A few days in South Korea leave me with some observations. This was my first trip to eastern Asia, so everything was new. I stayed at the Signiel Hotel, which occupies upper floors in the 123-story Lotte World Tower–one of the world’s five tallest buildings. What a view of Seoul town! Way down below, the 20- and 30-story residential buildings went on and on, filling the valleys. Yet in exploring the neighborhood early on the first morning there, strolling among apartment blocks near the hotel, I found the streetside to be leafy and green; the careful urban planning left space for people. These residential towers are neither beautiful nor ugly, but I later overheard someone say they provide modern, spacious living. And outside, the air quality seemed fine. Life is good for residents of Seoul.
Here are some other observations:
- Smooth and spotless streets and roads
- No graffiti
- Small scraps of land on the peripheries of Seoul are used for vegetable gardens
- Men have pretty much the same haircut; women have two or three hairstyles
- No beards, no tattoos
- Well-dressed people
- Far fewer scooters or motorcycles than expected
- No billboards (which meant no messages from casinos, plastic surgeons, and injury lawyers)
- No bums or panhandling
On my stroll I might have expected to see people walking their dogs, but there wasn’t a single one. Someone told me dogs are getting popular, but there’s no evidence of it.
There were many Christian churches, and I had a brief visit at Seungdong Church, a.k.a. Tangible Cultural Asset No. 130. This Presbyterian church has a place in the history of the Korean independence movement. A worship service was in session, so I didn’t barge in. But I did poke about on the grounds and peeked inside the social hall. Many thanks to the parishioners for letting me use the men’s room!
The church in the photo above was seen from the bus when we were driven out to the Hyundai Motor Group’s R&D center at Namyang. I liked the architecture.
I had never thought about going to South Korea; my editor gave me an assignment, and I got on the plane. I don’t see it as a vacation destination unless there’s a deep cultural link. But it was fascinating to be there for a few days.
On the drive home from the airport, I stopped at a shopping plaza. North Korea had fired a ballistic missile while I was in Seoul, but getting to Walmart’s potato chips was the more horrifying experience.
That was another thing about Korea: no signs of self-abuse or narcissism.