Apr 16, 2007

attention old holdouts: new is in

Garby thoughtfully suggested that I start doing something personally productive for an hour or so a day to pass the time, like yoga or whatnot (that was a joke right?), well here it is: the view from the mountain I like to climb every morning.

This is pretty much the whole shebang as far as Jeongseong goes. Funny, I hardly noticed how many blue roofs are in the city until I saw this picture. I don't know what that's about. The city extends to the right a bit, but otherwise this is the [tiny] bulk of it.

And this is the view on the way down:

In the three solid weeks I've been in Jeongseon, at least four buildings on my route in the morning have been torn down and foundations partially but firmly laid for something new, making me question how old any of this so-called authentically-folksy city really is.

The upheavals are sure signs of South Korea brandishing the newly sharpened claws of its Asian Tiger economy - the old is long out, the semi-old is going and the new can never be nearly new enough to keep up. And when endeavoring to keep up, outward appearance is key. Looks matter. Every old man has a cell phone, and with Korea leading the market in cell phone technology, grandpa's is better than yours. LG's happy logo, the trademark of this massive South Korean electronic and petrochemical conglomerate, is on every appliance I've got in my apartment - and they're all tidier and smarter than anything we have at home. LG makes doing the laundry magical, and that's not just because I can't figure out what the buttons say.

So yes, things are clever and new, but seeming sophistication still comes from elementary underpinnings - the unseen roots of Korea's way of doing things. Take my heating (actually, pretty much all heating in Korea), done via water heater as per usual, except in this case, pipes are criss-cross-circulating hot water just under the surface of the floor. No vents, no rads, but a cozy-sock feeling all the time. The origin is obvious - Koreans do everything close to the floor; eat, sit, even entire families will sleep on the floor of a single room (why chairs never caught on in this country probably points to its size - small country, small use of space). This makes every floor here I've seen yet look like a crash pad. Economic? Yes. Comfortable? Yes. Smart? Yes. Attractive? No. But that's the problem when an entire country's economic thrust forges on ahead of its cultural advancement; you get the old and new disunited but symbiotic side by side. The traditional food must fit in the newfangled fridge. The architecture grows by the story the while hand-woven handles of straw-craft brooms never grow beyond a foot, so elderly Korean women still bow deeply to sweep their fiftieth-floor balcony. It's the future accelerating past a people standing still.

I see this ginkgo tree on my way home. For a species that dates back millions of years and can live as long or longer than the sequoia (3000+ years), this one's an adolescent, maybe only 800 years old, and nestled neatly into the new playground of an elementary school.

It's a gorgeous example of Korea's unfazed heritage standing resilient and taking its time. It's a couple hundred feet from my apartment, which is consequently in Jeongseong's newest building. I like the building, you can still smell that just-built smell. Imagine my delight then, when I decided to take a picture of it for you, and my point managed to prove itself pretty nicely.

Check out the dude hanging out in my backyard:

I was wondering why 'just-built' occasionally whiffs of 'funky cow ass'.


lisa said...

I was totally serious. At least do the running man for an hour each day.

And, nice cow.


riley said...

i'm buying the cow with my first paycheque - he will be mine, oh yes, he will be mine.