Stuff Koreans Like, a short-lived imitator of the mid-2000s satirical blog Stuff White People Like, only took ten posts to get to travel essay books. “Usually set in foreign cities (mostly New York or Paris),” writes its author, “they feature soft-focus photographs of café facades and interiors, coupled with inane text with no depth or historic/sociological insight into the destination being essayed about, just a lot of ‘Ooh this café was so pretty and its espresso so delicious. Ooh here’s another pretty café and its hot chocolate was so sweet.’” A tough assessment, but in its way a fair one: I come across dozens of (admittedly always well-designed) volumes that more or less fit that description whenever I browse the filled-to-bursting travel shelves at any of the bookstores here in Seoul.
The popularity of the Korean travel essay book is not lost on Airbnb, the hugely successful and rapidly expanding service that matches travelers in need of a place to stay with possessors of houses, apartments, spare bedrooms, or couches looking to rent them out. Not long ago, I noticed that piles of a paperback called 여행은 살아보는 거야, or Travel Is Living, had appeared on the counters of several of my usual Seoul coffee shops. At first glance, its production value seemed high enough — comparable to those carefully laid-out, photo-intensive travel books — that I assumed they were for sale. Then I realized that I could simply take one like I could take one of the cinema schedules or festival fliers stacked beside them, and soon after that, when I’d read a bit, I realized that I held in my hands a 200-page advertisement for Airbnb.
Not that Airbnb needs to convince me of their merits: over the past five years, I’ve used the site to book accommodations all over the United States, Europe, and Asia, including on my first trip to Korea. They’ve surely got their fair share of free advertising from me in the form of recommendations made to friends, or at least to friends on the young side: what I think of as an “Airbnb generation gap” seems to separate those less to use it (as guests rather than hosts, at least) from those more to use it, just as it once separated the venture capitalists more willing to fund it from those less willing to fund it. But Korea, where even grandma and grandpa show up in line for the latest-model smartphone, has less of a problem there.
Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.