Nojeok Hill: My View from the Top Feed

Comparing Old and New Maps of the Ansan Area

I found this map section in a map of the Seoul area over at the Korean War Project. It shows Ansan from around 1950.

Old Ansan

Here's what the identical map section looks like today in Google Maps:

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Note how many of the location names in the map above correspond to neighborhorhoods in the new map (notwithstanding some spelling differences.) The comparison also shows just how much of the sea has been filled in to make room for the city today.

For reference, the subway line in the current map follows the rail line shown in the old map that was built during the Japanese colonial period to connect Incheon with Suweon. Both lines are shown in red in the comparison map below and some of that old line still remains along the tracks of the subway. 

Old Ansan

For more about the modern development of Ansan.


Weighing the Pros and Cons of Korean New City Development Along the West Sea

We recently interviewed Dick Warmington on KoreaBusinessCentral.com. (Click here to listen and/or read the fascinating interview.) Dick is President of Chadwick International School in Songdo, Korea, which is a new city built entirely on reclaimed land in the West Sea south of Incheon. It's a dramatic testament to the Korean drive to develop new living spaces on a peninsula with very high population density.

One member of KBC took exception to the development in Songdo, pointing out that it has destroyed a lot of the natural ecosystem in the area. His criticisms also extended to Chadwick, and I wanted to answer his concerns, because there's no doubt that a lot of trade-offs are getting made in the process of the Korean economic miracle. (Click herehere and here for his comments.)

The following is my reply:

Vince - I'm surprised by your hostility toward Chadwick International (not Songdo International). There are international schools all over Korea and the world and have been for a long time, at costs roughly similar. Mainly the only thing Chadwick International is doing differently is to base their program in Songdo on the seventy-five years of history and expertise they've built back in California. Private schools like Chadwick are expensive everywhere.

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I understand Chadwick jumped into Korea only after other educators had abandoned plans to run an international school in Songdo, leaving the city high and dry (I'm not 100% certain so others can confirm whether I'm right about this fact). What's notable is that Chadwick International has a higher proportion of Korean students than other international schools in Korea; this point is significant to me because it gives them more of a connection to Korean society at large than most of international schools, and a means to influence the education debate in Korea.

But even if you're not impressed by this, your position on Chadwick still seems hard to understand and so I sense it stems mainly from misgivings about Songdo itself. Further, I'd say that these misgivings are actually based on a fundamental rejection of the Korean property development model in general, not simply that too many rich people live there or that they could have razed neighborhoods in older areas of Incheon instead of building out into the West Sea.

The reason I say this is that Songdo is different only in degree and timeline, not in kind, from other development that Korea's been engaged in for at least thirty years. My town of Ansan is just down the road from Songdo and over 50% of it was built on reclaimed land from the West Sea. In fact, if you want to know how far the water line used to run in my neighborhood, read my post History of the Area Around Nojeok Hill to get the translation of the historical marker pictured above, and be sure to check out the map at the bottom of that post. Everything between the current waterline and the old waterline is reclaimed land!

Also, if you think beaches are being destroyed just for rich people, then hop in the car and drive a few minutes to Shihwa, which is halfway from Songdo to Ansan, This happens to be a working-class Songdo; dirty, small apartments, factories... and nearly 100% reclaimed land, just like Songdo.

As you know, Songdo's not the end of the line either. They're working on new city plans for Yongjongdo! Or should I say, half-next, since the airport's there already. (I visited Yongjongdo back in 1994 when you had to take a boat to get there and it was still relatively unspoilt.) 

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So this is the runaway development you refer to. Fair enough; there is a certain irony in all the talk about being eco-friendly in Songdo and elsewhere when so much ecology was destroyed in the creation of these places (One of the mottos I've seen for Ansan lately is "Eco Ansan"....)

