THE LOUD music that his neighbours keep playing is fairly easy to deal with, says Yoo Seung-joo, a 21-year-old who lives in a block of flats in Seoul. “I just call the security guard to tell them to keep it down and that usually works.” But there is a more delicate problem. “At least once a week I’m woken up at 5am by loud sex noises.” The recurring disruption to his sleep is extremely wearing, but he feels too embarrassed to raise it with the security guards, let alone his parents, with whom he shares the flat.
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Mr Yoo is not the only South Korean suffering from noisy neighbours. In a country where around two-thirds of people live in sound-carrying high-rise apartment blocks, ”noise between floors” is such a well-established problem that there is a national centre dedicated to dealing with it. The centre registers complaints and offers mediation through a range of committees to prevent lawsuits and perhaps even patch up neighbourly relations.
The pandemic has given the noise mediators more work. Although South Korea never imposed a lockdown, the government recommended early last year that people work from home whenever possible and avoid going out to prevent the spread of covid-19. For those stuck in cramped flats at all hours, opportunities for being bothered by loud neighbours have proliferated. The noise centre registered 60% more complaints in 2020 than in 2019.
Resolving them is not easy, not least because large numbers of people seem to be driven mad by the mere existence of their neighbours. Nearly two-thirds of the complaints the centre received last year were related to children running or adults simply walking in the flat upstairs. Total silence being an unreasonable expectation, mediation often ends with people being told they have to put up with the noise, says a lawyer representing those who wish to take their complaints to court. Even if they win, compensation is paltry.
The government, which last mandated thicker floors in new buildings in 2013, is considering requiring them to be thicker still. But that will not help residents of older flats. With few options to settle matters, long-suffering apartment-dwellers sometimes take them into their own hands. Many websites recommend effective ways to take revenge on noisy neighbours, for instance by blasting bass-heavy music towards the ceiling or by banging rubber mallets against the wall to create noises that can “shake the skull”.
Not everyone takes this advice quite as literally as the man sent to prison in September for assaulting his neighbour with a rubber mallet after a noise dispute. But many resort to desperate measures. Kwon Seo-woon, who suspects her upstairs neighbours practise basketball and golf in their apartment, says bashing the hoover against the ceiling has worked on occasion. Lee Sun, who feels tormented by the noise of her neighbours’ children, says she is considering putting up a notice in the lift to shame them publicly. Mr Yoo says he has tried playing Buddhist chants and the national anthem through the ceiling at full volume. Though effective at shutting up the neighbours, the approach has its drawbacks: “It’s basically unbearable to listen to for any length of time.”
The number of noise complaints will probably fall along with the covid-19 caseload. But pandemic or not, it seems certain that there will always be a healthy market in South Korea for thick carpets, fluffy slippers and noise-cancelling headphones—if not rubber mallets. ■
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This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Hell is other people”
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But it’s the culture, which is three years in the making, that sets Fittler’s team apart from those NSW sides of yesteryear. For the best part of four decades Origin camps have consisted of three distinct components. Drink, train, play.
Fittler has taken Origin into the 21st century, introducing techniques and philosophies that the ghosts of series past would only ridicule.
When Blues players have walked into camp since Fittler became coach in 2018, they have been asked to follow three simple rules.
The first: be on time. The second: be in uniform. And third: take your manners everywhere. They are the basic principles of Fittler’s coaching mantra.
The stories about Fittler’s no phone policy, the earthing exercises and the meditation have been told to the point of exhaustion, but the foundations of his success are built around respect. Respect for your coaches, your teammates and the jersey you wear.
“I was 16 when I came down to the Roosters and he was the coach and I had my first pre-season under him,” Blues skipper Boyd Cordner recalls.
‘There’s a deeper bond successful teams have. It’s hard to explain, it’s hard to get, it’s easy to lose and it’s really hard to get back. Freddy gets that.’
“He’s still the same Freddy, he’s never changed for anyone which is why everyone loves him. Australia loves him. I think the difference from Freddy from then to now is the experience. He got into coaching pretty quick after retiring, but he’d probably say himself that time away and sitting back and gaining all the knowledge that he has, you can tell now he’s really complete as a person and as a coach.
