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  • Writer's pictureChristensen

Smoggy Seoul

I love Korea! 대한민국 사랑해요! <3 I'm being honest with that. I've enjoyed my 11+ years here in South Korea. But I gotta also start with that since my Korean friends might kill me for dissing on my adoptive country. Relax. There are many things I love about Korea.


For instance:

(1) The peaceful streets late at night: The crime rate in Seoul is so low that one can walk around late at night and still feel safe. My wife and I have on a number of times gone for walks either really late at night or early in the morning, and we didn't need to worry about getting mugged or in any way harassed. I have never experienced anything dangerous or negative late at night...except for maybe a taxi refusing to take me somewhere.

(2) The excellent transportation system: When my wife and I were dating, we would often say things like, "meet me at Sindorim Station on the platform heading into Seoul at door 1-1 at 2:03 pm." Like magic, the train would arrive at exactly that time! Beat that, Chicago! Heck, if you live almost anywhere in the US, you will need a car. Not in South Korea. You can easily live without driving (but sadly, many still drive which has added to the smog).

(3) The affordable national healthcare: I can go to the doc for less $10. That's medicine included. In the US, just to say hello to a doctor on the street will probably cost you $50. Am I right? ;) The Korean National Healthcare has its problems. But despite those, it is more accessible than healthcare in the US. So, I often get second...third...fourth opinions on even the most mundane symptoms.

(4) my wife: the fact that my wife is from South Korea greatly sways my analysis of this country. She's cool, so her country's ranking, in my book, goes up by a lot of points. ;) I'm biased, I know.


So, these are the many reasons I love about living here. But there is one thing that GREATLY annoys me about living in Seoul - the air pollution. Some reports will call it "fine dust" because they are minute particles in the air that are not easy to see by the naked eye. But as the picture below shows, these particles add up to hide even mountains. And they are toxic.[1]


There should be mountains behind those buildings. :(

Here are the mountains on a clear day. :(

Today, the air pollution has been bad. I can even feel it in my throat and how it bothers my ears (not sure how that works). But I can feel it…unless that is just my thinking. But reports say that South Korea is badly polluted.[2]


I worry more about the air pollution than about North Korea.


That's me worried about the smog. I don't look like that when I'm worried about North Korea. No mask.


In one of my classes today, it was steaming hot. The air conditioner had not been turned on in time, but I had to close the windows to keep out the “fresh air”. Though, I have also read reports how the air inside buildings can be even worse than the air outside. No win situation.

But what can I do as a foreigner? No place is “Heaven on Earth”.


This past Saturday, I got into a friendly argument with a fellow Texan about the best city in the Promised Land. She wrongly concluded that Austin was better than San Antonio. Oh, well... I also consider Chicago my second or third hometown since I lived there for eight years, but I greatly hate the winters there. Yet, I love Chicago's museum, plentiful festivals and parks (to name a few things I love about Chi-town). So, no place on this current blue ball is Heaven.


As well, us, immigrants or expats, often have to accept the difficult aspects of a place (for us) as we enjoy our lives overseas. We are seen as "guests" or at least not fully a member of the community no matter how long we stay in a country. Some of us foreigners do gain a "native" status. Though, it really doesn’t help to curse the place that has become your adoptive home. That’s culture shock. ;) And that just creates a grumpy foreigner who everyone ignores.


Though, foreigners can and should voice their concerns about their new neighborhoods as productive members of society and try to speak humbly for change. Sometimes, knowing the balance can be hard. When can I speak in a way that will be heard? When am I being the type of foreigner who always complains about their “strange, new home”?


Sadly, though, my wife and I have been thinking of moving away from South Korea (Seoul, at least).


Why? "Without your health, you have nothing.”


Too often, I have to put on a face mask to make sure my lungs do not fill with "fine dust" - air pollution. For 78 days or over two and a half months, the air pollution is too much to endure.[3] And do those face masks or the air purifier who now have at home even really work? I had a chronic cough that has only worsened while living in S Korea. Will that turn into lung cancer later or some other respiratory ailment? I hear so many people blaming China.[4] Maybe that country's pollution is partly or largely to blame.[5] But I have read a lot of reports that say it is a domestic issue more than from anywhere else. But enough. Where can I change? My wife and I have been considering that question. We are trying to figure out how to reduce our waste and what we can do to endure the air pollution. Maybe we can sign petitions? Join a protest (that’s illegal for foreigners here in S Korea). What can we do?


In the end, it might be moving to where there is no air pollution. ㅠ.ㅠ


This picture best shows the haze. Look at the mountain disappearing into the "fine dust". :( Insane!

Miss these clear, blue skies! :(

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/10/smog-forces-south-korean-pupils-practise-virtual-sports-indoors/


[2] https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/foreigners-in-south-korea-unsure-how-to-respond-to-dangerous-air-pollution


[3] https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/10/10/552264719/armed-with-nasa-data-south-korea-confronts-its-choking-smog


[4] https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/06/03/478796463/koreas-air-is-dirty-but-its-not-all-close-neighbor-chinas-fault


[5] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/15/smog-coated-south-korea-declares-pollution-emergency.html

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