It’s no wonder so many Kdramas are about the extremes of being rich or poor. I thought this as we were walking in a small mountain in Seoul looking out at the view of huge apartment complexes towering threateningly over small clusters of low income housing. I’m always amazed at the size of the apartment complexes in Seoul but views from up here say it all.
One of the first Kdramas I watched 발리에서 생긴 일 What Happened in Bali, SBS, 2003 deals with the issue of money and greed with the rich and poor. It’s about a (poor) young woman, Lee Soo-jung (Ha ji won) who is trying to make a living in Bali as a tour guide. While working there she meets Kang In-wook (So Ji-sub) and Jung Jae-min (Jo In-sung) and his fiance Choi Young-joo (Park Ye-jin). The four of them end up going out together on a tour.
What Happened in Bali (picture source Dramawiki)
But when she comes back to Seoul penniless, she moves in with her friend in a one-room up on a hill with no bathroom or hot water and starts doing whatever she can to earn money including working as a hostess in a karaoke place. Finally, she goes to see Jung Jae-min (Jo In-sung) the rich young son of a CEO she met in Bali to ask him for a job. In-wook is working at the company and a love-triangle ensues…
Ha Ji-won and So Ji-sop’s characters live here in What Happened in Bali, 2003, SBS
This is one of my favorite Kdramas and I remember the frustration I felt watching the discrimination she suffers from being poor and the arrogance of the rich family and friends who ridicule her. This drama shows the extreme lifestyles of the rich and poor very clearly. And while we were on our walk we said to each other that this area looked similar to where Ha Ji-won’s character lived in the drama and then sure enough, we stumbled over a door that said this is where the drama What Happened in Bali, was filmed! 5000 won entry fee!
The surrounding area is different now to how it was when the drama was filmed seven years ago. There’s large-scale construction work going on right in front of the house (see below) and soon another huge apartment complex will be constructed there like the one we can see in the distance. I suppose eventually even the mountain we were walking on will be leveled out so that more apartments can be built on it and the people living in these houses will have to find somewhere else to live as they can’t afford high apartment rent. Very sad.
The left side of the picture shows the construction area for a new apartment complex that’s about to be built. The “Bali” house is to the right of the picture. In the distance is the wealthier side of Seoul.
I don’t really understand this obsession with living in an apartment though. When I first moved to Seoul I remember we went out for a walk past a huge block of flats and I mentioned how hard it must be living with a family in the capital in these cramped apartments with nowhere for the children to play outside. Mr. Kim looked at me and pointed out that these flats were very desirable properties in one of the prime locations in Seoul. Oh. Some people even struggle to pay the rent so that they can live in these properties in the Gangnam/Seocho area. I couldn’t believe it. To my eye they looked like flats for low income earners. I do get that parents want to be near a good school for their children though.
Most of my students said they wanted to live in an apartment rather than a house and certainly not a villa (low block of flats with only about four or five floors). They said it was more convenient and safer living in a big complex since there’s a guard on duty all the time and CCTV cameras etc. I agree it does feel safe. There is often a supermarket and gym in the complex too so people don’t have to go far for what they need.
We have a speaker inside out flat (that can’t be turned off) and nearly every day there are messages relayed from the office through the speakers about car parking issues or something about the rubbish bins. I find this intrusive and Big Brother-ish but I wonder if I’m the only one. I suppose there is the advantage that if you have a problem with a neighbour – too much noise or what have you – you can call the guard who will deal with it rather than having to do something yourself.
And we don’t need to worry about gardening or doing much maintenance. We pay a set fee each month and this pays for things around the complex. The hallways and lifts are cleaned and a lady comes around to disinfect the drains and to check the gas every so often. Deliveries are left with the guard if the residents are out. Yes, there are lots of convenience things about living in an apartment.
A pathway between houses on the hilltop looks out at the view of an apartment complex
But to build the apartments, cheaper housing area have to be knocked down and the people who live there end up with nowhere to go. They are pushed up into the mountains or out of the city altogether. There have been several incidents of suicides as people find themselves homeless when told they have to vacate their home because the houses have been sold to developers who want to build more flats.
I don’t think these houses have bathrooms inside as we saw lots of portaloos along the way. They have underfloor heating but it is not heated by gas but with coal.
On the walk around the mountain we could hear the drilling and banging coming from the construction site even on a Sunday. Towards the end of the walk we went past a temple where the ringing bell blowing in the wind mixed with the drilling of the machines. And then coming from a tree we heard a tap tap tap and looked up to see a woodpecker busily putting the finishing touches to his house in a tree. With all the drilling from the surrounding the woodpecker could still hold his own. I wonder if the same can be said about the local residents when the bulldozers start heading this way.