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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

An Open Letter to Ulsan Mayor Mr. Bak Maeng-Woo

Dear Mayor Bak Maeng-Woo,

Congratulations on the wonderful job you’ve done in transforming the city of Ulsan. The city has come a long way in the years since my first arrival in 2004. Back then, the city was covered in a dirty haze making it nearly impossible to see for any distance. The Taewha River was a filthy, trash laden estuary that held little aesthetic value. Outdoor recreation within the city was limited to a few places such as Ulsan Grand Park (울산대공원) and perhaps some neighborhood parks. The twelve Scenic Areas of Ulsan were the few bright spots in this overwhelmingly dirty industrial city.

As Mayor of Ulsan, the course you charted over the years in the creation of parks and recreation areas has resulted in a city that I am proud to be a citizen of. In the years since my arrival, I have marvelled at the changes you have wrought, including the excellent Taewha River Park (태화강대공원), the numerous bicycle/walking/running paths created, new bridges erected, and the once dirty drainage ditches that are now flower-lined streams through the city.

Ulsan is now a place of beauty. Even the wildlife has taken notice as one can easily attest to with a leisurely walk along the Taewha River; countless birds and fish and otters have taken up residence where once only trash lived.

For the many foreigners who have only recently arrived in Ulsan, the transformation is difficult to see. Many of us didn’t photograph the ugly places, so they will have take our word that you, Mr Mayor, have done an outstanding job in making Ulsan a beautiful and excellent place to live and work. One merely has to view the front page of this website to see the beauty of Ulsan; our photographer has taken countless fabulous photographs of this city that show how lovely it is.

street trash

However, despite the hard work you have conducted in beautifying Ulsan, work remains. I am saddened by the attitude of so many residents who continue to disrespect the city, their neighbors and their country. I am referring to the trash problem. Despite the beautification of Ulsan, many residents have no compunction about throwing their refuse on the ground or simply leaving it where they used it. Children are the worst offenders, but children learn these behaviors from their parents, who I have observed, do nothing as their offspring litter the ground with waste.  I have seen Quite often, people – children as well as grown adults – emerge from a convenience store, unwrap their newly purchased

trash drifts like snow until removed

product and throw the wrapper on the ground. The trash is left lying on the street until someone comes by to pick it  up,which can  sometimes be days before, resulting in ugly piles of refuse. Sometimes, in windy weather, the trash is blown into corners like drifts of snow. It is more than just unsightly.  It is filth and a breeding ground for germs, bacteria, stray animals and even disease.

I don’t live in a busy shopping district or near a park. Those places seem to get a little more attention. Come to my neighborhood, Mr. Mayor. You’ll see how many days pass before an old man or woman with a set of tongs cleans up the street. Most days I  literally wade through the garbage that has piled up.

trash collects on the ground, mere meters from a trash bag

Sadder still, is that even a trash receptacle nearby is no guarantee of cleanliness. The learned behavior of the residents here is that there is no need to properly dispose of refuse as “someone else” will clean it up later. And indeed, someone does. And indeed, it is later. Meanwhile, until that someone does clean up, the area is inundated in a sea of trash, poisoning the place until then.

old trash is brushed off the table only to make room for more trash left behind

But there is yet another scourge of refuse in this city. What I have described above is the thoughtless and careless disregard for the environment. Another kind of trash is even more insidious to Korea that plagues the city: business card “advertising.”  This is the purposeful throwing of advertising paper throughout the city just as a fisherman would throw bait into the sea. You know who I am referring to. They ride scooters, sometimes a single person, sometimes a pair, randomly throwing business cards into parking areas, doorways, business and store fronts and homes.   I suppose that someone, somewhere might actually benefit from this form of advertising although it honestly seems unfathomable to me.  Picking up a business card off the ground and finding a need for that product or service just appears so dirty, disrespectful and antithetical to the Korean culture that I cannot imagine anyone making money from it except the scooter riders who are paid to throw them.

morning greetings - a single day of business card trash








Mr. Mayor, I don’t write this to merely point out the problem that I am sure you are already keenly aware of. I write in the hopes that you can help change this. I come from a country that had a large trash problem. When I was a boy it was common practice to dispose of trash out the car window or on the street as people do here. But that changed. It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy and it took quite a few public service announcements, commercials and radio/TV ads to change the mindset of the people. But eventually, they did change. People no longer threw their refuse out wherever they happened to be but properly disposed of it in receptacles. Not 100%, I assure you, but a vast majority of them changed. People began to respect their neighborhood, their neighbors, city and their environment. People organized clean up drives and  cleaned what was already thrown out and polluting the area.

I remember the ads clearly and the affect they had on me. I no longer wanted to dirty my city and country. I wanted to live in a place that people respected.   Here’s one of the ads I watched. It was powerful. I’m hoping you, Mr. Mayor, can help to create the same kind of emotion in your native citizens towards their city that I felt about mine after watching these ads.

What’s more, I am willing to help. I will organize as many of my friends and family as possible – both Korean and foreigner – to clean up. Here’s an example of such an organized campaign to clean up. A friend of mine began this effort to clean his environment. It is a simple concept. On the 7th of each month each person picks up 7 pieces of trash. It’s called 7up on the 7th.  There’s a million people in Ulsan. What if each one of them picked up 7 pieces of trash? Ulsan would sparkle! We can do it.

But I won’t do it without the backing of a concerted effort to change the mindset of the people. I won’t be their maid and clean up today simply so they can throw down a new layer of trash tomorrow. This needs to be driven at a higher level – a Korean level, where native Koreans can influence the thinking of others that this is a beautiful city in a beautiful country and can be made more beautiful still.

Won’t you help me?

If you commit to a program of changing attitudes towards the proper disposal of trash and the advertising cards I will commit to organizing a 7up on the 7th of every month.

Let’s clean this city!