Is Ulsan the next Detroit?

In a recent class wih a group of adult students we discussed an article about Detroit which depicted the rise and fall of the city. I was expecting a discussion about the global financial crisis and other economical issues, and therefore I was shocked when they claimed that Ulsan was set to be the next Detroit.

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 Hyundai Motors, Ulsan plant.

For anyone who is unaware of Ulsan, I will give you a brief introduction. It has been dubbed the ‘industrial armpit of Korea’, because it houses Hyundai Motors (the worlds largest car assembly), Hyundai Heavy Industry (the largest shipyard) and SK Energy (the second largest oil refinery). Ulsan is currently the second richest city in South Korea, and therefore the second most expensive city to live in.

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Detroit car assembly line.

Evidently, there are a few similarities between modern Ulsan and Detroit in the early 20th century. In recent years there has been several strikes in the industrial sector as employees have attempted to get pay rises. The big companies have struck back, and steadily more and more work has been shipped abroad to countries with lower wages. People who live near to the industrial centre have claimed that the neighbourhood has gradually been getting quieter; a few years ago it would be lively at clocking out time, but now many of the restaurants and bars are quiet. There are tales of empty office blocks, and rent has dropped significantly in the past five years.

The affinity of the two cities becomes unnerving the more you look at it. Obviously, a multitude of cities go through financial difficulties, and with the current popularity of gentrification has put a positive spin on economic collapse. Even Detroit – the biggest American city to go bankrupt – is currently undergoing a transformation as money is siphoned back into the city. However, it is still massively concerning to consider how Koreans would handle the financial ruin of city like Ulsan after spending so many years growing and becoming stronger.

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The Manchester Attacks

A week ago, I awoke to the tragedy of the Manchester attacks. Over the past few years I haven’t spent much time living there, but it’s where I was born and raised, and frankly it will always be my home. Obviously, I was heartbroken when I heard the news. Living so far away made it even harder to deal with this catastrophe, because I believed that no one would understand my turmoil. 

However, as the week wore on, students and friends showed me endless compassion, and this softened my heartbreak and the homesickness that accompanied it. As I dragged myself out of my negative mindset, I became aware of the positive actions that surrounded this horrific event. In Manchester, taxi drivers turned off their meters in order to evacuate the arena. When the local hospitals ran out of food, companies and individuals supplied them with refreshments. Many tattoo artists worked for free inking the iconic Manchester bee onto the skin of numerous individuals. After the minutes silence at St. Ann’s Square, the crowd erupted into a spontaneous rendition of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger. 

There have been countless charitable actions that have proved just how amazing humans are. Unfortunately, the main thing we’ll remember about the 22nd May is the vicious attack against so many innocent people. Perhaps what we should remember about this day is the avalanche of charity and bravery that encompassed so many people during the aftermath. If we can focus on the positives, the world doesn’t seem like such a bad place. 

Public Address System

It’s deepest, darkest winter. The air is so dry that it sticks in my throat and has transformed my skin into a crumbling wreck. If I touch something metallic, I’m likely to receive an electric shock. The landscape resembles something post-apocalyptic, with the dry, desolate mountains and the skeletal trees. The wind is pounding against the balcony windows of my 13th floor apartment. I roll over in bed and glance at my phone, it’s 6 a.m.; I still have a couple of hours before I need to drag myself out from beneath the covers. I wrap myself up in a cocoon as I settle back down.

Suddenly, the PA system, that’s located above the bathroom door, cheerily pings to life. The security guard surly voice grumbles something in Korean, a language that – despite the time I’ve spent living here – I do not speak. I put my head under the covers in a half-arsed attempt to block out his incomprehensible stream, but it’s impossible. He continues for an indefinitely long period, and then the cheery ping signals that he’s finished.

I carry the curse of being a light sleeper, so now sleep completely evades me. I fume as I thrash around in bed before deciding to face the day. How can this man, who signs for my packages when I’m out, storm into my apartment at 6 a.m. and rouse me from my bed? I really didn’t sign up to live in an Orwellian nightmare.

Are you a boy?!

A year ago I cut off my waist length hair and donated it to an amazing charity called Little Princess Trust that makes wigs for children. I was in awe of the generosity of my friends and family who helped me to raise over £900 for the charity. I’m not going to lie and say that my actions stemmed from an innate desire to act charitably; in fact it was the Korean summer that instigated my plan.

I grew up in England, where the summer can be completely unpredictable; on an average day you might interchangeably need a jacket, jumper, umbrella and a cup of tea to survive the perils of the weather. However, Korean summers are cemented in a suffocating cocoon of heat and humidity that was foreign to me. It’s not uncommon for the weather in Ulsan to reach more than 30c, and this combined with close to 100% humidity is unbearable. I felt like I was drowning in sweat under my thick mop of curly hair, and I spent the majority of the summer with my hair scraped back off my face.

During this period I worried about how I would handle 6 months travelling around South East Asia – a region renowned for its hot, humid weather. I contemplated getting my hair braided, but the fact is that this takes a bit of work to maintain, and if I have to wash my hair more than once a week it’s too much effort for me. For years I had been growing out my hair, trying to get it as long as possible and keep it looking healthy, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I began contemplating cutting my hair short. However, after a lot of research I decided that this was by far the best option. Ultimately, this was my chance to give something back, and I would still reap the reward of a cool head whilst travelling. 

All of my life I have preferred the dentist to the hairdressers. Curly hair has this annoying ability of springing up an extra 6 inches when you get a one inch trim, and I’ve been left frustrated by an uncountable amount of haircuts. Evidently, I was terrified when I walked into the Korean hairdressers and requested that they remove the majority of my hair. 

