Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Days 48-49: Seoul, South Korea (continued)
Seoul is a pleasant city. Civilized, orderly, timely. The streets are clean and English is spoken much more so than in China amongst all strata. The best part when visiting in October is the weather: aside from the first half of my first day here, the skies have been clear all three days and the temperature in the day-time is about 22 degrees Celcius (roughly 70-75 F).
The party area on weekends is near Hongik University, while Itaewon is the bar haven and is always busy.
But anywhere I went, I could not help thinking about the plight of the North Korean people. No matter what I did--eating, drinking, going out and having a good time--I was constantly thinking how something like this, depending on the particular activity, was either illegal (listening to Western pop music) or completely controlled (moving from city to city) just some 40 kilometers north of where I was. It's even more unusual to know that the people in the North have no idea of what life is like in the South; they think life in the South is poor and untidy and that North Korea is a rich country. This sounds preposterous based on any and all observations!
In any case, Seoul was a pleasant place to stay. I enjoyed it a lot. I didn't try the local brew, soju, though, even though is was extremely cheap: about 960 won ($0.85) per bottle! I was going to buy a bottle at that price for sure... until someone told me that this Korean version of vodka is made from chemicals now rather than rice, since the present laws came into effect during the Korean War, when making soju from rice was deemed illegal due to a massive shortage of the crop. In any case, upon hearing the words "chemical" and "vodka" in one phrase, I quickly reconsidered. Luckily, I can still try soju when I come back to Chicago... if I ever have the urge. All of the Koreans but one I met in Seoul said that, while they all drink it, it tastes disgusting and gets a person hammered fast.
Korea is very different from China in all aspects. I enjoyed both a lot, but the food, people, culture, etc. are very different in all aspects. I like that. The last thing I would like is to go from one country to another to find out that the two are very similar, without any noticeable differences. Luckily I did not encounter this so far anywhere in my travels. Japan, which I will be visiting after Busan, is surely much different, too.
P.S. The picture above is an aerial view of North and South Korea at night. Check out the massive lighting and electricity in the South, whereas a total dearth of electricity, save for one speck of light, is coming from the North. Very eerie.