Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Korea of Yesterday

While being here in Korea, I'm often confronted by people and stories of their time in Korea. Frequently, I'm told, "I went back, and I couldn't recognize it anymore." I know the mere facts, having only come here for the first time in 2011, but I've found their stories believable. I mean, why not? Look at the facts with me:

  • In 1950, the Korean War started.  What could be called an extension of the Cold War, it could be very callously summed up as a fight for and against communism.  As it seems to be with any country that is honestly entertaining communism, Korea was not yet a major player in the global theater.
  • Until the end of the Korean War, people lived in a survival cycle: survival cuisine, survival housing, survival clothing... it looked roughly like this:

  • I took this picture on my first cultural trip in Korea
    (외암리민속아을 - Oeam-ri Folk Village).  It's a low-class home in
    what is now called a "traditional village," a working village
    that's been kept in the traditional style due somewhat to the desire
    for the preservation of Korea's history, but mostly because
    tradition dictates that the oldest son of a family is
    to take over and care for the family's estate for a certain
    number of years after his parents pass.
    • After the Korean war, Korea BOOMED; it's growth was unprecedented.  It went from looking like the photo above to looking like this in a matter of 50 years (less in some places):
      This is a pretty typical sight in Korea these days: Rows of apartments
      that all look the same and clearly went up quickly.  Assume each floor
      holds two family-sized apartments, and that will give you a
      decent idea of the population of Korea.
    • Because of the fast growth spurt, there's a lot of aspects of Korean culture that haven't caught up with modernity.  For example, many building projects are still undergone in the quickest way possible, rather than the most lasting.  Korean cuisine is still very much based on survival foods, rather than based on an expanding palate.  However, consumerism is at an all-time high, so the things that are in and around those housing units and food products are cutting edge (and expensive).  It's an interesting quirk of Korea.

    So, there you have it, based on the growth and history of Korea, I could easily believe that very recently everything was different in Korea.

    What I wasn't prepared for was a recent flickr stream of one expat's view of Korea from 1958-1966.  It's crazy, isn't it?

    Some things have changed:

    Some things haven't:
    Lake Cheongpyeong Farms 1960
    Oeam-ri Folk village 2011.  I know, it's not the exact same
    place, but I'm pretty sure it's the same mountain.

    So, that is your Korea culture/history lesson for today.  Tune in next time for more exciting adventures! 

    (All picture from Korea in the 1950's and 1960's on this blog post are taken from Somthers52's Flikr steam.)

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