Rather than bore my dear readers with the minutiae of my sojourns here in Seoul (what I had for breakfast, the weather forecast, how much I miss home), I seek instead in this post to offer a few random snippets, observations and thoughts.
A ride in the elevator in my hostel has proven to be far more fascinating than you would expect – there is no fourth floor in this building, nor anywhere else in Korea, four being an unlucky number here. Hence: 1,2,3,5 … It seems that not much really comes in fours – packets of biscuits (one of Seoul’s secret delights) come in fives; you cannot buy a four-pack of beers; four-four time music has been banned; golfers yell out “five!” when they are about to hit the ball; groups of four are not allowed in restaurants; cricket umpires fail to acknowledge boundaries; and foreplay is frowned upon. As of this moment onwards, I will only buy five beers at a time (1, 2 and 3 also being unlucky numbers in my personal horoscope).
There are over fifty channels on free-to-air television here, presumably one for every million people or so. Some highlights include the plethora of news services, “Super Action Network”, the US armed forces channel, kama sutra instruction channel (early am), CNBC business channel (I had never seen a televised ringing of the bells on Wall St; now I have – thanks Roger Federer), many baseball channels, homo-erotic World Championship Wrestling and so on. Movies here are played almost entirely without interruptions; you pay for this at the end, however, when you are subjected to fifty minutes of ads at a time. I have developed a love for US medical series “House”. And I bet the Americans don’t even realise Hugh Laurie is English. What a guy.
Last weekend was Chusok holiday, Korea’s version of Thanksgiving. People I talk to are shocked that we don’t have Thanksgiving in Australia – so what *do* you have? The dates of the three day holiday are based on the lunar calendar, so they change every year; this year, to almost everyone’s chagrin, Chusok fell on the weekend, meaning only one day off on Monday. On Sunday I went with my Canadian friend Kevin to see some traditional drumming and singing performances at City Hall. The drumming was pretty cool, almost trancy. The singing was a bit stranger, groups of women bellowing like a cross between Nina Simone and Janis Joplin, in Korean of course. You can also tell it’s Chusok by the number of people riding the subway carrying huge gift boxes of food. The sweetshops go onto overdrive, setting up extra trestles outside and churning out sticky-rice style sweets filled with honey and sesame seed nuts, coloured purple, green and white, and garnished with pine needles. Sounds weird, but actually quite yummy. Please do not ask me to eat silkworms.
Station To Station
This morning, I whacked Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief into my Walkman and set off for the subway station (Jongno-Sam-ga). I swiped my smart card in the electronic reader (others use their phones), busted through the turnstiles and then took an escalator down into the bowels of the earth. On the platform, a gigantic LCD flat screen TV was playing demonstrations of what to do in case of a sarin gas attack, or maybe it was just in case the emergency services were forced to use a fire extinguisher. Women held their noses as the strange gas seeped through the train. A young man calmly opened the doors of the subway car, then fiddled with some apparatus under the seats. Stations are stocked with batons, whistles and this strange orange headgear to wear during emergencies. Kind of eerie but then again I was listening to Radiohead. Then, an alarm bell rings, the train arrives and me and the teeming millions get on. There’s a rush for seats; I prefer to stand, as it’s only three stops to Chungjeongno, where I have to transfer to a different line. The walk to the other line takes longer than the subway trip itself. Usually I hate this station, as the cleaners here use a kind of methylated spirits that makes me gag but thankfully today it’s all clear. Three more stops to Sinchon, where I get out and hike up the hill to Sogang University. The whole trip lasts approximately the same time as side A of the Radiohead tape. On my return home, I will listen to Side B. That’s pretty good value for 1600 won (about two Australian dollars).
Okay so I said I wasn’t going to mention the weather but here in Korea, as everyone keeps telling me, there are four distinct seasons. I think you can guess what they are. When I first arrived “Summer” was in full swing, with scorching hot days, lots of smog and high humidity. Then, one day in early September, that all changed. “Autumn” had arrived. Temperatures, strangely enough, dropped. Evenings were cooler. I am now waiting for that most unusual of events, the turning of the leaves, to take place. Later in the year, apparently, “Winter” will begin. It’s a shame I will miss “Spring”, as I am led to believe that this season, which is not available in other countries, is a real page-turner.
Yongsan electronics market is pretty cool. My friend Mr Eum took me there the other day. After sussing out prices and makes I bought a digital camera. Those who know me well will understand how momentous this occasion was for me. Usually, with electronic gadgets, I either lose them or break them (hence the Walknam, as opposed to the ipod). Now, however, I have transformed into Davey Digital. With my camera, mobile phone, television, in-house phone service, Walkman with tinny speakers, battery recharger, mobile phone recharger, alarm clock, hair dryer, USB/mini-digital card reader/writer, supersonic electric fan, air conditioning unit, underfloor heating, multiple light switches, refrigerator and head-cleaning unit, I can truly say that I now desire nothing. Except maybe some cute little digital watch or something. I need to get out more. Until next time, annyeung!