I made my first visit to Sejong City, Korea’s new administrative capital located about 75 miles south of Seoul. Seoul is a megalopolis of ten million people, one fifth the total poulation of South Korea. Sejong City, which opened for business in mid 2012, is an effort to spread things out by transferring most government ministries here, a bit like Brasilia in Brazil and Canberra in Australia, although Seoul legally remains the capital, and will continue to house the National Assembly, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, and the President’s residence. I accompanied the ambassador, who paid calls on the Ministers of the Environment and Health.
It’s a bustling place, still being built; we counted 40 cranes, with music broadcast outdoors for the benefit of the construction workers. It’s heart is a dragon-shaped government complex, surrounded by housing high rises with Smart schools, where children use tablets instead of textbooks. A university, hospital, and research complex are all in the works for a space laid out by zones, with a river running through it. Rooftops sport green spaces.
About 30,000 people live here at the moment, with 80,000 expected by year’s end, and 500,000 by 2030. The government bureaucrats are the pioneers, with half living here, and the other half commuting from their homes in Seoul until they move here permanently. You can take the one-hour bullet train ride here, like we did, or a commuter bus. The ambassador’s car and a van drove down separately and met us at the station, as the drive can take three hours in heavy traffic, and the train station is twenty minutes away from Sejong City. My fellow Economic section staffers, who came down last September and found no choice but to have lunch in a government cafeteria, were pleased to see that several restaurants and a Starbucks had opened since then.
Government planners are seeking private investors, and anchor tenants for malls. When Koreans decide to do something, they do it, and I do not doubt that Sejong City will succeed in the end.
For the second time, Tom and I attended Trivia Night, and for the second time, our team won. Tom’s the master of trivia, and it didn’t hurt that one of the six categories of questions was “Superbowl Sunday.” We had trouble with a category that asked you to identify the logos of some of Seoul’s myriad coffee shops, since we don’t buy coffee out, and everyone was stumped with the category “Vice Presidents,” because really, you only tend to remember the ones who became president. For example, one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice presidents was future president Harry S. Truman, but did you know that his other two Veeps were John Nance Garner and Henry Agard Wallace? Still, we triumphed in the end.
We’ve had a mild winter so far, much more temperate than the one last year or what much of the U.S. is experiencing. I’ll leave you with some Seoul street scenes.