“NEVER waste a good crisis,” says Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s president. A good crisis, indeed. After plunging by 5.1% in the fourth quarter of 2008, the economy was one of the first in the OECD to start growing again, three months later. It is now bigger than it was before Lehman Brothers collapsed. Technically, it did not even suffer a recession. In Seoul the housing market barely paused (see chart).
But such buoyancy puts the financial authorities in a bit of a bind. On the one hand their loose monetary and fiscal policies (along with inventory restocking and a powerful shove from China) have helped produce what appears to be a quick recovery. On the other hand the low cost of credit risks fuelling a house-price boom. That means South Korea is among the first to grapple with one of the new orthodoxies in the post-crisis world: the need to lean against excessive asset-price movements.
The problem originates in Seoul where house prices, especially in the upmarket Kangnam district south of the river, are near or at record highs. The capital’s property numbers skew national housing statistics. As a result there has been pressure on the central bank to raise interest rates, which are at zero in real terms.
I thought this would be a good time to prune through a few shots I've taken while in Gangnam (or Kangnam, depending on the romanization you prefer) over the past few months. It's home to the heart of Korea's tech sector, Tehran Street (yes, named after Tehran in a street name exchange in the 70s; somewhere in Tehran there's a Seoul Street); the famed COEX Mall (Seoul's largest; it lags behind the Mall of America in terms of size, but more than surpasses it in sheer confusingness with no logic to its layout whatsoever); and the upscale department stores and Mercedes and Maserati dealerships in Apgujeong...although none of which I happen to have any pictures of.
Right outside of Gangnam Station.
Seoul isn't exactly known for its architecture in the way Beijing, Dubai, or Tokyo are--its skyline is dominated by identical, monotonous high-rise apartments. But of what more adventurous stuff there is, Gangnam is home to much of it.
And here, we have, I do believe, a church occupying an office high-rise--a not uncommon sight in Seoul, and not entirely unexpected, given the growth of Christianity in Korea in the past 100 years.
I want this shirt.
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