Korea, one-week impressions

thu1jan2009—01w001d0%— 03h22m00s—0utc

Loved it! Far more than I expected, and almost as much as I love Japan, which is surprising because I’ve long been infatuated with Japan. Truth is I knew next to nothing about the whole country when I arrived.

Being tired from sightseeing we, my sister and I, decided to stay in Seoul the whole week and just try to get the feel of it. Well, it can feel even more urban, media drenched, faddish and dynamic than Tokyo at parts, and yet it is noticeably less wealthy and developed, and most of the city is, while new, astonishingly drab and nondescript.

First, the country’s cheap, all the more so with the exchange rate at that time (exchange rates are changing all the time these days). It’s quite more developed than Mexico yet somewhat cheaper. Compared to Japan is consistently half as cheap. (Though some girl in the hostel, returning from China, complained about how expensive everything was.)

People bump with you, like, all the time and pretty deliberately. While individually they are very friendly, out and about they can be quite rude. Coming from uber polite Japan, it’s pretty shocking. Also, people are far taller than in Japan and while girls are not so prim I think they’re generally cuter. Though plastic surgery is BIG in Korea, particularly one to make your eyes Western looking (“double eyelids” they call them) which, to be honest, does make Asian faces more Western-ly attractive.

I was worried about the food because one previous experience in San Francisco was quite atrocious. It turns out it just takes some getting used to and some introducing. At its best, say, Korean BBQ, it is absolutely delicious. Very agressive tastes, sweet, sour, salty and spicy jumbled all together. There are street stalls everywhere, very Mexico city like, and many of them sell cheap, awesome snacks.

As for technology, flat TVs are indeed everpresent and so are PC bangs (web cafes), full of surprisingly decent machines and cheap as dirt (less than a buck an hour). The mythical 100mb web was fast when you downloaded but quite unimpressive when you were browsing. Cell phones, like in Japan, are not that impressive, though the average cell phone is indeed high above America’s, the best of the Canadian/American crop, full-keyboard BlackBerries and the iPhone, seems in my opinion better than anything I’ve seen here on the streets and playing at phone showcases.

Most interesting of all was all the history and analysis I read. It was exhilarating arriving at a country and not knowing even how to say yes or no, thank you or please. Even more disconcerting was not knowing anything about the country other than that the south was a rising economic power while the north was on the Axis of Evil. So I plunged into several history and analysis books, The Koreans one of the best, and emerged a newly minted Korean buff. It was surprisingly enlightening, there’s nothing like being in the place to pique your curiosity and there’s nothing like being internally motivated for so much history and facts to start to make sense.

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