Chase the Dot

Too long for twitter, too short for a book.

An open letter to Gangnam City Hall and Mayor Shin Yeon Hee

Update: this happened AGAIN today (October 23rd, 2014).
An open letter to Gangnam City Hall.

Hello, my name is Adam. I’ve lived in this country for close to three years. I love this country and have traveled to nearly every corner of it. I love the people here, and I’ve been nothing short of taken with the friendliness I’ve received in my time here. It’s been a great place for me to call home.

I make it a point not to get involved in politics in this country. I know that living in a place that has a different structure than I grew up in necessitates my deference to the way things are here. I get it.

However, as to your actions towards the street vendors in this country, you are messing it up… Badly.

Here’s your reasoning, if I’m to understand correctly. These people were not paying rent, or didn’t have proper permits. They also were, in turn, not paying taxes on their earnings. They were also, in your laughable terms “threaten(ing) public safety”, by taking up sidewalk space. Right, let’s only lightly bring up that calling these bustling street food stands a ‘threat’ makes me question how you get around in an average day without a series of panic attacks.

As for permits and taxes: Sure. However… You could have gone a number of more diplomatic ways, like having them removed within 30 days if they failed to produce a permit and/or a tax registration number. This also would have given you opportunity to reduce the number of permits and places you issued them. I’m sorry to tell you that this is slightly more time-consuming, but it’s effective and humane. But I’m sure that wasn’t your objective. Nope. Instead.. you did this:

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You also wanted to get the area “cleaned up” to make it more “foreigner-friendly”. Let me tell you, street food is one of the most endearing parts of your culture. Every single foreigner I know has cravings for at least one of the cheap and endearing foods at these welcoming stalls. It’s a great foray into understanding Korea and its people, and I personally have some of the best conversations with the friendly older people running the stalls. Seriously, look at this lady! One of my favourite people I’ve met here.

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The entire respect I have for this country, wrapped up in every permed, flower-print pants wearing woman doing everything they can to make it by. Every one of them has seen this country in and out of a war, a financial crisis, and probably lost nearly everything they had…twice. And there they are, smiling and getting by. I have a great deal of respect for this country and its people, and their ability to march on, without complaint, to better things.

Here’s the thing: You’re politicians, and you have your priorities. These people are about, as a wild guess, 90% elderly people, using the stands as their primary source of income. I’m sure that there are considerations of gentrification and taxes, but these are also your constituents. As you are aware, the amount of elderly Koreans living below the poverty line is around 50%. HALF, with only a third receiving a pension. With those numbers, it’s hard to escape the notion that you, as their government, have failed them…big time.

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The above photo is from 2008, and unrelated to the specific events discussed prior to this. 

In fact, you’ve failed your elderly population as a nation for a long time now. These people may not have been forthcoming with permits or tax revenue, but they certainly are a lot less upset with the lack of care you all have shown to your older citizens than they should be. I don’t see a bunch of tax-evading hustlers threatening public safety when I take that mighty walk up from exit 11. I see people, old enough to deserve better treatment, hustling and selling food proudly and with a passion for doing themselves and their family proud.

But those people, those mandoo-slinging should-be retirees, were such a ‘threat’ that you hired goons to dismantle and throw their shops into the street on some lazy Monday. Well, you sure showed them.

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However, here’s what it showed a great number of people. You have the capacity to treat the most vulnerable people in your society without a shred of respect. You have continually shown the capacity to maliciously overreact to what could have been an administrative issue. You’ve shown me that a gutless, reactionary, and pitiful way to deal with this situation befitting of a junta. As you gentrify your city to show your face to the world, I hope you can do better by the people you claim to represent. After all, you do work for them.

-Adam R Carr

Answers to questions/statements about this article:

Q: You don’t understand , these people are not paying rent/not declaring taxes.

A: Oh, but I do. I clearly said that this, although sometimes the case, is no reason to hire thugs to knock over carts. Also, clearly this is ineffective (as well as thuggish).
Q/S: You have obviously never run a business. They are taking revenue away from people who pay rent!
A: Umm, I have owned a business. Also, none of the merchants on that main drag sell this kind of food. Why? Because the rent on that main road street would be quite the struggle when you’re hawking mandoo. In fact, there are very few restaurants on that main street at all unless they are high grossing, bigger brand restaurants (restaurants which don’t sell the same thing at all).
Q/S: They are run by the mafia, trust me.

A: Yeah, no. Trust me is not necessary and sufficient grounds to refute my opinion.
Q/S: They are a safety hazard/menace.

A: Do you mean safety hazard as in tripping? I’ll give you that maybe it is not good for congestion on the main sidewalk, sure. However, I’ve never spent any time standing in place on that street. I have spent time waiting to get up exit 11, but I don’t see either of us complaining about that.
Feel free to add your comment to the bottom. I would love to address your opinion. I’m not perfect, but I sure would appreciate a good counterpoint.

