It is currently the second week of school here in Seoul, South Korea, and frankly, I feel like I have been here for much longer. I was surprised at the many similarities between life in the city of Seoul and my life in Malaysia, where I lived for a good portion of my life.
This past weekend, I visited LOTTE World and the Seoul SKY Observatory (or Seoul SKY), as part of the university’s excursionary program. The LOTTE Corporation in South Korea runs a large gamut of businesses in areas ranging from entertainment to retail to electronics and IT. According to the Themed Entertainment Association 2015 Theme Index, LOTTE World was listed as the 16th out of the Top 25 global amusement/theme parks. Seoul SKY is part of the LOTTE World Tower and is apparently the sixth tallest tower in the world! Now, I have been to amusement parks and malls and things of that nature during my relatively short lifetime, but I do not exaggerate in saying that I have never seen anything like the Seoul SKY or the LOTTE World as a whole. I was overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the LOTTE World Mall, in which the Seoul SKY is situated. I later learned that the LOTTE Corporation is essentially a major conglomerate organization, ranked fifth in the list of the largest chaebol in South Korea, a chaebol denoting a wealthy corporation run and typically exclusively controlled by an exceedingly wealthy family. Learning this put into context the seemingly extravagant opulence that I was surrounded by this past weekend.
While LOTTE World Adventure was a bit overwhelming (the complex was quite a bit of a maze!) and not necessarily my thing, I was excited to see how much the native children there were enjoying themselves; one of my current occupations is teaching elementary school students English, so I always feel a certain affinity towards children of any age. As for the Seoul SKY, I was simply speechless at the vastness of amenities on display and, quite frankly, the opulence of it all. Most of the department stores were so far out of my price range, that it was pretty laughable.
As the weekend went on, I actually had a bit of an epiphany, one that honestly had been developing over the first week I had spent here in South Korea: that life is unfair, but that if one can learn to live life to the fullest, it can be enjoyable. I have been to the streets of Gangnam, Myeong-dong, and near Hong-dae, and I have seen glimpses of apparent high-end life. I have also been to the streets of Seoul were primary schools and some small businesses are and have seen the stark difference in the quality of life. It made me think about the COVID-19 pandemic, which especially highlighted the stark class differences that seem to transcend many national lines. Nevertheless, I have seen happiness in these places that are not as high-end, in these areas that some would argue may even be a bit run-down. It made me feel hopeful and excited to explore more about this country that I get to call my host country for another three weeks.
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