The Streets of Korea

I keep meaning to document everything about Korea I encounter as a “newbie” before I become too inured to it all to be able to notice, but unlike a lot of foreigners here, my battles have kept me too busy to do as much as I’d like.  Here are a few that have been sitting in my camera that I meant to talk about, and I know I’ve been absent a few days, so here you go:

This is a light pole.  As you can see, it is armored quite heavily.  Why?  I’m really not sure, since a truck could still do a lot of damage despite the armor…

Here’s a close-up.  As you can see, this is not something you want to hug or lean up against…Korea is a hard place, full of hard textures, hard struggles for hard scrabble people, and rugged landscapes; all  beneath a blistering summer sun and the harshest winter chill.  I know it’s silly to say, but maybe tenacity and the ability to persevere truly is in our thick skin and thick blood…

If I can even say, “our.” As in our people, uri nara.  That’s the thing about being an adoptee – we have to earn that right, even though it should be as plain as the nose on my face.

This is a typical paving pattern you’ll see.  Concrete, stamped concrete, or marble is very rare.  It is mostly these various masonry units and, at the more traditional or post modern traditional sites there will be the most ankle-breaking square cobblestones you ever saw.

Notice the yellow ribbed stripe down the center of the sidewalk?  This is a wayfinding path for the blind.  And also notice how the direction change gets a different paving pattern.  Maybe I’m wrong, but there seems to be more blind people in Korea…but the ones that are here have been accommodated very well.  These stripes exist on almost all public walkways, and continue down into the subways.

where all the handrails have braile at the beginning and ends, and every first and last step has another change in paving pattern.  These wayfinding trails extend to the subway train cars (as mentioned in a previous post) and in this way, the blind can find the most expedient route to the train and exit directly to the stairs at their destination stop.

On the trains there are often blind people making their living  by walking the aisles with a loudspeaker playing music and holding out an alms basket.  There must be some organization for them, as they all have seemingly unlimited batteries for their music players and they all play a bagpiped version of Amazing Grace. And I’m a sucker for the sound of bagpipes AND Amazing Grace…

Other people in need often make a round of a train car, passing out literature describing their situation, usually selling gum at a mark-up, and then quickly make a second round to gather their literature back up.

Handicap accessibility for the wheelchair bound is not as good, but I see renovations going up everywhere.  Despite this deficit, it is still much better than Manhattan…

This is one side of Hagwon-ga near my school.  Notice the bus blocking this photograph. If you could see past the bus, you would see the entire street lined with similar buses (about fifty of them at the time of this photo) dropping kids off from picking the kids up from their various daytime schools to begin yet another round of classes at the private academies, or Hagwons.  There are so many on this boulevard that they named the street academy street.

Here is the other side of the street…ALL of those buildings are filled with hagwons.  About 6 floors each, with a retail business on the street level.  Building after building after building after building…all filled with cram schools.  The majority are for English and math, but there are also some art and music ones, and specialty ones.  This is the main drag, but there are still streets to the right and streets to the left also filled with less prominent hogwans, and sprinkled throughout this city in every neighborhood are even more.

So here’s a close-up.

See all those signs?  The majority of them are showing what schools are operating within.

Words can not express how insane this is.  If they spent 1/4th the money they spend on these hogwans to improve public education, Korean parents could contribute to the economy more, live more fulfilling lives, children could sleep at night, have sweet dreams, and think creative thoughts, and educators could focus on the child’s best interests instead of market forces…


I wish I could make a living here in any other way than contributing to this madness.

2 thoughts on “The Streets of Korea

  1. Actually, I thought the light posts were covered so that people can’t plaster them with flyers. It reduces the crap that people post on streets.

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