The survival of an ethically homogenous Korean peninsular can almost be said as miraculous, considering its geography. Surrounded by the powerhouses China, Japan and Russia, Korea has gone through regular conflict since the Old Joseon period (c. 2333 BC to c. 109 BC). It was only after the North and South split into communism and democracy in the 1950s that the Korean peninsular became relatively peaceful, although tensions between the North and South still arise from time to time.
Walking the streets of South Korea, it is hard to believe that the country was still deep in war just some 60 odd years ago. Seoul, a city with a love for neon lights, quirky graffiti and freely available WiFi, does not seem to sleep. Throngs of Koreans hang out by the Hangang River even after 10 p.m. on weekday nights, and the streets of Hongdae increasingly bustle with activity after sunset.
Juxtapositions surface themselves everywhere. Rows of copy-and-paste high-rise flats, a feature common with many other cities, line Seoul’s cityscape, contrasting its low-rise buildings, overhead wiring and uneven terrain. Traditional architecture are surrounded by those of modern times, while churches can be seen from within temple walls. Christianity is the major religion rather than Buddhism, all while with Confucian values rooted in the Korean society. Historically relevant sites, such as burial grounds, are marked out and often intimately surrounded by densely packed buildings. Traditional melodies play in subway stations to mark trains’ arrivals.