Elwood 5566

Somewhat Greener Grass

Posted in Comparative, Entertainment, services and facilities by 노강호 on July 18, 2012

The speed of construction in Korea; a year between clearing the lot to the opening of Starbuck’s on the ground floor

Koreans will tell you their economy is in recession but there are recessions and recessions. Prices don’t seem to have increased much over the years and my utilities bills are in some cases cheaper than they were five years ago. Meanwhile, my electricity bill in the UK has increased by almost 300% in the last five years and it’s the same with gas and water utilities. Indeed, the price of one bill in the UK, my Community Charge, currently almost £150pm (w300.000), would not just cover my all monthly Korean utility bills but, my health contribution, internet and cable TV, and my monthly subscription to the most exclusive gym and jimjjilbang in my area.

My monthly Korean gas and electric bills always contain a graph showing the price you have paid for each month over 13 months so at a glance you can not just see if you’re paying more this month than you were in the corresponding month last year, but can access seasonal variations. The same system in the UK would mortify me as we have been subject to massive hikes every year for the last five years – indeed in one year there were two large increases. Meanwhile, the restaurant in which I’ve eaten for the last four years has increased the price of pork kimchi stew by 500Won (25 pence).

Coffee houses – an indicator of disposable income

When business folds, another quickly opens, more often than not, a mobile phone store or a coffee house. Coffee houses in Korea are often used as an indicator of disposable incomes. One of the most pertinent signs that the Korean economy isn’t in the same depressing mess it is back home, is that rate at which buildings are erected. It isn’t just the case that buildings are being built but that they are speedily completed. In Korea, you can expect a 12 story building to be completed within a year and in a five mile journey across the city a few weeks ago, I must have past at least 20 buildings being erected. In one area alone there were at least six that that weren’t there a year ago.

a busy building program in Dasa, Daegu. Construction can be seen from early morning until it begins to get dark – six days a week!

But there are other markers of a relatively healthy economy despite the world recession; many of my students have the latest mobile technology and in some cases expensive technology and on the streets at the weekends it’s easy to spot new jeans and trousers, especially on teenagers. New trainers are common and the current trend New Balance, not just in trainers but as logos on T-shirts and bags. Korean students have a ‘preppy,’  respectable appeal and there is a distinct lack of the ‘East European fashions’ which tend to dominate British streets such as leggings, cheap trackies and hoodies.

new trainers on my students

And then there are middle school students with cameras costing anything up to 1.000.000KRW(£500). Take a trip to any popular Korean destination and you’ll see an inordinate number of Koreans not just with expensive cameras, but with enormous telescopic lenses.

The quality of life in Korea is high and living on the peninsula reminds me of the years I spent in Germany, during the late 70’s and 80’s, in an economy equally as vibrant. More important is the atmosphere generated when there is a good quality of life. Economic depression casts a gloom over the societies it infects and no amount of social manipulation in the form of festivals, flag waving jamborees or ‘big events’ can shake off the feeling that society is sick. Yes, currently, Korea is probably one of the best places to be to ride out not just the current global recession, but the general greed that seems an endemic part of my own culture and in which most transactions leave you feeling ‘ripped-off.’

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©Amongst Other Things –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
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Most Likely Made in China

Posted in Korean Clothes, Sport by 노강호 on June 20, 2011

When looking good means expensive, shite quality. Converse made in China!

When I was a boy of about 10, I would walk to school with a simple draw string PE bag in which you kept your sports clothes, including a pair of black, slip-on plimsolls. They were all made in China and even then we used to joke about Chinese quality but they were cheap and lasted the year. Little were we to know that in years to come the top fashions and brand items would all come from China, and probably from the very same factories that made our simple, black pumps. Today, China is the point of origin, if not for many products, then for their component parts and while the big companies berate the production of imitation, especially of their precious logos, and denounces them as poor quality, think nothing of shifting production to countries which have the lowest production cost, pay the least to workers and use the cheapest materials.

