Monday, November 10, 2008

What Happens When You Are Part of a World Wide Economic Collapse

The economy has been collapsing for a while now. While it is frightening to be sure the ways in which is hits the pocket book in the US are entirely different from the way in which it hits the pocket book in South Korea.

The Korean won sucks right now. And it sucks hard. Unlike you lucky people in the US though the won started to pull away hard and strong about five months ago which, long before John McCain suspended his campaign to save the economy. A strong won means that dollar to won conversion will be a severe money loss for me. With the one going up at times as strong as 1,500 won to the dollar I lose a lot of money. The current rate of conversion is about 1,300 to 1 dollar which is cutting my salary monthly by about five hundred bucks give or take. Combine this with the fact that in Korea gas was eight dollars a gallon before the won got strong and you have a recipe for all kinds of disaster. Suddenly everything costs more and everyone is losing money.

I head down to the Lonely Hearts club after two weeks of economy enforced solitude. I realized that the hundred a week a drop in a bar has suddenly become roughly a hundred and fifty. My house keeping service, my electric bill, my bandwidth, all of it seems a lot more expensive, but after two weeks of hiding and bowing to the pressure the intense expense I hit the Lonely Hearts.

Hyun is behind the bar. I ask him how it's going.

"The fucking economy sucks, man!" He says to me.

"Tell me about it."

"You know, last year, right, I put all this money in the mutal fund and now I'm losing money every day like crazy. I'm like what the fuck is going on. You have any money in the market."

"No, thank the merry gods, but I'm losing just the same."

"What's the problem?"

"I send money home I'm screwed."

"Yeah, no shit. I'm like, everything is so fucking crazy. What's the problem. I hate it."

"So, you going to take the money out of the market?" I ask.

"What's the point, I leave it in I might make it back. Can't do anything with it now, so you know. I just wait for the feel."

I understand and buy him a shot of tequila. He returns the favor and buys me a shot.

It's the little things though, that have hit in Korea. I used to eat crackers. Korea loves to over package things so in the crackers I would get you would get 9 crackers wrapped conveniently in a little wrapper. Then back in May I noticed a small change. Suddenly I kept coming up short. I thought it was me. I was just eating ninth cracker and not realizing it. Then I got obsessed with it. I started to count every cracker in a newly opened package. Sure enough I was now getting eight crackers in a pack. Then a month after the cracker number dropped the price of a box of crackers that used to contain 18 more crackers total went up by fifty won a box. More for less.

It's not just the crackers. Most everything here is imported from somewhere else. Rice, spinach, cabbage, these things are commonly grown in Korea. But there are many many things that I like to eat that are not grown in Korea. Tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, green onions, avocados, cheese, wine. Real cheese. Good wine. At the beginning of the year the Australian cheese I liked to get was six dollars for about two hundred grams. Now it's ten dollars. Vegetables were also sort of expensive, three or four dollars for something like a zuchini or onion, five for an avacado. Now the same items round up to ten. I've noticed more and more than when I buy fruits and vegetables I stake out the marked down foods first to see if I can find a pound of raw spiniach marked down to two dollars rather then regular price at four.

It's the little things.

I look at bills I have to pain the states, things I have no choice about sending money home on. If I want to get five hundred dollars home for my studnet loans I have to send six hundred and fifty thousand won. It leaves me with less and less every month. Less to the point where I realized I can no longer afford a vacation home in the winter and will possibly have to cancel a summer trip as well.

The suck continus long term. What I realize is that more than just losing a vacation my plan for a future exodus from Korea is currently looking bleak. The point of being in Korea is to save money. With the rate of conversion right now leaving would cost more than it is worth. So I start to think, in a year will it have recovered enough for me to leave? Or maybe two? Can I hold out here for maybe just three more years until things recover? Three more years when I wanted to be planning to return to the US in maybe 2010. I just don't know.

In the meantime I spend more time at home, less time out, and lose sleep over my steadily dwindling savings.

"So Hyun," I ask. "What do we do?"


"Eh, what the fuck, drink more, eat less."

Lonely Hearts, always know how to put things in perspective.

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