After I wrote my recent post about Korean innovation, I noticed an example in downtown Berkeley. A few months ago, the Korean bakery Paris Baguette opened a branch in a good location (next to a BART station) that has seen two businesses — two different cafe chains — fail in the last 5 or 6 years. It seemed to be doing well. There were more customers than I’d ever seen with the previous business (Tully’s Coffee). Paris Baguette has about 20 American branches.
Jane Jacobs once called Berkeley a “pretentious suburb” but it is where Peet’s — the original of Starbucks — began and where Chez Panisse is. It had a farmer’s market and an emphasis on organic food long before the rest of America. (A new survey suggests the health benefit of organic food is small or zero.) If you could call a location an “early adopter” Berkeley would qualify, but that would be understating it. Via the Free Speech Movement and the whole notion of student protest, little Berkeley shaped an entire decade (the Sixties). But it seems to have been a long time, like half a century, since anything important started here. The Bay Area, however, remains enormously innovative (Google, Twitter, Intel, and so on).
A Marginal Revolution commenter wrote:
South Korea being prosperous has had no benefit to me, yet I have borne the cost.
I say: Wait ten years. No country combines innovation and quality like South Korea. Samsung illustrates quality but the innovation is less clear. Here are examples. Continue reading “Burnt Sugar Grapefruit: Give Thanks for South Korea”
Yesterday I was in Seoul, at Casa Pepe Guest House. Sensationally good at a very low price. It really is a guest house — attached to a house — with a separate entrance. There are four rooms, with shared kitchen and bathroom. The owner is an renowned chef. The first evening he brought salad and wine from his (Japanese) restaurant. The first morning, he invited me to come with him to buy fish at the Seoul fish market. Every morning, he made breakfast — something different each time.
I found it through hotels.com. On their map, it was off by itself. I thought that meant bad location, but the opposite was true. It is the sort of good location you cannot normally get. It is near the Blue House (Korea’s White House) and many foreign embassies and is very safe. Dozens of interesting restaurants and cafes are nearby. (Even more than the rest of Seoul.) The neighborhood is the Beverly Hills of Korea, with better (and cheaper) restaurants and less pretentious architecture. Casa Pepe started about a year ago, with a remodelling. Everything is new and clean. The floor is heated. The building is up a steep path and has a nice view of streets, hills and houses. Free laundry. All for less than $50/day.
During my stay I briefly overlapped with a Tsinghua student (how could that possibly happen?) but otherwise I was the only person.
Why is it so nice? The owner said, “It’s my hobby.” I think that explains it.
I’ve said that doing a job and doing science are fundamentally incompatible. Any job requires steady and repeated output. You do the same thing over and over. The goal of science is discovery — and a discovery is inherently unpredictable and unrepeatable. (Art is a job with science-like elements — and artists were the first scientists.) Casa Pepe Guest House illustrates another side of the job/science conflict: A job is inherently conformist. You give people, especially customers and your boss, what they expect. Science is inherently nonconformist. The more a discovery challenges “what everyone knows”, the better. Hobbies make this point because they can vary more than jobs. If you make tables as a hobby, for example, your tables can vary more than if you make tables for a living. Casa Pepe is way outside (better) what one expects from a rented room.
Another way Casa Pepe is unusual is that it is very hard to find, even if you study the directions. I found it by knocking on a neighbor’s door. The neighbor called Casa Pepe. Someone from Casa Pepe came to meet the neighbor and me on the street — it was too hard to tell the neighbor where it was. Here are better directions. From Incheon Airport, take airport bus 6112 to the Hangsun University stop. Go to Exit 6 of the nearby subway station (Hangsun University Station on Line 4). Walk up the street (Seongbuk-ro) indicated by Exit 6 — toward the hills. After walking about 13 minutes, where the road veers right, you will see a sign that says Seongbuk-ro 19-gil (gil = side street), which points almost exactly to a steep concrete path on the left perpendicular to the street. It is the width of a driveway. Go up about 40 meters. Casa Pepe is on the right — a white house with a red door, with a sign that says “casa pepe”. Don’t be misled by the fact that the listed address is not on Seongbuk-ro 19-gil.
A few years ago, a Korean friend of mine spent a college year abroad in Tanzania. In South Korea, access to information about North Korea on the Internet was blocked. In Tanzania, it wasn’t. Impressed by what she learned, she cut-and-pasted some of it into an email to her sister.
After she sent the email, she remembered that in South Korea it was illegal to cut-and-paste from a website. She called her mom to tell her sister not to read the email. The message was successfully conveyed and her sister deleted the email without reading it.
In the last year, however, the South Korean government has changed its policy and is now trying to educate citizens about life in North Korea. Information is no longer blocked. Now and then people escape. They are put on show and tell about North Korean life many times. The intention is to prepare for the coming reunification. Special committees have been formed to discuss how to solve the anticipated problems.
We are used to hearing about the advantages of dividing one country into two, but my friend had no trouble explaining why the South Korean government wanted reunification. One reason was that the war with North Korea was very expensive. Another was that families had been divided. A third was that since North Korea has nuclear weapons, reunification will mean that South Korea has them. (My friend had not read a certain newspaper article the day she said that.) This article suggests that the real reason cannot be said out loud. It is that reunification will allow South Korea to take advantage of the land and people freed by the collapse of North Korea.
“What have you learned from the reunification of Germany?” I asked.
“There will be chaos for a long time,” she said.