I’ve recently noticed students wearing training shoes which no longer have traditional laces and which I imagine will quickly wipe out that dumb-ass ‘in-the-hood’ habit of wearing sneakers and basketball boots with enormous tongues and the laces left undone. A new piece of shoe technology, the Boa Closure Device, replaces the need to tie laces, or not, as the case may be, to the simple turning of a knob and considerably advances shoe technology.

A leap into the 21st century

In the Moda Outlet, in the Industrial Complex of Song-so, Daegu, a significant number of the walking boots and trainers on sale utilise the Boa device. I noticed that while new lace technology is popular in the USA, it currently seems only available on cycling shoes in the UK. No doubt it will hit British shores at sometime in the future.

Converse quality, made in USA, is now a collector’s item

I can’t help but make a snipe at Converse which is popular in the UK and Korea. I wore them in the late 1970’s and throughout the 80’s when they were produced in the USA. I actually wore them for taekwondo while training outside and a pair would usually last around two years before the soles or heels gave out. Considering I trained most afternoons for several hours at a time, they were severely put to the test especially with spinning type kicks where all the body weight is on one foot.

most likely made in China!

Around 1988, it was difficult to buy a pair in the UK as their production moved to S. Korea. Since then, considerably cheaper labour cost has seen the production shift to China.  Of course, when Converse Korean-made trainers appeared on the shelves in the UK, they were subsequently more expensive and worse, I discovered a marked reduction in quality. In 2001, Converse were bought by Nike and the quality deteriorated further with the traditional 2 ply canvas being replaced by single ply textile. The life expectancy of a pair was around a year and you no longer need to worry about the heels or soles giving out, long before that the cheapo, micro-thin toe-cap will degrade until your big toe bursts out.  Converse! They sure look good but they are expensive shite and like most Nike products produced by a cheap labour force, a rip off.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Plastic Bling

Posted in Korean Clothes by 노강호 on April 21, 2011

One of my friends was recently passing a shop that happened to have some gargantuan trainers on display and knowing the problem I have with shoes in Korea, bought them for me. I take English size 14 and my new ones are 15 which in corresponding American dimensions, at 34cm length, are a 16.

In Britain, if you’re anything over 40 years of age, the wearing of trainers and jeans is often sneered at and taste dictates the wearing of drab and dreary conservative colours and certainly nothing that suggests activity. I won’t bother with a written description. You can judge for yourself.

is it just me or are they truly gross?

Despite not having much choice when it comes to clothes, I don’t do brands. I’m sorry, you want me to advertise your silly logo and you pay me! But there are logos and logos and a discrete trade mark is one thing but a shiny, plastic tick, and a bright red one, the entire side of the toe, just looks cheapo. Are they track shoes? Golf shoes? Simply ‘casuals’ or some Nike line of clown accessories? Do they come with a free stash of narcotics? If shoes can be ‘bling,’ and ‘bling’ is a Konglish term used to describe things which are shiny,’ then these are the epitome.

I’ll admit they’re made in China!  The tasteless mish-mash of former Eastern Bloc fashion meets the Bronx, prompted an immediate check but the soles, inner tongue etc, all appear to suggest the article is genuinely Nike  (If that means anything).     Before I could ever wear these in daylight, I’d have to seriously tone them down with wear, tear and dirt, on the streets at night. Once I’ve got them to the gym I know I will wear them and I’m very aware I could wear them in a Korean street and no one would pay much attention. But of course, the legacy of our native cultural bonds are strong, so much so that when David arrived at the school to present them to me, it wasn’t until I’d brought a carrier bag into school the next day, that I transported them home, hidden.

discrete

My present trainers, falling to pieces, are a pair of Hi-Tech Silver Shadow. Any day now and my big toe is going to burst through after which I will be forced to either train barefoot, or in the ultimate example of plastic bling.

hideous, but beggars can't be choosers!

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

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