South Korea – State of the Nation

Seoul South Korea, Sunday Noon

Seoul South Korea, Sunday Noon

I was here in 1996.

Back then, I had a period where I did Asia a lot. Within a few months, I taught software engineering seminars to professional engineers in Tokyo, Osaka, Singapore and (still British) Hong Kong. In each location, I asked how many hours the engineers worked in a typical week. (I’ve included my take on the same for the US.)

  • US: 40+
  • Hong Kong: 50
  • Singapore: 50+
  • Japan: 50-60
  • Seoul: 70

I asked the Korean class why they worked so many hours. One of the engineers said, “Because we’ll never beat the Japanese if we don’t.”

The others in the class nodded their agreement. It was a fact they all understood.

Well, 15+ years have passed and I’m back. Everything is still very clean, very new and very nice. But there is a difference.

The difference is that, sixteen years ago, most things were made in Japan or the USA. That included televisions, cars, high tech toys, clothes, cosmetics, appliances, just about everything you would touch in a day.

But in 2012, the televisions in the airport, on the bus and throughout the hotel are all Samsung. Nothing but. And so are the LCD televisions in my home in Phoenix Arizona (USA). They’re all Samsung.

Samsung is a Korean company.

They are, if not the best, then very close to it.

The cars I see on the city streets in Seoul today are still from lots of countries including Japan, but there are many Korean models — nice ones — and some of those companies didn’t even exist fifteen years ago.

In my hotel room, the hot water pot was Japanese in 1996 but now it’s a Korean brand. Same for the iron, the telephone and the air conditioner.

And they are all very good quality. Quality materials, good engineering, intuitively obvious controls.

Even the “auto-wash-you” toilet seat is Korean, not Japanese.

“Dear Korea, it worked. Good job!” (The attitude, not the toilet seat. I haven’t tried that yet.)

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