08 December 2008

Seoul: Odds and Ends

Not much to report today. Mostly current events and other tidbits, but they are after the photos below. I traveled to Costco in the northeastern portion of Seoul, then back to COEX Mall for some more blackjack. Temperatures warmed up considerably, and I actually went out without my leggings under my slacks. With the snow turning into slush, it was quite miserable walking in daytime - and as the slush re-froze, nighttime walk was quite slippery.

A look at prototype signage to be possibly used in the Seoul subway system in the future.

Current Seoul Subway signage, consistent across both Seoul Metro and SMRT (and also used at Korail with minor variations), dates back to designs devised by Seoul Metro a quarter-century ago, which made line colors more prominent. (Reminders existed back then everywhere: red = Line 1, green = Line 2, orange = Line 3, blue = Line 4, gray = Korail, yellow = exit.) The station name above the platform screen doors follows the current signage conventions. The 1982 extensions of Line 2 were the first sections to get the new signs, and by 1985, they had spread to the entire Seoul Metro network. Those signs were the first to use the McCune-Reischauer romanization of Korean, officially adopted in 1984 and used through 2000.

Before then, rectangular Japanese-style signs, with no color information whatsoever (Line 1 used black letters on white background, and Line 2 reversed that), had been used.

Back in the 1980s, signs were made only in Korean and English, as spoken Chinese back then was a language only for the dwindling, undesirable local Chinese population, and written Chinese was being seen as a remnant of Japanese colonial rule and therefore severely discouraged. Things have changed, however; numerous visitors, from both Japan and the Chinese-speaking world, demand Chinese characters, and even locals take a much more positive view toward Chinese characters. Some current signs feature Chinese characters as afterthoughts, while others don't even feature them at all.

The black prototype signs overhead were seen at Gunja Station, the transfer point between Lines 5 and 7. They are much sleeker than the current signs, even though the current signs, which use white and the line color as backgrounds, still look quite attractive. They use standard fonts instead of the stylized 1980s subway font. And most importantly, they accommodate both English and Chinese - with more grace than current signs. I'd love to see more of these signs during a future Seoul visit, though it'll be lots of work and money involved to replace all the signs. There was another wholesale sign replacement project just back in 2000, due to the change in romanization, and due to the change of Line 1 from red to dark blue.

On a side note, I personally love Chinese characters, because they allow me to figure out what a given placename means, and even have educated guesses at the place's history. I shared some of that with Bundang Line stations in a recent post.

Speaking of prototype signage, Korea Expressway Corporation has two high-legibility prototype exit signs on northbound Expressway 1 as well, near Suwon. Honestly, one of them is actually much less legible than existing signs.

I am nearing my first stop - Costco. I am passing in front of a cell phone store, located on a thoroughfare that belongs to both National Highways 6 and 47. This promotion poster is done in the format of a political campaign, with the cat as the candidate, and it allows me to note some South Korean political conventions.

First, candidates are given, and listed by, candidate numbers; Candidate 1 is always the one from the political party with the most National Assembly representation (currently the Republicans), the numbers go up with decreasing representation, and independents get the highest candidate numbers. This ensures that it's easier for a candidate from the majority/plurality party to get votes - a major consideration during the dictatorship era.

The cat is Candidate 1, and its political affiliation is 딴나라당 (Other National Party), a derogatory play on 한나라당 (Grand National Party, though it can also be One National Party), the official name of the Republicans. Apparently, the store's owner shares my belief that the Republicans prefer to work for foreign right-wing movements rather than the South Korean people.

The cat's name is 공짜냥 (free money). 냥 (nyang, or ryang) is an old Korean unit of money, and in colloquial Korean, it may be substituted for won. Its campaign promise is that if you enter the store, you can grab a cell phone for 1,000 won.