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19 comments on “An open letter to Gangnam City Hall and Mayor Shin Yeon Hee

  1. cashpost13
    March 11, 2014

    Reblogged this on Realist and Idealist and commented:
    Our friend Adam wrote this post about recent happenings in Korea. I have been learning more and more that for a culture that claims a grand respect for the elderly, they are not taken care of well by anyone (families and government alike). The elderly suicide rate is higher than that of the youth, and the youth rate is the highest in the world. It is a real shame.

  2. cashpost13
    March 11, 2014

    Foster and I just reblogged this on our site, so more people could see it. It’s a part of a grander issue to spread around. Thanks for writing about it!

  3. Felipe
    March 11, 2014

    I’ve been to Japan recently. There these street cars can only be installed after 6pm, and there is not a single one in the street before that time. Also, they must have all the prices listed (for not charging double to foreigners, for example). Finally, they receive inspections (real inspections) nearly very day to make sure everything is clean and in order. Now compare that to what you see in Seoul.
    There is no way to impose those conditions, or any conditions, on street vendors here. They occupy half the street permantly, they charge differently to each customer, higienic conditions are poor. Every time somebody tries to regulate this, they protest and there is no way to apply the law. Then , what would you do?
    Order and control, Korea needs some of this urgently.

    • Rich F
      March 11, 2014

      Order and control is not the same as smashing up someone’s livelihood. As a foreigner, I dont feel reassured when I see a gang attacking an individual and destroying their belongings. Perhaps you have confused order and control with violence and cruelty. This is a surprisingly common misunderstanding which occurs all over the world.

      • Felipe
        March 11, 2014

        As most of the people commenting on this issue, I don’t think that using thugs is right. I say a clear no to any form of violence.

        On the other hand, I am quite desperate aboput some things I see wveryday: motorbikes speeding on the sidewalks, taxis running on red traffic lights, people smoking and spitting under clear signs of 금연, cars parked on top of crosswalks, people littering the street as there is no tomorrow, and, of couse, street vendors who park their carts day and night not leaving space enough to walk comfortably.

        I see this everyday all around Seoul, and nobody seems to care because everybody agrees that there is no way to make people comply with the law and respect other people. Maybe some politician just got tired of notyfying these people they shouldn’t sell food there and decided to try to solve it the wrong way.

        Anyway, don’t cry for them. They will be back soon. There is only one thing more scary and stubborn than a Korean thug, and that is a Korean ajumma.

  4. Ben
    March 11, 2014

    I agree with this letter completely. Though I don’t know what will come of it. I myself lived in Korea for 4 years, and loved the country and it’s people. But as soon as my wife and child died, they were Korean. They denied me my proper visa and forced me out of the country. I spent almost 2 years fighting them in court and the final decision was that I had all the proper paperwork, and I deserved to stay, but they wouldn’t change immigrations decision, because immigration can do what they want. My mother even tried to contact higher people and eve Park Guen-Hye the new president because she was horrified that they would treat anyone, let alone a US citizen like this. They government is seriously lacking compassion, scruples and they don’t even follow their own laws they set down.

    • Ben
      March 11, 2014

      Can’t edit it for grammar…my apologies

      • adamrcarr
        March 12, 2014

        No worries. Thanks for your comments!

  5. Bob Smith
    March 11, 2014

    Look, I think everybody can agree that the government’s response was terrible and my gut response was total horror when I first saw that video. However, these people are 1) not paying taxes 2) don’t have permits 3) ignore ALL requests to remove this illegal property. On the other hand, there are plenty of stories in Gangnam who DO pay very high property taxes. I think you are understating this issue and really should do a bit more research before you ‘write a letter’ to the government. YES, the government was wrong to destroy their illegal property, but they were wrong to operate a stall without permit or taxes paid.

    • Bob Smith
      March 11, 2014

      *stores (darn auto correct)

      • adamrcarr
        March 12, 2014

        Fair point, Bob. My thoughts are about the same. I just think this country can do better at facing challenges like these.

  6. J
    March 11, 2014

    These places are a blight, the vendors do not pay rent, taxes, and pollute the streets and the sewage system with their waste. You clearly do not know how these vendors operate. 30 day notice? They’ve been given notices for years and years, yet do not comply. I’m glad someone has finally taken steps to get rid of these eyesores and public nuisances that materially hurt legitimate businesses.

  7. FredSavaged
    March 11, 2014

    So I get it that these people didn’t pay taxes, and they ignored numerous requests of moving their stands, but don’t try to say it’s not enforceable. It very much is, but they are just doing an incredibly shitty job of enforcing it.
    Korean police officers seem to be some of the laziest people in the world. This is why we have assholes on motorcycles speeding down sidewalks, because the majority of police officers are too f***ing lazy to enforce anything.
    Take the officers in the video as an example. They don’t even step in to protect these old ladies from those fat greasy slobs pushing them. They’re just casually watching and allowing a group of men fight each other and push a huge metal cart into traffic.
    If these ajummas aren’t paying taxes and are ignoring warnings, then document it and f***ing confiscate their sh**t. What happened was completely unnecessary and preventable.

  8. Thomas
    March 12, 2014

    Might wanna go easy on that whole “Open letter” part …. might get some unwanted attention.

