05 December 2008

Seoul: from a Chinese perspective

My Internet connection continues to act up. Finding and connecting to various servers is fast, and so are plain texts. But images and binaries take forever to load - even a 20K image will take at least five minutes to load! Also, Wikipedia and SMRT homepages all refuse to load at all, preventing me from doing my research. I do think 2MB's supporters have hacked into my computer. They shall gladly pay the price. As I'll be gone from South Korea before too long, I'm not too worried. I'll make sure to come back with another computer next time (if there is a next time), probably a MacBook.

I traveled to Jamsil late today, and here are some photos taken from my outing. It was bitterly cold - good thing I had bought my leggings yesterday.

I am reading a poem, one of many posted at subway platforms. This one reminds that both love and rage are really no more than words, and will not last. It's easier said than done, however, given the 2MB government's actions.

This poem was placed by an association of Buddhist employees of Korail. Most poems are placed by religious groups - Buddhist and Christian. While Korail and SMRT source their poems from Buddhists, Catholics, and Protestants alike, Seoul Metro takes exclusively Protestant poems.

My ride on Korail's Bundang Line was my first moment of taking in South Korea from a Chinese perspective. There are currently 20 stations on Bundang Line, and aside from Hanti (한티) Station, which is second-to-the-last stop before the northern terminus and has a purely Korean name, all stations have names that can be written in Chinese characters. And reading the station names in Chinese can be pretty revealing about the placenames. Some names (at least the ones I can read and understand) are as follows, from north to south:
  • Seolleung (宣陵), where indeed some royal tombs are located. This is the current north end of the line, with connection to Line 2. An extension north is being built to Wangsimni across the Han River, where there will be connections to Lines 2 and 5 plus the Jungang Line; completion of this extension will make my life much easier.
  • Guryong (九龍), "Nine Dragons," which continues to remind me of Hong Kong's Kowloon.
  • Daemosan (大母山), "Great Mother Mountain," is named after a nearby mountain to the south. For now, it's part of Seoul's green belt and well forested, but the Republican colonial city government wants to develop it with luxury condos. Residents near the mountain are up in arms and determined to stop the development, which will destroy the area's natural beauty and air quality.
  • Suseo (水西), "West of the Water," is located just west of the Tancheon stream that flows from Seongnam to Jamsil before joining the Han River. It is a transfer point to Line 3, which currently terminates there. The original 1994 Bundang Line had its northern terminus here as well.
  • Bokjeong (福井), "Lucky Well," is named after a water well of that name that used to serve the neighborhood. This is the main transfer point to Line 8, and sits right on the boundary between Seoul and Seongnam.
  • Taepyeong (太平), "Great Peace." Always a nice name.
  • Yatap (野塔), "Field Pagoda," referring to a stone pagoda that apparently once stood here. The station walls indeed have pagoda motifs.
  • Imae (二梅), which refers to two trees of a certain species having previously stood here. This station now serves the Seongnam Arts Center. While the station lies on the original 1994 section of the line, it didn't open for another ten years.
  • Jeongja (亭子), a generic term for a pavilion. Some passengers like to make vulgar remarks about the name, as the Korean word for sperm is a homonym of Jeongja. The New Bundang Line, a reliever line to handle the additional developments of Seongnam, will intersect this existing line at this station.
  • Migeum (美金), "Beautiful Gold."
  • Ori (梧里), a village named after a species of tree found there. This is also another name that passengers make fun of, as it is a homonym to the Korean word for duck. The original southern terminus of the line was at Ori.
  • Jukjeon (竹田), "Bamboo Field." The character 竹 reminds me of Takeshima (竹島), which is currently administered by South Korea as Dokdo (獨島), "Lonely Island," but as the current colonial authorities would rather please the far right of foreign nations (including Japan and the US) rather than serve South Korea's own interests, I no longer recognize the name Dokdo nor its South Korean jurisdiction.
  • Bojeong (寶亭), "Treasure Pavilion." This is the current southern terminus of the line, and it sits near the city of Yong-in as well as Expressway 50. The line is being extended farther south to Suwon (Line 1), with a light rail connection to Everland.
I'm at Bokjeong Station, about to take Line 8 toward Jamsil. I noticed that for some reason, this sign still had Jamsil romanized as Chamshil.

