Asia was first charmed by South Korea’s “Winter Sonata”. In no time, the Korean drama fever penetrated other continents, as well until it has reached worldwide fame. More dramas followed, paving the way for its celebrities to be household names. Korean music naturally got into its own share of the limelight until it dominated charts all over while celebrities have been followed by screaming and adoring fans.
Over the years though, the charm of South Korea has evolved from Korean dramas and celebrities to its people and its continually changing landscape. The popularity of Korean dramas and celebrities are, of course, unstoppable but Korea is drawing tourists near and far for more reasons than this. Rightly so as efforts in beautifying and balancing nature and technology never cease. And there’s the people factor that has embraced the foreign population albeit slowly but steadily.
I am witness to these developments in my close to 12 years here in Korea.
When I came over here 12 years ago as a pregnant expat wife with zero Korean language skills, I struggled with the language barrier even when I tried to communicate the simplest things necessary in my daily existence. Today, I can hear all sorts of languages and spoken English in different accents. Koreans have come to see the necessity of understanding and trying to speak even the most minimal of English just to understand and to be understood. Lesser struggle with language barrier has indeed come a long way.
Technology that doesn’t cease to discover more of itself and its capabilities has made life easier for both locals and foreigners. What seems simple as a subway and bus phone application is a daily savior to commuters. It has Korean AND English versions and easily navigable. I didn’t have that luxury years ago when I first set foot on Korean soil.
Art space has extended beyond the walls of museum. Subways, alleyways, parks have become venues for exhibiting art. In fact, there is a conscious effort to make Seoul as an open space museum showcasing all these works of arts. We can start consciously looking at subways where interesting murals, book vending machines, sculptures and other art pieces are on display. These are present all around us for our appreciation if we care to slow down a bit in our daily commutes.
The Seoullo 7017 is perhaps the biggest manifestation of this conscious effort in making the whole of Seoul an open art space. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza had been the most Instagrammable photo since it opened because it showcases the beautiful futuristic architecture of world-renowned Zara Hadid. But you can also head on to the Digital Media City (DMC) and marvel at the buildings and the technology running the whole of DMC. What’s more amazing about this place is its history of formerly being a landfill. The Sangam-dong area, where DMC now stands, has created a great balance between the most technology-savvy environ and being nature-friendly by maintaining the hills and mountains that surround the area where wild birds hold its own sanctuary as well as a few wildlife.
For all its developments, Seoul, and Korea as a whole proudly maintains its heritage. In the midst of skyscrapers, one can easily see the juxtaposition of the old Korea and the new. Palaces and hanoks stand proud and grand. It is also a common sight to see hanboks and Korean modern day fashion walk together in the streets of Seoul. It is fascinating to see both locals and foreign tourists donning these hanboks with the same enthusiasm.
And there’s the mystery of North Korea always lurking in the background. This mysterious presence, although frightfully looming, adds to the charm of the idea of Korea. You can’t find any other two countries with only a demarcation line separating them geographically and politically. Bloodlines and history continue to symbolically unify the two even though it is fading as each new generation unfolds.
Korea has a lot to offer. Much, much more than the dramas and the celebrities we give credit to. It has been 12 years and daily discoveries and interactions but I still get to find something new and interesting each time.