It’s Korea, don’t get attached

Last weekend my girlfriend and I were walking back to her apartment after shopping in preparation for the Boryeong Mud Festival and our summer vacation. Horrified, we stumbled upon our favorite Yoogane dak galbi restaurant to find it boarded up, sign removed, replaced by an advertisement for yet another cafe/coffee/tea/crappy sandwich/waffle shop. As if the neighborhood really needs another one of those.

Yes, there are other Yoogane restaurants all over Seoul, and other dak galbi places in her neighborhood, but this place had special meaning. It’s where I spent a lot of time getting to know her over spicy chicken and soju. And I didn’t know much when I first moved to Korea, but because of this restaurant, I knew I could get a hearty meal whenever I saw that familiar sign.

If there is one thing living in Korea has taught me, it’s don’t get attached to anything.

The failure rate for businesses is astonishing. You can’t walk down a familiar street without weekly noticing a handful of new places with shiny signage, taking over what seemed to be a thriving business. The Telecom shop replaced by a Paris Baguette. The Two Two Chicken that was a convenience store. KB Bank where a Shinhan Bank used to be.

I’m not sure how anyone actually stays in business and I’m convinced that the Korean economy is driven by employing the people that rip out old fryers and exhaust systems and install refrigerators and cold cases. And the speed with which an entire building can be demolished and cleared away will blow your mind.

And it’s not just businesses. Over 23,000 foreigners in Korea are English teachers, working on an E-2 visa one year at a time. The result is a tremendous amount of turnover. Friends come and go. Some return, most don’t. Familiar faces are replaced with wide eyed new teachers, asking questions about how to order food and get to the local watering hole.

Working at a hagwon, I’m constantly confronted with learning the names of new students, and missing the old ones I wished wouldn’t have left. The whole phenomenon is so unceremonious. Without any warning, one day there is a new face sitting at a desk and an unfamiliar name on my attendance roster.

Hi there. Oh, your name is James too. OK, we already have a James in class…. so you are now James 2.

Who the hell is Levi (I made that up)? Oh, Levi was Kim Jin young (I made that up), the new kid last week that didn’t have an English name yet.

And the next day Emily is gone and the rest of the kids are asking why. Bummer, she was learning so much and gaining confidence in her speaking skills. I felt like I was making a difference in her education. The only way to actually find out why she left is to track down the withdraw report from the Korean teacher and ask them to translate.

Moral of the story…

Don’t get attached to the mandu joint that you stop at on the way home from work, and always have a backup plan assuming that someday it won’t be there when you are craving it. And have fun teaching the students that you enjoy in your class because you never know what day will be their last.


~ by ripcitytoseoul on July 17, 2010.

4 Responses to “It’s Korea, don’t get attached”

  1. You’re absolutely correct on this one. I’ve always been amazed at how quickly something can come… and go. A few months back, I was surprised to see a Paris Baguette being gutted… only to see it replaced with another one. That made no sense to me. We’ve had SK shops leave and come back as well. It’s really odd.

    Enjoy your time at Mud Fest!

  2. Dustin, You are spot on! This was so hard for me to deal with in Korea. I think if I could have found out the whys, I wouldn’t have been so alarmed. But unable to speak the language, I always felt a sense of loss at places and students I had grown attached to. I am so glad you have Whisper in your life. No matter where you go, the two of you will provide each other the certainty of lasting consistency! Enjoy your new special place, when you find it, while you can, together!

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