cheonggyecheonSooner or later I had to write about Korea—I lived there in the mid-1990s and every time I return, I’m amazed at all the changes. I could go on and on about the innovation, but one approach at Korean electric vehicle technology caught my eye—the country’s up-and-coming KAIST university is working on a workaround for the current issues that are vexing efforts at perfecting the electric car—rather than relying on recharging batteries with hybrid or plug-in technology, KAIST’s engineers and students are relying on power provided to the cars through induction strips laid into the roadway 

The secret is out that Korea’s the most wired planet on the earth. But now it’s become a green technology hub. When I lived there, Korea was only as green as the face masks many people wore when walking the streets. Okay, that was mean . . . the city does have an impressive public transport system, and I loved how your garbage bill was based only on how much you threw away—you had to buy special garbage bags in which you’d toss your trash and woe would be the poor person who got caught throwing his trash away in a supermarket bag!

But overall the city was a toxic mess. There weren’t enough parks, traffic choked the streets, and I finally understood what “ring around the collar” meant at the end of the work day. Things weren’t much better in the countryside—the country has almost no virgin forests left, and I remember Korean friends who shrieked when they saw what they considered exotic wildlife—squirrels and frogs. Consumerism had its ugly effect: I could never understand why every cookie or choco-pie had to be individually packaged . . . and never mind the melons in the beautiful gift boxes.

Now Seoul is changing. Now that Korea has become an economic powerhouse (recent financial troubles aside), Seoul’s leaders and citizens are focused on making the city a much better place to live.

The most impressive change has been Cheonggyecheon, a river that was paved over to become a highway and is now a river again. What was once a concrete mess when I lived there is now a bubbling stream lined with paths and trees where residents can take a break from all the urban madness.