Recognising Value in Korea

There’s a lot to be said for value. Much of what we value, or how we place value on something, depends on our recognition of the use and importance of the particular subject in question. Like a four day work week, which may have more value to a person who regularly works a five or six day week than to a person who only works three days a week. It’s all about how much worth we put in particular things.

Today is May 5. Up until around seven years ago this day meant nothing to me. There’s no reason to really celebrate May 5th in Ireland, other than when it is the first Monday of the month of May. In Korea, today is Children’s Day. In Mexico and the U.S. , today is Cinco de Mayo which is a day to celebrate Mexican heritage and pride.

On the fifth of May in Korea it is common practice to take children out and treat them well, such as taking them to amusement parks or what have you, and then to a restaurant and a toy shop. Despite the sunshine, it is not a day for the childless to consider a spin on the merries or other similar delightful pursuits.

Cinco de Mayo, as I’ve been informed, is a day that many in the U.S. consider themselves to be all a little bit Mexican, kind of like Paddy’s Day. It is celebrated with a certain amount of fervour. Around the world, some people place value in this day, while at the same time many do not.

There are other examples also. During the week a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream went under the hammer at Sotherby’s and netted a price of $119 million, a record price apparently. The money from which will go to fund a museum, art centre, and hotel in Norway – a good example of the role of cost and value and how they can be compared and utilised.

Korea is a country where I have often found the parallels between cost and value to be outstanding. Modern Korea is a new country and many things here have very high costs. These costs do not always reflect the actual value of something. I’ve often found that the cost of something does not represent its actual value for money. Take the price of high-end goods, which are taxed and priced to the point that their cost, in my own opinion, imply a false sense of value.

There is a big difference between value and actual cost, and property is a perfect example of this. I had a conversation with a coworker last night and we discussed the phenomenom of living in Gangnam when your actual work is in Suwon. My coworker who has only lived in Korea a few years but has lived and worked around the world, including several years in Germany, Vietnam, and even Ireland (my coworker is a European from an non-English speaking country, for what it’s worth). He was baffled by the demand to live in such an expensive area of the country, when one could easily live in a similar level of comfort and not have to pay so much for it if they lived close to their place of work. I agreed with him that it was baffling, and that I enjoyed living within walking distance from work and within a short commute of the city. Here again is a very good example of value.

What myself and my coworker value is obviously very different from what people who live in an area like Gangnam value, because there is actual value to living in an area like Gangnam. Take Herself’s good friend who is a doctor. She is married to a doctor who runs his own clinic in Anyang and they have two young kids, but they choose to live in Gangnam where he commutes from every day. On paper it’s madness, until you look at the broader picture.

Gangnam is where people with influence will grow up, and this will have value in the future. The parents will make friends and make connections which will both effect them and will also benefit the children possibly twenty years down the line. It’s like one big networking event with and without alcohol, and if you don’t get in early you will probably miss the finger food and go hungry for the rest of the night.

Korea is a competitive country, there’s no doubt about that, and choosing where you live is just another way of making sure that you are in the right position to be presented with opportunities to take you above what can only be described as the competition. In a small country these connections have more value than whether or not you can stroll into work on a Sunday morning in twenty five minutes.

4 thoughts on “Recognising Value in Korea

  1. Gangnam … don’t get me started about Gangnam. My buddy misspelled it on a text: Gagnam. I said, yeah, that’s how I’m gonna spell it from now on. As in, “Gag-me-with-spoon-nam.”


    • I don’t disagree. I remember you quoted Jake from Expat Hell appropriately … Something about new money … As far as I’m concerned the place is a transit station between where I live and more interesting places in the city. But it has it’s purpose and I thought it would be a good example.


  2. Your example is spot on. It illustrates precisely my negative opinion of the place, and the reasons for it.

    These days I teach out of my house, but I get offers to go out to Gag-nam. “It’s big money, important people, great opportunity for you!” No thanks. It’s been my experience that such people will SAY that education is important, and put their money in that, but nevertheless they treat educators as they would their other hired servants, the people who drive their cars for them or clean their bathrooms.

    To me, they are arrogant jerks with messed up value systems – until they prove to me otherwise.

    (I have some good Korean friends who live there. I liked them before I found out. There are exceptions to the broad brush I’m painting with, obviously.)


  3. Pingback: An Old Car in My Neighbourhood | If I had a minute to spare…

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