    • adamrcarr
      March 12, 2014

      Wise words. Thanks for the thought!

  9. Angie
    March 18, 2014

    Another beautifully written piece… Well done!! xx

  10. Mark Cheron
    October 24, 2014

    I owned and operated a hot dog cart in a small Canadian city for 23 years. I had to put up with abuse from some restaurants, one even went so far as to go in front of city council to have my license revoked, claiming unfair competition. I sold hot dogs and sausages to people who did not have time to sit down in a restaurant. Said restaurant sold soup, salads, sandwiches, coffee, tea, desserts, hot meals etc. How I was competing with them is a mystery to me. Totally different market. Sure, I didn’t pay the same taxes and fees they did, but neither did I have the capacity to sell the same number of items they did. None of the restaurants in the city that were doing well had a problem with my business. In fact, when they did the city council thing, I had letters of support from the surrounding restaurants that were doing well. They realized the difference, and were not threatened by my business. Everyone deserves to make an honest living. If the Korean government made it possible for these folks to do it above board, I’m sure they would comply. But, the don’t, so what are these people supposed to do, starve? It’s ridiculous. And then to destroy their property, they’re nothing more then criminals. Shame on them.

  11. John Sangwon Suh
    October 24, 2014

    I just read your article and I would like to respond to some of your arguments which do not really reflect the situation in Korea at all.
    1. Are they really old and powerless?
    The majority of street vendors are, quite surprisingly, not individuals trying to live day by day. In fact, those vendors that got their places crashed in Gangnam probably made at least 10 grand, if not more, for what they were selling. They may be old, but I have seen many street vendors in Korea at many different places, and I would have to say that it just simply isn’t true that they are people who demand society’s pity in general. In addition, most vendors are not individuals but in organizations such as Korea Democratic Street Vendor’s Association, NCCV, etc., which are closely tied to the democratic party.
    2. Who’s being targeted?
    The ones that are being targeted most are clearly the ones that are in the main roads such as Gangnam. If those main ones are owned by anyone, why would it be the old people? In fact, many of those vendors and street merchants who sell hats and shitty clothes in these bustling places are just money-hogging young people. They make at least 10 grand per month, and considering that you don’t even know what goes into the food, no taxes nor cleanliness, they would still get more than enough money to be considered nowhere close to being “poor”.
    3. Does the government have the right to do so?
    You make it sound like the government and the police do not put in a lot of effort in trying to persuade them, but prior to such thugs being hired, the vendors receive numerous warnings that they will need to move. If they try to do the removing process “nicely”, they bring people from the confederations and resist. If some restaurant reports them to the police, they harass the restaurant. These things are reported in the news but don’t get much attention because people like you only make light of the “unfortunate” events that seems to happen.

    I can go longer and list why they deserve to be evacuated, and why it had to be in such manner, but I’d like to say that not seeing these street vendors in the main streets have in fact really helped ease pedestrian traffic and outrageous littering issues that some of the main places in Seoul had. I hope that when you write articles like this, you are more cognizant of both sides of the coin and show a more accurate picture of things.

    • adamrcarr
      October 24, 2014

      Thank you so much for providing me with some additional perspective on the situation. Let me try to address these issues.
      1) i can agree that, maybe those individuals are making a fair bit of money. Sure.
      While my argument was more that the treatment of the elderly in general require a systemic change and that perhaps this behaviour was indicative of that, it never hurts to acknowledge that some of these people in particular are not, in these cases, impoverished.

      If these people belong to organisations, why are they not represented in a dialogue with the Gangnam gu government? It seems counterintuitive to have an organization that does not have a proper agreement among its members, if not a functional relationship with the government.

      As far as them being affiliated with the democratic party, one might infer that these tactics could be, in part, politically motivated. If that’s the case, that’s just additionally disappointing.

      2) Who is being targeted?
      No one, in everyday life. People know they’re buying shitty clothes, or knock off sunglasses. People know that. They also have a measure of trust with the idea that, if those people make food that makes people sick, no one will eat there. even if you believe in nothing but the free market, it stands to reason that fear rattling over safety concerns is also a reason to regulate and not annihilate. I’m all for regulation, especially of health and safety. I’ve run restaurants, i know all about it.

      3) Maybe they were warned, maybe talking to them didn’t get far. Maybe the organizations that represent those people are failing. Maybe they mailed a note to the government with a picture of their middle fingers in it. Regardless of any of that, this kind of thing, especially the way it was done, is a stain on the reputation of a government’s legitimacy and healthy relationship with its people.

      My argument, although admittedly one-sided, was meant to provide one point of which I have not, even in light of your thoughtful response, changed:

      Hiring thugs to destroy street carts and intimidate its citizens is wrong. Seize carts until taxes are paid, things are reformed. Japan, Canada, China, America… so many other countries operate without this nonsense.

      I do not understand why this country repeatedly acts in a way that is befitting of organized crime on this matter.

      Is the government unable to provide a better solution? Then it is impotent. Is the government unwilling? There’s the more likely answer.

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This entry was posted on March 10, 2014 by in Korea Life, Rants and tagged , , , , , .
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