What Korea Taught Me About Art + Tech
Hi, it’s Sun! We just came back from a trip to Seoul, South Korea with my family, and I have so much to tell you. Alex is pictured above at the Incheon Airport (and yes, he does wear his Story Spark tees every day).
As you know, Story Spark is all about the intersection of art and tech, and how these two seemingly vastly different worlds can come together to create something beautiful. What I wasn’t expecting was to experience this firsthand, all around me, in Korea.
To be honest, my expectations of Korea weren’t terribly high. My parents immigrated from Korea, and I grew up hearing lots of tall tales, mythical-sounding stories, and random anecdotes that peppered my understanding of the country, along with some binging of kdrama and listening to kpop. Alongside this, I had never actually traveled outside the United States before. Those two things coupled together with a massive language barrier (I still only know how to say “where’s the bathroom” in Korean) left me a bit wary of what to expect. But truly, from the second we touched down, my expectations were blown out of the water, and then some.
The first thing I noticed, and something I continued to notice everywhere I went on this trip, was how clean Seoul is. From subway stations to public bathrooms to the streets themselves, everything felt sanitized and clean. You weren’t loathe to grab a railing or sit on a public bench, and you didn’t fear stepping in gum or dog poop.
The streets were impeccable. I didn’t see a single piece of litter, not even on the subways (which we took often) despite there not being a ton of public trashcans. There were also a lot of safety features that were new to me, including public fire extinguishers and safety buttons you can press if you need help.
Oh, and the bathrooms especially! All of them were incredibly clean, even the ones at the subway station. The toilets in Seoul always have the lid closed, but the cleanliness meant I wasn’t even hesitant to touch it to lift it. I noticed a button in most bathrooms you could press if you had any issues (ran out of toilet paper, maybe?). It definitely works — I tried. Someone from the station answered immediately and asked what I needed. And a lot of the bathrooms even have bidets! It felt like a true VIP experience.
Adding to the clean ‘vibe’ was all the greenery, something you don’t always expect in a big city. There was greenery everywhere, from the street dividers to purposeful trees to shade you and shelter you from the summer rain, to streets lined with flowered shrubs.
The second thing I realized about Korea is that it’s an incredibly thoughtful, connected society that really cares for each other. The country loves its people, and the people love their country. It was noticeable right away in Incheon Airport, where the first thing I saw after getting off the plane was a golf cart carrying elderly passengers through the airport. There was a massive thoughtfulness for the elderly in public spaces (which makes sense in a society that has a lot of respect for the older community).
The way art and tech combined with each other was noticeable at every street corner, in every shop, really wherever you went. The iconography was consistent throughout the city (meaning the person on walk symbols or stop symbols looks the same on all signage in buildings and public spaces). The architecture was incredibly artistic; it felt like looking at artistic designs every time you saw a new building, like being in an outdoor, living museum. The plethora of statues, interactive billboards, and immersive art installations inside random places like retail stores really added to that feeling. Even this truck that was selling everything on it felt like a piece of moving art! Need a pan or broom, anyone?
At the same time, you spot women riding robots to sell yogurt; you pay at an automated kiosk at most cafes and restaurants (although there is always a real person to help you if you need it); there’s air conditioning on all the buses, subways, and hotels we encountered.
I could truly go on and on about how wonderful Korea was and because of how clean it appeared it made me feel safe walking around in a country I just met. I am already looking forward to a return trip, and my creative gears are turning and I feel so inspired by everything I saw and experienced. Here are photos from the Gentle Monster store, architecture styles, and public art installations.
At the end of our journey, I found myself in complete awe of the remarkable country we had just encountered. Korea stood as a testament to the harmonious fusion of art and technology, beautifully expressed through the artistic architecture, unified iconography, and immersive art installations that adorned Seoul's landscapes. Beyond its technological marvels, it was a place where the bonds of society were woven with care and compassion, evident in the way its people looked out for one another. As we bid farewell to Korea, a simple message on a napkin encapsulated the essence of our experience, leaving us with a lasting appreciation for this extraordinary nation.