“He was a massive reason why I signed with the Roosters, because he was coach of the Roosters. Coming down as a 16-year-old and being told what do by Brad Fittler, it was pretty awesome.”
There’s a misconception that Fittler is sometimes off with the fairies given his laid-back and carefree nature. A misconception sometimes justified when you hear stories like how he asked Blues staff who was in the Queensland team 36 hours after it was selected a couple of years ago. Or, how two days before a game against the Maroons at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Blues still hadn’t done video on the opposition.
But his attention to detail in planning every inch of NSW’s Origin camp paints a completely different picture. Knowing the players would enter camp worn out after a long stint in the bubble, and once again are confined to their Central Coast hotel, Fittler organised a custom-made theatre room for the players to enjoy movie night. There are pinball machines. And, as of Thursday, a new basketball ring.
Fittler had a whole list of requests knocked back by the NRL because they didn’t meet the game’s strict biosecurity measures, but there is no denying the level of planning that has gone into every detail of his side’s preparation.
“People know that he’s a bit quirky with all the spiritual stuff, but honestly there’s a lot more to footy than just training and playing,” Blues five-eighth Luke Keary said.
“There’s a deeper bond and connection that successful teams have off the field. It’s hard to explain, it’s hard to get, it’s easy to lose and it’s really hard to get back. Freddy gets that. I haven’t come across too many coaches that get it as much as he does.”
One of Fittler’s greatest strengths is his ability to deliver a message through his staff, such is the enormous trust he has in those around them to do their job and convey his views. Fittler doesn’t say a lot to players individually, which is why when he does it carries so much weight.
“He’s super smart footy-minded,” Keary said. “He’s just perfect for this environment when you get into a quick process where you have to get everyone on the same page physically and mentally. He’s perfect for that. He’s so smart as well and he knows how to get people motivated for the task at hand.”
Had NSWRL boss Dave Trodden got his way three years ago, Fittler might not have had his chance as Blues coach. Trodden and the board had all but agreed to give Laurie Daley one more shot, however director Ray Dib questioned why the board was going against its original plan to part ways with Daley if they lost the series.
It was at a time when the culture of the organisation was under the microscope, with many former Blues concerned that a “selfish” culture had developed.
It’s why Fittler showed vision of the most iconic moment in NSW Origin the past 15 years – the image of Jarryd Hayne in 2014 standing on the fence with his arms stretched out over Blatchey’s Blues – as an example of what he didn’t want to see.
He wanted players who put the team first, ones whose only focus was winning for the team, and not using the Origin arena to drive up their price tag or push personal messages. That was evident again during the week when he addressed the national anthem debate on Nine News.
“I feel it’s all a bit distracting, it’s got nothing to do with us – the itinerary for the evening,” Fittler said.
“We’re there to do a job as players and obviously I’m coaching. To be fair I don’t really care. It makes no difference to my job on the night. I just feel the relentless of the media to make that a story, and I can see this is going to happen the same.
“Pretty much from now on it’ll be a no comment from all our players, just because they are there to play a game of footy.
“A lot of them were sidetracked last year over this issue. It wasn’t just the boys not singing it, everyone was asked. As of today, this will be the last time we comment … First and foremost they are rugby league players, without being a rugby league player they don’t get to make the statement for their beliefs.
“They understand being a great rugby league player is above all else.”
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Michael Chammas is a sports reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald
The Naked City podcast will take a journey into the dark depths of the Australian criminal underworld. In this series you will hear recordings of some of Australia’s most dangerous criminals, all of whom have been remarkably frank in their recollections.
If one moment marks the beginning of the time when police learnt their uniforms could make them a deadly target, it was the routine search for a factory burglar in the Melbourne suburb of Cheltenham.
The offender was Bulgarian army deserter Pavel Vasilof Marinoff, who would soon be dubbed Mad Max.
When he was pulled over by police for questioning, Marinoff had no intention of being arrested. He had built a firing range in his basement to prepare for just such a confrontation and planned to shoot his way out if he was ever cornered.
The house in West Hoxton is about as far west as you can go from Sydney before you hit cow paddocks. It is further west than Parramatta and Lakemba, further than Liverpool. Just getting there without a car takes an hour-plus train ride, a 30-minute-plus bus trip and a 10-minute walk along a network of six-lane highways. Head another few kilometres west and the sheer cliff of urban sprawl dissolves into open fields.