But if you take a step back and acknowledge that nice cities are being created where millions of people enjoy things like the 2011 Ansan International Street Arts Festival (Click here for photos of the event, all on reclaimed land!) or where we can relax with the beautiful parks and views (Click here for some recent views), then is it a bit easier to understand the trade-offs that Koreans have been making to develop the outer edges of the Seoul area, and to appreciate that it's not just a monster out of control? And if they're going to build a city like Songdo, don't they deserve some credit for giving it a low carbon footprint?

Songdo's only 1/3 finished so they've still got a ways to go before it's done, but I've heard from Koreans who live there that it's a great place to live already. To be honest, I've visited a couple times and not been terribly impressed, but maybe that was because I was seeing it in its 20% completion state and because I barely got out of the car. I've also heard from non-Koreans who live there that it lacks "vitality", but to each his own. They probably wouldn't like my Ansan either.

I'll also also point out that these Korean new cities satisfy some mysterious Korean urge to try to build new utopias, but that's a whole different chapter of whatever book I ever decide to write.

Since I don't think Songdo itself is the problem, but that it's the whole Korean approach that's bothering you (and since I only have photos of Ansan, not Songdo), here are some links about the development of Ansan that you (and others) might find interesting, as well as a photo of the city from the top of our daily hiking course.

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Click here to read the rest of the discussion, including insightful comments by other Korea Business Central members.


Online Source of Photos of Old Ansan

44773I'm always amazed to think of the growth and changes in Ansan since I first arrived almost 17 years ago. But that pales in comparison with the transformation of what used to be a sleepy fishing village into a city of 350,000 people when I arrived in 1993 (Current population is about 750,000 now.)

Here are links to some before/after photos of Ansan on my Seongpo-Dong blog this year:

DSCN7200 Recently, I came upon another source of old photos, which is the website of the City of Ansan. The general photo section is here: http://photo.iansan.net/ but for photos of old Ansan, they can be seen in the following categories:

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To see the photos in large size, you must be logged in (membership is free and easy, but basic Korean-language ability is necessary to get through the form) and be accessing through Internet Explorer (other browsers don't work.)

 

 


Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - History of the Area Around Nojeok Hill

On the main intersection in Seongpo-Dong, across from Star Plaza and about a five minute walk from the base of Nojeok Hill is a historical marker:

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I've passed it many times but hadn't bothered to read what it said until recently. It's a fascinating story about the history of our neighborhood. Here are a couple photos of the marker, along with its translation:

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Seong Meori [Meaning Castle Head

(Seongpo Landing, Seong-Doo [Also meaning Castle Head])

Situated between Tae Hill of Gojan-Dong and Dokju Valley of Seongpo-Dong, this village in Gunnae-Myeon, Ansan-Gu was called Seong-Got-Po-Chon-Ri in Choseon times and renamed Seongpo-Ri at the end of the Choseon period. Fishermen used the area as their forward landing point along the zone running about 300 meters to the southwest and 400 meters to the south of where Star Plaza is currently located. The feng shui (Korean: "poong su") of this spot saw it as the head of a castle, thus it was called Seong Meori (Meaning "Castle Head"] Landing. Later, a boat landing was set up in Sadong Gura after the Korean War. But this blocked the water and prevented boats from coming and going to Seong Meori so the fishermen left for places like Gura (Currently: Sa-Dong) and Baeot (Currently: Bono-Dong) to carry out their livelihoods. 

The Seong Meori area became more suitable for farming, and the farming village which sprung up was the home of the Lees of Yeoju, the Shins of Yeongweon and the Yeoms of Paju; it had 76 residences. After the old neighborhood system was abolished in 1976, the area was transformed into what it is today, starting with construction of Artist Apartments, and then [Housing Corporation] Apartment Complex #9 and [Housing Corporation] Complex #10. Right up until the neighbornood system abolition, every year around January 15 on the lunar calendar, a festival was held partway up the slope of Nojeok Hill to wish for the well-being of the village.

