It’s only been a few hours but it’s already been an interesting day. It is warm enough to walk around today so after Chinese class got out, at 8:30, I started wandering around. Im in Jongno, where a lot of businesses are as well as Insadong, a tourist hotspot with lots of antique shops and teahouses. Except none of that opens until 10 or 11.
OK, I’ll try to explain what Seoul is like (to me) basing the description on Jongno in the morning.
You know those pics you see of Seoul and other Asian cities with the multitudes of crazy lit-up signs going all the way up the buildings? That’s what Jongno is like, and it still looks pretty neat during the day even when they’re not lit up. Buildings here are funny because not only are they covered in heavy, gaudy signage but they often have other facades added for the various businesses so it looks like the building was patchworked together. Even really early in the moning there are lots of people moving about and street stalls selling food. I got an egg sandwich from a stall this morning. Unfortunately I wasn’t vigilant while he was preparing it and ended up with weird toppings. There are a lot of old men that go around sweeping the street and collecting trash which is good because you can never find trash cans in this city so trash often gets chucked onto the street.
As in most big cities people here always seem to be in a hurry. People don’t stick to the right of the sidewalk here so no matter where I am I am in the way. I am often mowed down as if I do not exist. I have noticed that if I try to pass a man on the sidewalk who is walking slower than me he will often speedup. Apparently it’s not cool for me to pass them, hehe. People often run here for no reason that I can discern. I have sat down on benches and watched these runners to see if they were catching a bus or something but no, they were just running, in business suits, heels, etc. As a person who only runs to catch a bus or when being chased I find this puzzling. Sometimes a person looks up and makes some sort of exclamation noise as they did not expect a to see a foreigner. This always cracks me up because can’t imagine being that surprised to see someone with a different skin and hair color than me. Although this society is not as friendly as some I have people say hi to me or smile all the time (usually older folks and children) and anytime I seem lost (usually when transfering between subway lines) I am always approached by a helpful person. anyway… back to what the city is like….
Although Seoul is a developed city for sure the traffic situation makes me think of the Bahamas. People in general drive unsafely; faster than they should be, passing where and when they shouldn’t, cutting across multiple lanes, making illegal turns, making their own lanes, and merely pausing at red lights… even worse– blaring their horn and blazing through a red light without a pause. I’m surprised that this isn’t regulated better as I have seen nonserious accidents a plenty and am sure more serious ones are common. Sidewalks are not particularly well maintained so if I wear high heels I trip a lot.
Have you seen pictures of the riot police in Korea? You see them often enough to not be very phased by them. Protests are popular here and don’t usually get violent but they always have a big police presence at them anyway. Last Saturday I saw more cops in riot gear tha usual when I was in Jongno and Angukdong and found out that there was a riot a few blocks away. Protests are really common and usually nonviolent but in this case it was an “illegal” protest (meaning it was not scheduled, I think) and the 2,000 protestors stopped traffic in a major part of the city. They were against a free trade agreement. According to the newspaper 18,000 policemen were dispatched to deal with it!!! People were mostly just knocked over with firehoses but some say they were kicked, I didn’t watch any of it (duh) I just saw the stream of police heading that way. A little excitement on my day of museums and teahouses. There was a recent report colaning about the billions of dollars spent every year because of protests, both in the cost of security and the disruption of business. I think this is all fascinating.
OK, it’s almost 10, Im going to do stuff now, more later!