A sign out front says the auction will be held in four weeks’ time as the flag of the real estate agent flaps in the breeze on this warm winter’s day. The house, in all honesty, is nothing special. Though it boasts two of everything and five separate bedrooms, at any other time, in any other place, you would drive right by without giving it another thought.
In fact, the house is significant for its sheer ordinariness, especially as the real estate agent, Glen Craigie, seems confident it will sell for $800,000.
There is no hesitation as he offers the expected sale price. The only qualification he adds is that the sale price could climb even higher. Average prices in the area regularly hit the $1 million mark, a figure at which I balk.
“Too rich for my blood,” I say.
The ABS statistics for the 2017–18 financial year found the proportion of those renting had grown to the highest level on record. Two decades ago, a quarter of all households were renting but that number has since grown to one in three. Meanwhile, those who own their home are solidly middle-income, middle-aged and middle class, while those who own multiple properties belonged to the highest incomes. Out of 1.86 million property owners recorded by the ABS, one in five owned a second or third property. Roughly one in five of these people belong to the highest income bracket and are more likely to live in New South Wales or Victoria.
The statistics paint the slow retreat of a shared Australian dream. All that home ownership was supposed to offer – a family, stability, independence, adulthood, prosperity – now feels strangely distant, a privilege that is slowly being concentrated among a few.
‘Over the past decade, Australians have elevated real estate speculation to the level of a national sport.’ Photograph: Alamy
The very idea of home ownership was so remote I never once thought about it. It was only after I started learning about debt that I felt I should travel to ground zero to see what all the fuss was about. Everything I had learned about Australian indebtedness tracked back in some way to real estate.
The basic mechanics are really quite simple. The culprit is rising house prices, a consequence of what the UN’s former special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Leilani Farha calls the “financialisation of housing”. In 2017 she described it as:
Structural changes in housing and financial markets and global investment whereby housing is treated as a commodity, a means of accumulating wealth and often as security for financial instruments that are traded and sold on global markets … It refers to the way housing and financial markets are oblivious to people and communities, and the role housing plays in their wellbeing.
In other words, exorbitant house prices are what happen when a real estate market is engineered not to get people into homes but to make money flipping houses.
Over the past decade, Australians have elevated real estate speculation to the level of a national sport. Taken as a whole, Australia is a nation of wannabe landlords where success in life has come to be measured in square footage. All told, almost two-thirds of the country’s wealth – $6.9 trillion – was locked up in residential housing in 2018. If three out of every four Australian households hold some kind of debt according to the ABS, their mortgage is the largest in size, followed next by the credit card.
Every message we get from news, media and the arts reinforces this shared understanding. The real estate lift-out remains the only section of any paper not to have thinned and yellowed over the past two decades. At the same time, one of the most successful television shows in living memory has been The Block, where five couples work to flip old apartments. Placed in proper context, cultural touchstones like the 1997 Australian film The Castle take on new subversive significance. The story of a family defending their home from planning authorities may have become an Australian national epic, yet the tale is one of resistance against the whole notion of home-as-capital.
If real estate and our relationship to it has become a cultural touchstone, it has also penetrated our politics. Seen through the lens of property ownership, the political power in Australia may be thought of being held by a landed gentry. When ABC reporters famously checked parliament’s registry of declared interests in 2017, they found just 10 politicians who did not own a home. A federal election may have seen the personalities change since, but the dominance of real estate remains. By my count, in 2019, there were 452 properties split between the country’s 226 elected representatives and a new prime minister who once spent six years as a lobbyist for the Property Council.
Inheriting debt, not wealth
Young Australians are not blind to this reality. Any time we crack a joke about the inability to get a mortgage, we are hinting at a collective recognition: the game has been rigged and the future looks less like The Castle and more like a Mad Max hellscape.
And there’s good reason for this. The Australian economic “miracle” may have seen real net wealth triple from $2.8tn in 1990 to $10.3tn in 2018, but all that value hasn’t been shared evenly – thanks to the housing market. According to the Grattan Institute, two-thirds of those aged 24–34 in 1980 who might be counted among the poorest of their generation could at least boast they owned their own home. Today that figure has fallen to one in five.