Some news and other stuff I picked up today. I love continuing to pick up tons of useless stuff about South Korean society - that'll be the one thing I'll miss as I return home.
  • As I was obtaining my vital records (see last post), I saw some news feeds via YTN. South Korea's export tally this year has broken the USD $400 billion mark for the first time ever. It had broken $100 million in 1964, back when human hair wigs were the best things South Korea could export. $10 billion was accomplished in 1977, and $100 billion in the 1990s. South Korea's current leading export products are ships and petrochemicals, with electronics and motor vehicles running close behind. Count me in with the motor vehicle tally, as I take delivery of a Hyundai Genesis later this month; the car should already be sitting either at a dealership or at a Hyundai import processing facility - US territory, in any case. Given that this record was set in a year of crummy world economy, it's impressive.
  • The same news feed also indicated that the favorable exchange rates are leading many Japanese tourists to visit South Korea. Casinos, which normally handle foreigners only, are doing very well. 100 Japanese yen could buy only 1,000 won, but now it can easily buy 1,600 won or more. Speaking of gambling, I lost big at the blackjack table - well in excess of 300,000 won tonight - but due to the favorable exchange rates, I can still afford the loss. My tablemates were Korean-Americans, however, not Japanese tourists.
  • Speaking of the casino, I saw cheques (I'll use the European spelling, though American spelling of "check" may also be used) as valid forms of payment. Handwritten personal/business checks, as in North America and Europe, do not exist in South Korea. But cashier's cheques, with no payor/payee information (therefore allowing reuse, and even use by foreigners and others with no local banking accounts), are very common. The most common variety are the pre-printed ones with 100,000-won value, often used as high-denomination banknotes due to cash going up to only 10,000. Cheques do expire, and require processing, so they don't stay in circulation for long. But the 100,000-won cheques will stick around, as the 2MB government has pretty much killed off the 100,000-won banknote due to its portrait of Kim Ku, a leftist independence fighter/patriot to the vast majority of South Koreans but a vicious terrorist to 2MB and his supporters.
  • The Hankyoreh, the leading center-left newspaper, reports that a new government DVD of South Korea's modern history, made for classroom use in elementary and secondary schools, has now demoted the April 19, 1960 pro-democracy revolution, which overthrew the reactionary Syngman Rhee government and established South Korea's first, short-lived democracy, as a mere "demonstration." The DVD also offers glowing praises of the dictatorial rules of Rhee, Park Chung-hee, and Chun Doo-hwan, and glorifies the accomplishments of 2MB as the Mayor of Seoul (even though they are at best local, not national, topics), while leaving out the inter-Korean summits and other liberal accomplishments altogether. While the Hankyoreh surely uses very biased language, it is certainly truthful and accurate in its reporting, something I cannot claim of, say, the right-wing mouthpiece Chosun Ilbo. 2MB may be laughing for now as he gets to teach his brand of revisionist history, but the losers will be the future leaders of South Korea's society. Again, 2MB and his cronies will never be forgiven.
  • Some stores are now stocking American beef once again, but Costco isn't - just not yet. While I am very well convinced that American beef is safe, I believe that to buy and eat American beef in South Korea today is to give approval to 2MB's refusal to do his independent verification of safety (in other words, dereliction of his duty to the people in order to please W). I'll have plenty of American beef when I go home, and until then, it's either Australian beef or pricey domestic beef for me.
  • Some subway tidbits. Free tickets for seniors and the disabled are being converted from one-use magnetic paper tickets to permanent smart cards; paper tickets will not be issued after mid-May. Some stations issue such free tickets by reading the smart chip inside the passenger's eligible government ID, at a vending machine. On Korail sections, convenience stores are StoryWay, Korail's own brand. And Line 7, which has the only above-water Han River crossing in the SMRT system, offers excellent views of Jamsil and the Olympic Stadium. (Line 5 crosses the river twice, but uses tunnels, while Lines 6 and 8 do not cross the river. By contrast, all Seoul Metro and Korail lines with river crossings use above-water bridges, though Line 7 still offers the best views.)
  • After a subway arson killed dozens in Daegu in 2003, preventing arson is a huge concern on South Korean subway systems. Korail reminds me that if I enter the subway with gasoline or some other flammable, I can expect a year in jail and/or 500,000 won fine. Cold comfort - half a million is a pittance! Hong Kong charges twice as much for merely smoking a cigarette. Seriously, the fine needs to be jacked up to at least 50 million, and jail terms need to be heftier - to be in line with attempted murder, depending on circumstances of the offender.
  • Speaking of the criminal system, it's been standard procedure to get more lenient sentencing for rape, after claiming to be drunk and judgment-impaired. Fortunately, that will no longer work. I don't support Sharia law for anything, but in case of rape, I do support something close to it.
I had good time playing blackjack, but did not communicate much with the Korean-American tablemates, beyond any game calls (and shared joy at a dealer bust). And while losing 400,000+ won over two nights sounds more painful than it really is, it is still a sizable loss, so I will no longer play blackjack for the rest of my South Korean stay. For that matter, I'm reconsidering my year-end Las Vegas trip, which is really intended to break in my new Hyundai. It'll probably make much more sense to head up to San Francisco for two nights instead, as I can do a more scenic drive on California 1 (AND drive flat-out on I-5 in the other direction), and it's probably not a good idea to leave the state with only temporary registration anyway. Doing a photo shoot of my new car at various Bay Area locales - especially Haight-Ashbury, the Castro gay district, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley - will be priceless. In any case, I'll be very proud to show up in something other than a BMW, while carrying the spirit of Kwan Yin while at it.