"Korea” herein means “South Korea”
It's been over a decade since I last set foot in South Korea. This time, it was business trip in Busan. Flight duration was 6-6.5h to Seoul Incheon airport followed by another 1h flight time to Busan Gimhae airport.
Korea has a population of ~50 mil with capital Seoul having close to 10 mil people. If we include Seoul and the fringe provinces (known as Seoul National Capital area), they will add up to close to half the entire S.Korea population. Busan is the next largest city with 3.5 mil people.
According to my Korean Agent, he will prefer to live in Busan than Seoul due to the many more beautiful beaches and mountains in Busan.
Then and Now
I was in Korea in the 1990s, 2000s and now 2010s. One of the major changes I witnessed is the command of English. Most people today especially the younger generation are fluent in English than in the past. When I was in Seoul in the 1990s, people walked very fast and bum in others without apologizing. Now the walking pace slows and the South Koreans are generally very courteous and service level is high. Streets are cleaner now compared to more than a decade ago. There are laws to ensure smoking is only allowed in certain location even in open areas on the streets. Nightlife is still buzzing in Korea. I was told most Korean people have short sleeping hours due to the vibrancy of the night. Many drinking sessions only start after 11 pm even on weekday.
Cost of living
Things in Busan are relatively pricey just like in Singapore. There is a 10% goods and service tax applied across. For mid-tier restaurants and cafes in cities, I estimate Korea to be 10-15% more expensive than Singapore. However I reckon their quality, portion and service level is much higher than us. My taxi fare of approximately 15km to the airport cost S$17.
Median salary, I was told is about S$40-50k per annum, quite similar to Singapore.
I was also told that half of Korea’s population live in high rise buildings due to the limited livable area in a mountainous country. Most housing are privately corporation owned, typically 2-3 bedrooms 100 sqm just like Singapore. Housing apartment outside city centre say 100 sqm is approximately S$500-550k +/-.
Cars are cheaper due to the local production. A brand new 2 litre comfortable Samsung brand car my agent is driving is approximately $30-35k with ownership for life.
Refer here for cost of living in Korea.
Although the data shows that cost of living in Korea is typically 10% cheaper than Singapore, but these are figures aggregated across all cities. In Seoul and Busan, it is likely to be higher. Furthermore, car and housing costs tend to slant up Singapore’s cost of living.
Age in Korea is 1 year older just like in Chinese calendar. So if you are born in 1990, you are not 16 years old but 17 years. On the streets, you can also see that Koreans are very fashionable especially the younger generation. Korean gals are very particular about their looks with almost most women dolling themselves up before going out on the streets.
Education is very stressful in Korea and starts at age 7 (Korean age) with 6 years of elementary school followed by 3 years middle school and 3 years high school before matriculation into Universities if qualified. My agent complain about the expensive education university fees of 6.5-7 mil KRW (~S$8-8.5K) per annum, about 25% more costly than us.
At age 19 (Korean age), most guys will serve close to 2 years of army just like in Singapore unless you are in certain courses/cases postponing the National Service. In my hotel I also saw many US soldiers. In fact I spoke to two US soldiers over breakfast. The United States had substantial contingent of troops in South Korea since the to defend South Korea in case of East Asian military crises. There are ~28,500 U.S. Military personnel stationed in Korea most of them serving one year of unaccompanied tours.
Stressful life leading to low birth rate
Many youngsters find it hard to afford getting married let alone give birth. Refer to a Bloomberg news article here.
One of my favourite business trips
Overall, it was one of my favourite business trips. The work was intense but it went extremely well. I was accompanied by great people with beautiful weather albeit a bit hot at 26-32 degC. Food and leisure were well balanced too!
Welcome to Korea
At Seoul Incheon airport
Set foot in Busan
Facilities includes golf range, casino, shopping mall, pool, sauna, gym etc
My favourite toilet bowl
Beer and food for supper
Korean Kimchi & BBQ
Korean pasta, salad and rice
The Korean wraps
Soak the rice paper in water, then place on the bowl. Add the meat and vegetables before wrapping.
Will not miss out my gym even overseas
Swimming, snacks and beer
Playing pool and darts
Soju - neat!
The coffees and ice-creams
Spread the ice-cream and yummy!
Not mentioned and unsung here. The fact is we were with so little sleep leaving hotel as early as 0630h and meetings after meetings.
Time to go... Bye Bye!
Busan Gimhae airport