Inequality in Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea’s most famous area

Inequality in Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea’s most famous area
Inequality in Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea’s most famous area

Kim Bok-soon appears by way of the mail in Seoul’s Guryong space, which lies in Gangnam, town’s richest district. (Hannah Yoon)

SEOUL — Kim Bok-soon has a million-dollar view from her porch in Gangnam, the upmarket district in southern Seoul that was made internationally well-known by way of Ok-pop singer Psy’s megahit “Gangnam Style.”

She appears out over a few of South Korea’s tallest and glitziest buildings, together with high-rise condominium towers so luxurious they’ve their very own spas and indoor golf ranges.

However this isn’t the approach to life Kim leads. She shouldn’t be a part of the Mercedes-driving, horse-riding fashionistas of “Gangnam Fashion.” Her porch sits affront a shack product of plywood panels, scrap plastic and corrugated metallic in Guryong, a sprawling shantytown that’s technically within the Gangnam district.

The VIP life-style is so shut, but up to now.

The 60-year-old must trip the bus for less than two miles to get to the shiny new rental the place she works as a maid. But it surely’s a commute throughout, she says, “the gulf between the wealthy and poor.”

“From the marble flooring to air-conditioned rooms … all the pieces there makes me really feel like I’m in a dream,” she mentioned. Her flooring is produced from sheets of vinyl, and she or he has solely a small fan to deal with the summer season warmth.

Whereas the gap between Kim’s dwelling and her office is small, the socio-economic divide is big.

Kim’s scenario sums up the widening financial divide, a political and social challenge that comes up at each election however has up to now proved intractable.

This was encapsulated in 2019 by way of the Oscar-winning South Korean movie “Parasite,” during which a poor household endures the frustrations felt by many.

The Asian monetary disaster of 1997, which triggered enterprise failures and widespread layoffs, set in movement rising financial inequalities.

That hole hit a report final 12 months, when South Korea’s richest 20 % recorded 64 instances the common wealth of the underside 20 %.

Making issues worse, many individuals really feel it’s unattainable to reside out a Korean model of the American Dream.

Folks “born with a golden spoon” of their mouths can anticipate to take pleasure in costly personal training and land comfortable jobs due to their well-connected households. However these with out such privileges — born with “dust spoons” — say they by no means have an opportunity of getting forward.

Nowhere is that this inequality extra evident than within the microcosm of Gangnam, dwelling to those that have flourished throughout South Korea’s financial transformation and those that haven’t.

Each have their roots in South Korea’s transition from dictatorship to democratic Asian tiger.

In preparation for the 1988 Summer time Olympics, Seoul’s army leaders razed run-down neighborhoods to construct stadiums, parks and transit networks.

Neighborhoods in southern Seoul — “Gangnam” means “south of the [Han] river” — benefited probably the most from these tasks and shortly turned related to the brand new South Korea — and the nouveau riche.

However those that have been displaced arrange squatter settlements in areas like Guryong, which covers about 66 acres and contains 1,100 households — a quantity that’s steadily getting smaller due to fires, floods and different disasters. A blaze in January destroyed some 60 houses within the village.

The federal government has been making an attempt to redevelop the realm for years, however officers, residents and landowners can’t agree on phrases.

And so the 2 extremes exist aspect by aspect.

Kim Jin-young, beautician turned property developer, 39

Kim mentioned she climbed the “Gangnam ladder” from backside to prime: From her first dwelling right here, a cramped $450-a-month studio that she shared along with her husband after they acquired married 15 years in the past to the $3.5 million condominium they reside in now.

After they acquired married, Kim joined her husband within the property growth enterprise. It opened her eyes to the inside workings of Gangnam’s higher class.

“I used to suppose the wealthy reside in a world totally different from mine,” she mentioned.

Now, she preaches that anybody can enter that world with a tireless work ethic and a proactive perspective, an essential mind-set to assist navigate high-risk, high-return strikes like actual property growth investments.

Kim and her husband personal properties price virtually $13 million.

She carries a Hermes purse and lately purchased a Lamborghini. She sends her kids to non-public tutors and lately gave her mother and father a luxurious journey to Europe.

