9 Things that Fascinated me in South Korea 8 Years Ago

After I visited South Korea in 2008, my life has never been the same. This country caused a big cultural shock for me who had only visited ...

After I visited South Korea in 2008, my life has never been the same. This country caused a big cultural shock for me who had only visited a couple of neighboring countries near Ukraine before. It opened me a completely new world - a melting pot of the developed West and the mysterious East as I realized later on. Shortly after visiting South Korea, I made a decision to emigrate from Ukraine (back then I was not even sure where) as I wanted to fully embrace that new world I've been to. Well, long story short - three years later, in 2011, I was already in Toronto, Canada. Not exactly South Korea, but lots of things I'd admired there, do in fact exist in Canada, too. So here are the nine things I've fallen in love in South Korea. 
P.S. Pardon the quality of some pictures that two of my friends and I took back in 2008 with our point-and-shoot cameras. Hopefully, they can help me better convey my story. Also, the information may no longer be 100% accurate as it's been eight years since I've visited South Korea. 

1. Incheon Airport. 
Incheon International Airport is a gateway to Seoul, a capital of South Korea. My jaws literally dropped when I saw this ultra high-tech engineering marvel.
'The airport holds an unbreakable record of being ranked the Best Airport Worldwide for 7 consecutive years by the Airports Council International (ACI)'s Airport Service Quality award from 2005 to 2011, and was also rated the world's best among airports of its size (25-40m) and region (Asia-Pacific) in 2012 due to the institution's decision to discontinue the Best Airport Worldwide category.' (Wikipedia)
I had nothing to compare against back then, but Incheon Airport has been ranked several times as one of the fastest airports for customs processing. 
The airport has indoor gardens as well as golf course, ice skating rink, spa, private sleeping rooms and casino. Not bad, eh?
It's also one of the cleanest airports in the world. 

2. Roads.
South Korean roads are simply amazing. I'd heard that in Europe you can read a book in a bus, but I didn't quite believe it until I got to South Korea. 
Many buses are equipped with seat belts. Although it's not mandatory to buckle up, you can use it if you wish.
Now I'm used to seeing highways like this one below in Canada and the US, but back then I'd never seen anything like this before.
Shields along the highway to reduce noise and pollution.
Building numbers have to be visible from far away. I like it.
Toll roads. You get what you pay for.
Clearly marked dedicated lanes reduce the congestion for buses.

3. Urban Architecture.
After visiting many cities in the US and Canada, I can tell that the South Korean urban architecture has been greatly influenced by the western world, especially the United States. 
Yet it maintains its own style, less formal and rough comparing to the American cityscapes.
I always wonder how come this high-tech architecture co-exist with awful webs of electrical and telecom wires. I took the next two pictures almost from the same place.
N Seoul Tower (also known as Namsan Tower or Seoul Tower) at night. I liked the light show accompanied by the classical music.
Prime view on the city from the top.

4. Preservation of Cultural Heritage.
South Korea does not have as much historical and cultural heritage left as China or Japan do. But whatever is left has been carefully preserved for generations to come. 
This glass sarcophagus is a good example of that. 
Do you also see an influence of the communist monumental architectural style?
Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty.
It's an all-wooden structure which smelled a fresh paint.  
This palace was originally built in 1395, but then was destroyed by the fire and restored in the 19th century.

5. Nature Conservation.
Koreans are considered to be the biggest outdoor and nature lovers. They believe in great healing effects of nature and love visiting parks - urban or wild.
I'm not sure what these labels on trees mean, but it has certainly to do with conservation.
Vitamins for a tree?
Army bus that apparently has to be idling, uses a hose connected to a sewage hole to reduce exhaust. 
A highway was demolished in mid-2000s to open up the Cheonggyecheon River for people. Water is being pumped from another river, so technically the Cheonggyecheon River is artificial. But nevertheless, the riverwalk became a favorite place for residents and guests of Seoul. 
Direct connection with the outer space?

6. Food and Restaurants.
Food in South Korea was a little bit of a challenge for me as almost everything I tried was very spicy. 
There is a great selection of street food.
Now I'm pretty familiar with Asian food (and quite enjoy it), but back then almost everything looked strange and very exotic for me. Tofu? Never heard of it. Deep fried calamari or octopus? Ok, let me try...
Koreans are very eco-conscious. To avoid using plastic dishware, they use regular plates cover with a bag and wooden sticks. I wish we could leverage more of these old good ideas in North America.
Potato chips.
Leaves and vegetables that you can find in any Asian grocery store in North America.
This was my first dish in South Korea. I ordered it hoping that it was going to be the same as on display.
However, it turned out to be a soup.
Typical Korean restaurant where local people go for lunch or dinner. Their "vodka" is not as strong as a regular vodka.
Many restaurants have BBQ grills on each table. So you can order a fresh meat and fry it yourself however you like. These numerous plates and saucers with leaves and vegetables are included in the price of meat.

7. Subway and High-Speed Trains.
Look at the subway map in Seoul. Isn't it amazing? The funny thing is that we never got lost in the subway. Everything is well marked and written in English. 
Second doors on the platform to avoid people fall on rails.
South Korea, despite its small size, has some of the best public transit system in the world. 
Korea Train eXpress (KTX) is a high-speed rail system which opened in 2004 and connected all major cities in South Korea.
KTX train service is very frequent and definitely beats the local flights.
301 km/h (187 mile/h) - that's the normal speed for KTX trains. The maximum speed I've seen was 305 km/h (190 miles/h).

8. Cleanliness.
South Korea is a super clean country and everyone seems to take it seriously.
Busan city and the Eastern Sea (the name 'Japan Sea' is not very popular in South Korea for historical reasons).
New condominiums near the sea shore.
Every piece of land seems to be blooming with flowers. Even parking lots.

9. Koreans.
And last, but not least, I was fascinated with Koreans. They are very friendly and welcoming. Back in 2008, there were not many tourists in South Korea, so we clearly stood out from the crowd. Many people especially kids greeted us and wanted to take pictures with us. 
For the first time in my life, I felt like a celebrity.
Koreans are very stylish and like to look great.

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