In the end, I was happy with the results. Generally, I received a positive response from my friends and family. There were one or two students who didn’t like my new style, and on more than one occasion I have been asked whether I am a boy, but this doesn’t really bother me. One year later, I’m starting to grow out my hair again, and in a few years I plan to donate it once more. 

 

 

Trump

The election campaign for the President of the United States of America was a perpetual stream of outrageous statements and bizarre results. Trump, the candidate who many people would have presumed was least likely to succeed at the start, has spent the past two years becoming more popular and powerful as he stepped closer to the White House. The campaign and debates were equally terrifying and hilarious. At times, as candidates denounced one another, they slipped into the realm of low budget reality TV; a genre perfectly moulded to suit Trump’s larger than life personality.

​There was public outrage at Trump’s success, and this was fuelled by the fact that Hilary Clinton actually won the popular vote by an estimated 2.83 million. Many Americans feel let down by the college electorate system which ultimately chooses the President; an elector casts the vote for a whole area, and they are not obliged to vote in favour of the most popular candidate. It seems wholly unjust that in ‘the land of the free’ your vote might actually be worthless, and perhaps this is one of the reasons that an estimated 57% of the population didn’t vote.

​However, it wasn’t the injustice of the college electorate that carried Trump to the final debates. Trump stood with a politically clean slate in contrast to the other candidates – particularly Clinton who has been in politics for over thirty years, and has held the title of First Lady, Senator of New York and Secretary of State. In recent years, distrust of politicians has grown because of multiple scandals. Therefore, is it really a surprise that this election has seen a vast percentage of the public turn their back on traditional nominees, and reach for an alternative like Trump and Bernie Sanders. We can only speculate about the result if Sanders had won the Democratic nomination. Nevertheless, it seems that the nation was ready for a big political transformation.

​Trump stands in complete opposition to conventional candidates; mainly because he lacks a political background, but there are numerous other factors that have made him stand out. He is a businessman first, and has ran his campaign like a business. He’s made some outrageous claims, in order to encourage voters, and many of them will never come into fruition. His whole campaign was dripping with false propaganda that has stirred up an unsavoury mentality of hate and fear. Despite Clinton’s obvious superiority on many topics throughout the debates, Trump still managed to win the public over like the successful businessman that he is.

​If Trump sticks to even half of his proposals there are going to be some big changes in America over the next four years. It is presumed that many of these alterations will benefit the privileged, enabling them to get richer, and therefore furthering the inequality of wealth. Certainly this disparity will lead to civil unrest; a reoccurring theme in the States over recent years.

​As the year ends, many people continue to wonder what Trump will accomplish during his term. The 1,000 mile wall that would separate America from its Mexican neighbours has become an integral image of his campaign, but it is highly doubtful that this border will materialise during the Trump years. However, a wall has been built in America, because the election has divided families, friends and whole towns. This election will continue to mould the next four years for everyone, but for now we can only speculate about the impact that it will have.

Learning that Korea hasn’t put my life on hold

Two years ago, when my plans for a life in Korea were gradually consolidating, I felt elated about the path that my life was heading down. It was so exhilarating to be opting for a life of exploration and endless possibilities. Living abroad is generally associated with a chance to evolve and, whilst it might sound cliqued, to find yourself and this was what I was hoping for. 

However, once I had settled into Korean life, the euphoria gradually dulled. It’s such a shame that we are often unable to perceive just how spectacular our life is when we’re submerged in it. With time I noticed all the amazing things that were happening to the people I knew at home; promotions and engagements, babies and mortgages. I congratulated each person and privately wondered when I would be in that position, from where I was sitting it felt like it might never happen.

Whilst I have always loved my life in Korea, there were times when I would look at the progression of my peers life back home and feel that I had been left in the dust. My return to England became daunting as I believed that I would be exactly the same person who left the country two years ago, whilst the people around me would have blossomed into lush, complex gardens. I dreaded these people coming to conclusions that I had wasted my time in Korea.

It has taken some serious meditation on this subject for me to come to terms with the fact that I have flourished just as much as my peers, but my growth is different to theirs. My life has prospered so much during my time here, admittedly not in the readily apparent ways of my friends at home, but the alterations have been magnificent in their own respect. Life abroad has taught me innumerable things about the world, the people that live in it and myself and I am grateful of that. 

Hosting 

During our time in Korea we have been flattered to host so many friends and family. It really does fill you with love when you hear that someone wants to travel half way around the world just to hang out with you. Whilst these reunions are mostly overflowing with excitement, there is an underlying sense of despondency.

Living abroad is viewed as exotic and exhilarating, no matter where you may live; it’s the allure of the unknown. Social media has vastly aided this image, you can paint a certain picture of your life one filled with intriguing friends, thrilling parties, a stimulating job and all based in an impressive city. However, this image is often akin to a fresh slick of paint over an old crumbling wall. Of course, living abroad offers multiple amazing opportunities, but it is still just an existence filled with up and downs that comprise life.

Personally, I never broadcast my lows, so whenever a guest was expected I was concerned that they would see through the glossy paint to how plain my life really was. I felt that I was upholding the photo shopped image for not only myself, but every person who was living abroad. If my guests twigged on that my life was not a thrilling rollercoaster, the whole effigy would unravel.

However, my anxiety that flourished as each visit approached was groundless. I had forgotten the colossal thrill that Korea had filled me with when I first arrived. My own incessant picture taking has long since ceased, but Korea has still remained an unbelievably sensational place. As I watched my guests gaze in awe and snap numerous pictures of what I have grown to view as normal, I relished the fact that their fresh eyes were enabling me to view Korea as what it really is once more. It is a country that I feel truly blessed to have called home over the past 18 months, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.