It just struck me that I’ve been in korea for 3 weeks. It feels like it’s been much longer then that, it also seems as if I haven’t done much. As I’ve been here for so long, I thought you might like some more pictures, and outline of a few more plans, and some impressions of this land of “corea.”
Let me say that the hottest place in the world to teach english is here in South Korea. Everyone wants to learn english, and the english academies are popping up like weeds in Seoul. It’s obviously in it’s infancy here, as they haven’t reached much of a english critical mass here. Though with that said it isn’t extremely hard to get around here as most signs, placards, logos, and even tee-shirts are in english. The annoyance is it is all in bad english. Of course the most obvious things are pieces like spelling corea instead of korea, the sounds are the same (and that’s what matters to a phonetic language), but then you have things like the tee-shirt below.
(go check out some of my other pics, as I put some more up)
I think this means to say Heavy-cake and Cream (which still doesn’t make sense on a tee-shirt), but instead it comes off as saying something about heavy-cake rna cream… Sperm? Viral dose? Bird flu…WTF? And this is just an example of the common things that we see every day. Brand names are huge too. So it begins to beg the question of what sort of society/person desires to associate their image with something they don’t even understand the language of…? Apparently this isn’t uncommon, through out the rest of the world, but as I said, it’s day to day here. (Of course we do it at home, how many white people do you see wearing FUBU and have no clue what it means/stands for.) Being here for this long (and add another week or so for china) means that my english skills are probably on a minor decline.
Perhaps the hardest part of this bad english part for me is that I’m phonetically challenged in english let alone korean. Every time I get into a cab and say Junggye-dong odongge (where I’m staying, the 500 block of apts of Junggye-dong in seoul) I say it with the wrong accents and tones. In that respect it doesn’t help to know where you are going if you’ve written it down in english (say from a tour book). Write it in hagel (korean phonetic script), and your getting some where, but my bad korean and their bad english makes for a hard time of communication. I’m not sure how they managed to host the olympics and the world cup given this communication barrier. Especially considering their addressing makes for really strange directions. Addresses for a store or restaurant are useless, you need a map with the subway stn and exit number before you have a chance of finding it.
The strange just keeps going with things like how they’re kids are computer game nuts, so much so that they have 2 channels on tv that televise things like starcraft battles or counterstrike battles. They you have how they like to walk on the left even though the arrows, indicators, and even their driving are on the right.
I do find myself loving the way they have the subways allowing you to get everywhere. Indeed I think I’ll go through withdrawal from the cheap tasty delights from street vendors (like dumplings..yummm) on every block and the green tea that accompanies it. Not to mention wandering the open markets that sell socks and bras (they seem to be obsessed with those objects if the number of sellers is an indicator) and everything else, even their driving is sort of nice (death defying often) given the sort of self-organizing principles that seem to be evident (thankfully crosswalks are the one sacred area of driving), but it adds up to just being different.
I wish I had my supermarkets, pharmacies, and my computer (reading 내 컴퓨터=”My Computer” does not make for user friendly computing), but although I don’t think I’ll be back intentionally, I can see why people would want to come here. They are a modern society in a beautiful land that any westerner can get along in without to much problem and they have a lot of history that’s interesting which is an interesting contrast to western culture. From three successive ruins they’ve built the 5th largest economy in the world and it is an impressive society with misty mountains and nice ocean fronts. A truly stunning accomplishment in a very different land.
Which makes it all the harder to watch the westernizing. I think Seoul is distinctly like every other city in the world. Again, papa johns, bagels, corn dogs, etc… why do we export the crap, indeed why export our culture at all? Can’t we leave anyplace alone? Even Tibet has a railroad now… how long before the first McD’s? uggh…
I do hope we don’t import their sense of drive though. Americans (and modernized civilizations) are all that happy of a people in my opinion anyway, but if you were to add the korean way they push their kids to learn from dawn to dusk and give them no relief you wouldn’t have school shootings, you’d have wars at school. The kids here are distinctly stressed out. It’s common for kids to go to public schools in the day, then be bused to academies during the afternoon and night, and be let out at around 10 pm. Even during the summer they attend academy. I’m assuming that work is the same, and this explains why they are the 5th largest economy in the world, especially with only 46 million people, you’ve got to work hard and long…they’re are just human though.
Isn’t it insane that I need to travel to keep re-enforcing this idea? I realized it long ago, but when do we ever totally believe the common humanity without seeing it?
As for what’s next. Thailand is coming up on the 2nd of Aug (probably, i exchanged a booked flight for an over-booked flight so it may take me a while to get out of korea). I’m not sure how long I’ll be there. Right now it looks like 2 or 3 weeks. I go from there to India, which is now an official change of itinerary. No plane tickets yet, but I finally got a visa. Beyond that I’m not sure what’s up with vietnam, as I have to work out some issues with the dates on my visa. Might be jumping to japan then the US earlier then expected.