We were only there a few days, but here are some thoughts, albeit fairly random, about Korea…..
Korea has had a rough deal over the past 107 years. We all know the superpowers and their Cold War catalysed the division of the peninsula after 1945, but we didn’t realise prior to this, since 1910 in fact, the country was occupied by the Japanese.
The Koreans we spoke to just get on with everyday life and don’t try and worry too much about the apparent nuclear threat from the North. They follow developments on tv, but then switch over to romantic drama. They live for the moment. To them, it’s just another escalation that’s previously included assassinations, invasions, missiles and axe murders. But dreams of a united Korea will depend on renewed direct contact between the two governments.
Although population numbers have increased rapidly in the last decades, and the profile comes across as very young, the birth rate is declining and experts are predicting the population may peak as early as 2024. So the government is incentivising marriage (with new housing) and births (with money).
Ordinary Koreans hate the power, and corruption, of the large family corporations that control so much of the economy – which are known as the Chaebols. Think Samsung, Lotte and Hyundai. Amazingly the revenue of the 10 largest is more than 80% of South Korea’s GDP, with Samsung accounting for 20%. Although they powered Korea’s economic success in the last few decades, today many think the Chaebols hamper future growth.
Tourists are made very welcome here. The Korean Tourist Board displays a nice line in workwear (see top photo), provides great maps and guides in English and even offers a hotline for tourists to ring whenever they are stuck, lost or have a complaint. Although there are lots of historical treasures to visit, many of them are recently rebuilt from scratch. In our opinion, it’s best to visit the country for its modern lifestyle rather than its history.
Young Koreans love to sing and are performers at heart; in both Seoul and Busan we enjoyed watching many street acts. But the young are very image conscious, always checking themselves in mirrors, and their smartphones, and spend all their time out-and-about taking thousands of selfies. But we were delighted to see that alcohol or smoking doesn’t seem to be part of their culture.
Like Japan, South Korea is an incredibly homogeneous country. We saw hardly any mixed relationships or indeed many foreigners who live here. In Busan or Seoul you do not see posters in the street promoting the benefits of diversity (unlike Jasper and Sydney).