I've always been a walker, every city I've lived in or traveled too, I've also probably wandered and explored by foot. It could be something I picked up from my father who's often by spotted by my friends walking the streets of Greendale, or more likely it's just another attribute of my desire for a simple life. While friends are sitting behind screens watching Netflix, complaining about having nothing to do, or spending all their money on drinks, coffee, food or the newest trend, I'm wandering back alleyways and side streets, curious about who's living behind the walls, who came before and who will come after.
This habit really started back when I lived in Andong and decided that my [grandma] knees didn't like the pounding that came along with running. I had time on my hands and thus opted for long walks accompanied by podcasts in place of my Big Bang fueled runs. I remember during these walks noting the stark contrast between new, high-rise apartment buildings and older neighborhoods dotted with uniquely designed houses. Fast forward five years and here I am living in one of the richest neighborhoods of Daegu, yet have still managed to find some character and history, leading to curiosity and so many questions. I'm not sure how Beomeo-dong became what it is today, filled with elite hagwons, expensive car dealerships and Instagram trendy cafes, but there's definitely a few traces of the past left behind, I just worry they won't be around for long.
A few weeks ago I noticed caution tape wrapped around multiple apartment buildings and businesses only a few blocks from my home. One of my co-workers lives in the area and when I mentioned it she told me they're working on a redevelopment projects and will be soon tearing down most of these buildings. I would have to imagine that before long the old buildings and homes will be leveled to the ground, with plans for fancy new high-rise apartments to take their place. I understand there is a housing problem in Korea, everyone wants to live in the city, but there's just not enough space, but I wonder are they wiping out the history and charm? I suppose it's the same as gentrification in the States, old towns get wiped with new and improved ones, but is this all really for the better?
As I wander down side streets and back alleys I continually find myself thinking about the people. I know property is not cheap in Korea, so I often wonder who lives in these homes? I rarely come across other individuals while wandering, but if I do they're almost always double my age and often pushing carts of cardboard - but that's a whole other phenomenon of Korea. It seems that most of the homeowners are senior citizens, likely having lived in this neighborhood for years, so what is their perception of the change? Their streets are now dotted with BMW, Maserati, Porsche and other high-end cars, while only a few miles away are "Trump World Tower" (I know, even here in Korea I can't escape his name) one of the most expensive apartment buildings in Daegu.
After having recently finished Sapiens, a book that analyzes the development path of our species, discussing in-depth the transition from simple hunter-gatherer tribes through agricultural revolutions and now on to a mass-producing, ultra consuming culture, I can't help but question, why? What is the point of all our advancements? We continually create new technology, but all it leads us to do is work harder, earn more, buy more and live longer, but the question no one seems to ask or consider is if we're really better off? Listening to one of Jay Shetty's podcasts episodes the other day, guest Lisa Bilyeu said something that really struck me, "There are too many billionaires who have committed suicide to think that money's gonna be the answer", and isn't that the damn truth.
I first started contemplating all of this last week when I updated my Instagram with a picture from my morning walk, an interesting wall I spotted only a few streets over from my apartment building. I know I'm not alone in wanting to retreat to a simpler time, but with the society we live in it seems living simple is more of a challenge than is following the norm, chasing money and success. I feel though that there are changes coming with the next generation, more and more people are waking up to the destruction we're inflicting on our planet. New trends of rooftop and bus stop gardens, up-cycling, do-it-yourself projects and shopping vintage or second-hand clothing are replacing the consumerist ideals of the last 20-30 years.
Deep thoughts aside though, I hope not all the old towns and unique charm get swept away from the streets of Korea (and beyond). Tucked away in these neighborhoods there's a great amount of charm and character, the architecture of the buildings is more interesting than the cold hard corners of new sky rise apartments, including a surprising amount of street art. There are countless mural neighborhoods (turned tourist destinations) sprinkled throughout Korea: Gamcheon Village in Busan, Dongpirang in Tongyeong, the Penguin Village in Gwangju, Cheongju's Suamgol Mural Village and well you get the point. Even here, in the back alleys and side streets of my neighborhood, unbeknownst to many there's beautiful artwork to be found. During this time of isolation and quiet, while the Cornoavirus seems to be taking over the city, it's the small things which remind me about the good in the world and bring some light on even the darkest of days.
Where to start. After living in this country for three years I have memories, experiences and stories galore. I'll now always be a bit partial to the Land of the Morning Calm. Filled with delicious foods, beautiful nature and friendly people, I'm always happy to return.