In Australia, real net wealth tripled from $2.8tn in 1990 to $10.3tn in 2018. Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images
Instead, the vast majority of the financial gains made since the 1990s have, on average, been funnelled to homeowners aged 65 and up. These are people who bought their home before or around the 1980s, during a time of guaranteed employment, social housing, union militancy, free education and rising real wage growth. As they benefited from rising house prices, their children and grandchildren have instead been saddled with more debt than ever before.
Today everyone alive below the age of 64 holds double the debts of those the same age held in 2004. For those aged 55–64, things are even worse. People falling into this demographic have seen their debts triple in the same period – a fact that has social researchers worried. With more people taking on more debt near retirement, the chance they will pay it off before dying is slim to none. In turn, this is setting up a feedback loop that transfers debt between generations, rather than wealth.
If this is bad news for the next generation, it is also bad news for the country’s banking system. Over the past 10 years debt has functioned as a sorting mechanism, grouping different people of like incomes with similarly large debts into specific regions across metropolitan areas. As the average income in Australia’s largest city drops from $1,124 a week in inner-city suburbs like Surry Hills down to $536 in Liverpool, so too does the capacity to repay on mortgage loans. The further out you go, the more likely a mortgage is to eat up over 30% of a person’s income, meaning they meet the technical definition for living in mortgage stress.
Of the 6,831 borrowing households living around West Hoxton that were surveyed by Digital Finance Analytics in July 2019, 3,058 people were in mortgage stress. These figures, however, were nearly double in neighbouring Liverpool, which recorded the highest numbers in New South Wales. Of the 14,037 households with mortgages surveyed, nearly half – some 6,905 people – reported they were having trouble making payments.
Go hard, go early, go to households
Since the global financial crisis, institutions like the Reserve Bank have been watching Sydney’s west for the first sign of a mass default, though this is rarely acknowledged publicly. The first person to recognise the danger, and say so for the television cameras, was Dr Ken Henry.
Henry began his path to influence in 1986 when he went to work for Paul Keating as a senior adviser. He would go on to head Treasury, where he advised both the Labor and Coalition governments. The institutional knowledge built up over time made him an oracle on economic matters and earned him a reputation as “the smartest guy in the room”. Even if you have never heard his name, his work since the 1990s has intimately shaped the trajectory of your life in more ways than you will ever know.
His moment, however, came during the GFC when Kevin Rudd called on Henry to advise on the biggest economic question of a generation. As the American financial system blew up in 2008, the lines of international credit that kept Australian banks afloat – and a debt dependent consumer economy moving – simply seized up. During a series of meetings about what should be done, Henry explained how he had watched the 1992 recession begin under Keating. Back then stimulus spending arrived all too late to stop mass lay-offs. Should trouble start, Henry advised with the benefit of hindsight, the government must act decisively.
“Go hard, go early and go to households,” he said.
Henry’s advice would be taken to heart as the government put together a $10.4bn stimulus package, at that time the largest bailout in Australian history, described as the Economic Security Strategy. Among the various initiatives was the first home owners boost (FHOB), which offered first-time buyers an additional $7,000 when buying a new home. Although other components of the stimulus package, such a handing one-time cash payments to people on social security, would be targeted for negative coverage, it was the FHOB program that was truly problematic. Treasury documents disclosed under freedom-of-information laws describe how it was introduced specifically to “prevent the collapse of the housing market”. Over the long haul, its continued operation would only serve to help inflate a real estate bubble.
If Treasury understood the real risk of a mass default on Australian home loans, the prospect of widespread foreclosures put the fear of God into the RBA. By 2010 the central bank was actively “war-gaming” what a recession might look like. Its chief conclusion was, should something happen, a crisis would begin somewhere like Sydney’s west before cascading through the entire Australian financial system.
In fact, things were so serious that the RBA concluded from one stress test in 2014 that the result of any mass default would be catastrophic:
All of the capital assigned to protect the major banks’ $1.25 trillion mortgage books would be wiped out by a ‘severe downturn’ in the housing market. The four majors were only able to pass APRA [Australian Prudential Regulation Authority] stress tests after drawing on extra capital allocated to other areas of their business and through profits generated in some years of the test.
