Monday, May 21, 2007
It's been too long
The past two months have passed too quickly. One week I spent teaching finance in Busan. Korea is a remarkable place. When first I visited in 1992, it was clearly a place on the rise, but also one that retained a large number of very poor people, many of whom lived in very poor housing conditions. I have been back three times since then. The extreme poverty seems pretty much gone now, as its per capita GDP has risen from about 1/4 US and Japanese levels in 1990 to 1/2 US and 2/3 Japanese levels today. At the end of the Korean War, per capita GDP was roughly a dollar a day.
Korea is an exilerating place, because it has come so far so quickly, and as such, is an example for poor countries all over the world. It is hard to know the "secret," though, other than the fact that education has been an important part of the culture for a long time, and Korean parents probably care even more than Montgomery County parents about how well their kids do in school.
The infrastructure in Busan is quite remarkable, with a wonderful metro system, good roads, and one of the most beautiful suspension bridges I have ever seen. (The image below is from Slate). The city is the second largest in Korea, and trying to become the financial services center of the country. But it is still off the beaten path--as a Westerner I felt quite conspicuous.