By Uma Venkatraman
IMAGINE living in a home where you don't have to turn a key to let yourself in.
The front door slides shut and locks if nobody enters or exits for a few moments.
A display unit records messages from family members, and your scrawled replies are sent to their mobile phones via SMS.
|Lotte World Theme Park promises lots of thrills and spills for fun seekers. (Photo: Lotte World)
You can get recipes for anything you want to cook in a sleek kitchen.
One entire wall of the living room is made up of television screens, and you can get a daily computerised health check.
Such a home may be just a fantasy today, but at Daewoo Prugio Valley in Seoul, I got a glimpse of the future homes in South Korea.
The beautiful show apartments made me want to settle in there right away.
Equipped with every conceivable convenience - state-of-the-art kitchen, elderfriendly bedrooms and bathrooms, colourful space for children - the apartments blend modern technology with comfort.
Staying on the futuristic theme, the Nuritkum Square Digital Pavilion is also a showcase of how technology can be adapted to daily life.
|In this high-tech home, you can read recipes off a wall screen in the kitchen. (Photo: Uma Venkatraman)
I saw a living room where you can change the landscapes on the wall to suit your mood. You can programme the lights to turn on gradually so that night gently becomes day and you are not jolted awake by the harsh glow of electric bulbs.
A wellbeing corner analyses your health, and a virtual doctor interprets the results for you, telling you what you should eat and what you should avoid to stay fit.
You can have a digital pond in your living room that works with a RFID (radio frequency identification) badge, as do most of the other exhibits in the pavilion.
Create your own pet fish, and when you hold your badge against a reader, your creation will swim towards you in the virtual pond.
You can even invent your own music by placing markers on a table and twisting them to control volume, bass and the type of instrument.
The technological prowess of the Koreans was indeed impressive, and I wondered if such futuristic concepts could one day be turned into household gadgets.
This ultra high-tech futuristic environment is a world away from present-day Seoul, a modern, sprawling city with busy people, traffic-choked streets and huge shopping malls.
Walk back in time
And yet, in this bustle, you can still find little pockets of peace and tranquillity.
A walk through Deoksugung (right), one of the many palaces in downtown Seoul, can give you some respite from the crowded streets.
You can witness the Royal Guards Changing Ceremony thrice every day, if the weather stays clear. Unfortunately, the day I was there the rain ruled it out.
Spend a day exploring the palaces to delve into South Korea's historic legacy and admire the beautifully designed yet unostentatious buildings.
A river runs through it
Another peaceful spot is the Cheonggyecheon stream.
A major stream that runs through Seoul's downtown area and joins the Han River, it became very polluted in the years after the Korean War. It was covered in 1958 with concrete and an overpass was built over it in 1971.
A massive restoration project from 2003 to 2005 transformed the area into a tourist attraction.
With several footbridges criss-crossing the stream, and a walkway beside the water, it is the perfect spot to relax.
It looks even more beautiful at night when the colourful lights come on and buskers put on free performances. The fascinating history of the stream is on display at the Cheonggyecheon Museum.
Tower with teddy bears
For a bird's eye view of the city, the 479mhigh N Seoul Tower is a must-visit. Built as a communication tower in 1969, it stands on Namsan (South Mountain).
|Cheonggyecheon stream is a popular playground for the Koreans during summer. (Photo: Uma Venkatraman)
Check out the Jeju Teddy Bear Museum in the plaza before you board the highspeed elevator to the digital observatory for a 360-degree view.
The museum highlights the rich history of Seoul and exciting current trends through a series of intricately detailed exhibits featuring 1,500 teddy bears. The cafes and restaurants in the complex make it a complete experience.
And if you want to round off your trip on a light note, head for the Lotte World Theme Park, a gigantic multi-purpose complex that has the largest indoor theme park in the world - Lotte World Adventure.
You can go on fun rides of every sort - from gentle ones like the Aeronauts Balloon Ride to those for strong nerves, such as The French Revolution, an intense high-speed roller coaster that makes 360- to 540- degree twists and turns.
If you are tired of indoor entertainment, cross the overhead bridge from Lotte World to explore Magic Island, a lake park that features a dancing fountain and more rides.
Also in the complex are a Folk Museum and the Seoul Nori Madang, an open-air stage for traditional Korean performances on weekends.
This trip was sponsored by Seoul Tourism Organization (www.visitseoul.net).
This article was first published in The Straits Times Special. It is produced by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.