Legacies in Korea

During the winter break this year I remained in Daegu and began prepping for my TOPIK exam (I missed the application deadline, by the way, and will have to take the summer test, and not the April test as I had hoped). I began exploring some of the dozens of cafes situated downtown. I wanted a place where I could study, could charge my laptop, and could connect to free wifi. I found a great place called Cafe Nannini. So, I would go there about 3 times a week.

I was last there two weeks ago and was about to go again last week when my girlfriend told me it had closed down.

WHAT? How? I was just there last week. No signs of imminent closure were present. I had to see for myself. I wasn’t sure if she meant it was closed for remodeling or for a temporary issue. No. It was CLOSED. The signs were down, the furniture was cleared out. Everything was missing. I peered in through the glass to see the entire cafe vacant. White-walled. Completely Cleared Out.

Just a few days ago, on a Saturday, I was feeling in the mood for a tasty cranberry/chicken salad sandwich from Paris Baquette. So, I strolled out for the 5 minute walk to the location nearest my home only to discover….YES! It too had been closed out. Sign gone. NOTHING inside. Now an empty, leasable commerical space.

So, it occurred to me that in the USA, when a business is failing and “going out of business” there will often be signage, sales, and something of an advertising campaign announcing its demise. In Korea, it seems like new businesses come and go with the wind. It works the other way of course. I leave school on a Friday afternoon. Monday morning there’s a new restaurant nearby that wasn’t there three days ago. New sign, new paint, etc. It’s amazing.

I want to bring to light one other thing about the culture here and then make my broader point about what all of this means to me. In public schools in Korea, teachers can teach for only four years at any one school before being required to transfer to another public school within the system. The reasoning for this is easily understood. My co-teachers have said that schools don’t want to become stagnant and that the kids want to see a revolving door of teachers.

Now, in the States, it’s quite common for one to return to their high school for a reunion and meet up with their old Drama teacher or Journalism instructor. Shake hands, reflect on the past, and share a laugh. From what I can tell, this is not present in Korean society (I imagine it exists at the university level and possible private-school level).

In America, teachers are known for creating legacies in their schools.

I think in Korea there’s a shift in, or perhaps utter disregard for, these kinds of legacies. A suffering business creates a “going out of business sale” to remind the public of what was there. To maybe evoke a small sum of empathy towards it. A great teacher can be talked about for years and possibly revisited in the US.

Cafe Nannini created a small legacy for me during my winter break, one which is now gone only to be replaced with a cookie-cutter cellphone shop or cosmetics store.

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