Perhaps because it felt like the country was on the cusp of some seismic changes, it was a more memorable trip than most, with the sense that South Korea had a real opportunity to be a key part of a recalibration of the centre of power and influence in the Asia–Pacific, if not globally.
I came away from the country having learnt much about the Korean Peninsular, whilst being reminded of how welcoming and warm the vast majority of Koreans are to outsiders. I was also particularly struck by the sense of impatience and urgency that infused much of life in Seoul – whether on the business or leisure side of the equation.
They have a saying there, '빨리 빨리' ('Balli–Balli'), which loosely translates as 'Hurry–Hurry' and epitomises very neatly their overall approach to life and the need to grab opportunities as they arise.
Because I was seeing 'Balli–Balli' through the lens of ethical and sustainable consumerism, it made me think how desperately we need this kind of impatience as humanity faces up to its uncertain climate–impacted future. It also re–energised me with a certain amount of hope after such a gruelling year on the climate action front, whilst reminding me how rapidly change can happen once the momentum behind it builds.
South Korea has much going for it both economically and socially; there are also signs that it can see great opportunity in a low carbon world (whether or not it unifies with North Korea) and that its general impatience could lead it to become a true global leader in this space very rapidly.
In terms of the near future, its rate of economic development alone appears to be starting to have an influence on the gradual power shift from the Western to the Eastern world and I, for one, would not be surprised to see South Korea take over from Singapore and Hong Kong as the next business and trading hub in the region.
The aspect that is less clear is whether it will also become a new centre of cleantech and sustainable economic development in the future, but the potential is certainly there – and if how they approach everything else is any indicator, such a change would come at a sprint and not a stroll.