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My five-part “urbanist’s tour of Korea” at the Guardian begins today

Today begins An Urbanist’s Tour of South Korea, a five-part series at the Guardian chronicling my experience of urban life eating, sleeping, walking, cycling, and riding a hell of a lot of trains in Seoul and well beyond.

Since at least the 1970s, we’ve turned to East Asia for a look at the urban future. Thirty years ago you’d have found it Tokyo, but the prolonged economic malaise that beset Japan after the postwar boom that made its capital such a thrilling vision has turned the country inward. Many westerners now seem convinced that the future – urban, rural, or otherwise – looks, speaks, and (given all that industrialisation) smells Chinese. Yet China’s vast size, still-authoritarian government and enormous ballast of poor people make it, to my mind, an unlikely contender. No, to experience first-hand what lies in store for world cities, you’ll want to book a flight to South Korea.

First and foremost, I mean Seoul. One can hardly overstate this nation’s capital-centricity, which makes England look like it just happens to have a big city called London. Americans must imagine a metropolitan area that somehow combines New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, swallowing up a handful of other respectably large towns in the process.Ollagada, the Korean-language verb for making a trip to Seoul for a day or a lifetime, translates as “going up”; naeryeogada, the one for returning to your hometown, translates to “going down”. A young South Korean looking to make something of himself has, in recent history, faced two options: go over to America, if possible, or go up to Seoul.

You can read the whole essay here. A new one will appear each day this week.

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