05 October 2008

Seoul: some time with residents

First, the current news item out of Seoul is that in the wake of the suicide of a very high-profile actress three days ago, there will be extra enforcement of existing laws against Internet-faced defamation and false rumors of celebrities and public figures, and stiffer new laws may be passed by the National Assembly. The reason is that the actress in question had been the subject of many false rumors on the Internet, some persisting well after her suicide. Here in South Korea, enforcement of such laws is actually easy, due to the fact that a National ID number is required to create an account at many portals and communities. (It is validated through the check digit, and periodically checked against the government vital records to ensure that the name and the ID number match. The downside: foreigners, me included, are shut out.) It shouldn't impact my blogging at all, however, as Blogger is not based in South Korea, and I do not use any ID numbers.

Originally, I had intended to head for Gyeongbokgung, the main palace of royal Korea, to witness a re-enactment of the civil services examination. But I was asked to attend a lunch for my relative instead - the very relative who had returned to a local Buddhist university, after over a decade in US academia. I visited his modern apartment, which was a very nice experience, with new Miele built-in appliances, nice wall decorations and lighting, various automated systems, and even an in-unit call button for the elevator. The elevator itself was directly connected to underground parking garage. I enjoyed time with my relative - and his American-born children as well, as I was the only guest with fluent command of English. These children attend a foreigner's school with English-language curriculum, instead of a standard Korean elementary school, due to (1) my relative's desire to keep them fluent in English (and pick up another language afterwards), (2) the rote-memorization oriented curriculum of Korean academics, and (3) the tendency of Korean children to really pick on anyone different/foreign. One of the kids is studying Chinese characters - though the conflict is whether to study traditional characters, useful within Korea, or to study simplified characters, more useful in China in conjunction with Mandarin.

I later spent time with the relative's older sister, a renowned classical music expert. She took me to an opera production - my first-ever opera. I enjoyed it, and the following dinner also gave the two of us a chance to discuss various topics, from planning for her US-based teenage daughter's future education, to current politics in US and South Korea, to popular culture, to topics surrounding music - traditional Korean, classical, popular, and else. (She really didn't like W, and shared my opposition to California's Proposition 8.) In any case, this was a very wonderful experience, to especially enjoy an opera production; this will go along with my previous similar travel experience, attending a production of Mamma Mia! in London's West End. The opera was a relatively recent (as operas go, anyway) composition in German, and even though English translations were not provided, the Korean translations were enough for me.

It was very nice to have some down time with my relatives, to get in touch with everyday life in Seoul, and even to navigate Seoul's street grid in a private automobile (though I was not the one driving). Sightseeing should resume tomorrow.