South Korea: The little dynamo that sneaked up on the world

Seoul, South Korea

For months the young emperor to the north has been threatening to turn this thriving metropolis into a "sea of fire." But it's not easy to ruffle the jaunty vibe of 75-year-old Kim Chong-shik as he strolls among young couples and shoppers along the boutiques of the Gangnam District.

Living well, it's said, is the best revenge. "I never imagined it would be like this," he says, grinning, not far from a playfully misplaced sign on a coffeehouse: Beverly Hills City Limits.

The retired civil servant, who remembers the Korean War and its miserable aftermath, cuts a dapper figure against a springtime cold snap, a green silk scarf peeking out from his handsome wool overcoat.

Why so stylish? "Because I live here!"

Ten million people live in Seoul, the heart of a huge sprawl that is home to half of the Republic of Korea's 49 million people. It is a hard-charging, high-pressure, high-tech hub of the 21st-century global economy and sits in the cross hairs of an enemy who seems unaware the cold war ended a generation ago. North Korean missile installations are just 30 miles away and now the threats are nuclear.

Yet not long ago, the dream of a single Korea reconciled in peace like Germany, not through war like Vietnam seemed like a destiny within reach. As recently as two months ago, Koreans from the south were still crossing the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to go to work alongside 50,000 northerners at the Kaesong industrial park, a legacy of the South's old "Suns....

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