Modern, vibrant, bustling, exciting. These were some of the words that came to mind as I walked through the city of Seoul, South Korea about two years ago. It was my first day in the city and I quickly filled my camera memory up with a jubilance that only comes from the novelty of a new place. I had never been to a city like it in my life and for my brief introduction to Asia, it was quite fascinating.
About two days after this initial jaunt in the city, I stood in a ballroom at the 22nd floor of the Seoul Plaza Hotel in the centre of the downtown. I had travelled to Korea as a journalist and was attending a banquet dinner honouring Canada’s veterans of the Korean War. Windows from the floor to the ceiling lined the room and an amazing panoramic of the city could be seen.
Finishing my meal, I walked over to a window and started chatting with William MacIver of Stittsville, Ontario. MacIver served as an infantry platoon commander as UN forces patrolled the border to ensure the North Koreans followed the terms of the armistice agreement.
As we looked out at the city of skyscrapers, endless traffic and bright billboards, MacIver said that after 55 years he now thinks the people look healthier and more confident.
“When I was here there was one restaurant in Seoul and it was in a hotel and you had to be a general to use the restaurant,” he said. “…[The Korean people] weren’t that sure of themselves at that point in time, but now they’ve got the confidence. You can see the way the economy is building and where it’s going.”
For many of the Korean vets attending this trip the most overwhelming part was simply looking at the dynamic country that South Korea has become. During the war many of the veterans took a 22-sea sick day journey aboard an American troop ship to land in the city of Pusan (now Busan), which was loaded with refugees and suffering from abject poverty. In Seoul, the city had been the site of several battles as both sides marched over the devastated South Korean capital. Much of the countryside carried similar scars especially along the 38th parallel, where the majority of the war was fought. The development and beauty of South Korea was a theme that was discussed repeatedly by these old soldiers who could only remember a country wearing the damages of war.
This was something I could not see. Only vibrant, modern, and exciting.
The idea behind this post came from a photo gallery I found through Twitter. In it, Russian photographer Sergey Larenkov combined European cityscapes with photos from World War II to make the past come to life. It really is quite amazing. You can check it out by clicking here.