SEOUL - One might expect to arrive in Seoul and experience a truly Korean culture.
Many expect to see old traditional tiled roof houses and temples, or perhaps a couple people wearing the colorful traditional dress, the hanbok. Instead, I arrived in Seoul to find a modern city.
Many chic, glass skyscrapers and high-rise apartments create Seoul’s panorama skyline. In many aspects, Seoul is one of the most contemporary cities I’ve seen.
Its transportation system is one of the best I’ve experienced. There is even a free service number to call for a translator to instruct your taxi driver where to go.
Seoul is also very environmentally aware.
Instead of a trash can in my classrooms, there is a cardboard box, and on the street you will most likely see two sets of trash cans, recyclable and non-recyclable.
The technology is also quite advanced – Korea is the home to companies like Samsung and Hyundai. Many apartments don’t have keys; doors open by either a combination number or by a programmed card sensor system.
And the city has many franchises that remind me of home. I could expect to see Burger King, McDonald’s and Starbucks on the streets of Seoul, as I have seen them in many other countries.
I was surprised to find a 7-Eleven on every other corner. And then I found Dunkin’ Donuts, Coffee Bean, Cold Stone and Baskin-Robbins. I can even get delivery from Papa John’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s.
Maybe the shock of a modern city was partially because I’ve been living in Bloomington for the past two years. Or perhaps it was because of an expectation of a “Korean” city, in the way Rome is Italian and Paris is French.
I don’t quite feel that here.
I think many foreigners as well as locals have mixed feelings about Korea’s modernization. Korea has one of the world’s fastest growing economies and has accomplished so much in such a small amount of time.
This has propelled Korea into a continuous forward development.
Seoul feels like a “have it now, make it now” kind of city.
But does that vibe enhance Korean culture or diminish it?