South Korea is among the top major tourist destinations in Asia, welcoming more than 3.2 million visitors in 1992 alone. The country staged the Taejon International Expo in 1993, and was chosen to host all four of the Pacific Asia Travel Association's 1994 events, including its annual world congress. In commemoration of the 600th anniversary of Seoul as Korea's capital, the nation celebrated "Visit Korea Year" in 1994. Throughout the year, the capital Seoul and virtually every other town staged gala festivals, shows, and cultural events.

Old Choson, the Land of the Morning Calm, was the earliest name bestowed upon the Korean kingdom by its legendary founder, Tangun-though, in fact, this East Asian peninsula has had a turbulent 5,000-year history. The Koreans may be a strong people, but their distinctive character has been molded by centuries of domination by other nations. Even today, the peninsula is divided at the 38th parallel.

Perhaps it is the taeguk (the Korean flag), which signifies harmony, that most exemplifies what 5,000 years of cultural history have meant. The red upper portion represents the yang, the lower blue segment the yin (or um). It is a symbol often painted on gates of important structures and means that life is filled with opposites and contradiction-good and evil, hot and cold, day and night, fire and water, male and female. Today, it aptly sums up South Korea, with its ancient palaces and gleaming spires, cellular telephones and husk-filled pillows, modern sculpture and mist-shrouded mountains, megadollar deals and kite-flying contests.

The once drab capital Seoul has become a great and exciting metropolis, with elegant high-rises, chic new hotels managed by international names and full of expensive restaurants, shops brimming with beautiful merchandise, and renovated palaces still worthy of the kings who built them. Korean women have returned to their hanbok-the colorful native dress of billowing silk-for festive occasions. This is one of the few nations that can say it has lost little in the translation from the past to the future.

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