"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." Martin Buber
At the end of June I'm off again, for three weeks at a university in South Korea and a visit to Kyoto, Japan, then in August we will be in Guatemala looking at one of the world's greatest challenges: how to grow a lot of food sustainably on small farms. Come along!
Monday, August 12, 2013
Korea # 25 Highlights after Traveling in Korea
post I’m closing out the Korea section of my blog after 30 days there as a
student and tourist in July, 2013.I’ve
posted ten more times than I intended because I found Korea fascination, and I
got to see a lot of it.Here are a few highlights
for those traveling there for the first
shone only twice in any duration and it was just as well.Humidity is in the 80’s most days in July and
adding sun makes walking tourist sites a real exercise. Get inside at mid day.
I lost five pounds while eating anything I wanted.It rained heavily two days but otherwise a
small umbrella was sufficient.
Around—Korea is as negotiable as any country in the world.Incheon was selected as the world’s best
airport last year and flights within the country are frequent and seem less
costly than in the U. S.Its train
system is extensive, including a bullet train between Seoul and Busan.Seoul has the world’s longest subway system
and five other cities have subways as well, pretty amazing.The bus system worked extremely well getting
down to Jeonju and a couple of hundred miles across the peninsula.Intra-city bus systems far exceed those of
the United States, of course.Freeways
are extensive and less crowded, it appeared, because of mass transportation.
and Green Zones—Koreans live in high rise apartments.I don’t have the statistics but it is
everywhere apparent that housing has been intentionally concentrated and
planned.Korean cities and suburbs are
surrounded by or incorporate green zones.
This is less so in Seoul yet it has recaptured riparian lands along the Han
River for parks, green zones and planned development.One subway stop and you can be in the
country.Drive 75 miles south from
Incheon Airport and you can simultaneously see high rises and crops growing in
the field or in greenhouses almost the entire way.That’s a lot of high rises, a lot of
greenhouses and a lot of farming.
middle of Seoul is a future Central Park; at least that’s what locals
expect.However if it ever becomes one
it should be named after the current dictator of North Korea because this
“park” is still occupied by the U. S. military.It will likely be given up only when Kim Sun someday makes peace, would be my
guess, and that probably won’t be soon.
is rich with fresh produce.Classic Korean
cooking has main dishes, of course, and up to a dozen small side dishes, all
served at once.Urban Koreans eat out a
lot both because they can afford it and because preparing a meal Korean-style
is very labor intensive.So restaurants
are plentiful and of good quality.French pastries are a big deal and very well done in several chains, the
most widely available being Paris Baguettes.Korea is serious coffee country with 19,000 international franchised
coffee shops such as Starbucks in Seoul alone, plus unknown thousands of
independents.Cold and hot canned coffee
of great variety is sold out of vending machines which are in much greater
supply on street corners than in the U. S.
I ate well
in a university cafeteria: rice, a rich soup, vegetables and kimchee at every
meal.One cafeteria offered a full meal
and then all the ruffage you could eat: several kinds of lettuce, sesame and
beet leaves and Napa cabbage.Deserts are
not served and the drink is water, another reason I lost weight. I am not a foodie but I am told Korean cuisine
in Korea is a favorite among those who are.
food such as KFC and Baskin and Robbins has come to Korea in recent years in a big way.Koreans are extremely slim people, male and
female, and I wrote that the country must have a collective Body Mass Index
below 20; however that was before I went to Seoul.For whatever reason, people looked to be
larger and taller in Seoul.
I am told
Korea does not import fresh fruits and vegetables in winter as does the U.
S. so winter will be a different eating experience.Fermented foods are a Korean specialty and
were once a necessity to get through the winter.
There is no
tipping in Korea for any service.
years prior to the end of the Korean War in l953 were the worst in Korea’s
history.We have little or no
appreciation of richness of Korea and Korean culture over the prior centuries.
occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945 and the U. S. administered it as if it were a
province of Japan until 1948. It was then cut it loose in a way that could justly be said to have invited the
Korean War.Taking North and South Korea
as one country, Korea has had its present boundary at the Yalu River since the
mid-7th century.In other
words, it was an independent country, ruled in three distinct eras and dynasties, for 1350 years.
arrived in the 5th Century, followed by Confucianism three centuries
later and both continue to exert strong influences.A quarter of the population considers itself
Buddhist, 21 percent Christian and 46 percent say they have no religion.However there are still 30,000 Shamans in
the Han—In 1970, Korea had a per-capita GDP of $79, lower than most countries
in Africa.It is today the 11th
ranked economy in the world and the Bank of Asian Development estimates that in
the year 2050, only the United States will have a higher per-capita GDP, and
that by only a little.It did so through
top-down planning and a public-private strategy which promoted and protected a
few companies while imitating and copying their way to success.Samsung is the world’s number one IT company ,
smart phone producer, smart phone profit-maker and chip-maker.We know about the success of Hyndai and Kia.Korea is the world’s shipbuilder and number
five in the processing of petroleum.It is
the most digital culture in the world today. Yet it was broke and largely illiterate in 1970, an amazing transformation.
With 25.5 million
people, Seoul is the second largest metropolis in the world, following Tokyo. Half
of Korea’s population lives there and is constitutes the #4 metropolitan economy in the world.It is
distinctly different from the rest of Korea and recognized as such, not
always with admiration.
concerned that the flip side of its success at imitation and of its education
system is a lack of creativity which, it is argued, will enable others to
imitate Korea and eventually see the sunset of the dominance of its major
companies.The Bank of Asian Development
seems to disagree.
and the Landscape—Korea is not a spectacular country which is one reason it ranks
34th in world tourism.But it
is consistently pleasing and attractive.Three-fourths of the country is mountainous and 65 percent is
forest.The 2018 Winter Olympics will be
held there. How Korea has retained so
much cropland and rural beauty has been a fascinating and unexpected subject of
this blog.However accomplished, rural
Korea is looked up to as an example by many countries and Korea’s foreign
assistance program connects other countries with its rural success, with
particular attention to those countries which fought for it survival in the
temples can be found throughout rural Korea and the countryside is sprinkled
with graves and small monuments to ancestors.
has universal health care with the patient paying about 10 percent.However doctors and nurses continue to move
to the U. S. where they can make a great deal more.The exceptions are those disciplines where
Korea has become a mecca for medical tourism, particularly cosmetic surgery and
the treatment of liver disease.It is
said that one-fifth of Korean women have had plastic surgery which means the
percentage is much higher among young people.Alcoholism is a problem in Korea, which gave it a head start on liver
transplants and treatment.Obesity
certain is not a problem, at least not yet.Traveling in Korea and then returning to the U. S. is still a shock of
the huge, no matter how many times one has experienced it.
Pearson Company of Great Britain, which claims to be the world’s greatest
private educational company, recently ranked Korea as having the second best
educational system in the world, after Finland.One reason is that three out of four Korean students have a tutor of
some kind and tutors outnumber public school teachers, according to an August 3
article in the Wall Street Journal.
of North Korea—We cannot think of South Korea without immediately thinking of
North Korea.Everyday South Koreans
profess not to be worried about it yet politicians are judged by how well they
address the other half of their country.I was told that young men who serve a required two years in the military
“train under a mountain.”The South
tries to make itself as able to survive a North Korean attack as possible,
which has to be a factor in having such a vast subway system.There is an underground Korea as there is an
underground Iran and a command center deep in the granite of Colorado.
The DMZ has
become a big tourist site as well as a biological reserve. The 60 years of tension South Korea has
experienced since the end of the Korean War in 1953 could lead any people to
fatigue, insensitivity or escapism. What has happened seems to have been precisely the opposite.