I first took my walks directly to the hagwon, trying to remember the number of corners, how much time it should take, and looking for identifiable landmarks that I could easily recall to find my way home in the dark. For those first few weeks in Jeju, as I recall, everything was a blur in my mind.
Buses and taxis racing by, a new and unidentifiable language on everything, and people most definitely on the move.
Clean and modern compared to the Chinese city of Taizhou I had lived in the previous year, Jeju was still a contrast with my accustomed Canadian lifestyle back home. But what was missing? Why did I keep missing my corners on the way home, even with my amazing (male) sense of direction? Part of the answer lay with the family-owned convenience stores I encountered.
Becoming familiar with my neighborhood, I was amazed at the number of small, family-owned variety stores. There were very few franchise stores, however, that I could quickly identify as a landmark to find my way. That was seven years ago.
Since then, I've witnessed dramatic changes. The friendly, and curious I might add, convenience store owners and their businesses have now been replaced by the green and white glare of the Family Mart empire and their endless array of snacks. I kid you not; there are four of these stores within a 30-second drive of my business. I'll admit this is maximum convenience though.
But as a result I feel a sense of degradation has come to the character and dignity of certain neighborhoods in Jeju. The overabundance of these stores makes a neighborhood look cheap, and may even crowd out unrelated businesses that might thrive in that location, thus forcing local residents to travel to find the services they really need.
This, I think also provides a relevant example of what development or over-development issues lay ahead for Jeju. These include unrestricted development of services in a particular sector such as tourist retail stores and attractions. As such, the preservation and recognition of Jeju culture and its environmental heritage deserves special status, and therefore limitations to development, to ensure the ongoing success of its (primarily) tourism based economy.
I love the drives up the 1100 Road, over the shoulder of Mount Halla. But I am alarmed at the number of building sites along this road as I exit the outskirts of Sinjeju. I cringe at the thought of seeing some (ugly) business or store being built in violation of the natural beauty of what tourists are here to see in the first place.
My hometown in Canada, and many other tourist-based towns are reclaiming the right to dictate what is considered beneficial to their community in terms of beautification. This includes the right of a city or town to limit obscene signage and advertising of franchise chains in sensitive tourist areas, thus preserving its heritage and beauty.
The franchise retains the right to operate, but within the guidelines of what keeps an area's beauty and dignity.
I strongly encourage Jeju to keep its wonderful beauty and character under its control. The last thing I want every Jeju citizen to say is “I live near the Family Mart.”
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