When the subway system first came to Jamsil in 1980, "Jamsil" was indeed the correct romanization, using the incredibly awkward Ministry of Education system. Then in 1984, the system was abolished, in favor of McCune-Reischauer, which dictated Chamshil, and that was the spelling used during the 1988 Olympics, which were indeed mostly hosted by the neighborhood. As a result, Chamshil remains a familiar spelling for many foreigners. Since 2000, the Revised Romanization system, which is a compromise between the Ministry of Education and the McCune-Reischauer systems, once again dictates Jamsil.

I decided to get off a few stops early. I am at Garak Market, three stops short of Jamsil. And yes, when written in Chinese, it indeed is Cola Market!

Unfortunately for the Chinese speakers, this is one of the few places at "Cola Market" where you can actually buy a can of cola. Here's a 7-Eleven inside the subway station; 7-Eleven is a concessionaire of SMRT, and has locations at every SMRT station, including some within paid areas.

I was reminded of two things about Hong Kong. Here in Seoul, most convenience stores are GS 25, and the rest are other local chains; 7-Eleven is a major chain but not predominant. Back in Hong Kong, however, it's mostly 7-Eleven, and the rest are Circle K. Also, Hong Kong does not allow convenience stores inside paid areas, as it is illegal to eat/drink in paid areas and in trains, and being caught will cost HKD $1,500.

Parts of this station have construction barriers, as the Line 3 extension will also serve this station.

I am outside. This walkway leads to a collection of tombstones collected from around the neighborhood, but they didn't seem too significant to me.

The graffiti on the blocks says 大韓民國海兵 - Republic of Korea Marine. South Korea's Marine Corps have a reputation for "catching even the spirits of the dead," but otherwise feel a lot like a cut-rate subdivision of the US Marine Corps, as discussed before.

Time to resume my northward journey toward Jamsil, using the bus for a free transfer (and a look at my old neighborhood, which indeed is in this area). The bus stop also indicates that I am at "Cola Market."

To the south, in the Munjeong ("Literary Well") District, there is a "Rodeo Drive" fashion district. In South Korea, a "Rodeo Drive" is a generic name for an alley filled with high-end boutiques and other related stores; of course, the name comes from the Rodeo Drive located in Beverly Hills, California.

I arrived in Jamsil on a blue No. 320 bus, which starts at Bokjeong Station and runs north to Sangbong Bus Terminal in the northeast of the city. As Sangbong Bus Terminal is next to a Costco, this may be a future travel option for me if I do decide to shop there once more. And this bus turned out to be another low-floor modern Hyundai model, complete with wheelchair lifts, ergonomic seats, and automatic transmission.

I have arrived at Jamsil. A sign indicates that I am a quarter-mile away from Children's Traffic Park, one of several in Seoul. Such parks are in existence so that children, riding on either quadricycles or bicycles on the streets of the park, can learn traffic regulations first-hand, stay safe throughout their childhood, and hopefully grow up into safe drivers in the future. However, South Korean children seem to be taught that it's often enough to raise a hand toward an oncoming car - or flash the backpacks' built-in reflectors toward the car - to have the driver stop for them; the driver never stops in real life.

The left side shows some buildings of the government-built Jamsil Apartment Complex 5th Phase, built about three decades ago. As the complex was my home for several years, I spent a good amount of time myself at the traffic park as a child.

Before I headed into Lotte World, I ducked into a large record/bookstore first. Here are two new releases this week - Britney Spears' Circus and Guns 'N Roses' Chinese Democracy. The latter, for obvious reasons, is banned in mainland China, though I couldn't verify its Hong Kong availability as I had never visited a record store in Hong Kong.

Both albums were very anticipated. Britney Spears is very popular in South Korea, and Guns 'N Roses hasn't had an album in over a decade.

After some ice skating, I toured Lotte World's shopping mall, now featuring a brand-new Toys 'R Us store, where the store's familiar jingles were playing - in Korean. I always love visiting toy stores, if only to look at what the new generations of children are growing up with; as now I am old enough now to be a likely parent of a toddler or a kindergartener, I blend right in.

I first looked at the toy car counters, where I found various domestic and foreign models. While I found more BMWs than I cared for, I couldn't find a Hyundai Genesis yet. I also looked at Lego sets, Star Wars toys, video games for PCs and Nintendo DS's, and more.

