I spent last week in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. It prides itself as the world’s largest metropolis with over 25 million inhabitants. The city itself goes on and on, covering over 600 square kilometres of space despite its numerous skyscrapers.
Finding a place to run was always going to be a challenge. That, and finding the time to run. I was there to watch the Asian Gaelic Games, an annual event that attracts up to 60 Gaelic football teams from around Asia to battle it out for the spoils. With so many matches to watch, and with the world cup rugby on as well, it was hard not to indulge in drinking rather than running activities.
But finally on Sunday morning I managed to drag myself out and put on my running shoes. I was staying in Osan, 35 kilometres south of Seoul city. I had been told that there was a track down by the river, a place to get away from it all. The track itself straddled both sides of the river with several bridges in between, making a looped run totally feasible.
The run itself was nothing unusual, just a chance to loosen up the joints before the next round of match watching. But what was incredible was running and seeing so many buildings and factories all around me. Seoul was ruined in the Korean War just 50 years ago. There were 4 million military and civilian casualties. A visit to the War Memorial earlier in the week reiterated how South Korea and North Korea are still at war today, a stand-off that still shows no sign of ceasing.
South Korea stagnated until the 1960s before taking off on the path of industrialisation and modernisation. As one of the East Asian Tigers, in 1996, South Korea joined the OECD or “the rich nations club”. Today, South Korea has been recognized as an industrialized, developed economy with some of the world’s leading high technology corporations such as Samsung and LG. Quite an achievement seeing its humble starting point less than half a century ago.