Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Mysteries of Korea #1

KC and I recently joined a health club. We thought about joining the same health club about two years ago, but balked at the price. Then about a month ago we looked into it again, and thought, “Hey, that’s cheap!” The price hasn’t changed (except maybe to go up), but our conception of the price has.

We’ve been living in Seoul for almost 3 years now and the Korean economy is still a mystery to me. Food is outrageously expensive, and local produce is more expensive than imported produce. How is that possible? I used to spend 100 dollars a week on groceries in the US, to feed the three of us (KC, me, Aiden) three meals a day. Now, KC eats out two meals a day and Aiden eats out one meal a day, but I spend close to 100 dollars a week just on fruit. FRUIT!!! And I rarely buy meat or fish because it is too expensive. How is it that a country that is surrounded by water on three sides can have such expensive seafood?

And yet, if you order food (other than pizza -- pizza has cheese which is very expensive), this food is quite cheap, delicious, and is delivered free in a short time. Chinese food or kimpap, will arrive in 10-20 minutes and be cheaper than cooking yourself. Not only do these restaurants have to pay for real estate and ingredients, but they also have to employ delivery men. How do they stay afloat?

Same thing at the salon. Here I go to one of the nicer places to get a haircut, and it costs me 18 bucks. They have someone to wait on me and bring me tea while I wait, someone to wash my hair, someone to stand on the side while the guy is cutting my hair and hand him stuff (much like a nurse would for a surgeon), someone to dry my hair so the main guy doesn’t have to do it. And you don’t even tip!

Starbucks is the most expensive in Korea. A tall latte here is almost 4 dollars -- more expensive than in Tokyo. This is why whenever I go back to the US I always want to go have coffee.

People here make a smaller salary than in the US. Housing is ridiculously expensive (to buy or tiny apartment would cost you about $600,000 US), gas is 3 times higher than the US, and educational expenses are quite high. Hakwon (the tutoring institutions) which almost all kids attend are outrageously expensive -- and in competitive areas like where we live, many people spend $3,000 US a month on the kid’s education. How is this possible? And people are carrying around Louis Vuitton bags.

Well, I may be skulking around Seoul wearing my cheap Gap tee-shirt and sending my kid to taekwondo (only $80 a month), but on the other hand we travel to the US twice a year and China and other places as well... you can buy a lot of designer handbags for that cost. So I guess my own spending habits are as mysterious as everyone else’s.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Does the government pay for retirement and healthcare in Korea? As in the U.S., and probably anyplace else, when did it go out of vougue to save a dollar here and there? Do we REALLY need that new handbag? What does it actually do for you and your family? Will it send your children to college? Help them in their future or when you have to pay for someone to care for you (either a happy, well paid employee or "I hate my job" type person,)or allow you to SPEND more time together maybe visiting loved ones? We might not have the new handbag, but we will retire millionaires when that handbag has gone out of style, and be sure we grow old in dignity, and hopefully this will help our children.

Got off in a different direction. Hope not too dramatic. Just give me a podium and I can go on and on and ....