My special thanks to Mr. Kings Ng and Mr. Simon Lau for organizing such eye-opening trip and caring for us along the way. Five days in Seoul has given a brief overview on one of the four dragons in Asia in many aspects: technology, history, culture, society and education.
Seoul is modern yet rich in culture. Home for one-fifth of Korea’s population, the city is a mash-up of royal palaces and skyscrapers, of neon lights and night markets, of wide-spreading entertainment industry and stressful ways to thrive oneself in such society. With Han River flowing across the city, Seoul is recognized as the most developed and global city in South Korea, a result from economic boom back in 1953.
Though carrying similar Chinese features, Korean culture stands out uniquely. Korean food can easily make the most difficult-to-please diner fall in love. Vivid in colors, healthy in ingredients and balanced in flavors, such cuisine harmonizes in every way. Besides, Korea gains popularity with its wine, being the third alcoholic country in the world after Russian and British people. The culture also presents in architecture of ancient buildings and palaces in single details. With impacts from Japanese and Chinese, Korean architecture makes its way through the two dominant countries in terms of materials and heating. Heater placed outside the house with stones constructed surround can keep the house warm in a longer period from 1-2 days compared with placing it inside like in Japan, and at the same time, is better for health since it prevents smoke inside the room. In the past old days, people used paper to fill the space on wooden doors as filters of clean air. Well, yes, in that case, there was no privacy in those times when people can hear every single noise in the room.
Being in a place where tradition is well-reserved, Seoul surprises any visitors with its fast living pace. Two sides of the city, the slow and peacefulness of traditional culture and dynamic of people crossing the street for work, coexist. As a university student, part of me was worried about the stress that the society puts on young people from a very young age, with only 1% of high school graduates can get to top 3 universities of the country. It is a place where everybody tries their best to study hard, to teach and research hard, and to work hard in order not to be lagged behind. It is a place where a president of Seoul National University can have a pressure as much as president of South Korea, though it is not explicitly said. More, it is a place where unpaid overtime working is a norm.
I start questioning if it is what it takes to be the dragon of Asia, where people sacrifice their pleasure, easy time to step out of their comfort zone, taking their country ahead of the game. Thinking in a more positive way, this is how a country gets stronger. In a place where each individual tries one’s best in everything they do, with such fighting spirit, it is impossible for that place to get beaten by the others.