A Look at South Korea's Topography

Remember that Mee Yeon told us she lives in an “officetel?” An officetel, a building that is part-commercial and part-residential, embodies this lifestyle. Buildings often have underground-level floors, further illustrating the ability of Koreans to make do with their mountainous terrain. In South Korea, expansion seems to be vertical, because there is no other choice other than to build up.

What parts of this environment help people to live here?:

The mountainous terrains of Korea may not be conducive to agriculture, but Korea has been blessed with three seas from which to gather seafood, the Yellow Sea on its west, the Sea of Japan on its east, and where the two meet on its south. This is why seafood is very abundant in Korean cuisine, especially in the southern regions. This is also the reason why in South Korea’s economic history, agriculture was never a big factor, as there is only 22% arable land. This might also be the reason why fruits are really expensive! In fact, historically, Korea’s booming export industry was due to manufactured goods. Still, the good news is that Korea is on stable land with no major fault lines, meaning earthquakes are not a big issue. Furthermore, its physical location is less vulnerable to typhoons than its neighbors such as Japan, Taiwan and eastern China.

What challenges do people face living in this environment?:

As previously mentioned, I feel that the greatest challenge is expansion, especially when accommodating an increasing population. With no arable land to produce food, Korea must make sure it has favorable trade agreements and diplomatic relations in order to make money through its exports and buy food through imports.