Yeosu residents pay for boom with their wallets

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Yeosu residents pay for boom with their wallets

YEOSU - The last straw for Park Seon-yeong, 39, was when she took her fourth-grade son to a barber shop in her neighborhood a few days ago. The hair cut for the boy cost 8,000 won ($7.20).

“Although the prices of many things are rising quickly these days, I think it’s going too far to raise a hair cut by as much as 60 percent,” she said.

A few months ago, a kid’s haircut only cost 5,000 won.

Such are the pains in the wallet one suffers when living in a boomtown.

The small southern port city of Yeosu, with a population of 293,000, is in a sudden renaissance as the host of the international exposition that opens in May. People used to complain about the local economy being stuck in the permanent doldrums. Now they’re complaining about the price of progress and prosperity, particularly in the rise in consumer prices.

According to the National Statistical Office, prices in Yeosu rose 4.9 percent last year, the highest pace of any Korean city. The national average for inflation last year was 4 percent.

On the ground, prices are going up must faster than that, particularly as the expo opening approaches. One of the major causes is an influx of people.

Over the past year, around 26,000 people relocated to Yeosu, most of them working on construction sites building infrastructure for the international event.

That has led to an explosion in food and lodging fees.

Yeosu residents say consumer items sold at small mom and pop shops, which are not surveyed by the NSO, saw rapid price hikes. The price of bibimbap (vegetables mixed with rice and beef) at small restaurants in Yeosu rose from 4,000 won in 2010 to 5,500 won last year. Samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup) went from 9,000 won to 12,000 won.

A room fee at a small inn, which was 30,000 won a night in the past, costs more than 50,000 won per night now.

The rent for a one-room studio has risen from 300,000 won per month to more than 450,000 won.

The value of real estate is also rising quickly.

The price of apartments in Yeosu rose to 3 million won per 3.3 square meters over the last year, an increase of 50 percent.

Some recently built apartments in Uncheon district and Yeoseo-dong are being sold for twice their original prices.

“We expect the prices will be stabilized this year,” said Seo Byeong-gun, a manager of the regional economy division at the Yeosu city office.


By Choi Kyung-ho [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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