As mentioned above, this is Star Plaza:

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Here's a map of the area. The red lines show the previous waterline around Seong Meori Landing:

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Nojeok Hill: My View from the Top - Before and After Photos of Ansan (Part 1 of 4)



I came across these fabulous photos on display in the lobby of the Ansan Concert Hall a couple months ago. All photos can be expanded by clicking on them.

Seongpo-Dong and Gojang-Dong Areas

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Hwarang Recreation Area

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Industrial Complex (Dyeing) Area

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Il-Dong (Guryong-Dong) Area

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Industrial Area (Chemicals) Area

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Bukok-Dong Area

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Il-Dong Area

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A Drive Around Nojeok Hill

11-26-2009 6-58-35 AMKorean portal site, Daum.net, offers a mapping service of Korea that is very similar to Google Maps. And just as Google has been unrolling their Street View across North America, so Daum is doing the same in South Korea with Road View. This is where 360-degree photos are taken by a camera strapped to the top of a specially-fitted vehicle as it drives down the road. 

So far, Daum has covered the main roads in the main cities, including everywhere indicated in blue lines in this graphic. Just this week, the company announced it is going to extend coverage soon to every drivable road in Seoul.

I don't know when they will get their camera cars out to the alleyways of Ansan, but they've already photographed the main roads here. And so I put together the following four minute video from those photos simulating a drive from the entrance of our apartment complex, out and around Nojeok Hill and then back home. 

Because of the way the photos were taken, there is a good bit of reckless lane changing and driving on the wrong side of the road, but that is just part of the fun, I guess. 

You should notice Nojeok Hill in the background during much of the video.



The following map shows the path taken in the video:

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Nojeok Hill: My View from the Top - McDonald's 20-Minute Home Delivery Service

There are just two McDonald's outlets in Ansan and one is right at the foot of Nojeok Hill. It is located in the food court at Homeplus, which is the very successful Korean discount chain run by Tesco of the UK. We eat at Mickey D's occasionally, but not particularly often, mainly because there are way too many excellent Korean food options available.

11-14-2009 1-26-25 AMWhile McDonald's does a decent business in Korea, the stores near us are seldom packed. Getting to the restaurants can be a hassle too, especially if finding a parking place is hard and/or costs money.

Neither of the two McDonald's stores offers a drive-though, either. Indeed, it's only at Lotteria, a rapidly growing Korean competitor of McDonald's, where I can order, receive and eat my food in the car. And the Lotteria menu is remarkably creative; for example, I enjoyed a Shrimp/Avocado Burger there last week!

But McDonald's is experimenting with new ideas, too. They've started offering coffee and an Egg McMuffin for breakfast; something Koreans aren't used to. We've been a couple times in the morning and I think we were the only people in the store both times, so it's hard to say this has been a raging success.

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And some time back, McDonald's introduced a home delivery service through a national toll-free number (its 1600-5252, in case you're interested). When placing the first order, you give the operator your address, but after that, the system automatically links the address to the phone number and placing an order is as simple as dialing in and saying what you want. Takes all of 30 seconds... and within about 20 minutes, the food is brought by motorcycle delivery: cold food in one insulated pack and hot food in another. 

I was home alone today and rather than make lunch myself, I ordered by phone and this friendly chap brought it over. Since delivery is free (home food deliveries are ALWAYS free in Korea, it seems), it cost me W5,500 (about US$5)... pretty competitive, I'd say, but still, I don't know if many Koreans are ordering hamburgers from home.

 

In the news this week, I read that McDonald's is planning to open 1,000 new stores next year, including many in Asia. I wonder how many will be in Korea, though. (In fact, one McDonald's store in Ansan closed a few years ago.) With the competitive Korean market, I wouldn't be surprised if they are planning to take their investment dollars to more promising Asian countries.

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My $5 McDonald's lunch today was delivered in 20 minutes for free!

Indeed, Korea has been a tough market for many American corporations. Wal-Mart left in 2002 after suffering huge losses. In today's Jungang Daily (세계적 온라인 서비스, 한국선 왜 고전하나), there is a story about how Second Life and MySpace have given up in Korea, most Koreans don't seem to have heard of Facebook, and Google captures less than 10% of the search market. It's all the more difficult to understand when I look at the apparently weak Korean competition these online companies face. 

