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Hello from Seoul PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 18 August 2008 16:06
One of the benefits of traveling with the Catherine of Siena Institute is the ability to accumulate frequent flier miles. I used them to get me to Seoul, Korea two days ago, where I'm visiting my graduate school room mate from Stanford, Professor Yun-kyung Cha of Hanyang University, and his family.

Korea, as you may know, is the most Christian of the countries of Asia. Yesterday, Cha took me via the incredibly extensive subway system of Seoul (at least 200 stations, as far as I can tell) to downtown Seoul, where I hopped on a city-wide tour bus and took in some of the sights. After walking around a series of traditional Korean-style homes and gardens near downtown, I walked off the beaten path and found Myeongdong Cathedral, the one-hundred year old Catholic center of Seoul and a focal point for the democratic movement in Korea in the '70s and '80s. The Catholic community of the cathedral has also played an important role in the expansion of human rights in Korea.

Even though the facade of the gothic Cathedral is undergoing restoration and reverberates with the sound of jackhammers, there were at least 20 Koreans praying in the nave. Most of them were young adult to middle-aged. There were also a number of young sisters in habits in the neighborhood, including three staffing a small religious goods store a few blocks from the cathedral. Unfortunately, none of them spoke English, so I was not able to find out what community they belonged to.

Seoul is a huge city, well over 10 million inhabitants. It seems like most of them live in high-rise apartments that are like small forests of steel and concrete. Cha's apartment complex has about ten high-rises around a small park with a half-court basketball area and exercise machines that utilize the user's weight as resistance.

There are little reminders that I'm not in Kansas anymore. I realized that after walking around Seoul and being driven through miles of it that I never saw a bit of graffiti. My first night in Cha's apartment, after not sleeping for 36 hours, I put what looked like toothpaste on my toothbrush. Fortunately, it was toothpaste, but I discovered that Koreans prefer "fresh pine-scented breath" to "fresh minty breath"!
I'm looking forward to my stay here. I'll do some more exploring of Seoul, and Thursday I'll head out to the DMZ for a half-day tour. Korea is the last divided country in the world, according to Koreans.

Perhaps what's most amazing is the incredible transformation that has occurred here since the end of Japanese occupation, which over three and a half decades (1910-1945) crippled the Korean economy and impoverished the people. Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the country has been virtually entirely rebuilt, and the standard of living has increased tremendously. Koreans are very, very hard-working, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

I'll try to send a few pictures of my travels from time-to-time.

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