Haeundae Beach from a boat.

Korea, observed

So I made it to Korea and back. Since I was not even there for 48 hours, I don’t feel qualified to make an in-depth analysis. But below are some observations:

  • The Internet really is super fast, which is indicative of how technologically savvy they are. Everyone on the subway seemed to have a Samsung Galaxy, or to a lesser extent, an iPhone. There were two desktops in our hotel room.
  • If you look closely at people, they start to look the same. I don’t mean this in a racist way. The women have the same eye shape, the same trace of double eyelid, the same makeup style. And the skin on their faces! They range from powdery pale to a pasty Kabuki white, but none of them had a healthy glow. It was kind of unsettling.
  • Then there are the conglomerates, Lotte and Samsung. They were like BnL in Wall-E. Lotte has department stores everywhere, and its snacks make up most of the 7-Elevens. Samsung phones are everywhere, and they are even branching out into fashion. There was a Samsung Galaxy store that wasn’t selling phones, but clothes for men and women. Samsung also has a clothing brand called 8ight Seconds. And these are only the parts of the company that the average consumer will notice. I began to understand why David Mitchell chose to make Korea the basis for his futuristic, corporatist dystopia in Cloud Atlas.
  • Korean food in Korea is not much different from all the other Korean food I’ve had. Even though I’m not a fan, I wanted to eat it while I was in Korea — to give it a chance, to see if there was anything I was missing out on, to like it. I tried, but I just can’t. It seems they cover every dish with a load of sauce, and they really like to use that really red, spicy-looking-but-not-spicy sauce, and they always have kimchi and pickled radish. If it’s not pickled, it’s got some sort of gooky mayonnaise-like sauce drizzled over it. I did like their giant dumplings, though. And jeon is not bad.
  • I thought that since Korean shared the same writing system with Chinese once upon a time, I could try to make some links between the two languages. Sometimes I did notice similar individual words — for instance, mountain is “shan” in Chinese and “san” in Korean. But how does “ni hao” become “annyeong haseyo” or “xie xie” “go ma sseum ni da“? The weirdest part was that I thought I could understand some snippets of what was said because it sounded like Chinese, but I wasn’t sure if it was in fact Chinese or if it just sounded similar.

I hope the list doesn’t sound too negative because I really did enjoy the trip. It was very interesting to see very noticeable differences between China and Korea, especially since they tend to blur together in the West. Koreans definitely struck me as very pleasant, well-adjusted people. Considering that in the past century, they have been bullied by Japan, had Western powers meddle around with it, and been torn apart by a civil war, they seem to have moved past it all to concentrate on the present and future (unlike this certain other Asian country, ahem). They have embraced many “Western” ideas, such as doughnuts, ice cream, baseball, and pubs, but they also hold onto their traditions well. At least in terms of businesses, there is a good mix of foreign and domestic, and Koreans on average don’t seem to prefer one over the other. On first glance, Korea seems have found a good balance, which China hasn’t been able to get right.

Photo: Haeundae Beach from a boat.

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