On the other hand, you can barely find a seat at a Starbucks in Korea in spite of the fact that Starbucks coffee prices here are reported to be the highest in the world and General Motors (of all companies!) is a big player in automobiles since their acquisition of Daewoo Motors over ten years ago.

I'm still working through the reasons why some foreign brands succeed, while others fail so miserably here. It's hard to make sense of sometimes. Meanwhile, I keep hoping that McDonald's will break a profit on this home delivery service so I can continue to enjoy it.


Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - The Berlin Wall, the Korean War, Foxholes and Korean Unification

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This event is being celebrated around the world as the symbolic beginning of the end of the Cold War. But to Koreans, the Cold War hasn't fully ended yet as the separation between the two Koreas at the DMZ (Korea's "Berlin Wall") is still (with notable exceptions!) as impenetrable as ever. Indeed, as noted in a previous post (Insight into How Little Anybody Really Knows about North Korea), the news that crosses the border from North to South is most notable for its absence.

DSCN8642Even in our neighborhood in Ansan, there are small reminders of wartime hostilities in the form of foxholes at Nojeok Hill. Here are two that I know of which are right beside well-travelled paths.

Long before Ansan was built as a new city (see previous post, The New City of Ansan), Nojeok Hill would have been near the sea. Today, of course, the shallow bay has been filled in for development and the ocean coastline is miles away. 

I've often wondered when and why the foxholes were dug since they've been around as long as I've been climbing the hill here and never during that time have they served a purpose. It seems possible they originated during the Korean War itself but I'm not aware of any hostilities having taken place in this immediate area. 

P1001738Instead, I suppose they were installed at some point later as a defense against a sea invasion by the North. Since the city of Ansan was developed from the beginning of the '80s, it seems safe to assume the latest this area could have served as a military line of defense would have been the 1960s and 1970s. 

Though obsolete today, these neglected foxholes are a reminder of long conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Getting back to the connection with the Berlin Wall, today is the Korean newspapers' annual opportunity to discuss the parallels between the unification of East and West Germany and the as-yet unrealized unification of North and South Korea.

The lead editorial in today's Jungang Ilbo (Korean article: 베를린 장벽 붕괴 20주년의 교훈) covers the same information that I've ready many times about the possibility of future unification between North and South Korea. Here are the main points of the editorial, which reflect pretty much the standard position of the political class in Korea:

  • The fall of the North Korean regime could come suddenly and at any time. South Korea must study carefully the process of unification in Germany in order to be prepared.
  • E. German per-capita income in 1989 was 43% of that in the West but in spite of astronomical sums spent by the West, incomes in the East are still just 71%. Considering that North Korean per-capital income is barely 6% of that in the South, Korean unification cannot follow the same path taken by Germany; it would likely be most similar to the China/Hong Kong approach.
  • But when the opportunity comes, the South must pursue unification resolutely with vision. According to a Goldman Sachs report, a unified Korea governed under sound policies could reach a per-capita GDP level equivalent to France, Germany and Japan. There is nothing Koreans want more than to be able to boast of this achievement.
  • Other countries in the region may oppose the strength of a united Korea and the government must take advance steps to overcome these objections.
  • Even now, one of the main lessons to learn from the experience in Germany is that South Koreans need to provide humanitarian support and work to improve human rights in the North.

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Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - The Climb Up

Korea is a land of mountains, but compared with the famous peaks in other parts of the world, Korean mountains are really just "hills". Nearly every one is climbable in a day; there are very few multi-day mountain hikes available. But that isn't to say the views aren't fantastic from any of them. 

The best thing is that it doesn't even take a mountain to get a fantastic view. Just 8 1/2 minutes is all that's needed to climb Nojeok Hill and see the entire Ansan area. 

