11 November 2008

Seoul: Assorted downtown pics

Here are a number of photos I took today, as I walked around downtown Seoul, primarily to visit the nation's main post office to look into options for sending the Happy Buddha statue to Christy Cole in Louisiana.

A bit of a time warp. This subway entrance sign looks a lot like it did in the 1980s and the 1990s. The subway symbol, a stylized S, is that of Seoul Metropolitan Subway Corporation; it changed its symbol in 2005, and shortened its name to Seoul Metro as well. The station number is simply a green 2, denoting the second stop on the Green Line (Line 2); every Seoul-area subway station has a number assigned to it, but those numbers are now all 3 to 4 digits and unique to each station, to incorporate line number information as well. Last, but not the least, the romanization is done as "Ulchiro," which follows the old McCune-Reischauer system, currently in use in the US and North Korea, but no longer in use in South Korea; the new South Korean government guidelines specify "Euljiro" and that's the spelling used in all current signs.

This entrance connects the subway station to Samsung Fire Insurance building. I had just had a Chinese lunch at Lotte Department Store, across the street. The lower levels are opened to the public and occupied by other tenants, while the upper levels are for Samsung Fire employees only. Strangely enough, United Airlines' city ticket office here in Seoul is located on the 15th floor of the building - in the Samsung employee-only area. I wanted to go in to see if I could get some temporary documentation of my Star Silver status, but decided not to.

I am now passing in front of the UN Commission on Refugees' local office, as well as South Korea's own Human Rights Commission.

Apparently, the Human Rights Commission had recently made some rulings in favor of gay rights, and some people are NOT very happy. The left banner, put up by a group claiming to represent North Korean defectors, demands the resignation of the entire commission, saying that it is too busy coddling the destructive homosexual lifestyle to really look after the real struggle in human rights in the Korean Peninsula - the plight of the North Koreans.

Behind me, there are a few more banners with extremely homophobic messages, put up by other right-wing groups in solidarity. The North Korean defectors certainly are the prime recruiting targets of the right-wing extremist groups within South Korea, the Republican Party and the neocons in the US, and the Christian extremists of both South Korea and the US.

The homophobes have the upper hand for now, as the Human Rights Commission's rulings are always nonbinding recommendations, and the homophobic 2MB government will certainly never obey them. They are even rejoicing at their successful intervention in California politics, in the form of passage of Proposition 8.

However, the vast majority of South Koreans do not share this homophobia. Regardless of religious or personal moral beliefs, they believe that equality and the pursuit of happiness are rights to never be denied, regardless of sexual orientation. And just like in the US (outside the Korean-American community, anyway), the South Koreans of my generation and younger are even more strongly in favor of gay rights. I do expect gay marriage to be legal in both the US and South Korea in about 30 years. I must remember that just a few years ago, transgender people had absolutely no rights here - but now, they have full legal recognition and the right to marry the opposite sex of their new gender, more than what some Americans can claim.

My intention to replace my BMW with a Hyundai remains unchanged. I will fight homophobes of ALL nationalities and stripes, including German ones (BMW) and Korean ones (as shown above) as well as American ones. Moreover, buying a union-labor-built Hyundai will help out even more in terms of declaring who my allies and my enemies are, both within South Korea and worldwide. In the meantime, I'll upload this photo to Facebook if I can figure out how to do the notes thing.

This fountain near the main post office marks the start of Cheonggyecheon Stream, which runs east before turning south to flow into the Han River.

Many people did laundries here and played here during the royal era. In the 20th Century, this creek turned into a shantytown, especially in the wake of the war. In a sign of progress, the increasingly polluted creek was paved over in 1959, and an elevated highway was built over it in 1976. In a further sign of progress, the paving and the elevated highway were both torn down in 2003, and the creek was cleaned up and restored in 2005.

This was a grand project that Mayor 2MB (now President) claimed credit for, but due to the crummy environment of the paved-over creek, it had to be done sooner or later anyway. Moreover, 2MB did a poor job of compensating storeowners and other tenants along the creek who had to be relocated as a result of the construction and the restoration.

I'm just outside the Gwanghwamun Post Office, the largest in South Korea. This tent is housing a hunger strike, with loudspeakers blaring out labor union fight songs. The reason for this: mail delivery accidents (lost mail, misdelivery, etc.) are rising, but the management are doing nothing to solve the problem, and blaming everything on the rank-and-file. At least that's what the protesters tell me. I need to look into this further, certainly.

South Korea and Hong Kong are issuing these joint postage stamps, according to this display at the entrance to the post office customer service area. I love the idea, as I am about to use South Korea as my springboard for my excursion into Hong Kong.

Once inside, I found a number of counters, including ones dedicated to international letters and packages. I got some rates for US-bound air packages, and even found a vendor inside doing packaging for a nominal fee. I'll surely return before my road trip, so that I can mail the Happy Buddha off to Christy.

Cheonggyecheon is now very clean. A number of fishes are swimming in the clear water, including a goldfish.

Most of the buildings lining the creek were built in the 1960s, as part of the development of the area that also involved paving over the creek and building the elevated highway.

This is the Samil (31) Building, completed in 1970. Its name commemorates the March 1st movement of 1919, which was a grassroots driven campaign calling for independence from Japanese colonial rule. Sure enough, this building has 31 stories. And it was the first true skyscraper in Seoul and all of South Korea.

A look east along the creek, showing its native plants and 1960s buildings.

A few weeks ago, I came to this creek at night for a dinner, and the lighting and the ambience here reminded me of a canal in Amsterdam's Red Light District, minus the prostitutes. I absolutely hated Amsterdam, primarily due to its inability to control the racism and homophobia of the Surinamese immigrant thugs. (And now, I am just as fed up with Los Angeles, for its inability to keep the Korean-American homophobes in check.) Nevertheless, I need to start traveling to other nations again. My upcoming trip to Hong Kong will certainly be a step in the right direction.

This is the Se-un Electronics Market, built as an elevated structure over a thoroughfare. Built in 1968, it is very typical of the mass markets of Seoul dating from the industrial era.

I emerged from the creek to finish off my walk. I am now passing in front of the US Army Corps of Engineers' Seoul office. South Korea is considered the Far East District under the USACE jurisdiction system, as a partially obscured sign at the bottom says. The last time I was here, it was three years ago, and security was very tight due to all the anti-W feelings (not to mention W's presence in Busan); today, no unusual security anywhere.

I need to discuss my family history a bit here. My father first started his compulsory military service like any other South Korean Army recruit; however, by some miracle, he was transferred to the US Army, as a liaison between the two armies. Even after the required service was over, my father remained with the US Army as a civilian employee, doing all sorts of crazy jobs. This place would've been one of many US military installations throughout South Korea where he put in his time. This is how my family built up a tie to the US government - and when the liberal-led democracy protests erupted in 1987 and fascism started crumbling, the Reagan Administration was more than happy to bring us into the US, to protect us from a possible Communist takeover of South Korea, and to hopefully turn us into grateful future Republicans. Of course, I let Reagan down severely on that count, and I am very proud of that.

Just around the corner is my birthplace, the National Medical Center. Now, it's surrounded by Cyrillic signs serving the Mongolian population in the neighborhood. If I get the special two-year visa that I am entitled to get as an immediate descendant of a Korean, I will be entitled to use the services of the National Medical Center once again, at reasonable costs. I hope I will stay healthy enough and never have to go back in there again, however!