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Korean Vacation – 1991


I visited Korea in August, 1991. It was five years after I left Korea. Korea was continuing its development at a fast pace. In 1991 I got to see it more as a native than a visitor. Many things were the same as they were when I left Korea. Some things had subtle differences. Some things may have been the same but I hadn’t seen or noticed them before. I’ve since learned my three-week vacation, long by American standards, was short by Korean standards.


Flying to Seoul involved flying from Washington National[i] to Detroit then to Seoul. The flight to Seoul was on Northwest Airlines. It was a 14-hour flight. Near the end of the flight they showed a video called “Plane Aerobics”. It instructed passengers on how to stretch while seated.

The people of Seoul loved the night life. Shopping areas were open late in the evening. McDonalds first opened in Korea in 1988. This was more trivia than an addition to Korea’s wide variety of cuisine. Itaewon, a market geared to foreigners, looked the same but seemed different. There were fewer Americans there. It didn’t seem as lively. Selling “knock-off” items was still big in Korea. They had all grades of knock-offs from ones that had the logo and nothing else to ones that were the same as the real product.

The Republic of Korea had become a “western style” democracy. It was election time. One television advertisement showed a man waving a wad of cash. One political candidate tears a banner and resolutely walks forward. Then a woman speaks in a suggestive manner. Another political candidate tears a banner and resolutely walks forward. The two politicians meet and shake hands. On election day I saw a man with a sash and an entourage approaching people on the street.

The Korean population was about 3% Catholic. Despite the small numbers the Catholic Church had a significant role in the recent political changes. At one of the churches in Seoul some dissidents were given “sanctuary”. The Korean government decided to wait the dissidents out. My wife, a native Korean, took me to that church on Sunday. I was an American with a camera. A police officer asked what I was doing. My wife defiantly told him we were going to church and the officer let us by. Inside the church the women had their heads covered, mostly with handkerchiefs. This reminded me of church in America in the 1960s.

Housing was still expensive and small. It cost over $100,000 to get apartment size living space. The government had some more housing under construction to improve this situation. Dwellings were rustic in rural areas.

While there were many taxis it could be difficult to get one if you were trying to get to a place that’s away from the main roads. American movies were still popular. I watched “Edward Scissorhands” it was in English with Korean subtitles.

[i] Now Reagan National


There were a couple of theme parks in and around Seoul. One had a ride like Disney’s “It’s a Small World”[i] with a Korean spin. The ride had puppets representing people for all around the world. One theme park had a large open area for picnicking. A park had a flamboyant parade with numerous floats. These parks had the usual rides. An interesting ride was a bicycle powered monorail.

The Lotte Shopping Center was the famous upscale shopping center in Korea. Adjacent to it was a small outside theme park. There was an indoor theme park in the shopping center’s top floors. The theme park’s decorations were impressive. They also had a parade of nations with cultural costumes and other symbols of various countries.

There was also a zoo in Seoul. The zoo was well kept. The animals mostly appeared dirtier than in American zoos. There is a drive true tram. They put meat on the side of the tram to attract the tigers to the tram. This made for a good closeup look at tigers. It is a questionable practice from a zoological standpoint.

Seoul has its share of palaces and museums. One of its museums was in a building built by the Japanese. Korea was planning to demolish the remaining buildings built under Japanese occupation. Many palaces are located in the city center area. This makes it easy to visit a few places in one day. The admission fees were inexpensive.

There were cruises on the Han River. The night cruise was a serene view from the Han River. It was a fun and relaxing way to spend an evening.

At Inchon there was a quiet strip near the ocean. It had restaurants and other small businesses. It had a set of batting cages. It’s not unusual for restaurants to have lobster tanks. At least one restaurant had a tank of live fish that were on the menu.

The tallest building in the Republic of Korea was the Taehan Life Insurance Building (TLI63).[ii] Today it is known as Building 63. This skyscraper has 61 above ground floors and 2 subfloors. It had an impressive aquarium in the subfloors. The building also had an IMAX theater.

There was an outdoor Korean War museum near Building 63. The banner at the museum’s entrance translated “Remember 25/6/50”. June 25, 1950 was when North Korea invaded South Korea. The museum had artifacts from the Korean War. Technically the Korean War hadn’t ended. The fighting ended with a truce. The museum also has artifacts and representations of North Korea’s ceasefire violations.[iii]

[i] Disney introduced their ride and the song, “It’s A Small World”, at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.

[ii] North Korea’s Ryugyong Hotel, 105 stories, was completed in 1992 and is the tallest building on the Korean Peninsula.

[iii] Korea has replaced this museum with a much larger one.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi

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