New Zealand money guru and travel writer Gareth Morgan, who a few months ago gave 40 million dollars from his dot.com fortune to charity, has been gobsmacked by South Korea's progress since his previous visit to the country eight years ago.
"Even in the countryside, South Korean living standards have just catapulted over the last couple of decades," he wrote in an article he has sent to his company's clients while exploring Korea as one of a small clutch of Kiwis who are circling the world by motorbike. They expect to complete their 2410km Korean journey by returning to Seoul on October 13.
He sees many similarities between Korea and New Zealand. Both countries are isolated geographically, he says, but Korea's isolation has been actuated by a desire to maintain its own cultural identity, "despite being in the shadow of its powerful and often ambitious neighbours." (Come to think of it, Kiwis sometimes feel overshadowed by Australia, and Canadians by the US.)
He says Koreans and Kiwis love hiking in their countries' many scenic and mountainous national parks, and remarks on "the strength of middle-aged to elderly Koreans who cheerfully climb past you, loaded with twice the amount of gear, and eager to demonstrate... their superior fitness."
Korea, with a population of nearly 50 million, occupies an area only the size of New Zealand's North Island, which has a population of 3.2 million. As a result, most Koreans live in multi-storied apartment blocks. Since all available land is needed to produce food, there's no room for New Zealand's urban sprawl.
Obesity, that worries many western nations, is no problem in Korea, says Morgan, adding, "Let's just say you don't see many American jumbo-style physiques in South Korea.
"I'll be the first to admit that Korean food, to the western palate, is an acquired taste, but once you realise that the pickles and the spice are the fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner you resign yourself to it.
"And then, by some miracle, you suddenly become addicted to it and crave it when you return to our bland pea, pie and puds."
Earlier this year Morgan achieved global publicity by giving $40million to charity.
While most of the world have applauded his selfless generosity in giving away his newly acquired fortune, as a modest Down Under version of Microsoft philanthropist Bill Gates, a few grouches criticised his action.
"I've just been under fire... from the (New Zealand) Trustees Association saying they don't think we should give any of it to people outside New Zealand, because poverty apparently is relative and over there, as long as you get a meal, you're fine," he told Helen Westerman and Rebecca Urban, of The Age (Melbourne, Australia) newspaper.
He accused the association, which advises on wills, charity bequests and estates, of self-interest. "Basically, it's outside of their catchment," he said. "They rely on charitable organisations subscribing to them. Isn't it interesting what it brings out in people?"
The newspaper reported:
No wonder he left New Zealand a week later, to spend four months touring North America from Mexico to Alaska before setting out on his latest visit to South Korea.
Morgan, 53, is sometimes called The Welsh Speedstar. His parents and older sister were born in Wales, but Gareth was born in NZ. He usually rides a Harley Deuce, a Yamaha WR250, or a BMW R1200GS. On his Korean trip he and the others in his party - his wife Joanne, farmer Dave Wallace, and motorcycle dealer Brendan Keogh - are riding new Hyosung 650 bikes. Here's his profile, as shown on his website:
DISCLOSURE. More than 70 years ago, I rode a tiny two-stroke motorbike along perilous shingle roads in New Zealand's scenic South Island. I revelled in the feel of the wind ruffling my hair (no safety helmets in those days). My20-year-old steed had cost me 30 shillings (one and a half weeks' pay for a copyboy). It would be worth a fortune today. It was belt-driven, similar to those used by British Army despatch riders in World War I. When the leather belt became wet or oily (as it often did) it slipped, bringing the machine to a high-revving standstill. It was a real pain in the saddle.
* An edited version of this story has been published by the Korean citizen reporters' journal, OhmyNewsInternational.