[Letter to the editor]To ‘sparkle,’ Korea must clean up first

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[Letter to the editor]To ‘sparkle,’ Korea must clean up first

Kang Shin-kyum’s article, “Korea lacks ‘sparkle’ for tourists” (Aug. 17), is a great understatement.
I spent the weekend walking through my neighborhood in Hongdae, an area that has become Korea’s most vibrant district for young people ― Koreans and visitors alike ― to shop, dine, dance, drink and stroll. It has long surpassed Apgujeong as the place to be seen in, and the streets are crowded almost seven days a week. Yet this weekend I noticed, from Friday until Monday, mounds of rotting garbage three feet high under almost every lamppost and every few yards in the main pedestrian areas.
In Hongdae’s “Nolita” Park, presumably built for local children, my girlfriend and I stared amazedly and photographed at least dozens of rats (not mice) swarming over a pile of stinking garbage on Friday night.
On Sunday the pile was still there and the weekend flea market went on as usual right next to it. People seemed to not even notice. Street vendors were selling food just feet away from the rat-infested garbage. On Monday, I walked through again and most of the garbage was gone, but the slime and stench that had permeated the sidewalks in front of shops and restaurants was still there.
How can Korea even dream about being any kind of tourist hub when its streets are among the dirtiest I’ve seen in Asia?
And yet, I’ve heard dozens of times from Koreans that they hate to visit this or that Asian country because “it’s so dirty.” This is mind-blowing coming from a country where I’ve actually been told that it’s a citizen’s duty to litter because if they didn’t, some elderly street cleaners would be out of work.
If anyone in Seoul City Hall knew what they were doing, first they would have Hongdae spotless, then they would close off the “Picasso” street area to traffic completely. It’s currently booming with shops and shoppers who have to squeeze together and look over their shoulders dodging the steady stream of cars driving through.
Of course, until Koreans change their attitudes about throwing litter, garbage and food waste at the foot of every lamppost, City Hall will be fighting a losing battle if they try to clean up the city and make it more pedestrian-friendly.
But instead of cleaning, redesigning and educating, they are busy dreaming up hollow slogans that do nothing for the state of the city, a point Kang makes.
My family will be coming to visit Korea for the first time, but I would be embarrassed to take them to Hongdae despite the plethora of great coffee shops, wine bars, coffee houses and funky shopping there.
I hesitate to take them to any of the fine dining establishments in Itaewon, too, because the last time I was there, a mosquito truck drove though the alley that your paper had recently done a feature on and fogged every outdoor diner and drinker on the street completely ruining everyone’s meals and probably the whole evening -- on a busy weekend night! I guess bringing up the subject of making that alley a pedestrian zone in this letter would be asking too much.
This potentially great city’s effort to put some sparkle where it really counts is a shame.
Brandon Butler, Hongdae, Seoul
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