Friday, October 28, 2011

Touring Silver Town

Today was the day for touring seniors facilities in Seoul area. Dr. Shin-Young Park (PhD in Public Administration), Executive Research Fellow, Korea Land & Housing Institute, picked me up at 8:30. With her was her friend and colleague, Dr. Misook Lim (PhD in Architecture). Our first destination was Pochun Silver Town, about a one hour drive northeast of Seoul and near a ski resort known as Bearstown. The name Silver Town is used in reference to seniors housing and no one seems to know why. But early seniors projects were not very well done, giving this name a negative connotation that has been difficult to overcome.

Pochun Silver Town: Right: a ski resort condominium

The facility we visited was built in the late 1990s as a Silver Town. The first two developers went bankrupt. At the time less than 7% of the population were seniors. It was then taken over by a foundation that converted the first two floors of this 5 storey building into a rehab hospital for seniors providing physio and other therapies including oriental medicine such as acupuncture and moxibustion. It also provides accommodation for elderly cancer patients. Floors 3, 5 and 6 still accommodate seniors in small one bedroom and studio apartments. In Korea the number 4 is considered unlucky so buildings tend not to have fourth floors, similar to Canada with our 13th floors. We visited three suites and were warmly welcomed by the occupants. One of the studio suites was home for an elderly gentleman who had been a lieutenant and was proud to have received a gold medal during the Korean War. Other than the fact that many of the residents sleep on mats rather than beds, these suites were not unlike some of the seniors homes built in Canada in the 60s. Amenities include a large multi-purpose room used for church services, theatre and lectures, a dining room and a large sauna building.

A happy seniors couple in their modest suite, Pochun.
A sign on a suite entrance door, Pochun.
Seniors exercising, Pochun.
Moxibustion apparatus, a form of oriental medicine.
Visiting the hospital at Pochun. L to R: Shin-Young Park, local nurse, myself, Director Mi-Ryung Hong, local doctor, Misook Lim
The Director of the facility, Mi-Ryung Hong, took us on a tour of the grounds. In a small workshop a young man was busy making canes from a fast growing shrub that is actually a grass. The handles are carved like the 12 animals of the oriental calendar. A display of finished canes included a fine looking one with a horse, which, based on my birth year, is my animal. Ms. Hong advised that as a display one it was not for sale and that if I wanted to buy one they would make one for me and mail it to me. After considerable negotiations I convinced her to sell me the display one and make the next one into a display one again. So I now have this great cane. Apparently it is a tradition here to present one of these canes to any one turning 100. I won’t need to wait that long to get one.

Rudy with the cane maker.
Explanation of the cane.

These canes are also a symbol of piety and Ms. Hong shared her vision of constructing a piety centre on the property, a place where Korean cultural piety will be promoted, something that she feels their society is losing. Koreans tend to be humble rather than pious, in my opinion, so the name of her proposed facility may have lost something in translation.

Ms. Hong then took us to a nearby rustic restaurant for a traditional Korean meal.

Korean restaurant where we had lunch.

With our appetites appeased, we headed to our next appointment, to The Heritage, Classic & Joy, located in Bundang, about 30 km. south of Seoul. What a contrast. Built by SEOWOO, a healthcare and development company, this facility can only be described as opulent. To illustrate, it has approximately 14,000 sq.m. of marble flooring imported from Italy and carefully laid in intricate patterns. Units cost about $1.5 million plus significant monthly fees. There are four restaurants where residents receive a 40% discount. The development includes 390 unit seniors complex , a 4 storey 235 bed nursing home and an adjacent 458 bed hospital, the Bobath Memorial Hospital which is owned by a British based foundation. Built on a hillside, the seniors complex has a central spine consisting of seven steps. The steps are connected with a combination of escalators, elevators and even a stair with a handicap lift that one would normally find in retrofits. This spines contains extensive amenities from a large pool to golf training facility to theatre and a very large auditorium - clearly only for the very wealthy.

The opulence at The Heritage.
The Heritage
Plan showing the central spine, The Heritage.
Italian marble, The Heritage.
Pool area, The Heritage.
Golf practice area, The Heritage.
The Heritage, Classic & Joy
Moving day, The Heritage.

Our last stop was at the Seoul Seniors Tower, a 254 unit seniors facility. Suites range in size from 85 sq.m. to 300 sq.m., 30% of the suites are rental, 70% owned. Fees are $1,500/month, not including rent, but including meals, cleaning and health services provided by a clinic on site. This clinic is open 24 hours and has a doctor, nurses and four physiotherapists on staff. Also for the wealthy, this facility includes numerous amenities such as a large swimming pool, four hot tubs, auditorium, library, games room, etc. but is much more functionally laid out. All of the suites are oriented to the south which is very important to Koreans. This results in single loaded corridors with windows on the corridor walls opposite the suites. We were given a tour of the facility by Kyungeun Lee, who, it turns out, is the owner’s daughter. The father, Dr. Jong Kyun Lee, also owns a 140 bed nursing home and a 120 bed hospital that includes 60 nursing beds. In Korea only medical doctors or doctors’ associations are allowed to own private hospitals.

By 7 pm I was back at the hotel, tired but satisfied that I had learned a lot about seniors facilities in Korea. I presented small gifts of appreciation to both Shin-Young and Misook, my hosts for the day. It was an absolute delight spending the day with them.

- Rudy P. Friesen

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