National Geographic : 1988 Aug
Treading a well-worn path, South Korean soldiers patrol the Demilitarized Zone separating their country from North Korea. Loudspeakers on either side of the DMZ blare propaganda berating the government of the opposing nation. A key rattled in the lock, and Min's wife en tered the apartment. Compact and all direct current, she is a rarity, a working wife, man aging a large crew of women who sell chil dren's books door-to-door. In the past, women were not permitted outside the home after dusk, and today few Korean men-Min is one-encourage their wives to work. "Have you offered anything to eat?" Mrs. Min asked. "No," said Min impishly, "be cause there was no woman around to serve it." She waved away their laughter, removed her coat, and bustled around the kitchen. Professor Lee, an economist, had sold his house in Seoul before going to the States for his Ph.D., and now, having returned, he felt trapped by the soaring real estate prices. "Suppose you want to buy a $60,000 apart ment," he said. "You save $30,000 and raise the other $30,000 from friends. Then, with the deed as mortgage, you borrow $30,000 from a bank to pay back your friends. But the bank wants its money back in three years. Practical ly speaking, there is little credit in Korea." Mrs. Min brought in dishes of kimchi and 242 S REPUBLIC OF $ KOREA CENTURIES OF ISOLATION ended when the Hermit Kingdom opened to Western trade in the late 1800s. Japan colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945. After World War II, Soviet troops occupied the north. The U. S.-controlled south became the Republic of Korea in 1948. The end of the 1950-53 Korean War left the two Koreas fighting a cold war that continues today. In the 1970s South Korea was alarmed by the discovery of tunnels leading from the North Korea side. The Kumgangsan Dam, begun in 1986, also raises concern. South Korea claims that areas south of the Demilitarized Zone, including Seoul, could be flooded accidentally, or even intentionally as part of an invasion. Though North Korea denies any hostile intent, South Korea is building the Peace Dam to control potential flooding. Poor in fossil fuel deposits, South Korea augments its hydroelectric production with four nuclear 2 power plants. GROWING EXPORTS Heavily dependent upon exports, South Korea sold 35 percent of its gross national product abroad in 1986. Between 1970 and 1986 the value of exports rose nearly 40-fold. SOUTH KOREA CHINA (TAIWAN) CHINA HONG KONG JAPAN U.S.s .R . U.S.