25 September 2008

Odds and Ends

Some updates from Seoul, on this Friday (September 26th) morning:
  • It's constantly been very hot and muggy since my arrival in Seoul early last week - about 20 degrees Celsius at night, 30 by day. But since yesterday, a blast of Manchurian cold air has cooled things down significantly; morning lows are below 10, with daytime highs struggling to hit 18. Things should moderate somewhat by the weekend, between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius, normal for this time of the year. I am loving the fact that I am no longer sweating like a hog on the streets of Seoul; this morning feels like a crisp November or December day back in Los Angeles.
  • Seoul Metro, which operates Lines 1-4 on the city's subway system, has been trying to farm out much of its operation to private contractors, resulting in 20% job cuts. The union has been strongly opposed, and talks broke down last night. Today was supposed to be the first day of the strike on those four lines, but fortunately, the strike was called off at the last minute, and talks continue. In any case, even if the strike went ahead, the union's plan was to maintain normal service during rush hours and cut back only late-night service, so I wouldn't have been badly affected.
  • This morning, I saw a graffiti that read "2MB OUT," though I was unable to photograph it. "2MB" refers to President Lee Myung-bak. His family name Lee (李) and the number 2 (二) have the same pronunciation in South Korean (이, "yi") (though NOT in North Korean). MB stands for Myung-bak. The connotation is that Lee has only two megabytes of brain power. Some people are so fed up with Lee's rule that they want him impeached - like his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun in 2004.
The agenda this afternoon: climb Namsan, enter N-Seoul Tower, and try to enjoy the great smog-free view of Seoul while it lasts. The heavy rains of yesterday left the city with a very crystal clear sky today. I will find out if I can see as far as Kaesong (35 miles to the northwest, in North Korea), or Incheon Airport and the Yellow Sea to the west.