Non-stop rain in Seoul

It rained and rained and rained on my last day in South Korea. I searched for some indoor activity and settled on going to the National Museum of Korea.

My hostel owner gave me an umbrella and I made my way to the museum by bus and metro.

In the photo on the right below, there’s a couple with similar green tops, black trousers, and sandals. In South Korea, public displays of affection are rare. Instead, to show their attachment to each other, couples wear similar clothes, as this couple is doing. Some wear identical clothes, such as jeans, t-shirt, and the same type of trainers. This couple is a bit more creative.

When I arrived at the National Museum, there was an outdoor concert. In South Korea, I’ve seen so many outdoor events by luck that I’m beginning to think that they must happen frequently and you’d be unlucky not to see one!

I walked around the airy museum, admiring the architecture as well as reading about the history of Korea.

My final stop of the day was the massive and ultra-modern shopping mall — I’Park Mall. It had nine floors, including one of the largest IMAX screens in the world.

The mall was so big there were large touch-sensitive screens to help you find shops and navigate your way around the shopping centre. It belonged to the future. There were screens everywhere, installations for children to play with, and shops that merged into each other seamlessly, selling just about anything you’d want to buy. Each floor had several zones. Five floors had a “Taste Park” (restaurants), six had a “Fashion Park”, and all nine floors had a “Living Park”.

I videoed myself walking around.

There was an adjoining section to the mall, which was the digital quarter. It was closed — or rather the stall owners had gone home. Many of the goods were on display and within arm’s reach. Most stalls hadn’t locked their merchandise away! There were mobile phones, Apple laptops, and cameras — all out in the open. And although there were occasional signs saying that there are cameras present, the reality is that South Korea has an extremely low crime rate.

As I had my final dinner (a vegan curry) on the seventh floor of I’Park Mall, I reflected about my time in South Korea and my exposure to its history, especially its relationship with North Korea. Comparing the data for the two countries, the South is doing better than the North on almost every measure. South Korea has flourished. It could be the type of government (totalitarian vs democratic), the economy (centrally planned vs market economy), international links (isolated vs connected, e.g., to foreign investment and trade), natural resources, education, healthcare, or welfare policy. The reasons are complicated, but the outcome is not disputed. It’s exemplified by South Korean companies such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai — all of which are known around the world.

The time I spent in Seoul showed me that the capital is probably more modern than any other city I’d seen in the world. So much of Seoul was destroyed in the Korean War. Their relatively late development allowed them to use new knowledge and technology in a way few countries in the West could with their established and ageing infrastructure.

Seoul’s integrated public transport system is second to none. It allows you to easily travel within and between the different districts of Seoul. It may have developed rapidly but Seoul still has plenty of personality. Each district has its own identity. There’s something for everyone: expensive Gangnam, the Myeongdong shopping area, creative Insadong, traditional Bukchon, the narrow lanes of Ikseondong filled with shops and restaurants, fashionable Hongdae, and, if you want to mix with Westerners in Western restaurants, there’s Itaewon.

It’s remarkable all this has been achieved in less than 50 years. South Korea, once on its knees, is now the tenth largest economy in the world by GDP. And it hasn’t finished.

But my time was up. I went back to my hostel knowing tomorrow I’d be in another country.

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