04 December 2008

Hong Kong debriefing and more

My Hong Kong trip is now history. But with my first full day back in Seoul, I am barely starting to debrief myself. Most of the day was spent in stupor, as I made a long, drowsy trip to my meditation and back.

To start off, I am looking at this subway ad on Line 8 - my only photo for the day. It is a public announcement from the City of Seoul, asking women to give birth to more children.

It reads as follows. ""My generation doesn't know what a "cousin" is." Birth is the most beautiful choice you can make for our future. South Korea's birthrates are among the lowest in the world, and in a generation, children indeed won't know what an uncle, an aunt, or a cousin is."

Just a generation ago, women were being encouraged to have fewer kids, because of the rampant overpopulation. Abortion was technically illegal, but abortion of female fetuses was nevertheless strongly encouraged, leaving a surplus of men who are now forced to marry a Southeast Asian wife. Many South Korean families were also encouraged to emigrate overseas, particularly to the US, in hopes of relieving overcrowding at home and doing some future electioneering in the US. How the times change.

Nevertheless, this ad is still a reminder that Seoul's Republican colonial government still doesn't get it. It relies on token financial incentives and references to primitive Confucian traditions to make its point. (Korea, much like Catholic Latin American societies, has traditionally had large extended families.) The real reason for not having kids these days is that the cutthroat academic competition and starving public schools, which both require extensive tutoring, make raising a child prohibitively expensive. Unfortunately, the Republicans' plans, both in Seoul and nationwide, will only aggravate these factors.

Other observations throughout the day...
  • Seoul's subway system, still excellent, outright pales next to Hong Kong's; often, lengthy walks are required for a transfer, and cross-platform transfers are unheard of. Making analogies to US subway systems, Seoul is like New York, vast but utilitarian and unfriendly, while Hong Kong is like the DC Metro, a limited network but far more modern and user-friendly. Of course, this is only an analogy; Seoul's subway system is still far more modern and tidy than New York will ever be. I can also get away with food and drinks in the Seoul subway, which would cost me a fine of $1,500 back in Hong Kong (USD $200 and KRW 300,000).
  • I stopped at a public toilet in the subway, which had some squat toilets. At least here in Seoul, all squat toilets have front flaps. Over in Hong Kong, some squat toilets had only a hole in the middle; there was a good chance of revealing my private parts to someone outside. At least they still flushed.
  • Back in Hong Kong, smoking in public places can cost $5,000 in fines. That's USD $650, and KRW 1 million. Here in Seoul, it's only 30,000 won - a pittance and not even all that much enforced. I see people flicking cigarette butts at bus shelters, which clearly are no-smoking areas and subject to the fines.
  • I got on a Korail subway train on the Jungang Line that also had a few Sun Moon University ads. Nevertheless, this was far less blatant than Seoul Metro trains. And in any case, a boycott of Korail is out of the question, as that will require me to use buses exclusively (even just to get to the nearest SMRT line), or drive all over again.
  • My current routing into Seoul takes Bundang Line, transfers at Bokjeong to Line 8, then transfers again at Cheonho to Line 5. Mercifully, both transfers involve very short walks. I also like Cheonho Station's color scheme, which is quite pretty between Line 8's pink and Line 5's violet. This routing is my only viable option into Seoul without using Seoul Metro, but it's totally worth it, and I don't miss Seoul Metro's propaganda-laden trains and stations. Travel beyond downtown Seoul can be painfully long, however, as Cheonho is in the far east end of Seoul. (But then, transferring to Line 2, a ridiculously long walk, or to Line 3, with its crooked route, don't save me time at all. And both are Seoul Metro.) Continuing travel on Lines 6 or 7, or the Jungang Line, requires a third transfer.
  • Bundang Line has a station named Guryong. It's written in Chinese as 九龍 (Nine Dragons) - exactly like Hong Kong's Kowloon. That station will always remind me of my Hong Kong trip, just by virtue of its name. However, I will no longer be taking a train through Guryong Station, as proceeding through that part of the line will require me to transfer to Line 2 or 3. Again, I do not wish to take Seoul Metro again, unless I am out of alternatives.
  • For that matter, my current routing on Line 8 takes me through Garak Market Station. Garak is written in Chinese as 可樂, which is how the Chinese speakers spell out "cola." This will certainly be another way to remember Hong Kong - and Beijing, for that matter. Garak Market is for agricultural products, however, not for purchasing Coke or Pepsi.
  • I got on a Seoul city bus, made by Hyundai (just like 70% of all South Korean city buses, Daewoo has the other 30%), that was a pleasant surprise. It was a low-floor model with wheelchair provisions, including lifts and even foldaway seats. Its seats had modern, ergonomic designs, and its transmission was automatic; this solved the two most glaring deficiencies of South Korean city buses. I hope to see more buses like this in the future.
  • News feeds indicate that the Republicans here are about to dramatically cut taxes for those who own more than one residence - another classic case of rule just for the ultra-rich. The Republicans want to also loosen media outlet ownership rules; in other words, Chosun Ilbo can take its propaganda to the radio and TV if this goes ahead. Needless to say, the opposition parties are unanimously opposed.
  • Today was rainy, but not that cold, But the next few days will be so cold that even daytime highs will remain subzero Celsius. I made sure to pick up a pair of 4,000-won leggings from a subway vendor as preparation. I love them - very soft and warm, and excellent elasticity. It is different from American legwear in that the crotch panel doesn't just limit itself to the vagina area, but also covers the anus and extends all the way to the waistband. For now, my new pair of leggings (black again, just like several other pairs I already have back home) will only be cold-weather layers, but pretty soon, they will be fashion statements once I return home.