Today's initial agenda was to visit the Japanese embassy and join a special International Human Rights Day protest by the former Comfort Women and their supporters. Again, the most logical routing was to Anguk Station on Line 3. With each ride on the line, I am hating it even more; not only is its routing very crooked and its rolling stock outright junk (when the Vietnamese take the trains next year, they'll need to do some serious refurbishment before putting them in service), but its stations have too-tiny platforms for their traffic level. At least Line 3 uses more island platforms, which allow easier direction reversals, than other lines, and its trains tend to carry less propaganda than other Seoul Metro lines.
I did find the embassy, a diminutive building identifiable only by the Japanese flag overhead, without much trouble. But there was very heavy police presence, and it was pretty much impossible to get past the police lines. The police line, using several armed buses, was so thick that I couldn't even see the demonstration itself. I had to walk away.
Seen at a major fire station near the Japanese embassy: a Kia Pride (Rio in the US) with hybrid powertrain, as indicated by decals and badges. Both the Pride and its corporate twin Hyundai Verna (Accent in the US) can be ordered as gasoline-electric hybrids for fleet use. Can Hyundai-Kia send a few of these stateside as well, so that I can consider buying one and saving a bundle on gasoline?
There are a number of legal services within a block of the US embassy that assist US-bound travelers. Some notarize and translate documents, while others offer legal consultation and assistance in obtaining any necessary US visas, including study, business, and immigration, especially to those who had previously been denied US visas.
I took a look at a newsstand on a subway platform when I had some time. It looks like Dong-A Ilbo, a very pro-independence and anti-Japanese newspaper during the Japanese rule, is just as much of a right-wing mouthpiece today as Chosun Ilbo; maybe Dong-A opposed the Japanese, not because they were foreigners, but because colonial rule by the US Republicans or some other similar power would've been vastly more preferable. This is the same mentality shown by South Korea's Christian establishment. Much saner reads are the venerable Gyeonghyang Shinmun, which had once been shut down for opposing the Syngman Rhee dictatorship, and which I now see as a mildly left-wing paper, as well as the Hankyoreh, a more strongly worded center-left paper; if I were to be in Seoul long-term and actually start reading newspapers, I'd make these two papers my primary sources. I'll also read the prominent center-right papers, especially the familiar Hankook Ilbo and its English edition The Korea Times, quite a bit too, but I'll certainly do everything to avoid the lies and propaganda of Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo. Sure enough, in the subway cars, elderly passengers in reserved seats always read Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo, while younger passengers in non-reserved seats are more likely to read a variety of center-right and left-wing papers.
- The Hyundai Genesis V8 (the US-market prototype that Motor Trend tested here in South Korea) has a few flaws - its trunk lining is incomplete, for example. The engine also doesn't perform as well as numbers suggest, and the car itself is more Lexus conservative than BMW sporty. But it still is one heck of a car at a great price. My Genesis will be the V6 model, which is actually a better car, based on what I've gathered.
- The Hyundai Sonata and the Honda Accord, both 4-cylinder models, were pitted against each other twice: first at a Hyundai event in South Korea, and second at a comparison at Southern California's Santa Anita Park. As my current daily driver is an Accord, and as I did some serious driving in a Sonata for my road trip last month, both cars are of interest to me. The South Korean reviewers liked the Sonata's design better but preferred the Accord for its performance, while the US reviewers, while praising the Accord's engine, still chose the Sonata. The Accord is personally my favorite, but if Honda won't bring a high-efficiency hybrid version to the market anytime soon (as Hyundai will), I'll definitely consider defecting to the Sonata camp, especially if my Genesis turns out to be even half as great as it's supposed to be.
- A BMW is much harder to justify than before. That's music to my ears. The reason is that the interior ergonomics, which has lots of electronic gizmos that must be controlled through the iDrive knob, is horrible. Sure, BMWs still perform well, but competitors are getting close enough for lower prices.
- South Korean petroleum market consists of just four players: GS Caltex, Hyundai Oilbank, SK, and S-Oil. (SK's Ulsan refinery is the largest in the world - and neighbors the world's largest car assembly plant and the world's largest shipbuilding dock as well, both owned by Hyundai.) Gasoline taxes have gone up quite a lot recently to pay for highway improvements, leaving South Korean motorists fuming, but tax cuts won't reach consumers due to the collusion of these four refiners. Allowing foreign oil companies in could solve the problem, but be careful what you wish for, as the multinationals like Exxon and Chevron are among the most evil bastards in any industry anywhere in the world.
- The Japanese are making a full assault on the South Korean market. Toyota has been selling Lexus luxury cars for a while, while Honda has been selling mainstream vehicles. In the past month or two, Nissan and Mitsubishi have also arrived (though Nissan has been selling Infinitis for a few years). Nissans are quite competitive and selling decently, and the boxy Cube is already starting to pop up quite a bit. Mitsubishis are doing very poorly, however, even though South Koreans know Mitsubishi very well due to most early Hyundais using Mitsubishi technologies.
- GM Daewoo is doing very badly. Its Winstorm SUV is actually pretty good, but the new Winstorm Max, which is a different model and is identical to the US-market Saturn Vue, is a flop due to fewer contents and higher price tag. The Winstorm Max is really intended for European export as an Opel. Meanwhile, Daewoo's last good luxury car was the Opel-designed Prince from over a decade ago, which was replaced by the Ssangyong Chairman (another good car, thanks to Mercedes mechanicals) when Daewoo acquired Ssangyong. But Daewoo then went bankrupt, Ssangyong was divested, and Daewoo itself became part of GM; Daewoo's first luxury car under GM, the Statesman, sold so poorly that I'm lucky to spot even one every other week, and its brand-new replacement, the Veritas, is doing even worse. Over in the US, Suzuki used to be the primary seller of GM Daewoo products in the past five years or so, but it appears that they are now discontinued, leaving the Chevy Aveo (formerly Daewoo Kalos, and now redesigned as Daewoo Gentra) as GM Daewoo's only US offering (and certainly its only product good enough for the US market).
A look at the neighborhood map indicated that Hongdae is easily accessible not only from Line 2 at Hongik University Station, but also from Line 6 at Sangsu Station. In fact, Sangsu is closer to the Hongik University campus itself.