I traveled to South Korea primarily because I had to “escape” China. On a week of national holidays, the “Golden week”, China is not very nice for foreign tourists, because half a billion Chinese are on vacation and if you want a train ticket, a hotel or a table at that nice restaurant, you can pretty much forget about it.
After internet-less North Korea, South Korea was a BIG change in that department, with 2 of the 3 hotels I stayed at providing the fastest upload and download speeds I ever measured in the last year of travels. Connections are everywhere, like in the subway, but sometimes it is difficult to get access without a Korean cell phone number (to get the password by text message).
I recently wrote about the fact that North Koreans can sometimes be strange, but the Southerners are also quite capable of doing it once in a while. “In your future, I see a flaming ball of twisted metal…”.
Strange and interesting.
All three hotels shared one feature I had never seen anywhere in the world. The rooms provide all sorts of toiletries, but not of the disposable kind: hair spray, moisturizing lotion, toothpaste, perfume, etc. Very convenient. I guess they assume their clients are normal human beings who won’t put crazy glue in the shampoo bottle or poison the toothpaste. Of course, as a North American, I assume they will, so I didn’t touch anything.
The welcome package at my first hotel included the normal set of toiletries, as well as condoms and sensation dampening cream. Then I realized the parking was surrounded by very high fences hiding the cars from street view. Right. Unlike the other clients, I had neglected to bring my secretary with me, so I only used the soap.
The South Koreans eat the same things as the North Koreans, just more of it. Excellent seafood soup, which I ordered by pointing at what someone else was eating. Outside Seoul, I was surprised to find few people who understood English. With so many adds in North America for English teaching positions in Korea, I would have assumed differently.
They eat kimchi, the traditional fermented vegetables, but they also eat KFC, and they have the fat kids to prove it.
Glitzy Gangnam is where I stayed in Seoul, but I doubt I picked up the famous style. It’s a very flashy place and I saw something I had never seen: a man got out of his Maserati and gave his keys to a valet… at a coffee shop! The Starbucks-like place had three valets working the parking lot. I also notice the valet backed up the Maserati right next to another Maserati.
Other unique things about the Gangnam neighbourhood:
1 – Rubber sidewalks. Very comfortable when you walk long distances.
2 – Every half hour you run into women who got into severe car accidents or were terribly beaten.
3 – Every 5 blocks you see a plastic surgeon’s office. Oh, wait, that explains number 2.
After Pyongyang it was fun to see advertisements again, on a massive scale.
But it came with Christmas decorations in October, which completely disgusted me.
I flew to the popular touristic island of Jeju, South of the mainland. Lots of festivals there and when you don’t plan your stay the way I did, you arrive right between two festivals.
The weather was also not cooperating. I wanted to climb some famous volcano in the middle of the island, but ended up doing a lot of this. I also spent a lot of time sorting through my thousands of pictures of North Korea and writing about the experience.
I did make it to Jeju’s Cultural Centre during a brief interlude of sunshine.
The most interesting thing was to realize that visiting museums really seems to be a collective activity in South Korea. This is the centre’s car parking lot. You would think the place is empty.
Across the street, the bus parking lot!
As you can see around this recreation of traditional Jeju fishing boats, only groups in the museum. I think I was the only person alone and I may have seen 2 or 3 groups of only 2 people.
It was an interesting place, when they bothered to translate.
A 14 m Bryde’s whale, the largest on display in Asia.
And re-creations of delicious traditional dishes of Jeju. They also had “Salted viscera of sea-urchin”. I’m glad this was a museum and not a restaurant. Especially when I order by pointing!