03 November 2008

Ooh la la Seoul!

Today, I decided to visit Seorae Village, located in the south of Seoul near the main express bus terminal. Seorae Village has a sizable French population, and as I was visiting Paris exactly five years ago today, I wanted to relive my memories.

This car wasn't anywhere near Seorae Village, but for the lack of a better place to put the photo, I am putting it here. This is the 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe. It's a rear-wheel-drive car like the Genesis Sedan, but aside from that, the name is about the only thing the two cars share. While the sedan is huge and boasts V6 power (with optional V8 for the US market only), the coupe is very compact and carries a four-cylinder engine. This car is supposed to replace the front-drive Tuscani/Tiburon.

As I get a better idea of what to do during my upcoming road trip, automotive stuff will occupy my attention for the next few weeks.

I am nearing the French area. Note the multilingual sign pointing the way to the local district office. Yes, it is in French. Normally, English is the only Western language that sees any significant use in South Korea.

Now I am on the main drag. Even the sidewalk is colored like the French flag.

This menu board belongs to a French restaurant, with today's menu written up in Korean and Roman scripts. The Roman alphabet is using a hodge-podge of English, French, and other languages.

The raison d'etre for the French village: the French School of Seoul.

There are plenty of posters on the school windows, the vast majority in French, some for francophones worldwide, others specifically for francophones in South Korea. This particular poster appears to be announcing a French language composition contest for the world's French-speaking children; my own French is getting very rusty, and it's difficult for me to understand. Some prizes include French-language books and a trip to certain regions of France.

A look at the school playground. Plenty of French children, including those of African and Asian descent. Even South Korean children who had been in the French public school system often end up continuing their education here, as opposed to the normal South Korean school system.

Cafe Montmartre. It's getting a bit hilly, and indeed I am starting to think of the very hilly 18th District in Paris, which is topped off by the Sacre-Coeur Basilica.

On the left are flags of South Korea and France. Every light pole on this street has the two flags.

Even the school crossing traffic sign is in French!

Two contrasting signs. On the left, I can walk to a Buddhist temple. On the right, I can enter a normal South Korean boys' middle school, even though it carries a French sign as well!

Even the narrow side street is named Rue Montmartre! And it is indeed hilly and narrow. Change the building architectures, and put up some more French signs, and I could actually delude myself into thinking I am in Paris. But in reality, this area is still Seoul first, French second.

The residential complexes do carry French names to go along with Rue Montmartre and the French School, even though they are occupied by everyday Koreans.

The coup de grace: Parc Montmartre. The sign even has a background of Sacre-Coeur Basilica. However, this is just a tiny sleepy neighborhood park that borders South Korea's Supreme Court.

I picked up the Circle Line Subway to proceed to COEX Mall one more time, for two reasons. I first stopped by at a Kinko's to fax in my presidential vote ballot. The 7-page fax cost me dearly - 14,000 won (USD $14) to be exact - but I felt very good about being able to make my voice heard in the most important US election of my life. Sure, Obama can easily carry California without my vote, but I had to ensure that Prop 8, funded by 2MB, will go down in flames. The second thing to do was to stop by at the bookstore inside COEX Mall, pick up a road atlas, and look forward to my road trip (and the rest of my life well beyond the presidential race). Although there are a few English-language road atlases of South Korea, I stuck to a Korean-language one to eliminate any doubts about place names.

Seen at the same bookstore, ending this quite French day on an American note: the Korean translation of a very glowing book on Sarah Palin, praising her hockey mom background and tenacity. Indeed, the likes of 2MB and the political/economic establishment in South Korea are very enamored of Palin. But the average South Korean sees through the whole thing, and is appalled at John McCain for picking such an unqualified running mate.

I will say this again and again, and the vast majority of South Koreans will back me up on this. CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN. OBAMA-BIDEN '08.