12 December 2008

I give up!

I was in Incheon today for some sightseeing, and ended up taking lots of photos. Normally, I'd attempt a photo essay of my day.

However, the colonials have fucked with my laptop to a point where even ridiculous levels of compression for my images (making them quite grainy) doesn't help. Blogger will continue to generate errors and improperly process each uploaded photo. I cannot even upload a SINGLE 30K photo right! As I have only one more full day left in South Korea, and as I don't count on taking photos tomorrow, I will wait until after I get to the US before I attempt to upload.

My California DSL from Verizon is a slowpoke, but at least it doesn't suffer from outright censorship and political attacks - even after 8 years of W.

For now, I'll talk a bit about my Incheon day. I decided to do the downtown area - Sudoguksan Museum of Housing and Living (dedicated to shantytowns of 1960s and 1970s), Museum of Korea Emigration History, Chinatown, and Jayu (Freedom) Park. My routing took me from Seongnam on the Bundang Line, transferring to Line 2 at Seolleung, then transferring to an Incheon-bound Line 1 train at Sindorim; I could get off either at Dongincheon (East Incheon), second to the last stop, or at Incheon, the absolute final stop. This routing, costing me 1,800 won with T-Money (1,900 won if paying cash), and taking almost 2 1/2 hours, was the longest subway ride of my life, and certainly the most expensive ever for me in Seoul.
  • I loved the Sudoguksan Museum. Sudoguksan ("Water Works Hill") used to be a shantytown well into the 1990s, but now is a neat, modern apartment complex, with the museum as the only reminder of the area's past. I loved the exhibits - from the living quarters to the objects used at that time to even government announements, ranging from political propaganda to something more mundane. Of course, during the height of the Cold War, with the Korean War memories still fresh and the Communist Bloc still packing some serious punch, fear of the North Koreans was a very potent, valid factor - and the military dictatorship in South Korea used that to the fullest to control the society. (The US withdrawal from South Vietnam drove up the paranoia even further.) I loved seeing all of that, though I'm really getting steamed about 2MB thinking the same circumstances exist today, and therefore justifying all his censorship and oppression. The most lesson from all of this: due to the shared hardships and facilities (water and toilets were certainly communal, and so were the various access alleys), there was a true sense of community in the shantytowns, one that I can certainly never find in Southern California suburbs where everyone's locked up behind gated communities, mega-mansions on cul-de-sacs, and/or luxury cars.
  • The emigration museum wasn't as great as I thought, and buses running there were quite confusing (it's a bit too far for walking), but I liked it nevertheless. As it was opened in 2003 to mark the 100th anniversary of the first official government-approved Korean migration - a party of 102 to Hawaii - it was funded by the Korean-Americans, and has a very Korean-American tint to it. While it pays tribute to the 7-million-strong Korean disapora worldwide, the emphasis is on the US, with some emphasis given to Canada, Mexico, and Latin America too but virtually none for anyone else (especially the longstanding Korean communities of China, Japan, and the former USSR, as well as newer ones in Europe, Australia, and elsewhere).
  • Incheon has a subway line and an extensive (if not user-friendly) bus system. The lone subway line, running north-south, connects to Seoul's Line 1, running east-west, at Bupyeong; ticketing is integrated, so this line, run by a city-owned public corporation just like other South Korean subways, could be considered part of the Metropolitan Seoul Railway System. The buses take T-Money as well, but they do not offer free transfers to/from the subway. Nice things about the buses, however: many are low-floor modern automatics, and fare is a flat 900 won (T-Money) and 1000 won (cash) payable only at boarding (no fare terminal at the exit door for calculating distance surcharges).
  • Seoul's Line 1, for that matter, is the original 1899 Seoul-Incheon rail line that is now quadruple-tracked for its entire stretch. All stations have four platforms, allowing both local and express services, but of course, express services only stop at designated stations. Express trains must share tracks with freight trains, so they only run 5 times per hour, meaning that it's often faster to take the next local than to wait for an express. Like the rest of Line 1, Korail runs the vast majority of trains, including all expresses, though I saw more Seoul Metro trains than expected. Also, Korail seems to reserve its newer trains for the Cheonan Branch, so the Incheon Branch's Korail trains are quite old and lack visual station announcement displays.
