Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The last two days, the Powers-That-Be have decided to do some very loud roadwork directly outside the windows of my classroom--it is literally 15 meters away, and has mainly involved ripping up 8 inches of asphalt, and breaking the big chunks into smaller pieces using the shovel end of a backhoe.

It is, to say the least, quite loud. And timed to overlap with anything I have to say in class. Then late this afternoon, I saw the reason they were doing this: after scraping away the asphalt, they began spreading new asphalt.

They did not lay new pipes. They did not work on the sewage system. They did not regrade the area, at least not in a way that involved a sextant or any observable measuring device. They did not change the contour, since it is simply a one lane L-corner bordered by a building and the brick fencing of the school.

No, all they did was rip out the old asphalt and put in new asphalt. Period.

This is the kind of thing you do, if you're a governmental agency, in November, say--when you've done everything you can usefully do with your budget, but you have to spend it all up before the end of the fiscal year.

So either they're getting a record head start on the end-of-year government budget spending spree or the Gangseo-gu government believes asphalt must be kept up-to-date. Last winter, they resurfaced the road at the Deungchon Market (excuse me, that's the Mok-dong-sam Market). So maybe this is just a part of the masterplan to resurface the entire district, kind of how they repaint the Golden Gate Bridge: once you finish up over at the west end, you go back to the east end and start over.

Or, for my Dear Readers from Albion, like painting the Forth Bridge, eh?


조안나 said...

I'm always amazed by what gets by government budget committees here. Sometimes I feel as though they just have unlimited budgets for certain things.

Recently, I've noticed the digital maps popping up around. Each one must cost quite a bit. They are super cool, but quite unnecessary.

On the other hand, back at home where I'm from, the metropolitan Boston transportation authority released all it's GPS information to the public so someone else can figure out how make a program to predict what time your bus will arrive... and they'll also let that someone else make an app for your phone so that you can get that info. Aka, no money spending on the government's part at all.

Now, the question is, why does Korea have money to constantly update their metro, while the US's public transportation has to rely on volunteers to make anything technological for them??

Tuttle said...

Well, yes, J-A, your question gets at the crux--Korea is willing to spend tons on updating its infrastructure, but in the US, we seem to balk at spending money until a bridge collapses killing or injuring a hundred people. When it's too late.

The last Atlanta mayor, Shirley Franklin, spent big bucks on the sewage and road system, but constantly got complaints from people who want good roads and sewers but don't want to pay for them.

Lots of work still needs doing, as we saw when flooding overwhelmed the system last year, but people somehow expect to get the benefits of good government without paying the taxes necessary for it.

Remember, state governments are not allowed to run at a deficit, whereas the federal government can...

I think part of the answer has to do with the requirement in America for immediate return on investment. Infrastructure spending is boring and has no immediate perceived benefit to the bottom line.

Korea, due to its history, has been more patient about ROI, so despite the global economic downturn, it continued its spending for a longer term of pay-off.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tuttle

I am a relatively new resident of Seoul, all the way from rainy "Albion".

Just wanted to say that I am very much enjoying your blog - which I stumbled across when Googling '63 Building Yeouido', as it is giving me a good insight into the workings of my new home city.

Also, in relation to this blog, I must say I have already noticed similar 'work' being done for no real reason, though fortunately not outside my classroom window!

Best regards,


Mo said...

It seems like Korea is full of make-work projects and jobs. Like the traffic cops in Seoul, standing at major intersections where there already *are* traffic lights! So entirely pointless. Some department stores in Korea have people outside whose sole job is to bow to you as you come in...why!? I guess that's what happens though when you have a large population that needs employment. At least the guys outside your school were doing something somewhat productive.

SuperDrew said...

Joanna- Those digital signboards aren't owned by the subway corporation, I don't think. They are there to make advertising money. In the future you should be able to use them to buy movie tickets and find local restaurants who advertise with them.

Tuttle- My school is built on the side of a hill, with the one side of my classroom facing the top. Of course they just decided to build an auditorium there, so are in the process of shaving it down. Quite the noisy process, but I do like watching them work from my window.

Mo- The police are in the intersections because a lot of Korean drivers are very impatient and will ignore the traffic lights, causing gridlock. Also, these police officers aren't being paid, they are in their 2 years of mandatory military service. And, don't forget, WalMart has greeters, too.

Tuttle said...

Indeed. I don't know about in Korea, but in Walmart, greeters are thought to reduce shrinkage, which is a term of art for stealing.

조안나 said...

Aha! They are an advertising scheme... I should have known... I haven't tried using the digital maps yet, so I wasn't sure what they were all about...

Anyway, even if the digital maps aren't owned by the subway (although, my guess is that the subway will somehow make money off of them, whoever owns them) I'm always seeing updates to the subway system. Compared to the US, it's super technological. In many areas a kind voice will tell you in Korean what buses are arriving, and digital sign boards will tell you when the next bus will be arriving.

The fact that they even have money to spend on these sort of things says a lot. The Boston subway, where I'm from, has nothing like this. They consider it advanced to tell you whether the next train is going to one direction or the other since there is one line (red line) with two termini.

Not to mention all the updates and renovations. Dongdaemun stadium (sorry dongdaemun culture and history park) is going under a huge renovation. In the past year, they've put suicide guards up at basically every station in central Seoul, and even, I've noticed, they've been updating the signage within stations to look more new and modern.

Now, granted, I know that the subways are more or less privately run, but the must receive some sort of government funding. The fact that they have all this money to do all these unnecessary updates and run all these modern functions says a lot.