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
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 07, 2020:
Thank you for reading and commenting, My home country is the United States. I was in Korea for a year in 1985-'86. I returned there for a couple of weeks in '91.
frogyfish from Central United States of America on March 07, 2020:
An interesting read, and good to see the modern city pictures too. Glad you got to visit your home country...and thank you for sharing a bit of your vacation here.
Robert Sacchi (author) on February 26, 2020:
The Olympics is 5 months away.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 25, 2020:
I fear that this pandemic is spreading fast and will affect many people worldwide before it is over. The Olympics will probably be canceled this summer among other things.
Robert Sacchi (author) on February 25, 2020:
Thank you both for reading and commenting.
MG Singh - Officially there are no cases in North Korea. The problem is North Korea is ready, willing, and able to cover up incidents of the virus. Peggy Woods - A niece and her family canceled a trip to Korea because of the coronavirus. As of 2/25/20 there are 977 cases in South Korea. That is second to Mainland China. The virus spread fast in Italy with 322 cases.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 24, 2020:
I was in North Korea a few weeks back before the scare. It was a fine holiday but I am unsure now of going again due to the virus scare.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 24, 2020:
Right now, with the coronavirus spreading to Korea, it would not be the best timing to plan any trip there. It is also in Italy, according to the latest reports. Travel may soon be limited in many places as this spreads. Scary thought! Cherish your memories!
Robert Sacchi (author) on November 12, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, it would be interesting to see how much has changed since the turn of the century.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on November 12, 2019:
Korea would be an amazing place to visit,thank you for the tour.
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 21, 2019:
Korea has changed a lot since I was there in 1991. I hope you and your daughter enjoy your visit to Korea. Keep in mind your experience there will make for an excellent HubPages article. Thank you for reading and sharing.
Sharon Lopez from Philippines on October 21, 2019:
I enjoyed browsing through your photos of the place. One of the places I want to visit is Korea. My daughter, who loves K-Pop is saving the needed amount for that visit. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful experience.
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 15, 2019:
Thank you both for reading and commenting.
FlourishAnyway - A 3 week vacation is a relic of the last century. I can't even get a 3 day weekend. My wife wants to go to visit Cheju Island. It is supposed to be beautiful.
Edna - The tram was enclosed so it wasn't as if the tigers could climb in with you. They appeared tame.
Edna Straney on October 15, 2019:
Very interesting. Kind of scary about the tigers!
FlourishAnyway from USA on October 14, 2019:
Fourteen hours is a long flight but it looks like it was worthwhile and given that you stayed three weeks that doesn’t seem so bad. I enjoyed reading about the church, nightlife, memorial, and zoo and looking at the photos. Have you considered a return visit?
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 14, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting.
Peggy Woods - I haven't heard about any mishaps in Korea. I don't know if they are still putting meat on the tram. Many practices in zoos have changed in recent times. In the National Aquarium they stopped doing the dolphin shows.
Linda Crampton - I'm glad you found the article and pictures interesting.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 14, 2019:
Thanks for showing us your photos and impressions of your trip back to Korea in 1991. That palace and museum look beautiful. It is amazing to think that they put meat on the outside of that tram in the zoo to attract animals that close to the people in the tram. It makes me wonder if there have ever been any accidents?
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 13, 2019:
This is an interesting look at Korea. I've never been there, so I appreciated the information and the photos that you shared.
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 13, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. When flying to the other side of the world there are trade-offs. The alternative to one long flight is a series of shorter flights that means spending some time in terminals waiting for the flight to the next leg. Yes, it apparently has gotten even better this century.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 13, 2019:
I would not like 14 hours on an airplane, but your pictures and the descriptions of your activities were very good. I think visiting Korea would be so interesting. I have a nephew that served and spent a year there. Also, one of my sons when there on a mission trip, and they all had good things to say about Korea. i enjoyed your article, Robert.
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 12, 2019:
Yes, pretty much every culture does it to some extent. Some more than others obviously. Right now Korea is it spreading their culture to many parts of the world through movies, TV shoes, and KPOP. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 12, 2019:
The other night, we went to Korea Town here in Toronto and had dinner in one of the restaurants. We enjoyed it very much. I had also been watching on Netflix, a series on Korean immigrants here in Toronto called Kim's Convenience. It's funny and very enlightening on how people bring their cultures with them when they settle in North America and expect their children to value it, too.