26 November 2008

A few observations

Some odd mix of new observations that I've made for a while here in South Korea, but not shared until now.
  • It's possible to watch television using a broadcasting format known as DMB. I think it stands for Digital Media Broadcasting, and if my understanding is correct, it uses the nation's excellent cellular network to broadcast TV signals to portable devices. Many people watch television in the subway, using their cell phones, portable game players, and other similar devices; it's simply amazing. DMB can even be received in a car, if I have some sort of a navigation screen in my car, either factory or aftermarket; however, for safety, the reception will be disabled when the car is in motion (though some people are known to override that). The domestic market Hyundai Genesis has a button for DMB broadcasting, to be watched through its navigation system; the US-market Genesis assigns the same button to XM Satellite Radio.
  • Speaking of electronics, I am learning of even more brand names in use. LG uses XCanvas for televisions, XNote for notebook computers, and Whisen for its air conditioners. Samsung uses PAVV for televisions and Hauzen for home appliances. Of course, all export models use the standard LG and Samsung names.
  • Riding in the subway, I often come across all sorts of people walking through the train and asking for my attention. As all subway trains in South Korea allow me to safely walk through all cars without a problem, such people have the entire train to themselves. Typical of such people are handicapped (mute/deaf, typically) beggars, playing music on a portable radio, head down, and money basket held out in front; vendors selling all sorts of interesting stuff, from shell cutters to bootlegged pop CDs; and doomsday Christian missionaries shouting their nonsense. All of them are illegal, but usually they are tolerated - except today, when a Line 8 train operator loudly asked a vendor to get off a train. With the sour economy, the vendors are working extra aggressively in the subway.
  • Two such vendors today were quite interesting. One sold unwrapped gloves; she claimed that the gloves had been domestically manufactured by a now-defaulted company to be sold at 9,900 won, but with the default, the packaging had to be removed and the gloves sold at severe discount. The other sold something that looked like black scarves, but as it turned out, they were leggings, one size fits all, for 4,000 won. The vendor even encouraged male passengers to buy the leggings, and a few men did take up on the offer; in South Korea's cold winters, thermal underwear is often a good idea, and the high-elasticity leggings sold here make great thermal underwear - even for men. (The not-so-great overpriced legwear that I buy in the US are much less suitable as thermal underwear, for men or for women.)
  • Some of these subway solicitors simply leave flyers for "work at home" multi-level marketing schemes. They are honestly very insulting. Men are offered management positions, at 2.5 million won per month or more; women are offered only assistant positions, at half the pay levels of men. Most require applicants to demonstrate responsibility - by being between ages 40 and 65. Most also do not want any applicants who are ethnic Koreans originating from overseas; many of them, especially the poorer ones from China, are known to embezzle the money, disappear, and go home.
  • A sign at Jamsil's subway station said 행위금지 (no activities), with a letter covered to its front. A closer look revealed that it read 성행위금지 (no sex acts). It looked more like the sign had been tampered with, changing one minor stroke in the first syllable; it should have read 상행위금지 (no vending). Subway station pathways are supposed to be no-vending zones, in order to facilitate movement during rush hours and in emergencies; in reality, however, vendors often set up shop while station managers look the other way. SMRT tends to be more strict about pathway vendors than Seoul Metro and Korail; SMRT stations have very few vendors other than authorized concessionaires, notably 7-Eleven. At Jamsil, served by Line 2 (Seoul Metro) and Line 8 (SMRT), all pathway vendors are in the Seoul Metro section.
I should be in Hong Kong in under 72 hours, but it's really difficult to feel it for now. The Hong Kong state of mind is not coming to me yet, since I am still fresh with memories of the road trip here in South Korea. But before I know it, I'll find myself in Hong Kong - where an all-new culture awaits, ready to give me the experience of my life.