So, for the record, here's the climb from bottom to top... (BTW, sorry for the shaky camera... and the smoggy view at the top... Other photos on this weblog were taken on clearer days.)




Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - On the Campaign Trail

Myunghee and I arrived at Nojeok Hill around 6am this morning and started our walk along the perimeter trail in the dark. About a hundred yards down, we came across Candidate #7, Kim Seok-Gyoon, handing out campaign cards under a park lamp. As luck would have it, I had brought my camera and asked Candidate Kim's assistant to snap the memory.

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Tomorrow is special-election day in our district, Sangrok-Gu, to fill the position held by someone else until he was impeached for corruption. Every candidate gets a number, with the lowest numbers going to candidates from the largest parties. So that means my pal, Candidate #7, is hardly the leading contender for the position. 

Candidate #7_Page_1Sure enough, his campaign card shows him as "unaffiliated", though it is clear he is aligned with a dissenting faction of the Grand National Party (GNP), which is the party of President Lee Myung-bak and which currently holds power in the Korean National Assembly. Candidate #7's faction is that of Park Geun-Hee, who is the daughter of former President Park Jung-Hee (see yesterday's post) and who was beaten by President Lee to lead the GNP in the presidential primaries a couple years ago. The bad feelings from that political battle still dog the government party.

Candidate #7_Page_2 From the back of the card, we can see the issues that are important in our area. First of course, is the question of who will best protect the disadvantaged in the current economic recession. But second is the decision of where the new Ansan subway line will be built. Candidate Kim assures us that as assemblyman, he will make sure the new line goes through our neighborhood and not the area a few miles to the west. The final decision is set for December, so there's a lot of lobbying going on. The residents of whichever neighborhood the subway line goes through can look forward to a big property value boost.

Korean elections in the city are notable by how easy it is to meet and greet the candidates. Because of the close proximity within which everyone lives, just a casual stroll through the neighborhood can generally produce a candidate's campaign truck roaming around with speakers blaring (see video below) or an actual candidate (as evidenced by our meeting in the dark this morning). And when campaign workers line up on street corners and bow to the passing cars, they make no distinction between voting Korean and non-voting foreigner. I always get a kick out of being bowed to as I drive around during election season.

 

 


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Finally, just as I was finishing up this post, I received the following text message on my phone. It says: "October 28 (Wednesday) is election day for the national assembly member representing Sangrok-Gu. Voting is your right. Sangrok-Gu Election Committee". I would have expected it to also mention something about not accepting money from politicians in exchange for a vote but perhaps the days of that kind of blatant corruption have passed.

National election day in Korea is always a public holiday; unfortunately, because these special elections are being held in just certain areas, we don't get that benefit tomorrow. If we did, I could miss my Strategic Economics class at university...


Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - Is Ansan an International City?

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This is Hasan, a friend of ours from Bangladesh who is living in Korea. We took this photo in our neighborhood near the foot of Nojeok Hill. Myunghee met his sister in Texas while studying English together several years ago but the sister's US visa ran out and she returned to her home country in 1995. In 1996, Myunghee visited the family in Bangladesh for almost a week. While she was there, Hassan was her "tour guide", showing her around the area where they live, but communication was difficult because his English-ability is limited.

Unbeknown to us, shortly after Myunghee's trip, Hasan applied to work in Korea as a foreign laborer. It involved a bribe to a Korean bureaucrat or official fee (we're not sure which) in the amount of about $5,000 (a huge amount of money there) to earn the privilege of coming to Korea to work. He also studied Korean for a year in order to increase his chances of being selected for the Korean work visa. It seems that there are far more applicants for these work positions than there are positions.

He called one day about a year ago to notify us he had arrived; we'd heard through his sister that he might be coming, but we didn't know when he was going to show up. His year of Korean study had paid off as communications with him are much easier now that we can all speak Korean together.

