531 Bongeunsa-ro, Samseong 1(il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Buddha Facing the SkyscrapersModernization. Westernization. Globalization. These words are sometimes used synonymously, but while all three certainly might be used to describe East Asia, distinctions should be made.
South of the Han River in Seoul is the Gangnam district; the skyscrapers of today were, just a few decades ago, rice paddies. South Korea may be one of the world's most Internet-connected societies, but don't be fooled—Westernization has not been total. The tug-of-war between values—between religious and secular, Western and neo-Confucian, materialism and asceticism, progress vs. preservation, Christendom and Buddhism, filial piety vs. egotism—is always present.
One of the best places to see this, architecturally, is Bong-eun-sa Temple, which dates back to the 8th century. Across from the six-story-tall Buddha is the 748ft/228m-tall World Trade Center Seoul Tower, built just in time for the 1988 Olympics. On the neighborhood streets, Buddhist monks with giant wooden rosaries mingle with pop music–obsessed teenagers—and they're all glued to their smartphones.