  • Chinatown was great. It's more of a tourist trap, as most of its former residents have moved to Taiwan or North America over the military dictatorship's anti-Chinese laws. But it's been revitalized to attract Chinese and domestic tourists, and offer a chance for any interested parties to experience Chinese culture. My favorite feature was an alley depicting several dozen scenes from the Romance of Three Kingdoms (三國誌), a Chinese historical fiction war saga; most Korean men consider it to be required reading, and just about every South Korean, regardless of age or gender, is familiar with the major characters and their personality traits. If there is any shared element between Chinese and Korean cultures, Three Kingdoms must be it.
  • Freedom Park is on a hill right above Chinatown. Opened in the late 19th Century as Korea's first Western-style urban park, it was turned after the war into a showcase of South Korea's "democratic, free" society (even though democracy/freedom took decades to achieve, and it's now slipping away again). Major emphasis is on US relations. There is one large monument from 1982 that marks the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and a Korean government, with emphasis on its evolution into a strong military alliance in the Cold War era. Nearby is a great statue of General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded the Incheon Landing on September 15, 1950, during the war; it was a Hail Mary move, for sure, but it proved to be very decisive, and South Korea and the UN forces were able to break out of their tiny corner around Busan, retake Seoul and the rest of South Korea, and even take most of North Korea, before the Chinese interference.
  • Today, however, General MacArthur was overseeing some Korean chess games - four, to be exact, played and kibitzed by elderly men. Just like its twin Chinese chess, Korean chess can get pretty exciting. I noticed some peculiarities. First, pieces come in three sizes - large (king), small (palace guards and pawns), and medium (all else). The river rule doesn't apply, so all non-palace pieces may attack, including the elephant (equivalent to the bishop). Speaking of the elephant, in Korea, it moves one space straight then two spaces diagonal, more of a super-range knight than a bishop; in most games, it is traded for a pawn in order to weaken the opponent's pawn structure, but in some games, it may actually do some attack moves. And lastly, the cannon, which must always jump over a non-cannon to move (different from Chinese cannons, which jump only for captures and otherwise move like a wagon/rook for a non-capture move), and which may not capture a cannon, is an element not found in Western chess, and its capabilities and rules bring a whole new dimension into the game.
  • Seoul Metro, to its credit, posts some inspirational words from non-Protestants as well - but they are almost exclusively from the company's Buddhist employee group. A Protestant inspirational message, seen twice today at Line 2 platforms, was strongly defending corporal punishment. In the Confucio-Christian South Korean traditional culture, the saying "Spare a rod, spoil a child" is taken very seriously, and the Republicans still strongly support continued corporal punishments. Younger parents around my generation are bucking that trend, however; nevertheless, a badly beaten/injured child is more likely to be told "just how bad did you behave? you asked for it" rather than have his/her parents questioned.
  • I'm gonna admit this. Due to all the propaganda, I feel so PO'd when riding Seoul Metro sections of the subway, that I even feel a temptation to do some serious numbers to its trains. 2MB and the National Intelligence Service, if you're reading this, go ahead and label me a terrorist, and whisk me away. I know you want to anyway, and you just need an excuse. Fucking assholes! Seriously, the real terrorist is someone who either wants to lynch the next President of the United States, or funds such persons - and 2MB certainly falls into the latter category.
I'm glad to have enjoyed three nearly continuous months of all sorts of crazy things in South Korea. But I'm also glad that it's ending now, as the government bastards are really gonna get to me otherwise. Now it's time to go back home, carry the spirit of my past three months onto my everyday American life, and have a good time.

And speaking of carrying the spirit, my Hyundai Genesis order is proceeding. I had to call the purchasing service at its toll-free number (not toll-free to me, as a US toll-free number is NOT toll-free from outside North America), but at least I could call the number. Already, a car matching my preferences has been found, though it's silver with black interior; I'll hold out for a red one if I can.