Monday, September 21, 2009

South Korea: Tiger or Teddy Bear?

Asian tiger, a seriously wired country, or a populace steeped in the morality of Confucianism? All are accurate descriptions of South Korea, yet none of these fully captures the essence of this fascinatingly complex -- yet contradictory -- nation.

Grounded in ancient Confucianism, the history of Seoul can be traced back as far as 18 B.C., when it was first established as a settlement. Of the South Koreans who profess religious beliefs, most are Buddhists or Christians.

Nonetheless, South Korea is definitely a forward-thinking country, thanks to its hurry-hurry approach to almost everything. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Seoul is the city that never even slows down.

Koreans clearly have a zest for life, and face-to-face, local residents are pleasant and polite. However, on the streets of Seoul, you're on your own. Everybody is in a hurry to get somewhere, both pedestrians and motorists: there's no "stopping to smell the roses."

If I had to sum up South Korea in one word, it would be "dynamic." If I were to use two words, it would be "dynamic and conservative."

Seemingly contradictory, for many Koreans it's simply a matter of yin and yang.

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