We spent last week in Korea, as both Jieun and my parents were there, and the kids had a week off from school. Not much to say about Korea itself. We go fairly frequently – we were just there last summer for a month – and I had no novel observations about the place. What was really weird though was coming back to London. It’s just a strange feeling to come “back” from a trip to a place that apparently still doesn’t feel like home.
It also served in my mind to highlight more the differences between Korea and England. I actually find the way of life in Seoul and London more similar than life in Cupertino – they’re both about city life, crazy traffic, not well traveled by car, crowded, an emphasis on compactness. But there are some differences that stand out.
For one, while there’s a strong emphasis on coffee in both places (hinted at in Gangnam Style) (and I don’t know why, but in both, it’s more espresso drinks. It’s relatively difficult to find good drip coffee in both cities – they usually do Americanos instead), now that I’m used to London’s coffee, Korea’s feels like rubbish. Even the good places in Korea, in my opinion, their ratio of milk to espresso and the flavor of the coffee itself just wasn’t that good.
Korea also feels way taller than England. For such a big, crowded city, there are oddly few high-rises in London, even in the center. There are virtually no high-rise apartments. I’m chalking that up to historicity and zoning limitations. It’s the opposite in Korea, where everything is almost scary tall. We have some friends that live on the 28th floor of their complex, and it’s always mildly frightened me. Even Giwoong’s 9th floor apartment is a little scary.
SN: building limitations are bad. I’ve been reading a lot of Matthew Yglesias recently and his book is all about why limitations on building depress local economies. For example, the Bay Area should be leading a massive economic boom right now, with all the money generated by Silicon Valley companies. It should be attracting tons of people to live, work and spend money there, expanding the tax base and leading to a rapidly growing local economy, as in Gold Rush days or in any other local economic windfall. But that’s stifled by the lack of housing, which limits how many people can move there. Everyone complains about the high housing prices, but once you become a homeowner, you sure as heck don’t want prices to fall drastically, so as much as they hate it, owners have a personal interest in keeping them relatively high, and therefore in further limiting the housing supply.
SSN: which is why the increasing inequality in the US really worries me. The housing situation in the Bay Area is just a reflection of a larger problem that happens when most of the resources are owned by the few. They have an incentive to keep things that way, so the situation perpetuates or even gets worse. Barring drastic action, I think Russia will never escape oligarchy for that reason – it’s impossible to do anything that negatively impacts the people who literally own the entire country. I’m no historian, but when I see massive inequality, I don’t see how it gets resolved except by war or revolution, and that scares me.
Whoa, digression. Back to Korea. I’ve said this before, but I find it weird how so much of the Korean language just seems to be transliterated English. But it’s not just the language. This makes no sense to be me, but it’s far easier to get American food in Seoul than in London. There are far more US chains in Seoul. And certain foods (like hot dogs, even barbecue) are much easier to get in Seoul also. Really odd. And with sports – I was watching the news and they had highlights from the day’s baseball and basketball games. That also contrasts with England, where they essentially don’t play any sports they didn’t come up with themselves (e.g. soccer, cricket, rugby, tennis, golf).
I’m still thinking this out, but I have a theory that this also reflects something about England. Because I was reminded in Korea how odd it is that no foreign sport (but specifically baseball and basketball) has made any inroads in England. Is there any other country in the world where that’s true? I’m going to make the claim that there’s not, that England is the only country in the world where fewer than 1 percent of the population plays baseball or basketball.
What I think that reflects is that England has a mindset that they’re just going to do things their own way and screw everyone else. They’ll join the EU, but screw the Euro, they’ll stick with the pound sterling. They’ll mostly use the metric system, but not for distance (still miles), weight (stones), area (sometimes square footage, but inconsistent) and some other things. And why on earth would they play an actually entertaining (if American) sport?
Which is also why I have my doubts if the NFL will really take off here. Grantland had a piece pretty much saying the same thing. Brits just don’t care about sports (or things in general) that aren’t their own. And if basketball and baseball haven’t made inroads here when they have pretty much everywhere else in the world, I doubt American football will either.
One last difference – London is cold. I’d already gotten used to it. But going to Korea, I was reminded – man, it’s cold here. Not freezing – it hasn’t gone below 0 yet, and the lows are usually not that bad, just a tad under 10. But it’s not warm. Like virtually never hits 20. Most of the time it’s in the low teens, with just a few degrees difference between the daily high and low. If I were to characterize the weather here, it’s almost always cool and damp. But yeah, you get used to it. It didn’t even occur to me to bring shorts to Korea, which I could have used, because there’s no need here. Also, I totally understand the tea culture now. When it’s constantly cool, it’s pretty much always nice to have a spot of tea, something to warm you up.