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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