06 December 2008

Seoul: Brrrr...

A bitterly cold, but pretty nice day. I've had good chats with both my relatives and my fellow meditation practitioners, regarding a number of issues, mostly current events. One of the practitioners was the wife of a South Korean commander who was severely injured in Vietnam during the war, and had her children currently living in the US and France; she mightily complained that the South Korean authorities have neglected the veterans while rewarding the defense contractors, and I told her that the US is doing the exact same thing in Iraq today. Through these conversations, I continue to connect with everyday South Koreans, reaching beyond the official propaganda and ideology of the government. This is priceless.

Some people are even telling me that I should be invited over to college campuses and other places, so that I can spill the unbiased truth about the US (especially the neocons), the Korean-American community, and how South Korea's government is too busy taking orders from both to really tend the needs of everyday South Koreans. If I can enlighten even just one more person, and therefore help prevent the rotten ways of the current political establishment from surviving another generation, that alone will be worth it, they say. I always tell them that I agree, except that under the current political climate, I'll probably be reported as a Communist sympathizer, and arrested.

Today was even colder than yesterday; I don't think temperatures ever rose above 20F today. I didn't feel like making the long trip back from downtown Seoul to Seongnam immediately after my business, so I decided to head for COEX Mall which sits about halfway, just to have lunch in a warm setting. I ended up with yet another omurice! As I don't ever intend to drive to Koreatowns stateside to buy omurice again, I'll take as much omurice (and other stuff that I can easily find in Seoul, but not in Los Angeles outside Koreatown) as I can right now.

Getting to COEX Mall is possible using the subway system's Lines 5 and 7, though it's a half-mile walk over a steep, windy hill from Line 7 to get to the mall. I didn't want to do that, so I was forced to throw out my principles, and patronize Seoul Metro. Line 2 has several stops in downtown, and its Samseong Station has a direct connection to the mall, so it was the most logical choice. Besides, pretty much all possible routings from downtown to COEX Mall, short of the long walk from Line 7, involve at least some Seoul Metro anyway, and Seoul Metro gets my money no matter what; keeping myself protected from the chill was much more important than making a toothless political statement.

Some more subway notes, now that I had to take Seoul Metro again. Seoul Metro's slogan, not as official as SMRT's but still often used, is 행복을 싣고 달리는 4色열차 (four-colored trains carrying happiness). The four colors are dark blue (Line 1), green (Line 2), orange (Line 3), and blue (Line 4). Also, these four Seoul Metro lines are the only lines in the Seoul subway system that have official English-language color names. On both Seoul Metro and Korail trains, Lines 1-4 are identified in English announcements by both their number and their color, while other lines use numbers/names only (except for Jungang Line, which never uses its name, but is simply referred by "you may transfer for XXX or YYY..."). On SMRT trains, all lines use numbers/names only, no colors, and Jungang Line remains nameless as well (though on visual displays, it's simply depicted as "Korail"). Of course, SMRT and Korail lines have official colors as well, but the colors do not have official names; also, Korean announcements never use color names, as only foreigners - no Koreans - ever refer to subway lines by color.

This is a Seoul Metro public announcement, and yes, the green stripe indicates that I am on a Line 2 train. (Mercifully, this was a rare Line 2 car free of Sun Moon University ads.)

Sexual harassment remains a major issue in South Korea, where machismo, though not at Latin levels, is very real. Sex crimes often happen. The poster above asks passengers to do the following:
  • If feeling uneasy over unwanted body contact, speak up immediately.
  • Let those around you know, and ask for help.
  • Use the emergency interphones located at the ends of each car.
  • Report the crime to the 112 police hotline, and to the nearest subway police patrol team.
  • Take a snapshot of any evidence you come across.
Seriously, the authorities need to take sexual harassment seriously, and go after that, instead of "adulterous" women in dead-end marriages.

Speaking of crimes in South Korea, the US State Department now advises Americans to be careful around Hongdae and Sinchon, as violent robberies targeting Americans and foreigners supposedly occur in those places. In reality, locals tell me that a far more likely scenario would involve drunken American GIs beating up a South Korean civilian and geting away with it, as South Korean penal system does not have jurisdiction over American GIs. It is very true that in US-South Korean relations, South Korea has always gotten the short end of the stick, but that's the price you pay when you would rather keep electing the likes of 2MB, who consider themselves not to be the President of a sovereign republic, but a colonial governor of the neocon movement.

It was nice to walk around COEX Mall once again, and I saw plenty of restaurants that I hadn't noticed before. There is even a Todai seafood buffet, just like back in California. I made sure to duck into a few clothing stores while at it too, if only to pick up a few extra style inspirations. Two things I newly found today were quite interesting. One was a store selling plastic and other miniature models made by Academy, a local model manufacturer; its models require assembly, and often depict military equipment, and almost every South Korean boy grows up assembling an Academy model. The other was a sizable casino, though I couldn't enter it, as I didn't carry my passport with me today. Except for a remote casino in Gangwon Province, all South Korean casinos are for foreigners only, though "foreigners" do include South Korean nationals who hold special passports issued only to emigrants. I'll be sure to check it out before I go home.

Another sightseeing destination I am considering is downtown Incheon. At the Line 1 terminus, I can expect to find a small Chinatown - the only official Chinatown in South Korea. It does maintain a website (ichinatown.or.kr), and looks promising; I'll love extending the Chinese theme of the past week. Chinatown also neighbors Freedom Park, South Korea's first Western-style park, which showcases Incheon's history as Korea's gateway to the world; its notable sights include a 100-year anniversary monument of US-Korean relations, as well as a statue of General Douglas MacArthur. A few thugs had vandalized the MacArthur statue a few years ago, and that is used by the right-wing colonial supporters as "proof" that Communists have taken over all aspects of South Korea's society. I'll explore Incheon when things thaw a bit; both Chinatown and Freedom Park are in the ward of Jung-gu, which also encompasses Incheon International Airport, several miles out in the middle of Yellow Sea.

Incheon even has a museum dedicated to Korean emigration to the rest of the world, opened in 2003, the 100th anniversary of the first official Korean migrants to Hawaii. It's a short bus ride from Chinatown, and I'll make sure to stop there too. Indeed, many early Korean migrants, including the 1903 wave to Hawaii and the 1905 wave to Mexico's Yucatan, left from Incheon. Places like Kiel, Germany maintain similar museums honoring their emigrants to the New World, and it's nice to know that South Korea now does the same.