June 10 to 14 2016
I felt like gadget-less James Bond, called away on a mission to a foreign yet familiar place: Seoul, South Korea. After 4 years, I found myself standing on S.Korean soil and although this was no holiday, it was nevertheless a great trip . Time to finish work, see Seoul and study the country…again. Having that chance to see a most beloved friend Soo-Jin made the short jam-packed trip even more worthwhile and memorable.
Like my travel journal entries four years ago, I still love Cheonggyecheon청계천 stream that runs through the middle of the busy city.
10.9 km long, it runs through downtown Seoul and was a huge urban renewal project. It used to be the home of many who lived in shabby houses along the stream ( just think one of those stream communities in Philippines/Vietnam). It was an eye sore and later paved with concrete. Costing $900 million, many people are against this project but then a stream with lush greenery in the middle of a concrete jungle gets my vote. I see it as a positive urban renewal. There are fish and birds at this stream, temperature is naturally cooled, vehicle numbers are down and it is a great spot to hang out, cool off and launch PR campaigns. I know that some will say that it costs too much and lacks ecological and historical significance but at least it is much better than having more malls and buildings! A natural stream, a park and something natural and green is what Beijing, Shanghai and other cities in China needs. I am so sick and tired of seeing empty residential areas, new empty schools, malls after malls and weird buildings in my China. Tear them down and promote more natural green environments!
I still love how easy it is to walk through the city, the size and location of the various royal palaces, the people, the nice neighborhoods filled with cafes and shops and of course, that very “Seoul” feel.
The cultural hub to the north of Anguk is cute with cafe, local restaurants, traditional courtyards and quirky shops.
I walked around these little quarters and made a stop- a “Must” for all those who visits Seoul- Gwanghwamun Square.
The statue of King Sejong the Great smiles down on his country and watches on as visitors come to enjoy the sights and sounds of his land. The Fourth King of the Joseon Dynasty, he is the most respected King due to being the creator of the Korean alphabet – Hangeul. He was also credited to be a creator of scientific instruments such as the sundial, rain gauge and celestial globe. 4 years ago, I sat beside these three inventions and took a photo and now I am back again! The only difference: I’m now covered with age spots and wrinkles (haha)- Time, go easy on me please!
Before his statue and perhaps guarding the King and the Gyeongbokgung Palace is a statue of Admiral Yi Sunshin, a naval commander famous for his victories against the Japanese during 1592-1598 (when Japan invaded Korea). Along the square is the “Waterway of History” which has the year and event throughout Korean history.
On the second day. I walked West from my Hotel Atrium opposite of a local market, passing through Insadong Anguk, the Square, before venturing South to see Myeongdong, Seoul Station, City Hall, park, tower and a loop up to Dongdaemun. I met up with a dear friend Soo-Jin. We have been friends since Year 5 and last time when I saw her, I cried because I have been waiting for that moment for 14 years! And now, I am still emotional since it has been 4 years….she is still making great contributions to her country’s education system with her institute and she is also a renowned dog breeder. We visited a dog show and and had great food at a local restaurant! I love you so much Soo-Jin!!!!!!
On the third day, the business trip took me to Gyeonggi Province, South of Seoul – some 90 minutes away on the metro (love how far Seoul’s Metro can go). The factory where I had to hand over two boxes of supplies lies in an industrial zone- the centre of business activity and international liaisons. The trip was long but comfortable and after the usual meet, greet, I couldn’t stop thinking about South Korea’s economy : the achievements, polices and challenges faced by this once “Little Tiger of Asia.” Given her land mass, economical development has been advanced and growth was incredible. It slowed down during the 1997 Asia Financial Crisis. Like all other nations in this ever so unstable world, S.Korea faces challenges and is affected by shifts in other nations since we all live on a spider web.
My rants on some economic challenges facing S.Korea:
- Inflation in neighboring countries will affect S.Korea and vice versa. We live on a spider web so since global economy is linked, one shift in another market will have an impact on S. Korea. The country depends heavily on international trade. No doubt, if Chinese markets slow down then S.Korea will be affected.
- Productivity is declining from services to labour to the manufacturing sector. This gap between SMEs and large firms is due to structural problems in the economy.
- Employment for young people as well as policies which support innovation and further push. Reliance on exports.
Love reading the newspaper and some more national issues from day cares to domestic violence to education and low enrolements. Every nation has a tough nut or several tough nuts to crack!
Before my evening flight back to Shanghai, I took one last trip to see King Sejong. Since his statue is the focal point and well….the centre of Seoul, it came as no surprise that so far during my two visits, there has been 3 protests and demonstrations. The first protest was something about some work related issues. Since my Korean is limited, unfortunately, I do not know the exact issue that was under discussion. Judging from the newspaper articles, it might be about the shipping industry and since there are many folks in their 40-50’s….it could also be about pension? (Someone please help). Media turnout was huge and many sat quietly watching as a representative was delivering a speech and quietly protesting about some unfair policy.
The police lined up around the Square to ensure order. The thing is, police presence has always been huge around this area not only because it is the focal point of Seoul, a gathering place for the disgruntled citizens but also the location of the US embassy (ppfft)! The police like the ones in China make note and record these angry protesters. Another protest took place in the same area. This was, a man was passionately delivering his speech. He was not happy.
I heard ” Park Geun Hye” and when I walked a bit closer to him and his supporters, I realised that this man was on hunger strike. He is the Mayor of Seongnam City and is asking the Central government to return $4 trillion back to the local government. I googled some articles about him and since I don’t understand the situation well enough, I will not give my own opinions. http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160623000807 Seongnam Mayor
The third demonstration is a lot quieter than the previous two and has been lasting for quite some time. The reason is a sad one. During my last year as a journalist, I watched on in horror as the ferry sank and took the lives of so many young high school students. It is painful to watch the sinking, to imagine the horror that these students had to go through, the video recordings of these students sitting quietly in their cabin after being told by the crew while the ferry sank and the cries from the parents who said farewell to their child. Several tents were set up to remind people of the tragic event.
No news is big news and no news lasts forever. Media was caught in a frenzy when the incident happened and now things have died down. The very reason for these tents is so that people do not forget about what happened. I stepped inside the shrine and bowed. I looked up and saw the faces of the young students….all children of S.Korea and unfortunately no longer with us today. May you rest in peace my dears.
Incheon Airport, 90 minutes away on the Airport Express Bus (10,000 won each way), is a wonderfully designed and fun place. I didn’t want to leave and fly 90 mins back to Shanghai but then I know that when my darling Soo-Jin gets married, I will be back to celebrate the wonderful day with her and her family. To kill time, I was treated to a mini concert and a Hangeul ink-engraving experience at Korean Cultural Centre.
As I sat there quietly making my own copy of Korea’s first alphabet, I wondered why China can’t do this! It won’t kill you to ask musicians to play some musical piece at your airport nor will it be tough to set up Chinese Cultural Centres where visitors can have hands on experiences such as calligraphy, Kung Fu, tea tasting, 56 ethnic minorities costume dress ups, art, etc the list goes on. What is painful for me to watch is the lack of self-respect and appreciation for one’s own culture. You need to preserve it- promote it and appreciate it! Don’t complain when Japan, S.Korea and other Asian nations successfully apply for UNESCO or international recognition for a cultural activity or element which first started in China. Come on Chinese policymakers! FACEPALM!