South Korea’s Split Personality : Seoul & Cheju Do
South Korea’s identity is like any third culture kid - with a history of colonisation & division, post-war Americanisation & accelerated urbanisation, the ROK grew up to be that kid who’s got a little bit from everywhere supported by an underlying cultural identity. The juxtaposition of Cheju Do & Seoul illustrates South Korea’s ambidexterity.
Seoul is perfectly functional. A massive city straight out of Blade Runner, with great public transport, free WiFi everywhere, 24-hour restaurants and shops, incredible night life in the University areas, and a number of museums & cultural activities. You can be strolling in Seoul, past a 13th century palace, through a massive Zaha Hadid structure, end up at a district entirely dedicated to shopping, eat a 'Kongnamul Guk' (Soybean sprout soup) while listening to K-pop in a restaurant surrounded by skyscrapers, walk through a bustling street market, eat a live octopus, drink a glass of soju and then go back to your bedroom in a traditional Hannock & sip on some ginseng tea before going to bed. Or perhaps just hang around Myeong-dong, snacking on a strawberry 'Mochi' & watching happy shoppers with their collagen-filled bags, before walking over to the raccoon café for your afternoon tea.
The hyper-urbanisation as a result of the 'Miracle on the Han River' had little foresight for tourism, apart from creating a shopper’s paradise. It comes as no surprise that a visit to the Demilitarized Zone between North & South Korea is a touristic activity. This hypnagogic experience is a classic show of ritualistic human behaviours in the face of consternation, and a relic from Korea’s unforgettable past.
Cheju Do, off the southern coast of the mainland is a nice break from Seoul. Created entirely from volcanic activities around 2 million years ago, Jeju is the home of the Halla mountain, and is also one of the new 7 wonders of nature. Highly urbanized in the cities and with massive roads circling the island, Jeju is far from your stereotypical tropical island. A mix of concrete and chlorophyll, Jeju is dotted with some beautiful Tadao Ando structures as well as natural phenomenon of Lava tubes, volcanic tufts, waterfalls & Hallabong plantations all over. It is also home to the Haenyo, a community of women divers who were active in launching the protest against Japanese control on Jeju. South Korea’s split personality is embodied in the Bonte museum, a stunning concrete block which is divided between tradition and modernity, both in form and function, housing Yayoi 'Kusama’s Fireflies on the Water' in one building, ancient Korean Relics in another & a collection of modern & contemporary pieces in the third.
If someone asked me where in the world I would want to live next, I think my answer would be South Korea.