Thursday, 20 December 2012

Samsung: Keystone of the Korean Economy

Among the words I've recently added to my Korean vocabulary is chaebol. It approximately translates as "large business conglomerate," and is often applied to one of the many global corporations that stimulated South Korea's competitive, export-based economy and fast economic growth in the latter half of the twentieth century. The largest by far of these chaebols is the Samsung Group, which has over the last seventy years developed a diverse range of products that span advanced technology, semiconductors, skyscraper and plant construction, petrochemicals, fashion, medicine and finance. It currently produces around a fifth of Korea's total exports, a huge amount given that Korea is the sixth largest exporting country in the world.

Diverse though it is, the company primarily focuses on electronic and digital technology. Its flagship subsidiary, Samsung Electronics, is the second-largest technology company in the world, making it larger than Sony, Panasonic and even Microsoft. The only technology company bigger than it is Apple, which, incidentally, has recently been fighting a series of patent wars with Samsung involving the smartphones that both companies produce.
Regardless of its international role, the company's dominance of the local Korean market can be felt everywhere here in Seoul, betrayed by the omnipresence of its logo on cellphones, computers, cameras, and dozens of other appliances.

An old Samsung heating unit in Gwangmyeong City.
The company also sponsors a lot of stuff, like this art installation at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (which I'll be making a post about soon).

Whenever a new Samsung phone is released, you can be sure that many Koreans will flock to try it out at the many promotional exhibits around the city, like this one at the COEX.

The main reason for this Samsung-themed post is because I recently visited one of the company's showrooms in Gangnam. Located in the Samsung Electronics Building, Samsung d'light is an exhibition space that displays many past, present and future Samsung products for visitors to try out for free. The name "d'light" combines the words digital and light to encapsulate the company's vision of being a "guiding light" in the digital world. Apparently, "the 'd' also carries with it the connotation of 'dynamic,' 'dream,' and 'diversity,' " although I think Samsung are the only ones who really picked up on that part.
The Samsung Electronics Building in Gangnam. Pro-tip: don't take a photo of it if you don't like being harassed by Korean security guards.
Inside the building.
Below the actual exhibition is a shop devoted to Samsung products.
In the shop I tested out Angry Birds: Star Wars on a Samsung smartphone.
In the actual exhibition space, a mother and her son are surrounded by a non-existent film crew.
Now riding a motorcycle. 
Samsung has even made some sport-based video-games for the Xbox Kinect.

An NX1000 wi-fi smart camera on display.
A Series 9 laptop computer.
Around the showroom there are high-definition screens showing visitors some of the scientific and creative processes that go into Samsung products.
There's also a cool, sparkly, dazzling light thing.

I love taking photographs of people while they use these awkward motion-sensor machines. It always brings out a certain neanderthal clumsiness in people and it's why I've never tried one of the things out myself. I've already embarrassed myself enough playing Nintendo Wii games in front of other people.
Ahhh, really brings me back to my childhood seeing chunky, old televisions like this one.
Some bored school kids watching a Samsung presentation.
If you're interested in seeing Samsung d'light for yourself it's just outside Gangnam Station, Exit 8. I thought it was a pretty cool place to visit, but on the other hand, frankly, if you want to see new Samsung products you can just hop on the Seoul Metro and peer over people's shoulders as they play Bejewelled on their new Galaxy Note II. Still, maybe it's worth seeing the showroom if only for the chunky analog-TV nostalgia...

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