Seoul, the capital of South Korea is a key metropolis in the Far East. The Korean peninsula is quite small, comparable to the United Kingdom or New York State in terms of geographical spread. Its geographic location had subjected Seoul to both American and Far Eastern influences. But when it comes to economic prosperity and social equity, Seoul remains a city of contradictions and paradoxes. The rest of this essay will foray into these economic, social and demographic aspects of Seoul and infer its future role in the global stage.
The long and colorful history of Seoul, in the broader context of the Korean peninsula gives some indication of the present expectations of it. For instance, the occasion of the Olympics that is slated for later this year presents an opportunity for the inhabitants to “show the world that their fiercely independent culture was never fully overwhelmed by either of its powerful neighbors” (Townsend, 2002). The speakers of one of the most advanced languages ever conceived, the Korean in general and residents of Seoul in particular are keen to regain the glorious past. For instance,
“Guidebooks sometimes refer to the Korean people as the “Irish of the Orient,” partly because of their capacity for feuding with one another but mainly because of their feistiness and history of affliction. Again and again a visitor is told that the Korean alphabet is the greatest in the world, the Korean military the best educated and the Korean cuisine the spiciest” (Townsend, 2002).
The city of Seoul, by East Asian standards, is one of the most modern and its inhabitants the most outgoing, volatile, boisterous and backslapping group of people. Seoul inhabitants are the “most ethnically and historically homogeneous peoples in the world”. The stoic spirit of the place and its citizens may be partly due to a history “of war, invasion, occupation, resistance, war, destruction, rebirth, peace-and war” (Louise, 2008). The legacy of such a tumultuous past is still being felt today. Take say, the region of Greater Seoul. It is home to close to 10 million people that include some of the richest industrialists. This part of the city is also the “political, cultural, educational, and business hub” (Louise, 2008). Seoul is also the favorite destination for some of the biggest transnational corporations to set up their production facilities. The place also attracts allied service providers like public relations industry and other business corporations. Seoul is second to no other city in terms of the research and development activity that is carried out there. The following passage substantiates Seoul claim to be regarded a true global city:
“Manufacturing complexes surround the city. Seoul and its suburbs boast 9,000 factories, employing more than 360,000 workers. They’ve suffered in the last two years, but most Seoul businesses have recovered from the late-’90s Asian flu. It is home to small manufacturers such as Won’s and it also hosts complexes run by large corporations. They are drawn by the suburb’s proximity to Qingdao, Dalian, and other major cities in China, which vies with the U.S. as Korea’s top market for exports” (Smith and Timberlake, 2002).
While the aforementioned qualities would place Seoul in the Global city bracket, a few other realities associated with the place might question this assertion. Setting apart the ever present political volatility in South Korea, the distribution of wealth in Seoul remains highly inequitable (Chang-Hee and Myung-Jin, 2003). While South Korea has had a tremendous economic growth period over the last twenty years or so, the percentage of the population of Seoul that lives close to subsistence levels is quite an anomaly. It is true that the annual per capita gross national product was close to 100 dollars five decades ago. Today, it hovers close to three thousand dollars – an impressive thirty-time increase (Louise, 2008). Yet, the statistics on class divisions and the proportions of different socio-economic classes within Seoul has remained quite static. This negative aspect of the city will weigh against it, in its aim to be considered a truly global city (Hill, 2000).