South Korean street food fantasy, and thank you

To relax I watch a lot of videos of South Korean street food vendors, and small specialty shops making exquisite treats. I can’t get over how spotless everything is compared to indie NZ food stores, and how much love and care and time is put into the food. And I marvel people can cover rent and food costs and OMG the labour costs, and still make money making small batches by hand.

It really only crossed my mind this weekend, when I was watching a documentary on growing household debt in South Korea, that maybe they’re not actually making money.

At 27:15 there’s a snack shop owner talking about his financial ruin, and mentions his machine for trendy ice creams cost US$9700, which he funded borrowing from third-party lenders at 28%. (The subtitles say ‘stick’ ice cream, but whoever wrote those wasn’t hooked on YouTube food porn, as these were actually Jipangyi, or ‘cane’ ice creams, popular around 2015-2017.)

Here’s the machine that makes the cones, which explains why he spent US$9700. (Well, not why, but you can see this kind of food engineering is spendy).

He says he “couldn’t use” the machine after a month and I have questions. Because cane ice cream was no longer fashionable? Because it broke down? Because his business has gone under by then? I vote it broke down, because that equipment looks like Finicky Trouble

Exactly how many ice creams was he expecting to sell, and at what price, to make enough to cover that kind of investment for a fad product, in an industrial city that might on paper have a high GDP per-capita, but that figure is generated by the world’s largest ship-building yard, the world’s largest car assembly plant, and the world’s third-largest oil refinery?

Because the vendors on the street food-porn channels I watch make the food service industry look idyllic, I want to believe they make a prosperous living for their owners and workers: enough for a happy, peaceful life. Watching the debt documentary brought home to me that’s very likely not true. That instead, the workers are underpaid and exploited the same way they are everywhere in the world, and the owners lie awake at 2am stressing about overheads and negative gearing. And although this is a weird way to get there, it makes it so happy I have a basic call-centre job that covers my living costs and makes me enough to commission a book cover now and then, and lets me write books I want to write, and I don’t have to worry about those books making any money. I have a tiny, happy, peaceful life, which is a gigantic privilege. It means so much to be able to put the stories in my head out into the world. Thank you so much to everyone who bought Home. And who pre-ordered it, even! You’re incredibly kind, and I just hope you enjoyed reading it.

My daughter used to work at a pub, and her colleague said there was a ghost in the pub, stuck there, hanging around, and immediately Ethan popped into my head, and I knew I had to write Home. Although Home will never fund the repairs to my leaking roof, it’s out there in the world, and if even one person likes it, that’s enough. And I didn’t have to borrow $9700 from loan sharks to see my vision turn into reality. Wooo!

May you all experience happy, peaceful lives this week, friends, especially those of you in the United States. Be kind to yourselves, and stay safe.

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