By Joseph V. Curatolo
Every year, my friends and I are fortunate enough to take a trip to a place far away from our homes in Western New York. Every year we return with a view of that region of the world that we never expected.
This year we visited South Korea and Japan; we enjoyed both. But we were greatly surprised by South Korea, especially with our president’s new relationship with North Korea.
Our first stop was Seoul. It’s a sprawling metropolitan area with skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, and the home of huge corporations including Samsung, Hyundai Motors and Kia.
The special city of Seoul is home to more than 10 million people. That’s about 45,000 people per square mile, twice the population density of New York City. I was also astonished how modern the city was.
You would think with that population density, scooters would dominate the streets, but it’s just the opposite. Few scooters, but a lot of expensive cars were moving people throughout the city, with everyone in a hurry.
When we spoke to the residents from the South one topic kept coming up – the reunification with North Korea. We found that startling since the demilitarized zone between the two countries is about 160 miles long. It’s lined with barbed wire, two million land mines and armed guards on each side.
We also discovered that during the 1970s, North Korea built tunnels large enough to move 700 soldiers per hour into South Korea for an invasion.
But that cold relationship appears to be warming for the sake of economics. The talk there is about creating a modern day “Silk Road” that could be a shipping route for products traveling from Japan to Europe and back.
South Korea has even built a large, modern railway station called the Dorasan Station to help move those future products and people. It’s designed to carry hundreds of thousands of passengers and goods daily.
South Koreans seem eager for reunification, but the North Koreans desperately need it. Looking across the DMZ you see a barren area without any trees. When I asked why there were no trees, the response from our guide was, “that’s what they must use to heat their huts.”
In Japan we saw a modern country deeply connected to its traditions. People walked around in customary clothing as they went to weddings or temples. But the most somber tradition may be in Hiroshima. A skeleton of one building still stands as a reminder of the nuclear bomb dropped on it at the end of World War II.
Getting a first-hand look at what is becoming an increasingly important area of the world to the United States gave us some great insight. First, reunification doesn’t always mean two countries merging together.
Here it’s just an attempt to work together on economic development. Second, despite rapid growth and an increasingly educated population, South Korea attempts to hold on to remnants of its past heritage.
Finally, maybe the thing we most appreciated was in the news, or what wasn’t. We heard nothing about American politics the entire time we were there. As one of our guides told us, “we have our own problems.”
Joseph V. Curatolo, who lives in Clarence, is the founder and president of Georgetown Capital Group.