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Korean vending machines: pork belly, dried flowers and foreign subway tickets

Date:29 April 2019
Korean vending machine
Korean vending machine

Vending machines, if you ask me, provide a window on a country’s cultural priorities. They ensure, after all, access to goods which are deemed to be so vital that they should be available around the clock, everyday of the year. They are indeed my favorite machines, especially the mechanic ones that use a coin to trigger a mechanical “domino effect” to release the product, or, at the University of Groningen, the ones using rotating spiral dispensers to push a snack “over the edge” to crash into a tray (which, in turn, when opened blocks access to the rows of snacks yet to be dispensed).

In Groningen my favorite vending machine is located at a bicycle shop on the Paterswoldse weg. Its  apparently called a “Schlauchomat” and dispenses inner tubes for bicycles - in various sizes!- 24 hours a a day. As of 2008, that is. Its a wonderful machine that should be nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status.

The German village where my wife was born, had a vending machine for chicken eggs. That’s German baking for you. The only disappointment is that the eggs came in a box. I would have preferred careful single issue.

In East Asia, Japan takes the top place for the number of vending machines. Korea, however, easily beats Japan in terms of content. Visiting the impressive Kyunghee University campus in Seoul, I passed a vending machine for flower bouquets. Displayed behind glass compartments, the flowers were available from 8,000 won (simple bunch) to no less than 33,000 won (some 30 Euro’s) for a flower basket. The machine, painted in bright yellow and made by Kkotong, comes with CCTV-camera against break-ins by the penniless.

According to our host of Kyunghee, the Kkotong ensures and facilitates “24 hour romance on campus.” There is, however, also a hospital nearby, providing, according to yet another colleague (economist, of course), ‘an excellent business model targeting both the hopelessly romantic as well as the hopeful patient’.

Other vital and important vending machines in Korea issue frozen pork belly -the key ingredient for bulgogi soup-, second hand books (!) and, apparently for the international traveller, Japanese subway tickets.

As for the Kkatong flower dispenser at Kyunghee University, the bouquet’s consist of dried flowers which last, according to Korean flower authorities, “three years or more”. That’s true love for you. Or serious illness.

Curious for the wonderful Korean AirMax?

Or Korean gold consumption and other blogs in Korea by CEASG?

Tjalling Halbertsma is CEASG Director International and currently visiting Kyung Hee University in Seoul, and later this week Busan National University for a jointly organized conference.


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