South Korea has one of Asia’s largest economies, one that resumed strong growth after a brief downturn as a result of the global economic crisis of 2008. But alongside that prosperity run continued tensions with North Korea, its sometimes belligerent communist neighbor, with whom it remains technically at war.
In the last two years, South Korea has spawned one major trend overseas — Pinkberry, Red Mango and other cheery frozen-yogurt parlors — and at least one minor one: the fried-chicken joint Bon Chon Chicken, which arrived in Manhattan last year to much acclaim. Meanwhile, Momofuku’s David Chang has rocketed to the top of best-chef lists, thanks in part to his clever reinterpretation of traditional Korean dishes and ingredients.
The timing of Mr. Obama’s visit was symbolic, coming a day before the second anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean Navy warship, the Cheonan. An international investigation concluded that the ship had been torpedoed by the North, a charge that the North Koreans deny.
Administration officials said the visit to the zone, where some of the 28,500 American soldiers stationed in South Korea serve alongside Korean troops, was a way to honor the loss of the Cheonan, which they said had brought South Korea and the United States closer together.
HASTILY rebuilt after the Korean War, Seoul is shedding its once-gritty image to become one of Asia’s most glittering metropolises. Under its design-obsessed mayor, Oh Se-hoon, the city has been spiffed up with everything from sleek bus shelters to decked-out bridges. What’s more, it was named this year’s World Design Capital by an international design alliance.
South Korea has developed into one of Asia's most affluent countries since partition in 1948. The Communist North has slipped into totalitarianism and poverty.
The Republic of Korea was proclaimed in August 1948 and received UN-backed support from the US after it was invaded by the North two years later.
The Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace agreement, leaving South Korea technically at war for more than fifty years.
When I relocated from New York City to Seoul, South Korea's capital, in 1996, I found the city vibrant and fascinating, but also surprisingly provincial. Koreans preferred their fermented kimchi over any other food, and though I grew to enjoy the spicy staple, a longing for familiarity and the feebleness of my digestive system occasionally demanded a respite from the chili-laden cabbage.
The official currency of South Korea is the won. The won historically had been broken down into 100 jeon, but typically the smallest amount that crosses hands presently is 100 won. The currency is pegged against the U.S. dollar. The peg formally stood arbitrarily at 2.16 won to one dollar (February 16 is the birthday of Kim Jong-il) but has recently been brought down in value because it was being exchanged at a far lower rate on the black market.
South Korea is a destination country for women trafficked from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.), the Philippines, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries for sexual and labor exploitation. Some women and girls were trafficked to become brides for South Korean men or to work in child sex tourism.
South Korea has maintained a bilateral security alliance with the United States since the Korean War (1950-1953). Seoul abandoned its nuclear weapons program in the 1970s, but has the latent technical capacity to produce nuclear weapons.  South Korea is a signatory to several nonproliferation treaties and has adopted a policy aimed at maintaining a "nuclear-free Korean peninsula."  Seoul is a party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).
By 2014, all of South Korea's elementary-level educational materials will be digitized, and by 2015, the entire school-age curriculum will be delivered on an array of computers, smart phones and tablets. While the country's education ministry is yet to announce the make or model of the devices it will purchase, it has revealed it will spend $2.4 billion buying the requisite tablets and digitizing material for them.
South Korea’s economic freedom score is 69.9, making its economy the 31st freest in the 2012 Index. Its score remains essentially unchanged, with gains in business freedom and labor freedom offset by a decline in the government spending score. South Korea is ranked 8th out of 41 countries in the Asia–Pacific region.