11:24am 18/06/2022
The miraculous transformation of South Korea
By:Lee San

It is because of such an incredible display of patriotism among its people that South Korea has safely sailed past many turmoils and uncertainties through the years.

Made in Korea” brands such as Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Kia and Lotte are household names the world over. These brands have emerged triumphant in the highly competitive global manufacturing environment.

Wang, our Korean guide, gave us a brief round-up of his country’s meteoric rise as an economic powerhouse: South Korea is commanding a leading position be it in shipbuilding, construction of skyscrapers and enormous bridges, or in the electronic and smartphone industries, or cosmetics. You see, our Hyundai is now the world’s fifth largest automaker and our plastic surgeries are the most trusted among young women worldwide!

As a matter of fact, South Korea was a derelict and impoverished country soon after the Korean War ended in 1953. It was subsequently plagued by countless of political upheavals as well as civic protests.

So what exactly has contributed to the country’s unimaginable metamorphosis? The biggest factor is none other than the people’s unbelievable commitment to work as well as their superfluous love for their motherland.

Any talk of South Korea’s rise cannot go without mentioning its late president Park Chung-hee, whose tenure from 1960 through 1978 marked a determined turning point in the country’s development. He resolutely initiated a national New Life Movement to industrialize the country, boost its industrial output, promote exports and create more job opportunities for the people.

As a consequence, South Koreans enjoyed rapid per capita income growth and enviably affluent living standards, as they grabbed up new electrical appliances, apartments and other modernities like never before, to spearhead domestic consumption.

Unfortunately, Park was later assassinated but we cannot deny that he remains very much the most respected leader among South Koreans to this day.

His daughter Park Geun-hye was elected as the country’s 18th and only female president in 2013. She was impeached during her presidency and was sent to jail (now released on parole). Her rise to presidency was a significant boost to the women in a traditionally patriarchal society.

Cheongwadae, the Blue House presidential palace.

To be honest, even though the Korean society is male-centric on the surface, South Korean men are generally very appreciative of the selfless contributions by their mothers and wives, especially in education and house care.

Because of that, most men do not let their wives go out to work and would willingly surrender their monthly paychecks to their wives. Interestingly, Korean familial relations are still very much established upon Confucian teachings, as they continue to uphold mutual respect in their day-to-day lives.

Our guide Wang explained: you will only have a prosperous career if you have a harmonious family. So, the men are working very hard outside while their wives take care of everything at home.

Everyone is doing their part for the house and nation, and it is such commitment that has laid a strong foundation for the country’s phenomenal economic development.

You might still recall the 1998 Asian financial crisis which saw both Thailand and South Korea badly bruised, although it only took the latter 18 months to fully recover. Call it a miracle or something! But how on earth did they ever manage it?

We have no idea how the women of that country found the unparalleled motivation to stand united as a nation, taking out all the jewelries they kept at home and donated them to the treasury to help the nation weather its worst crisis in modern times.

After a lapse of several years, the government kept its promise and returned all the money to the people!

It is because of such an incredible display of patriotism among its people that South Korea has safely sailed past many turmoils and uncertainties through the years, ensuring that the country would continue to forge ahead.

The successful hosting of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and the 2002 FIFA World Cup speaks volumes of the country’s exceptional  organisational efficiency. Its second city Busan is currently bidding for the 2030 World Expo. Hope they get it!

The Koreans are truly awesome people! Other than physical infrastructure, they also excel in the soft power which has sent the world crazy!

Remember Psy’s Gangnam Style? First we had K-pop dances that sparked off a global K-mania; then we had TV dramas Dae Jang Geum, Winter Sonata, and more recently Squid Game (aired in 96 countries worldwide), as well as K-pop idols in the likes of BTS and Blackpink. Together, they have helped reel in trillions of foreign dollars to fatten the country’s coffers.

The K-heat is still very much on today and there seems to be no sign of it subsiding any time soon. Many foreign tourists have thronged into the country just for star-chasing!

The first post-pandemic early summer, the 20 of us from Malaysia unexpectedly became the first foreign tour group to have arrived in South Korea and thus found ourselves appearing on the local TV.

We had a totally enjoyable immersive South Korean experience throughout our 13-day trip, as we came to appreciate first hand the miraculous rise of the country in addition to snatching the fabulous Korean ginseng, cosmetics, facial masks and the authentic KF94 face masks!

P/S: South Korea has never enforced any form of movement control order during the past two years of pandemic while dining-in has always been allowed at restaurants. Domestic demand remains robust for this country of 50 million people!

(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)


South Korea
Lee San
Apple Vacations


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