A Week in Korea Pt 3: A brief glimpse into the workings of Korea's largest chaebol companies. And food. Always food.
The first 'industry' visit of our #kacsmedia trip involved a 2hr trip out to Ulsan via the KTX 'bullet train' to tour Hyundai's Ulsan Factory, a sprawling factory complex with its own bus system and apartments for workers, which produces over a million cars every year. I'd never seen a car factory up close before so it was definitely a new experience, though we were only allowed to tour a factory that already had a pre-constructed path for visitors with relevant information and signs. I realised I was subconsciously thinking of conveyor-belt factories as a snaking, linear line, interspersed by 'stations' of workers. The dense layout, full of snaking ramps, hangers for incomplete car doors and conveyer lines on various levels was a whole other level of complexity that I had not expected, an integration of machine infrastructure and human workers ruled by the pace of a churning, steady whole.
Funny how what I really found myself searching for were the human elements - a coat hanging on makeshift 'walls' of a rest station, a worker starting into his phone, a thermos on the table alongside a packed lunch, and workers waving to us from below our 'tour bridge' as the conveyor belt ground to a stop and everyone retreated for lunch.
The bare, no-frills nature of the factory line was pretty interesting to reconcile with the impeccably shiny display room where we got to see the Hyundai Equus x Hermes collaboration concept vehicle in person. I'm not much of a car person but I do love how zooming in on the parts turns the car into a more abstract assemblage of lines and shapes. I'm not a huge fan of the bright orange-y colour of the leather they chose, but the crocodile leather does make a really interesting texture for the interior.
There is no mistaking that Samsung Digital City is a technology park; you can see it in the neatly lined streets, the smooth, clean and white interiors and abundance of glass panes, and it is continuing to expand into building a public park area to make the 'city' aspect of its name more relevant. It's interesting to consider the role of corporations like Samsung in the context of South Korean society, precisely because they are involved with so many aspects of people's daily lives, from home appliances to theme parks.
The Samsung Innovation Museum we visited (open to the public), with its flawlessly polished videos, minimalist displays and bursting with smart screen technology, was exactly what you'd expect a 'modern' technology museum to look like. We tend to associate smart screens with digital devices and often with doing something, so it's quite a change to see them as a permanent fixture that can increase the amount of information 'displayed' within a museum and make the whole process more interactive and like 'storytelling', rather than a passive display. The inside of the museum essentially traces the evolution of technology in human history, and, of course, Samsung's role in all of it. If you're a technology buff, the well-designed and presented museum could be an interesting visit.
The highlight of the museum was a short video showing a potential 'day in the life of the future', which highlighted a whole bunch of technological ideas either in development or 'imagined', ranging from lifestyle augmenting 'smart' house goods to medical and communication technologies. We also got to have a look at some of Samsung's most recent products, including their Gear VR headset and the new Samsung Gear watch that had just been released. I think everyone who put the Gear VR headset on went through the same, "...huh... *looks up* WHOA! *looks slowly around* WHOAAAAAA...." reaction. What really struck me was that there was this really noticeable transition when raising the VR headset to your eyes between 'okay there are two eye holes I need to look through' to being completely and utterly immersed in the visuals, like a blink and then you're suddenly in a cartoon world, looking at a virtual TV playing cartoons.
I have to also mention the Anycall phone, which was the first (?) digital camera phone for Samsung because that brought back a whole flood of 'vintage' K-pop memories from the early 2000s, especially this particular ad for Anycallby Junsu, BoA, Tablo and Jin (Brazillian dystopic city jamming out to K-pop!), and this haptic ad with DBSK and SNSD. Soft culture - it's a powerful thing.
ur final 'official' trip visit was to the Korean Foundation, a government body dedicated to promoting bi-lateral relations and cultural exchanges overseas, and one of the primary sponsors for our trip. After a quick de-brief and discussion about Australia and Korean cultural ties, we went down to explore their gallery, which was displaying a beautifully presented exhibition on various Korean food traditions, complete with crafted 'models' of distinctive Korean cuisine, and displays of various utensils, table set-ups and drinking games. There was a whole display devoted to showcasing the various colours of bibimbap, using bits and pieces of fabric, buttons and miscellaneous knick-knacks. Note, also, the iconic striped slipper of Korean food delivery men #avantgardefashion.