolded by the police -- mostly for blocking pedestrian walkways.

"If they have the time to hug people, why don't they use the time to do something more useful and concrete, such as helping someone in need?" said Liu Zhen, a Peking University student.

However, the China Daily predicts that "slowly but surely, the huggers will win."

Free hugs have already spread to Korea. According to the Web site "Collective Heart":
"The Free Hugs Campaign has officially spread in a big way. Korea's own version launched on YouTube yesterday and already has over 60,000 views, placing it in the Top 10 videos viewed today.
An anonymous Australian schoolteacher in his 20s who calls himself Juan Mann (pronounced One Man, a bilingual pun) kicked off the Free Hugs craze in 2004. It has snowballed as it's rolled around the cyberworld, and nowadays few countries are immune.

On his much-visited Web site he explains that he began the fashion one day when he arrived in Sydney after his life had turned "upside down" in London.

After feeling lonely at the airport with nobody to welcome him back home he went to the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and held a sign up with the words "Free Hugs" on both sides.

He knew it was worth it when, after being ignored for 15 minutes, he made a woman smile whose only daughter had died in a car accident exactly one year before.

"Everyone has problems and for sure mine haven't compared. But to see someone who was once frowning, smile even for a moment, is worth it every time."

Juan Mann told Jenna Good of Who magazine:
"Giving free hugs is one thing that I've gone back to week after week without fail because I know I'm doing something. It doesn't matter that the money's not there and that it's not a career path, what matters is that it makes a difference to somebody's life just for a moment. Life ambitions? I've never had an answer!"
New York author, broadcaster and psychic Ellie Crystal advises caution about free hugs in the Big Apple. She wrote:

"To hug a stranger goes to many factors. If a man was holding up a sign asking for a hug, where I live in NYC, I would be cautious. Too much big city conditioning with crazy people, pickpockets and horny men. If a woman held up a sign, most men would go for the hug, and perhaps women as well. I know me ... I would walk away. What would you do?"

Well, Ellie, I'm one of those grumpy old men who hate the thought of being hugged by a stranger. We prefer to shake hands the old-fashioned way.
FOOTNOTE. Some 50 years ago, I became Sidney Mann, as stand-in editor of the front-page trivia column of the Sydney afternoon newspaper The Daily Mirror. So perhaps I can claim to be Juan Mann's grandfather.

The ambitious young newspaper heir Rupert Murdoch later bought the Mirror, and merged it with his Sydney Telegraph, giving birth to a hybrid morning tabloid, the Daily Telegraph-Mirror, popularly referred to as The Terror. These days the Mirror part of its name has disappeared, and the paper is simply called The Daily Telegraph.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Eric Shackle

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