I am from South Korea, but I make it a point not to write or speak in Korean about this country. That my Korean language skills have ossified from disuse is only one reason; it is more that my brushes with South Korean media are rarely uplifting. A case in
In 2014, pop star Park Bom, of the group 2NE1 made headlines with her alleged drug usage back in October 2010. The singer had ordered 82 amphetamine pills labelled ‘gummy bears’ from the U.S. and dispatched them to her grandmother’s address in the port city of Incheon
Nearly half of all senior households in South Korea live under the poverty line. Hong Gu-hyeon, a 66-year-old artist who has been living in a jjokbang for over 20 years, is one of them.
Those earning less than 50 percent of the median income qualify to receive government subsidies for “basic living.” In 2017, there were 1.5 million people that received the basic living stipend. That is 3.1 percent of the nation’s population. About 25 percent of these recipients are seniors older than 66 years old.
Hong receives 700,000 won each month (a little over $600). He pays 250,000 won for his jjokbang, a room smaller than 2 square meters.
Jjokbang is a subdivided housing that doesn’t require deposit to stay in. Monthly rent ranges from 150,000 won to 300,000 won. Residents in a jjokbang share communal toilet and kitchen.
About a third of the jjokbang residents in Changsin-dong in Jongno district, Seoul — where Hong lives — receive basic living costs from the government, according to You Young-tae, a nurse who works at the local office that oversees the jjokbang residents.
According to a 2016 survey by Seoul municipal government, more than half of respondents said they want to stay in jjokbang, mostly (60.1 percent of them) because they have nowhere else to go.
Hong, who has no family, lives alone in his tiny room. Painting gives him solace, and hope for the future.
A self-taught artist, Hong will hold his first-ever exhibition from Sep. 9 to 22 at Palais de Seoul in Jongno. The opening is at 3 p.m., Sept. 9 (Sun): 서울 종로구 자하문로 10길 30, 팔레드서울 지하 1층 / Palais de Seoul, B1, Jahamunro 10gil 30, Jongno-gu, Seoul.