“Folks say cash can’t purchase happiness, however I’m a lot happier now than after I was out of cash,” Kim mentioned.

Hong Yoon-taek, entrepreneur, 32

Hong opened his start-up firm’s first workplace in Gangnam’s glitzy Cheongdam neighborhood, recognized for its streets lined with shops like Louis Vuitton and Chanel and site visitors jams of Porsches.

He may probably not afford the workplace on the time, however he knew the funding would repay: He was strategically concentrating on the 1 %.

Hong owns a modular development firm and sells prefab housing items which might be good as trip cabins for the prosperous residents of Gangnam, he mentioned.

The entrepreneur lives simply 10 minutes from his workplace and spends his free time taking full benefit of all the pieces Gangnam has to supply — from exercising alongside the Han river to exploring fancy native bars and eating places, all inside strolling distance.

“Gangnam is the most effective place for younger professionals to reside in,” he mentioned. “It absolutely is pricey however definitely worth the price ticket.”

Lee Gained-jun, funding banker, 30

The securities brokerage the place Lee works is one in all South Korea’s finest paying corporations — and amongst its most high-pressure ones, he mentioned.

To compensate for his lengthy workdays, Lee likes to finish the night time with rare-vintage wine and single-malt whiskey. On weekends, he drives his smooth BMW to golf resorts for a day on the greens with buddies, household or generally shoppers.

Born and raised in Gangnam, Lee acknowledges his comfy upbringing. As an grownup, he must “work a lot more durable” to proceed having fun with the issues he has had in his life. That is one thing he consistently reminds himself of to endure hectic days at work, which leaves the 30-year-old little time to even date.

The younger financier mentioned Gangnam is “not a simple place,” including that life right here comes at a value. “Since after I was born, Gangnam has been my dwelling, however to maintain up with my life right here, I’ve to actually hustle to make much more cash,” he mentioned.

Jo Yong-seok, 57, firm proprietor

His day job is working a logistics firm, however Jo describes himself as a “Gangnam dad.” After learning his method out of a southern city to a college in Seoul, Jo acquired married and had two youngsters within the metropolis. They settled in Gangnam, Seoul’s finest neighborhood for training.

Gangnam has greater than 2,400 personal “cram colleges,” the place youngsters examine for hours after their regular day has completed.

In South Korea’s hypercompetitive tutorial setting, practically 80 % of youngsters go to those cram colleges, at a mean value of $320 per 30 days, in line with Statistics Korea.

However many Gangnam mother and father, together with Jo, spend much more. When his son was doing faculty prep as a highschool senior, Jo was spending $1,500 a month on tutoring.

Kim Jung-yeol, 76, retired

Kim may reside on the “improper” aspect of Gangnam, however he takes satisfaction in his patch of actual property. Lower than a mile from Jo’s pristine gated neighborhood, Kim lives in a shack that he calls “probably the greatest” in Guryong.

It’s produced from scrap supplies together with plywood, metallic and plastic sheets. Rain leaks by way of the roof throughout the monsoon season. He makes use of communal bogs and baths. However after 35 years right here, he mentioned, it “does probably not trouble me anymore.”

“Right here, I can breathe within the mountain air. I can take heed to my neighbors chatting or simply play with stray canines,” the previous development employee mentioned. “I see these matchbox residences throughout the street and take into consideration what life could be like over there,” he mentioned, nodding on the high-rises. “I’d in all probability find yourself feeling remoted and depressed.”

Kim Chong-ho, 60, missionary

Kim is bracing for this summer season’s monsoon season. He did some restore work on his one-bedroom shack after it was hit by a record rainfall and typhoons final summer season.

He first set foot in Guryong three many years in the past, when he got here to Seoul from a southern island as a penniless jobseeker. “Nobody desires to return right here, however we [Guryong residents] ended up right here as a result of there was no different choice,” he mentioned.

Previous and impoverished residents of Guryong can’t afford even the rent-controlled public housing proposed by the federal government in its place, he mentioned.

“We’re additionally Gangnam residents, however the district officers refuse to accommodate to us. They deal with us as unvoiced,” he mentioned.

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