Sunday, September 09, 2007

The long one.

Seoul has 10 million people plus, and a city this size I gather is good, bad, ugly and delightful at times. I like having lived in one of the world’s megacities. Yes, it has been crowded and that gets translated into most parts of life here. Smaller houses, heavy traffic (The road in front of my house is 8 lanes. I have not once ever crossed the street except at the light.) and smaller businesses are the norm. It is just all so crowded.

The good news is that many things are close by. With in a five minute walk from my house down the eight lane road in either direction, I can go to numerous small groceries as well as restaurants and bars, not to mention cell phone shops a computer shop, hardware store, bakery… In America, sometimes five minutes of walking barely gets me out of the neighborhood, and sometimes not even that. In Africa, if I walked for five minutes, well, I was just about in the same place a lot of the time as often not much had changed.

My gym here in Korea is hot. I haven’t figured the reason yet. Maybe they are cheap with paying the air-conditioner bill but I don’t think so as all my friends in all of their gyms seem to have the same problem too. It is hot. People sweat. It stinks. I wonder why. On the flip side, the gym is relatively nice and even has a dry sauna room, which is nice to stretch in before working out. In America, the gyms are always roomier, maybe a bit nicer, and far less people use the public showers. In Africa, well, where I was at there just aren’t any gyms. There weren’t swimming pools for that matter either.

Here in Korea the pools are not nearly as common as in America. There are no backyard pools. (First of all, nobody has a back yard. I mean nobody) But there are pools associate with some of the more expensive gyms or water parks. Funny thing is, the pools from my experience are all 3-4 feet deep. At a water park I went to, they made me where a life jacket in water this deep. I have been swimming all my life and it really irritated me. Again, on the flip side, like I said Korea is crowded and so are the pools. At a big water park, a pool is not so much of a place for a person to swim, as it is a place to bump up against other people in the water. (Yes, it is gross) When people are packed shoulder to shoulder in a pool and waves start, even if they are little ones, I could see how a person who wasn’t bobbing up and down on the surface with their life vest on could get tossed under and trampled and possibly drown, so I guess it makes sense. At a different pool I went to they made me wear a swimming-cap the whole time. Not just me but everyone. Why? I am not sure but again it really gets to me that I had to wear a swimming cap and life vest in any water over 3 ½ feet. I, by the way am 6’ 2” and have been working out a little. Funny.

Protective gear was not just for the pool. At the ice rink they made me wear gloves, which they conveniently sold. My hands were very hot the whole time.

The taxis are totally awesome here, numerous, and fairly easy to get. The taxi drivers drive like maniacs, way above the speed limit and are often totally oblivious to red lights. This means a nice fast ride that is good for me but also a lot of wrecks, which is bad for other people. This is exactly like Africa but on a larger scale. For a couple bucks, the minimum taxi fare rate, I can get a taxi to anywhere that would take me 10-15 minutes to walk. I do this often. The subway is even cheaper and can take me anywhere in the greater Seoul area. Most times on the subway I get a seat and get a chance to rest my legs but not always. In America, I usually just drive where I want to go and the traffic is a virtual dream come true to what it is here. In Africa one of the two main roads in the country was near my house and I could take one of its two lanes either North into the mountains or South to the capital. I almost always went South in an overly crowded, hot, and very noisy minivan or khombi as they say. At times, it was ridiculously uncomfortable, even dangerous, but I always got where I wanted sooner or LATER.

One of my biggest frustrations was the lack of diversity. I mean, I figured to some extent I was going to Korea and everybody would be Korean but I didn’t necessarily understand that also meant that there would be a Korean culture that most people, in fact practically all, would adhere to so strictly. This meant that to a large extent everything is the same. The Korean restaurants, which are numerous and easy to find basically sell the same thing. I live in a city, which literally might have 10,000 kimbab restaurants (kimbap = kind of like a Korean style sushi roll but with ham and vegetables). All said restaurants sell more or less exactly the same kimbap roll with no deviation at all. Once a person has had one kimbap, they have had them all. Good for me, I like kimbap. In Africa, it was worse. In my city there were three restaurants and they all sold exactly the same thing. That is when they actually had it in the first place.

It is not the kimbap restaurants that are repeated over and over and over again, it is all the restaurants. It is also the same style of high rise apartments, the same singing rooms (here it is called noraebang = small private karoke room), PC rooms, DVD rooms (these are actually very cool and one of the most novel things in Korea. Think a little bitty dark room with a couch and super large screen for watching any DVD you want), coffee shops, and of course bars, which is one of Korea’s favorite pastimes. To some extent, with the exception of half a dozen areas in Seoul, any area looks a lot like the area next to it and so on.

The half dozen said places in Seoul are a bit different here and there. Some of them rock on through the nights with parties while the rest of the city sleeps (Yes, I was very disappointed because I just kind of assumed that a city with so many people wouldn’t sleep but it most certainly does). Some of the other places might be artistic, or centered around the University. One good thing about this place though is despite the city being crowded, and everything being repetitious, it has some benefits. For instance, to me, when I go to the “Nice” part of Seoul, it really looks a lot like any other part. As well, the poor places don’t really look that poor. It is almost like everyone in the whole city is middle class, which cannot be true, I think. This homogeneousness of the economic class in Korea is a lot like Africa but in Africa where I was at, everyone for the most part was just poor. In America, one side of town has wide streets, flowers, big houses, green yards, swimming pools, and shiny new cars in the driveway, while the other side of town lives in little bitty houses or slums. They might have bars on the windows and no cars. Point is that, there is a lot more diversity in America.

Now, it seems like I have gone and bashed Africa here and made Korea and America sound so much better. I would like to say something though. It is often the people and not the things that make a place nice and the people in Africa are amazing. They are beautiful inside and out, so nice and loving, and can make a person cry with their way of life both for the good and for the bad. Here in Korea, the people are also both very friendly and they are very nice but there is just something about the Africans that makes Africa such a special place to live. In America, people are not nearly always as kind or nice as the Koreans or the Africans. I am not sure why. Maybe too busy or to concerned with other things but I was not rarely treated rude here. Or maybe I just understand America rudeness more. Maybe I might have often been treated rude by Korean standards but to me, I was still being treated fairly nice. I don’t know. I don’t think so. That being said, much of Korean culture has a lot of subtleties to it, probably more than I know or will ever know. Maybe all cultures do. What do I really know? Right? But like I said, it is the people that are so important in a place and here in Korea, I have been so lucky to meet some wonderful people that have made my life so much better.

Peace and Prosperity


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