Seoul, continued

I was planning to write earlier, but the power was interrupted by construction. While my laptop battery gave me a few hours of functioning, the building’s LAN was completely out, making it impossible for me to actually post anything, so instead I just played Knights of the Old Republic for about an hour and a half.

I left off with Tuesday-being brought to Hanguk Foreign Studies University’s campus by Jongmin. It’s a fairly tiny campus, with less than a dozen buildings in total, although all are decent size. The building I’m staying in contains a dorm for foreign students, but the dorm only seems to actually occupy the top 5th floor of the building, with the ground floor actually departmental offices for something or other, and other floors being used for god knows what. Strangely, the only toilets in the building are on the 1st and 2nd floors, women’s and men’s respectively. I was told that the showers in the building are on the 4th floor, but as they are currently out of order this is rather a moot point.

The room is a fairly tiny double, but I am the only person here (perhaps vacant because of summer vacation?) so it’s quite big enough for a 5 day stay. There is a small with about 100 channels in a bewildering array of languages. Foreign Studies indeed. Of course there are the basic Korean channels, including the US Armed Services network, which broadcasts throughout the country. I also saw BBC World, CNN and a couple of other of the international news channels, including what I think was probably Al Jazheera. I can’t really confirm that, being unable to say anything except ‘hello’ in Arabic. Japanese and Chinese public television were both represented, along with several Arabic and Hindi channels, as well as a lot of others that I was not nearly bored enough to catalogue. Of course being Korea there is also excellent internet access in the room. All I had to do was plug in, no silly registration required, which is lucky because it might have been more than I could handle.

The lack of showers is probably related to the massive demolitions going on outside. It seems that the campus was up until recently surrounded by a rather thick wall, which is currently being destroyed bit by bit. From a diagram I saw by the front gate, the plan seems to be to replace it with an attractive and easily permeable light hedge, with a lot of small un-gated entrances around the perimeter, in an attempt to bring the campus more into the community. This plan seems to be working already, or perhaps it’s goal was achieved before it even started. When walking around the campus at night I am amazed to see the numbers of young children and families skating, playing sports or just hanging out. I assumed at first that the figures walking circled around the sports field would be a university team or club of some sort, but were in fact mostly women of what I would assume to be retirement age. I have absolutely never before in my life seen a university campus used as a community area by so many neighborhood people utterly unconnected with the school as this one.

The campus isn’t in what you would exactly call downtown, but it is an extremely active and energetic local neighborhood, and not just due to the influence of the school. HUFS is located only about a block away from a subway station conveniently named after it. This seems to be one of the primary lines, and it only takes 20 minutes or so to get to what really looks like the city center. There are of course dozens of restaurants, bars and things as well as little stands selling traditional Korean street food, some of which seem only to open after dark. If you go a bit farther away you get a proper street market, which is certainly more for for the sake of proper families than it is for the students. There are several convenience stores in the Japanese model, including the Japanese Family Mart chain. (In other parts of Seoul I also saw 7-11. I wonder if they belong to the US 7-11 corporation or the Japanese conglomorate that the US company sold off their Japanese branch to.) Across the street from the gate is a Dunkin Donuts where I actually had the first proper bagel I’ve ever seen in Asia. Of course it was nothing compared to the fresh New York bagels I’ll be eating in two or three days, but compared to the vaguely bread-flavored torus-shaped chunks of cardboard they sell once every third fortnite in select Japanese supermarkets it was incredible. Also an impressive number of Pizza joints. The first time I have ever seen pizza sold by the slice in Asia, a genuinely moving moment.

There are PC Rooms on every block, and sometimes even more than that. Restaurants are the only thing that outnumber them. Even though Seoul has the highest rate of installed DSL lines of any city in the world, PC rooms (PC Bang in Korean) are still extremely popular places to play net games, watch DVDs (downtown I also saw some specialty DVD viewing parlors. I stepped in for a moment and seriously wondered what percentage of patrons actually use the no-window-in-the-door private rooms to just watch a movie with their date.) or just generally hang out.

As for what I’ve actually been doing here: not so fascinating. Wednesday I went on a tour to the castle wall of Suwon City, where the capital was briefly and unsuccessfully moved about 200 years ago, and then the recreated Traditional Korean Folk Village. If you’ve ever been to one of those Colonial Villages in the US, it’s about the same idea. There was no English language tour running that day, but I joined a Japanese group and had no trouble at all. Getting to try traditional Korean archery by the old castle wall was kind of fun- I didn’t hit the target, but at least I overshot instead of falling short. Following that I went to the Yongsam electronics district, which with the focus on PC computer parts I actually find to be a somewhat more satisfying visit than the far more famous flashy, consumerized , and vastly overrated Akihabara in Tokyo.

Thursday I briefly met the president of the university in the morning, and then went over to Yonsei University with Yongmin to get some information on their language program. I talked to a couple of students there, a Korean-American girl and a couple of Japanese guys. Overall impression -good teachers, too many foreigners, building isolated in a bizarre location separated from the main campus by a bloody annoying hill.

Yesterday I was supposed to go on a tour to that blue gate in the DMZ, which is the only point where North and South Korean soldiers actually meet (legally), but the taxi driver took me to the wrong damn hotel. Following that I decided to take a long walk and had some minor misadventures not really interesting enough to share.

Today I woke up to find that construction required the power to be off until afternoon, but I survived. In the afternoon I went to meet Ejung, a high school friend of my girlfriend Hyunju, who studied at Duke for a year and is about to head back there to begin a PHD in Pathology.

Tomorrow I go home!

Right now, I go eat! Maybe later I’ll post a couple of pictures.