March 30, 2013

Ulsan and the Might of Hyundai

The port city of Ulsan hugs the coastline near Busan on the southeast shores of Korea. Hyundai's engineering might is on full display here, with both the world's largest car manufacturing factory and shipbuilding yard located within the city limits. With a population of just over a million well off inhabitants, Ulsan is easily South Korea's richest city based on GDP per capita.

Hyundai is among the handful of chaebols (conglomerates) that unofficially rule South Korea since its transition from a dictatorship to a democracy. Hyundai is involved in manufacturing cars and ships, operating department stores, and undertaking large civil engineering projects. During the Asian economic crisis of 1997, the Hyundai Group was broken up into several smaller, but still huge, chunks. Although separate legal entities now, control remains largely in the hands of a few family members of Hyundai's founding father Chung Ju Yung.

Despite the heavy industry that brings Ulsan its wealth, the the coastal waters have a pleasant hue. At the Daewangam Songnim park the coastline is characterized by jagged cliffs rising steeply from the waters, covered by a sprinkling of pine trees. Old men are precariously perched among various crags, fishing rods in hand. They are there to escape the constant nagging of their wives, and any fish they catch is just a spillover benefit of the carefree time spent away from home.

A Korean friend of mine lives in Ulsan, so I stay over at his place and enjoy a few meals with his family. A hearty breakfast is prepared by his mother, and lunch is at a neighbourhood diner that provides a significant amount of side dishes. At night we devour some pork belly at a Korean barbecue house and explore the university area. The city is famed for its whale meat, but I did not get my hands on any.


"To reach a port, we must sail - sail, not tie at anchor - sail, not drift." - 
Franklin D. Roosevelt