The secrets of my brilliant Korea

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Seoul greeted me in the usual fashion early on Thursday morning: a ridiculously long drive into the city (I had too much luggage to try out the new high-ish speed train to Seoul Station), a warm welcome and my favourite room at the Park Hyatt, and a schedule that left little time for coffee, let alone pee breaks.

As we wove through the streets of the South Korean capital trying to avoid the chronic gridlock, my colleague Ariel and I chatted about the lack of holiday hangover compared with the west: everyone is back at work, nobody’s making idle chit-chat about the presents their children didn’t like and there’s just the vaguest nod to the start of a new year. By the close of business on Thursday, I felt quite happy that the holidays had come to a firm stop and that I didn’t have to relive them repeatedly for clients or colleagues.

It was so nice to cut out the chit-chat and get on with business that I thought this could be a new Korean cultural export – let’s dispense with niceties and pre-amble and get down to business. If we get on famously, then we can drink nice wine and gorge ourselves on bibimbap and bindaetteok later. Korea Inc. might also consider exporting the following:

1. A uniform mentality: Japan might have the best-dressed workers on its building sites but the Koreans come first when it comes to kitting-out staff at department stores and airlines. It’s hard to top the outfits for the girls and boys at Shinsegae or the women in taupe working the aisles on Asiana.

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2. The warm sounds of Winterplay and W & Whale: if you add anything to your playlist this year, track down the melodic, dreamy and gently poppy tunes of these two Korean acts.

3. K is for cruising: given South Korea’s knack for hospitality and shipbuilding, I continue to wonder why one of the major chaebol business conglomerates haven’t combined the two and launched a cruise line to take on the Americans and Italians and own the Asian cruise market.

4. K is also for culture: given the innovation taking place in the pages of Korean magazines, I wonder how long it will be until the country’s more innovative media show dithering western publishers how to produce healthy, lively magazines.

5. Oksusu cha: Korean corn tea is just what the doctor ordered: like many a warm beverage, it’s supposed to cure myriad ailments. With the right marketing, could evolve into a holistic movement of its own.


6. Sulwhasoo: for consumers seeking a skin miracle in a bottle or simply some great-looking packaging for the bathroom shelf, this premium range of skincare products has a distinctly fragrant Korean top-note (warm and earthy) and just might give you the complexion of a K-Pop star.

7. Girls Generation: speaking of K-Pop, it’s worth losing a few minutes on YouTube watching this ensemble of leggy girls belting out their hit single “Run Devil Run”.

8. Incheon airport’s management: this is a team that could do European air travellers a favour and take over some airports – Brussels would be a good place to start, followed by Vienna, Malpensa and Geneva.

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9. Bindaetteok (savoury pancakes): these have all the elements needed to become a global fast-food favourite.

10. Korea’s major department stores: Shinsegae, Lotte, Hyundai could all do with taking their acts on the road to show consumers what it means to be a real store full of departments with all the service and trimmings. Lotte’s so far made a half-hearted attempt but there’s plenty of scope for it and its competitors to go global.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle

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