The Soul of Seoul

I was lucky enough to travel to Japan and South Korea recently, for the first time. I was very impressed with both nations in my brief time in those countries. I was struck by the endless expanse of high-rise buildings in Tokyo, and by the beauty of its timeless gardens and temples. My Japanese hosts were very welcoming and hospitable, and even took me on a tour of sites in Kyoto between speaking engagements. I made friends that I hope to see many times again.

South Korea was also a revelation. Walking around Seoul on a weekday summer evening I was impressed by the number of people of all ages out and about. Many people congregated at the recently completed urban renewal project of the Cheonggye Stream (see photo at right). What was formerly a dirty waterway, then an elevated highway was transformed into an urban destination of beauty and grace. The stream now emerges from the ground in a fountain and waterfall, then meanders between walkways well below street level for miles. The giant monitors on high-rise buildings can be seen from stream-level in an interesting contrast between the natural world and the artificial. It is a clearly an urban planning crowning achievement, and one that is indicative of what the Koreans can accomplish.

But if you think Korean accomplishments run only to urban renewal, monitors, and automobiles, think again. As Business 2.0 reports, a South Korean company is poised to release their very popular social network CyWorld in the United States. This could very well be a killer, since it is likely to make MySpace look like yesterday's place -- a spot that no self-respecting teenager would ever allow themselves to be seen.

So I was surprised to learn that Koreans eat not with wood or bamboo chopsticks, but with silver metallic chopsticks. Leave it to the Koreans to take a centuries-old tradition and put their unique stamp on it. They have achieved great things in their history, and they are again.

The soul of Seoul is energy, vitality, imagination, and the will and ability to make their dreams come true. This kid is not placing any bets against them anytime soon.

The Cheonggye Stream in downtown Seoul.

The Cheonggye Stream in downtown Seoul.