Seoul was lacking in parks until an effort by authorities starting in 1999 created a number of new green spaces, including the rebirth of  Seonyudo Island seen here, formerly a water treatment plant. The opening up of the Cheonggyecheon stream in the middle of the city was another major re-greening event.
Seoul – Been There

Why in Seoul you play hard to work hard

Photo by Frédéric Reglain

Seoul – Been There Why in Seoul you play hard to work hard

“We are living on a tiny peninsula with almost no resources”, says Sooyong. “So the only way for us to get rich, and we have always been eager to be rich, is to study and work very hard.”

Karen Glaser
Karen Glaser Travel Writer

Sooyong, a 52 year-old guide working in Seoul’s palace district explains: “During the 1960s and 70s we sacrificed a lot to give our children better lives than ours. We managed and now there is a fever among our young people to achieve more and more.”

The relentless pressure to excel in South Korea has in part led to a heavy drinking culture in Seoul. Smoky rock joints; iridescent "Chicken and Beer" shops; subterranean cocktail bars in upscale hotels; brash karaoke rooms: Seoul’s throbbing streets are full to overflowing with places to get sozzled.

“Alcohol is our main release,” says Han, a 22 year old student. “We go out straight after work and often party all night. It helps us cope with the stress of life in this city and we sacrifice our sleep for it. Ironically, many of us are probably not that productive at work the next morning.”

Ignoring labour laws, many South Koreans work a six-day week and (unofficially) endure the longest working hours in the developed world, often starting work at 6.30am and leaving at 11pm or later. Several people tell me that those who do not conform will miss out on promotion or be bullied. What’s more, this culture of working long hours begins well before adulthood. “My sister is at high school and she averages five hours of sleep a night. It was the same for me,” says Han.

It is 4am and Han, his friend Bae and I have left Hongdae and moved on to Dongdaemun Market, a colossal 24-hour establishment that stretches across several city blocks and where you can buy anything from ginseng roots to knock-off Armani sunglasses. But we are here to buy neither.

We are savoring the last few hours before Han and Bae are back at their desks with a glass of makgeolli, a fizzy milky rice-wine — and, gulp, a carton of braised silkworms. “People always find something to eat with their drink in this city,” says Han. Something to line their stomachs to prepare them for another long day at work, perhaps.

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With the country's own domestic motor industry, one in three citizens of Seoul owns a car, bringing major problems with congestion and pollution. The city responded in 2004 with a major investment in buses, all fitted with GPS so authorities can monitor slow-moving traffic and adjust traffic lights accordingly. Photo by Jodi Cobb / Alamy

Jodi Cobb

Jodi Cobb

Agency
Alamy

With the country's own domestic motor industry, one in three citizens of Seoul owns a car, bringing major problems with congestion and pollution. The city responded in 2004 with a major investment in buses, all fitted with GPS so authorities can monitor slow-moving traffic and adjust traffic lights accordingly.

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