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Amalgamation: The Real South Korea

Having spent three weeks so far in Seoul, it has become apparent that Korea has eclipsed its predecessor stereotype as a 3rd world country. Now it has flourished into a modern, and in some cases, an ultra-modern society. A little over 60 years ago, Seoul was devastated by the Korean War. It was leveled and had changed hands four times in a span of three years. The residence saw the city burn down and political genocide ensue.

Now Seoul has grown from the ashes; it has adopted a new mind-set. One that has not completely forgotten its past, but one that is a master of amalgamation. We see this manifest in the blending of the East and the West, the ancient and the modern, and the older generations to the newer one.

One of the biggest things we have seen is the blending between what we are used to and what is completely foreign to us. Two examples come to mind, the first is McDonald’s. Imagine going into a McDonald’s in the US - it is a bit dirty and the food is not that good. In South Korea it is much more clean and surprisingly nice. The food is a delicious concoction called the Bulgogi Burger, a perfect blend of a Western hamburger and traditional Korean Bulgogi. Another wonderful product is Oreo-o’s; all I have to say is Oreo flavored cereal. For us, Oreo’s are the quintessential American cookie, but this cereal is not available in the United States; it is only available here in South Korea.

Traditionally, the Korean society is very conservative and women, although strong, did not have the rights and respect that men had. It is still common to see an older couple walking, but with the wife three steps behind the man. Public showing of affection is also very taboo with the older generations. With the people of the younger generations, however, it is common to see them walking hand- in- hand and matching clothes. This is a symbol of their love. This may be attributed to the Western influence on the Korean society.

The city is extremely new, it was devastated after the Korean War and it is still feeling the growing pains from the economic success in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Walking around Gangnam, it seems to be another world. The buildings are modern with very unique architecture. The amazing aspect is that this happened in our lifetime, 20 years ago the area of Gangnam was rice patties. The amazing aspect of this relationship is that the ancient Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple, is located on the edge of this ultra-modern paradise.

The short time spent here has changed many of our perceptions of South Korea and Seoul; it is not only the Ultra-modern and technophilic society that was our original perception, but in fact, it is a blended society, one that is in touch with both the past and the present and with the Western cultures and the Eastern Cultures.

Ian, Sonya & Thad