Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Photo Essay Tribute to Diversity

Here in the downtown center of Seoul, I get to see some amazing things. One thing that blows my mind is the amazing diversity of activities that young Seoulites enjoy when they hang out together. Here are nineteen different places my friends here in the downtown enjoy, and frequently suggest, when I want to spend a few hours with them.

Really, it's an embarrassment of riches and variety.

All of these places are within about a twenty minute of walk of this first place (which just opened last week: apparently there weren't enough to meet the demand!) I opted not to go past City Hall Station (at least one more) or Gwanghwamun Station (at least two more) and there might be one or five of these which I missed, in building lobbies and such.

The flowers in front signal a new opening, and good luck.

I swear these are each unique, individual places.

The atmosphere is TOTALLY different in this one: they play the Starbucks mix CD volume 3 more often than the other ones!

The one above and the one below this caption are within a hundred steps of each other.

Below is the one nearest to my workplace. It's across the street from a Dunkin Donuts (which may be the subject of another photo essay in the near future.)

The one below is in the prettiest setting of them all.

These next two are two photos of the same place -- it got me to an even twenty photos, and it's the coolest one, because of the roof, which is just like the old style houses, temples, and palaces. I like thinking of it as the Temple to Coffee.

Insadong is a traditional market, so they wouldn't allow the English letters on this one. I once heard it's the only Starbucks in the world where the word Starbucks is written in a different lettering system. That makes it my favourite one -- this is a close as they get to adapting their shop for different cultures. I'm not sure what to think of that.

Nothing says ubiquity like Starbucks Korea!

Again: all those places are within a twenty minute walk of each other.

Starbucks had a shop in the Forbidden Palace in China for a while. . . it might still be there, but I know some Chinese officials were complaining about the corporatization of one of their national monuments. All I can say is, I bet the CEO of Starbucks leaves a message on the answering machines of the MacDonalds and Burger King and Dunkin Donuts CEO's once a week saying "I got one in the Forbidden Palace! Where did YOU get a franchise? Sucker!"

Having a chain franchise in the Forbidden Palace is kind of the chain store equivalent of hooking up with Jessica Alba (or Bridget Bardot, or Darryl Hannah, or Julia Roberts, in their primes, depending on your age) -- you get bragging rights for life, over anyone, ever, except Paul Henderson, (you Canadians know what I'm talking about there,) Tom Brady, and Joe DiMaggio (geez. World Series, MVP, AND married Marilyn Monroe! Throw some cold water on me!)

I learned today that in a lot of English-Korean dictionaries, and maybe even in the Korean language in general, there is no distinction between the word "individualist" and "selfish" (hence the stigma against marching to the beat of your own drum, I suppose.)

(The old debate: does language create culture, or does culture create language? continues. I find this debate as interesting as the old chicken or the egg riddle.)

It is with great dismay that I watch new dunkin donuts, baskin robbins, macdonalds, burger king, ralph lauren, revlon, outback steakhouse, and nike stores opening all around downtown seoul. Because of the collectivist tendency of Korean thinking (the nail that sticks up its head gets hammered down), this city and brand name advertising were a match made in heaven -- if the right star is spotted holding a Louis Vuitton Handbag

this. exact. one.

suddenly every woman in Korea (and Japan) NEEDS to have one. There was a point last summer when, of twelve Korean women working in my office, at least four were coming to work with the exact same handbag (real or fake, I don't know, but there you go.) I've seen about a thousand of those things. Probably more.

anyway, brand names are ridiculous here. just ridiculous. the pressure to fit in is unbelievable, and everybody feels it, and sometimes (maybe this is just my western bias) I just feel so so sad that people become so self-confined by their own worry that a stranger might judge them.

There's strength in unity, sure. When Koreans get behind a project or a cause, the energy and enthusiasm is balls-to-the-wall and amazing to see, but when people feel the need to buy a handbag or car they don't need, just to keep up with the joneses (or the Kims, I suppose), I just wonder how many never bothered to stop and ask "do I actually LIKE spending so much of my life-energy on the opinions of people who don't love me anyway?"



tamie marie said...

hee hee, you are so funny! we have all sorts of diversity here in the united states too! it's called wal-mart.

melissa v. said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Tamie made me LAUGH OUT LOUD!!! Too true. The other day a coworker asked me for restaurant recommendations in Langley and I could think of ONE restaurant which was not a chain. There are more, of course, but few and far. Part of the pathos is that I rarely GO to a non chain so I didn't know what to recommend! WAIT we have Home Depot...Save on Foods...Best mean NONE of those are original??

Mary Anna said...

Just what I wanted to see (when we come for a visit) - my favorite tazo latte tea place. Such choice!

Roboseyo said...

i think it's because humans are hardwired to prefer the familiar. we'll always choose quiznos over a mom & pop truckstop because with quizno's, we know what we're getting, where with the unknown, it might be good, but it might be bad.