Monday, March 15, 2010

What is a Seoulite like?

I recently read an article on the Korea Times that gives a statistical make-up of people living in Seoul. Here's my commentary.

"In Seoul, a city with a population of 10.4 million, the average resident is a 37.6-year-old married office worker with a bachelor's degree."

With huge companies like Daewoo and Samsung headquartered there, it's no wonder that most people work in an office.  I also recently read in another article that Korea has the highest number of people in their workforce with degrees in post-secondary education.

"Six out of 10 households earn between 2 million and 4 million won monthly, which makes them the so-called middle class." 

Hey!  I'm middle-class!  I'm guessing that another two or three out of 10 make a lot more than that because housing is very limited and extremely expensive.  

"The number of Seoul residents in their 20s or under is on the decline while the population of the older generation is increasing."

This figure can't be read quite the same as it would be in the USA or Canada.  Most post-high school students live with their parents until they get married.  Some men move out of their family's home earlier than that, but not until they're like 30.  It's also true that Korea's birth-rate is dropping, meaning more old ones around (see this stat below).  

"Every day there are 264 births, 106 deaths and 197 marriages. In 2009, 91,000 babies were born in Seoul, around a 3,700 decrease from the previous year."

The woman that I tutor said that in order to turn this birth rate drop around the conservative party is suggesting making abortions illegal.  Huh.  Interesting reason supporting this ethical dilemma. 

"More than 42 percent of Seoul's housing consists of apartments, while houses only account for 7 percent."

This is apparrent as you look at any horizon line in Korea.  Beautiful mountains covered in green foliage surrounded by hundreds of identical tall, white buildings.  I don't think I've ever seen a house in Korea, actually. 

"About 47 percent of households are in debt, with the biggest portion being mortgage loans."

Oh, I BET!  In order to change my apartment I had to pay a move-out fee of close to $200, and then a move-in fee for the same amount for moving within the same building!  The cost of housing is VERY high in Korea.  This runs parallel to the aforementioned fact that most people live with many family members, which is much cheaper than living alone.  I wonder if the high cost of living alone is a means of keeping people together or just an end of people being together already. 
"The subway is the most popular means of public transportation in Seoul with 7.2 million users a day, while buses have 4.6 million passengers.
"Seoul boasts of one of the world's most convenient subway networks."
Awesomely true.  It's under W2,000 (about $1.50) to go one way anywhere within the subway network.  The trains run on time and everyone and their mothers take it.  Many people use their time on the subway to watch TV or movies on their cell phones or MP3 players, listen to music, read or doze off while leaning into the person next to them, most often with no discomfort caused to other Koreans.  I've seen some foreigners flip out when nodders-off sway their heavy heads their way, and to them I say: GET OVER IT.  Sleeping people are in no way malicious.  Calm down. Love the subway. 
"Over the years, Seoul has become much more expensive to live in.
"Bus fares have jumped 25-fold from 40 won in 1977 to 1,000 won today, and subway fares have gone up from 30 won in 1974 to 1,000 won as of now.
"Soju, one of the most favored liquor in Korea, cost 120 won per bottle in 1975, but is currently priced at 1,200 won."

Aw, soju.  For the almost the same cost for your bus/subway ride to a friends party, you will not come empty-handed.  W1,200 is like pocket lint.  Pocket lint that can get some one pretty drunk.
As for the bus/subway fares rapid expansion, this whole country has had a 25-fold jump is so many things in the last 30 years: international business, GDP and standard of living (not the same), technology, producing Olympic athletes, superstructure, and education.  It's changing fast.  A friend of mine from Wisconsin who taught in Seoul in the late 1980s (sorry if I fudge the dates, Linda) said that Korea didn't really have many sweet or dessert-type foods, aside from red bean paste.  I was surprised to see that almost every 4-blocks or so is a Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, Paris Baguette, or Tous Le Jours (two sweet bakeries in Korea). 

I interested in coming back after this in 20 years and see how much more it has changed.  One thing I hope for Korea's future is more trash cans and more inter-city trees. 

Please leave your comments or questions in the box below.  Remember, you can post anonymously if you'd like; I just wanna hear from you! 

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