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[Op-Ed] Country Houses

Posted October. 07, 2009 07:28,   


Country houses used to be the exclusive privilege of royal families, the super rich or Hollywood stars, but more ordinary citizens have them nowadays. According to the U.S. National Association of Realtors, 40 percent of all houses traded in 2005 before the subprime loan crisis were second or country houses. In Korea as well, a culture of buying condominiums and villas in rural areas is spreading fast. Koreans seek weekend solace from cities and want to spend their leisure time at beaches and forests with beautiful scenery amid per capita income of 20,000 U.S. dollars.

In the U.S., a person who regularly goes back and forth from his or her main home and country house is called a “splitter,” a term derived from the word “split.” The Web site www.splitters.com even provides such people with useful information. Nevertheless, a country house owner is still considered a millionaire. Hollywood super couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt recently purchased a super luxury house for 70 million U.S. dollars in France, making most people think they are truly rich.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush has spent holidays at his ranch house in Crawford, Texas. Those who love country houses more, however, have been communist leaders. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin would call his staff to his country house at his hometown of Sochi near the Black Sea in Georgia, rather than staying at the Kremlin. Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed in 1989, also loved to spend time at country houses in remote beaches and mountains inaccessible to most. Cuban President Raul Castro is spending more time at his country house after falling ill.

The parliamentary inspection of the South Korean government has found that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has 33 luxury villas across his country. The number is believed to be world’s largest number of country houses owned by one individual. The combined size of the territory his country houses cover is reportedly twice that of Goyang’s Ilsan district north of Seoul. The North also has 28 train stations exclusively for Kim, who avoids flying or riding in cars. He probably has so many country houses because he wants to hide himself from potential public revolts or surveillance by U.S. spy satellites. Such luxury facilities maintained at the expense of the North Korean people’s pain and suffering are indeed the North’s cost of maintaining Kim’s dictatorship.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)