Best thing that ever happened for my education was my parents strategically locating the family set of encyclopedias next to the bathroom. They became the reading material of choice for the few minutes of day one was sitted on the throne. By the time I left for college, I had read the entire set, out of order and in bits and pieces.
Since then, I've always been fascinated by geography and numbers. Numbers like the Republic of Korea's 2005 population being tallied at 47.28 million, according to last November's census, an increase of 1.14 million (2.5%) from 2000. This makes South Korea the 26th most populous nation.
That means 0.73% of the world's population is in South Korea. Put another way, if the world's population were just 10,000, seventy-three of them would be South Koreans, and none of them would live on Tokto. And if ten of those seventy-three got behind the wheel, the 10,000 would fall to 9,863.
Gender parity is almost perfect, with 23.62 million men (up 2.0% from 2000) and 23.65 million women (up an encouraging 2.9% since 2000). Unfortunately, many of those women are ajummas and halmŏnis, so don't buy your plane ticket just yet.
A trend of the past decade has continued: Seoul proper shrunk by 75,000 to 9.82 million, and Pusan decreased by 139,000 to 3.52 million. Bear in mind that these are still super-humongous megalopolises.
And what I found interesting was that Kyŏnggi-do Province took up the slack for Seoul's population drop: it increased by 1.43 million people (!) to 10.42 million, beating out Seoul for the first time since 1396.
The "capital region," including Seoul, Kyŏnggi-do, and Inch'ŏn, is around half the population of the entire country. Koreans fret over this, but it may not seem as unusual as it sounds. In California, far and away the most populous state in the US (with more people than Canada or Australia), almost one-third live Los Angeles County alone.
If Korea seems crowded, trust me that it is not an optical illusion: population density increased by ten people per square kilometer to reach 474, clearly a sign that we need to construct more square kilometers.
A sign of Korea's graying society is that the number of citizens aged 65 or older reached 4.37 million, accounting for 9.3 per cent of the total population. This is up from 7.3 percent in 2000 and a mere 4.3 percent in 1985.
Korea still remains a religiously pluralistic societ. Buddhists made up 22.8 percent of the population. Protestants were 18.3 per cent and Roman Catholics around 11 per cent.
If I can find more thorough stats, I'll try to report on the number of foreign nationals included in the population. The census-takers made efforts to include foreign citizens residing in the ROK, with English-, Japanese-, and Chinese-language census materials. I answered mine in Korean, but I did tell them there were thirteen New Zealanders living in my apartment. Everybody loves New Zealanders.
Photo: Seoul residents celebrate the new census figures with a massive rally at Sadang Station.
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