Seoul searching

Trip Start Apr 25, 2006
Trip End Apr 25, 2007

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Thursday, May 4, 2006

I've spent the last couple of days taking somewhat epic walks through Seoul City. Yesterday I got some nasty blisters (damn new shoes), and today I developed blisters on my blisters. I'm sure it's not long until infection sets in - it's been good though. I like to 'take in' the sights and sounds by just walking, and sometimes you learn quite a bit by ducking down side streets and revealing a few details that can't be seen from the sanitised main roads.

One of the first things I was forced to learn is that if you J-walk it is instant open season. If you don't walk with the green man, it means there's a green light to all motorists to speed up and try to flatten you before you can frogger it over to the other side. Which brings me to the next point - underpasses. Unlike Singapore, to cross the roads in Seoul you quite often head underground. I was surprised to find kiosks, clothing shops etc down some of them too. Also unlike Singapore, some of the roads are 12 lanes across and there are motorists always trying to run you down so it all makes sense. Just to make things worse for the average pedestrian, motorcyclists actually head to the footpaths if they can't get through the traffic (which is all the time). So after all this weaving and dodging, there is a slight irony when I get to a zebra crossing and all the cars are happy to stop for me...

Another surprise to me is the lack of westerners here. For example, yesterday I walked around Seoul all day and never saw a white guy - it was brilliant. Considering this, I was also surprised no-one really stares either. It seems that they'd prefer to sort of ignore me than go to any trouble. That said, I did have a funny moment when I walked past a woman and she ran after me just to have another look - probably thought I was famous, but I get that a lot. Another thing is that everybody is so considerate of others - more of a 'greater good' feel than 'everyone for themselves'. You don't have to sit through endless bloody phones ringing on the trains because they are on silent, and generally when they get off the train they will get their phones out. There doesn't seem to be any vandalism or punks hanging around either - could be another boon for the push for compulsory national service back home? Hmmm, they do like to push in though.

Today I went on a trek trying to purchase a Japan Rail pass for - you guessed it - my trip to Japan. I walked past the US embassy and they have permanent SWAT security and massive bomb-proof gates etc. The cops wouldn't let me even take a photo. I found JAL, who supposedly sold the rail passes, but they directed me to some other Travel Agency which I had to find tucked away in some building with no english signs. I basically accosted the first english-speaker to show me the way! Naturally the ticket was more than I had bargained for, so I had to find an ATM. Simple you say? Well, no, because I spent 45 minutes trying 10 different ATMs and they all gave me similarly baffling error messages. Eventually I found one and went back to seal the deal. After all that hard work I decided to treat myself to "Outback Steakhouse" for lunch. Sounds bad I know, but don't worry because it is. It was hard to go past the "Prime Minister's Prime Tenderloin Tasties" and the "Rockhampton Ribs". There was even "Adelaide Rice" (must have run out of alliterations) but no mention of Perth. I then discovered that although the "Aussie Chips" were good, the rather expensive bit of meat was more like what we consider dog-grade back home.

Some interesting points about Seoul/Korea:
- Korean uses an alphabet like English rather than a bajillion different characters like Chinese or Japanese. Their alphabet actually has a similar number of 'letters' in it, but uses 16 vowels.
- There are almost no hot chicks.
- The biggest trouble always comes from grumpy old men.
- The South Koreans are not scared of the North even slightly, and there is a feeling that they could be reunited when the Northen leader kicks the bucket.
- Samsung and Hyundai own and run absolutely everything. There are Samsung cars, construction companies, electronics and toothbrushes.
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