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Emails from South Korea by Puth Phalla

In case you aren’t sure how far apart Cambodia and South Korea are when it comes to technology, here are a couple of anecdotes to shed light on the situation. Last year, the first Cambodian “spaceship” was launched; a Styrofoam structure with two cameras attached to a massive balloon. It rose 20 or 30 kilometres high, and landed 65 km from the launch site. The spaceship cost about 1,000 dollars, all told.

In 2009, South Korean efforts to join the class of 10 nations with satellites in space did not end as planned, but the extent of their efforts, and ability, in terms of the technology  was telling in itself. The Korea Space Launch Vehicle 1 (KSLV-1) blew up about 2 minutes after takeoff, at an altitude of 70km, far short of the intended 302 kilometre mark when the satellite was set to separate from the rocket and enter orbit. The KSLV-1 cost about US$400 million, and the South Korean government has spent just less than $2 billion since their space aspirations began in 1996.

In developing countries, technology has its limits. On the other hand, in developed countries, technology is relied upon to control the systems and manage the data that define people’s daily lives and, in many ways, their identity.

Cambodia’s technology infrastructure is predictably weak for developing countries, and use of relatively new technologies remains available only within the countries urban and elite populations.

South Korea uses technology towards efficiency in people’s daily lives, and  it’s presence in society, where it is used to control and manage a wide range of activities and operations, is constant.

Satellite setbacks aside, South Korea produces some of the most cutting edge electronics and machines in the world, due to a government effort, started in 1989, to focus industrial development on the high-tech sector. Nearly two decades later, around 2006, South Korea’s economy began to benefit from a massive rise in demand for home electronics and automobiles, among other electronic exports. In 2009 alone, South Korea produced more than 3.5 million cars, for domestic and foreign markets, making it’s automobile industry the fifth most productive in the world,  the fifth most productive country in the world.    


Note the subtle differences between the space launches in South Korea (left) and Cambodia (right). Cambodia photo by DARA SAOYUTH.

The amount of domestic demand is an obvious factor that sets South Korea apart from countries like Cambodia, where, due to a lack of capital and opportunity in the market, many products must be imported from surrounding countries with more developed industry.

South Korean brands are not only well known in their country, products form companies including Samsung, LG and Hyundai have now saturated markets around the world for their quality and advanced features. There are wireless network everywhere in South Korea, making it incredibly easy to communicate with anyone anytime. There is also someone watching you almost all the time, since the government has installed cameras at the traffic lights and other important places for security. Even small grocery stores have one or two surveillance cameras.

There are also hundreds of opportunities in academia, and the professional world, to become an engineering expert whose ideas might make millions. It all begins, of course, with an idea, but without the money, and systems in place to make the idea a reality, it’s not going to make anyone rich.

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