Dr Upendra Kaul
For an interventional Cardiologist like me, Seoul-the capital city of South Korea is a Mecca. A number of surgical procedures have been developed here, including one by Dr S J Park who showed that left main coronary angioplasty using stents is a better option to bypass surgery.
Since the last few years, I have been invited to Seoul to attend the annual cardiology conference, TCT Asia. There is an exchange of medical know-how. All in all we remain pretty busy with the conference. But this year I found some time to discover the city.
Seoul, known previously as Wirye-seong (in Baekje era), Hanju, (Silla era), Namgyeong (Goryeo era) is today a mega city with a population of over 12 million. Seoul National capital Area, includes the Seoul city, the Incheon metropolis and Gyeonggi province, and has a mammoth population of more than 24.5 million.
Seoul is in the northwest of South Korea and is bordered by eight mountains. The city is spread over around 600 square kilometer with a radius of approximately 15 km. Seoul is bisected into northern and southern halves by the Han River. The Han River and its surrounding area played an important role in Korean history, since the river was used as a trade route to China (via the Yellow Sea). In the past Korea was divided into three kingdoms and all of them strove to take control of this land.
Ironically, the river is no longer used for navigation, because its estuary is located at the borders of the two Koreas, with civilian entry barred. Korea is today divided into two countries, the North and the South, often at loggerheads.
The two major religions in Seoul are Buddhism and Christianity. Other religions include Shamanism and Confucianism, the latter seen more as a pervasive social philosophy rather than a religion.
As the headquarters for Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia and SK, Seoul has become a major business hub. Although it accounts for only 0.6 percent of South Korea’s land area, Seoul generates 21 percent of the country’s GDP. A large number of transnational companies are headquartered in Seoul.
The most modern and newest shopping mall is Times Square, which also features the CGV Cinema which has the world’s largest cinema screen as certified by Guinness World Records.
The Dongdaemun Market-the largest market in South Korea is located in Seoul. Myeong-dong is another shopping and entertainment area in downtown Seoul with mid- to high-end stores, fashion boutiques and international brand outlets. The nearby Namdaemun Market, named after the Namdaemun Gate, is the oldest continually running market in Seoul.
Sinchon is a shopping area that caters mainly to a younger and university student crowd. Itaewon caters mainly to foreign tourists and American soldiers based in the city – yes, American troops are based in Seoul.
The Gangnam district is one of the most affluent areas in Seoul and is noted for the fashionable and upscale Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong areas and the COEX Mall. Wholesale markets include Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market and Garak Market.
The Yongsan Electronics Market is the largest electronics market in Asia. The Gasan Digital Complex also has an extensive variety of electronic products.
Seoul has many historical and cultural landmarks. In Amsa-dong Preshistoric Settlement Site, Neolithic remains were excavated and accidentally discovered after a flood in 1925.
Urban and civil planning was a key concept when Seoul was first designed to serve as a capital in the late 14th century. The Joseon Dynasty built “Five Grand Palaces” in Seoul. Among them, Changdeokgung was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997 as an “outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design”. The main palace, Gyeongbokgung is currently being restored.
Beside the palaces, Unhyeongung is known for being the royal residence of Regent Daewongun, the father of Emperor Gojong at the end of the Joseon Dynasty. There are also many buildings constructed with international styles in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The Independence Gate was built in 1897 to inspire an independent spirit. Seoul Station was opened in 1900 as Gyeongseong Station.
Major modern landmarks in Seoul include the Korea Finance Building, N Seoul Tower, the World Trade Center and the seven-skyscraper residence Tower Palace. These and various high-rise office buildings, like the Seoul Star Tower and Jongno Tower, dominate the city’s skyline.
Due to its high density, Seoul has a vast array of skyscrapers; the city council is now planning a series of new high-rises, including a 640-meter business center in Sangam Digital Media City district and the 523-meter Lotte World Tower in the Jamsil (pronounced “Jam-shil”) district of Songpa-gu and Gangdong-gu.
Yeouido island is home to the National Assembly, major broadcasting studios as well as the Korea Finance Building and the world’s largest Pentecostal church. The Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park, and Lotte World are located on the south side of the Han River.
Seoul has a highly technologically advanced infrastructure. Its Digital Media City is the world’s first complex for IT and multimedia applications. Seoul was the first city to feature DMB, a digital mobile TV technology and WiBro, a wireless high-speed mobile internet service. It has a fast, high-penetration 100 Mbit/s fibre-optic broadband network, which is being upgraded to 1 Gbit/s by 2012.
Seoul Station houses the 350 km/hour KTX bullet train and the Seoul Subway is the third largest in the world, with over 200 million passengers every year. The Seoul airport has been rated as the best airport in the world by Airports Council International.
Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit. The city was named the World Design Capital for 2010 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design.
Seoul thus is a very dynamic city full of activity and action. Last two decades have seen it become an economic superpower besides being a Meeca for interventional Cardiologists.
(The writer is Executive Director of Fortis group of hosptials)