There are tens of thousands of foreign workers in Korea from various countries. And it turns out that Ansan is the city in Korea with the highest number. According to an article in the Jungang Ilbo last week, approximately 35,000 foreigners are living legally in Ansan and another 35,000 or so illegally. Of these, by far the most are Chinese, followed by Indonesians and Vietnamese. Most come to live in the area around Ansan Station, which is far from our neighborhood. And most of these foreign residents are providing labor for the factories that sprawl through the the Banweol and Shihwa Industrial Areas, south-west of Ansan and south of Shihwa City.

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Photo taken from Nojeok Hill

At current exchange rates, foreign workers coming to Korea can expect to earn the equivalent of about $800-$1,400/month for 40-60 hours/week of work, as well as living accomodations, which are often very basic. And most foreign workers send between 60-80% of their earnings back to their home country.

It was only 20-30 years or so ago that Koreans were going overseas (mostly to the Middle East) to labor on construction projects. The fact that Korea is now hosting hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to fill the need for unskilled labor, even during the current economic difficulties, is testimony to the prosperity that Korea enjoys today.

See the map below for orientation to the Ansan area:

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Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - (Almost) Full Moon Over Ansan

The Korean Chuseok holiday took place this weekend to celebrate the harvest full moon. It is one of the two major Korean holidays of the year (the other being the Lunar New Year). 

I took this photo of the full moon early in the morning today from Nojeok Hill facing west. In the distance on the right, you can faintly see the new skyscrapers of Songdo IBD (click the photo for a bigger view), the latest Korean new city, which is being built on reclaimed land off Incheon (and very close to the place of MacArthur's famous Incheon Landing on September 15, 1950).

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Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - The New City of Ansan

My Korean hometown started life as one of the first "new cities" in Korea, master-planned by the government and built to alleviate congestion in the Seoul area caused by millions of people moving from the countryside into the capital region during the course of Korea's rapid modern development. 

Construction on Ansan began in the early 1980s in this area which previously existed as little more than a small fishing village called Banweol. When I arrived in late 1993, the city was about half-finished. The area north of the metro line was mostly complete and the area south of it still mainly undeveloped. 

Today, Ansan is a city of a million residents adjacent to the giant Banweol Industrial Complex, an area of factories producing all manner of goods for the Korean industrial economy.

The following photos which I've taken from the top of Nojeok Hill show the dramatic changes in a large swath of the city that I've personally witnessed during my time here.

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1995

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2002

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2009

It is these beautiful views of the city, for which a 360-degree panorama is available from the top, that make Nojeok Hill such a nice place to get away for a hike several times a week.

Today, there are many other new cities, mostly but not all, in the Seoul area. Other early new cities where construction began in the early 1990s include Shihwa, which is adjacent to Ansan; Ilsan, north of the Han River to the west of Seoul; and Bundang, south of Seoul. Another more recent new city under construction and of particular interest to me is Songdo, which can be seen in the distance from the top of Nojeok Hill. 

Even today, as Korea moves from "emerging market" to "advanced country", similar construction is still underway in countless places, most a bit further from Seoul thanks to faster transportation links, and all still being referred to as "new cities".

But no matter how gleaming the new apartments are everywhere else and how much they resemble my neighborhood, I always remember that this "new city" wave of the future in Korea started, in large part, here in Ansan some thirty years ago.


Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - Introduction

Several times a week, I climb Nojeok Hill near our apartment here in Ansan. It's just a 10-12 minute climb but I get pretty winded on the way up. By the time I've gone to the top and down twice, and gotten back home, the round trip takes a little over an hour. 

 

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I've been climbing this hill since I first arrived in Korea over 15 years ago. A lot has changed for me in that time... and for my town of Ansan. Indeed, this hill has seen a lot of Korean history, and in the last 25 years, it has been at the center of incredible economic development.

 

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Today I start a series entitled, "Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top". The first few posts won't have much to say about business, as the Korean economic miracle only started less than 50 years ago. But from this vantage point, we'll get some remarkable glimpses of how Korea became the economic player it is today, as well as some insights into where the country is headed.