Trip Start Jan 16, 2009
52Trip End Nov 20, 2009
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So I arrived in China about five weeks back and had the most active time two weeks ago - when I went to South Korea. The main reason for me to go to Seoul was to visit my friend Aapo, and I wanted to do it as soon as possible because our Chinese classes were not unbearably difficult for me in the beginning since I had studied a little Chinese before, unlike some of my classmates. As I said, my eight days in Seoul were quite intensive compared to these in Beijing. One of the best experiences in Seoul was to go hiking on the mountains. Since I left Finland, I have hardly done any physical exercise, so hiking (which was every now and then actually climbing) felt really good. The thing to do after hiking, is to go to a Korean sauna-bath complex called jimjilbang (hadn't had a sauna since the Olkhon island), where you can relax in saunas and hot and cold water pools. Visiting jimjilbangs are also highly recommended when you have a hangover. If even a bath in a jimjilbang doesn't make you feel clean enough, you can go to one of these dr. fish cafes, where you put your feet into water and small fish come and eat some skin from your feet. Don't know if it actually helped anything, but it was very itchy! During my trip I also civilized myself with the history of the country and tension between the two Koreas by visiting the de-militarized border zone and the Korean war museum in Seoul. And as a football fan, I also visited the World Cup stadium and museum, though it wasn't anything extraordinary. It's a shame that the football season wasn't on during March.
South Korea is quite different from China. Seoul felt somehow easier, cleaner, safer, as well as more modern and "western" than Beijing. Contrary to Beijing, in Seoul pedestrians never seem to cross the road while the red light is on. In Beijing people do this all the time and it looks pretty hazardous sometimes. The traffic is also way more relaxed in Seoul as unlike the Beijing drivers, the Seoulites seem to have discovered that you can also use the breaks instead of honking the horn all the time. Bicycles also reflect the difference of these cities well. In Beijing you see a lot of people riding old bicycles sometimes drawing the weirdest stuff behind them. In Seoul, people ride new mountain bikes wearing a helmet and usually other cycling gear as well. In Seoul, English is spoken more than in Beijing and there are also fewer foreigners in Korea. This probably makes the people more interested in foreigners, so if you're for example lost and looking at your map in the Seoul underground, it odds-on that a random passer-by will come to help you. In China there are also some well known scams which involve young girls, that come to talk to a foreigner "to practice their English" and eventually ask to go and have a cup of tea together. Then you end up expected to pay the enormous bill for the tea. There was nothing like that in Korea, but when I've been walking on the tourist populated areas of Beijing, these girls come to me every now and then.
So why have I been this passive in Beijing? I haven't, for example, been to the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven or the Olympic village. There are a few reasons, but the main cause is, that most of the exchange students here have already spent one semester studying here and there is only a few of us new students, so it's understandable that the old students are not so keen on going to see all these sights, as they've already seen them during autumn. We neither have any tutors and there is no program arranged from our university or international office so we're quite on our own. Of course the weather and winter is also one factor for the passivity, since the outdoor sights naturally tend to be more impressive when the trees are green and it's warmer. Also the morning lessons leave only weekends possible for instance for the Great Wall trip and it might be unpleasantly crowded during the weekends. Besides, I will probably have some visitors here during the spring, so I can go and check out some of these places with them. Actually pretty many of my friends have been talking about coming to visit me here, although as far as I know, almost no one has booked any flights so far. It's actually quite interesting that there has been a lot more people asking about coming visit me here, than there was during my time in Saint Petersburg, even though Russia is so close to Finland and I've spent quite a lot of time in SPB after all.
However, I think people in here are activating slowly as the summer approaches, as next weekend we're going to the Summer Palace, and in two weeks, we're planning with the other students to go to the coastal brewery city of Qingdao. Now I'm off to see a local football team Beijing Guo'an play! I've added some more photos on facebook, as some of you may have noticed.