Once the RBA recognised this, it never looked away. Today it maintains a dataset tracking the status of around 1.6 million securitised mortgages collectively worth $400bn that updates each month. The data is so granular it can drill down to the level of a single street. The idea is to carefully monitor financially stressed regions such as western Sydney in the hope of catching a problem before it spreads into a crisis.
The takeaway, according to Dr Shauna Ferris from Macquarie University’s Centre for Risk Analytics, is that this state of affairs happens when governments allow banks to turbocharge their profits.
“Think of debt as a product,” Ferris says. “The high level of Australian debt has been caused by banks and other lenders wanting to lend more money at high interest rates. The more they lend, the more money they make. They don’t care if this causes mortgage stress later, so long as it’s profitable now.”
This is an edited extract from Just Money by Royce Kurmelovs, published by UQP, available now.
CRAZED football fans were out in force at the weekend as the pitch of an junior match was invaded by an unruly mob.
During an Under 15s game featuring Woolgoolga and Northern Storm several furry fans, said to be ‘hopping mad’ at a contentious refereeing decision, decided to storm the pitch.
Witnesses said the game at Woolgoolga had to be stopped for several minutes while the pitch invaders kept on hopping around the field.
Football fans in Australia have long been singled out by some sections of the media – some say unfairly – as being particularly “passionate”, resulting in Football Federation Australia coming down hard on misbehaving fans.
Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League has had a number of fans banned and been threatened with points deductions over the years.
The crazed fans at Woolgoolga appeared to be wearing no clothing, possibly in an effort to keep their club affiliations a secret.
It is unknown if any flares were ‘ripped’ by the offending troop and anyone with information about the wild mob should contact the FFA.
Kobe Bryant’s wife has paid tribute to her late husband on what would have been his 42nd birthday, saying she wishes she could “wake up from this horrible nightmare”.
Vanessa Bryant shared a lengthy message to her nearly 14 million Instagram followers in which she said she loved and missed her US basketball star husband and daughter Gianna “more than I can ever explain”.
Mrs Bryant wrote: “To my baby. Happy birthday. I love you and miss you more than I can ever explain. I wish you and Gigi were here to celebrate YOU!”
She continued: “I wish I could make your fav food or a birthday cake with my Gigi. I miss your big hugs, your kisses, your smile, your loud a** deep laugh.”
The widow described how she wanted to break down but had to keep a positive attitude for her surviving children, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri.
“Our lives feel so empty without you and Gigi. I’ve been completely broken inside. As much as I want to cry, I put a smile on my face to make our daughters’ days shine a little brighter. I’m not the strong one, they are,” she wrote.
Mrs Bryant said she wished she had died before her husband and daughter as it was too painful to live without them.
“I’m mad I didn’t go first… It should’ve been me,” she said.
“I know my Gigi is celebrating you like she always has on our special days. I miss my thoughtful princess so much.”
In May, Mrs Bryant marked the birthday of her eldest daughter Gianna, who would have turned 14.
“Happy 14th Birthday to my sweet baby girl, Gianna,” she wrote on Instagram. “Mommy loves you more than I can ever show you. You are part of MY SOUL forever.”
She also shared a letter from her husband which she found unopened after his death.
Mrs Bryant said she had waited until her birthday to open the letter, which had been addressed to “The Love of my Life”.
THE Territory’s favourite political pooch, Princess Scrumpy of Scrumpyton, launched a barking mad campaign to be elected the NT’s first canine Chief Minister in 2016.
The Jack Russell also put her paw up for the position of Lord Mayor of Darwin the following year but, according to her owner, was “cheated out of her votes due to bureaucracy”.
Alice Springs residents were shocked to find the Red Centre town blanketed in white after a
freak storm dumped hail stones the size of golf balls.
No one was hurt in the wild weather, which also showered 63ml of rain on the desert town.
This year saw Parrtjima burst on to the spectacular landscape surrounding Alice Springs in an
explosion of light.
The only authentic Aboriginal festival of its kind, Parrtjima: A Festival in Light
showcased the oldest continuous culture on earth through the newest technology – all on the 300-million-year-old natural canvas of the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia – and is now a yearly event.