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Friday, October 06, 2006

Arrived in Korea



At last a chance to blog. Seoul is a very switched on city, with internet access to a large percentage of the population, but there seem to be very few internet cafe's. We've just changed hotels, and I'm writing this on the internet provided in the hotel room. Unfortunately Korea is just starting to have tourism, and so the computer works only in Korean or Japanese, so all of the menus and all of the messages I'm working by guessing at what they mean.

We've been here three days now - staying in a traditional Korean house, or Hanok. Here's a list of notable things about Korea:

1. There are few english signs. Particularly in the restaurants. Fortunately someone has a booming business in the plastic replica Korean food industry, as almost every restaurant has a mockup of 10 or so of their best meals done up in the window. Unfortunately half the time I still can't recognise them, even with a guidebook and a book I bought over here entitled "How to eat Korean food". The main problem seems to be that the main ingredient is unrecognisable. Is it pork? Squid? Tofu? You seem to only find out by ordering.

2. Korean food is, frankly, wierd to a western palate. There have been some surprising hits - mostly involving breadcrumbed pork cutlets - and some huge failures - mostly involving humongeous amounts of chilli. The wierdest experience so far has been trying to eat kippers served with picked cabbage with a pair of chopsticks.

3. Koreans like to dress up. The standard clothing for men and women is like the west, although Korean girls tend to dress more in short dresses with long socks. But every now and again someone walks past who has obviously spent a lot on their appearance. Wearing couture, for example, as if they were going out for a night at the opera, even though it's the middle of the day.

4. There are very few english speakers here, although people are very kind. On our first day we took the wrong bus from the airport, and got off when we found it out. But that meant we were in the middle of Seoul, not knowing where we were. As we studied our maps, someone came up to us, asked if we needed help, and walked with us to the subway to show us the way. Getting out of the subway, too, a man came up, explained that he was a university professor and zen monk, and walked with us part of the way to our hotel, so we could find it.

5. It seems very safe. Even at 12pm, coming back from a theme park along mostly deserted streets, we didn't feel at all worried.

6. People are big. Almost western big, and certainly larger than in other Asian countries we've been to. Perhaps the large number of teashops serving cream cakes has something to do with it.

7. Ordinary things in Korea seem to be done a little differently, so it can take some time to get used to them. I've noticed a couple of times that when I point at some writing to express myself, the western way is to run your finger under the writing, but in Korea they seem to take it that it is the writing the finger covers that is what you are pointing at. So where there is a list of things, we invariably get the item below the one we want.

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