But my real love is collectible dolls. Sure, Barbies are well-known even in South Korea. But I got to look at some native fashion dolls - notably, the Mimi series of dolls, first introduced in 1987. The above are a selection of Mimis from 1987 through 1991, performing a variety of occupations; Mimis back then were much shorter than the standard 11 1/2" fashion doll height. There also were even shorter models, named Little Mimis, available.

Here are the currently available Mimi dolls. As they are of standard height now, it's much easier to buy extra costumes for them. It's very tempting for me to pick one up, and give her a United Airlines flight attendant uniform, sort of as a tribute to my novel protagonist.

A familiar sight around South Korea. While Starbucks and The Coffee Bean are common sights, I can also drink some coffee at a local chain, as seen above. Its name is Angel-in-us, a great name and concept; however, I kept misreading it as Angelina Jolie at first, and as everyone knows, I am very anti-Jolie. In any case, I rarely drink coffee at places like these; I tend to buy cheap vending machine coffee from the subway, just 300 won for a few sips.

I then headed back to the music/bookstore, going through Jamsil's subway station. SMRT's Line 8 does stop here, but its section is out of the way, so crossing Jamsil's main intersection involves the subway station for Line 2 (Seoul Metro) and a subterranean shopping mall (city owned but not subway owned).

This protest poster was seen at the subterranean shopping mall. It is currently occupied by mom-and-pop stores, mostly boutiques, and in recent years, the mall has seen its ambience and decorations improve significantly. But all of this is under threat. The Republican colonials running the city hall are now planning to sell the mall to the highest mega-corporate bidder, who will evict the current tenants and bring in more corporate shops with tons of budget. The deputy mayor is the brain behind this plan.

The above message says "Support of economics for the masses in name only. Go away, Grand Nationals. Everyday economics full of lies. Blow yourselves up, Grand Nationals." Of course, I no longer recognize the "Grand National" name itself, as the party is no more than a cut-rate colonial outpost of the neocon wing of the US Republican Party. The Republicans' plans for media ownership rule changes, which will indeed let mega-corporate media empires rise up unchecked (much in the tradition of News Corporation, a key ally of the Republicans in both the US and here), are also under severe criticism.

The mom-and-pop stores, which indeed sell quality fashion goods at competitive prices, must be allowed to remain, so that the citizens of Seoul can continue to vote with their money. If they do want to buy from corporate chain stores, there are plenty of other places they can go to.

Back at the record store, I bought a CD/DVD combo of Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas album, locally manufactured, for 15,600 won. Sure, I already have a copy of the original CD, bought and autographed in New York in 1994. But its packaging is showing signs of wear, and I need to preserve the autograph. Moreover, by buying another copy right here in Seoul, I make my links - to both New York and Seoul - clear. The non-US versions also happen to come with two bonus tracks, and I like that too. The DVD containing eight music videos (Region 0 NTSC) is just icing on the cake.

I decided to take the long way back to Seongnam. I decided to take a ride on the No. 812 bus that I used to take so many times in the 1980s and in 1994. Of course, the bus has a new number - No. 3314 - under the new bus route system, though its route is identical to the old No. 812. After a while waiting in the bitter cold, two No. 3314 buses showed up, both of them Daewoo low-floor buses with, again, ergonomic seats, wheelchair accommodations, and automatic transmissions. It was nice to ride to, and through, my old home neighborhood all over again, enjoying the new night lights that didn't exist back in my day. I finished my ride at Ogeum Station, on a branch of Line 5, then took the subway back to Seongnam, though that necessitated backtracking to Jamsil. The Line 3 extension, which will open next year, will end at Ogeum, with only one stop to Garak Market, but as it is still a Seoul Metro line, I don't look forward to riding it. (As is, it's a 10-stop detour between the two stations, involving one transfer.)

As I ride around the subway and the buses, another thing I notice is all the initiatives that the governments - both at the national and the city level - are rolling out for women. At first, I was very moved. But now, I find them very condescending. Rather than recognizing the "frailty" of women and giving out extra perks that still seem to say women need those perks as inferiors to men, I would rather have the authorities recognize women as full equals of men, outlaw sex discrimination in employment and in pay, and support women of all stripes (including singles and lesbians) rather than just the ones that fit the Confucian social construct. And while at it, instead of punishing adultery, punish sex harassment and sex crimes instead! But then again, I digress - no further progress will ever be made until the Republicans are gone once and for all, and until then, women are no more than incubators and maids for the children of their husbands.