Disposable Blue Rios – 1

Travelling tales – emails from the road, before blogs

Seoul, 29/11/1999

Hey-ho Kids!

I’ve finally found a computer terminal that seems to send messages rather than lose them. Perhaps the other machine back at my guest house breaks down when the messages are too large. Each time I’ve tried to do a mass send. I get some weird message in Korean I can’t understand and the hostess can’t translate. Twice in two days I’ve wasted more than two hours of my life. A bit like lectures with Cratis, but I digress.

I’ve found a cinema when I wanted one and plan on eating a pizza afterwards, as a reward for the unsuccessful attempts to send email earlier. I’ll see a Korean film about something. I wonder if I can follow a foreign film without the benefit of SBS’ subtitles? While waiting for the 6.30 movie, I’ve found a 24 hr computer lounge full of Korean computer geeks ready to take over the world. The gear they use is powered by Windows 2000, whatever that means. The huge towers are big, blue ‘Millennium’ units with huge, white sub woofers on the computer next to me. I’m number 31 and if anything goes wrong, I hope these kids can help.

Here goes attempt number three.

Tip #1

For any would be travellers to Seoul in November, or probably any other northern hemisphere country, BRING CHAPSTICK.

My lips have been punishing me lately. It took four days to find some chappo. The pretty lip gloss I had did wonders at street corners, but failed to stop the chafing.

Tip #2

When you leave Kimpo International Airport Terminal 2, be sure to copy down the taxi driver complaints number located on the huge blue sign to your left as you exit the building and at the beginning of the taxi rank. Also make a record of the taxi’s number plate and the Korean character to the left of the four digit number. Ensure your driver has his (I’m yet to see a taxi driver, cyclist or motor bike rider who is a woman) trip meter turned on. If he quotes you 5,000 won for the journey, pay only the 5,000 not the 40,000 he yells for when he dumps you in some weird intersection in a suburb you can’t read the signs for, after he twice phoned the guest house to get directions.

I’m nearly getting used to the amazing cold. Perhaps it’s the delusions that kick in when the temperature rises but a wee bit. It’s warmer today and the beanie has remained in my backpack, but around my neck remains my super cheap red scarf while my hands sleep warm in my A$1.50 gloves bought at the Tongdaemun markets.

For all those people back in Oz who heard me rabbit on “Oh, not me, I love cold”, feel free to blow raspberries. I should have qualified my remarks with “I love an Australian cold”. Seoul is the real thing. At the top of Mt Namsan, outside Seoul Tower, it was apparently -5 degrees Centigrade when I visited on Friday. I walked down the mountain to better soak in the view of this enormous, seething mass of humanity, pulling the beanie further down with each step.

When I left the first guest house yesterday, I could crack the ice layer that had formed in the bird bath. This cold is no joke, it told me.

Still, I sleep warm every night and the floors of the guest houses are heated. The first night at the Wow guest house, the hot water didn’t work, so I waited another day to bathe. I guess everyone smells the same under several layers of clothing. The layers also keep out the travellers’ smells. Wow was a dirty, smelly place, more expensive than where I now live. A sign in the bathroom said “please do not put paper in this bog”. Beside the toilet was a bin bulging with paper, so join the dots.

My new place is smaller, warmer and cheaper. The hot water works and upstairs is a coffee shop that serves as much toast as I like. Today I liked five slices. I ‘m forever in my sister, Merope’s debt for the Vegemite and apricot jam she put in my ration back. I think by the time I reach Dublin, I may need a crate shipped over, a la Shane Warne.

My dears, I have a feeling I should try and send this before the computer loses my message.

I’m thus far adoring this place. The only thing I have to thank the heavy presence on US forces in Seoul and surrounds is that all the stations in the subway network are clearly marked in English, while a voice also tells you which lines I can transfer to at a particular stop. The American Force’s own FM radio station, SHITE FM I think it’s called, has announcers who spend the day saying “how ya doin’?” and playing forgettable US numbers. (Amon, if we thought the announcers for B105 and MMM were bad, they’re taught by these idiots.)

To further annoy this traveller, Kenny Wee has released a CD for Christmas which is playing outside every music shop in the city. Can I please suggest an uncomfortable place for his sax? Yeah, I know it won’t fit there, but with some gentle persuasion….

The cold can be dealt with. Tonight three Korean female university students stopped me to record my observations of Korea for their English studies project. They then stood beside me and had a group photo taken. I hope more people actually stop me to practice their English, like they did to another Australia staying at Wow. I wish I spoke more Korean than “yes” (ye), “no” (aniyo), thank you (kamsa hamnida) and excuse me.

I like this place with each new day. Tonight it’s increasingly likely I’ll stay my full two weeks, especially if free accommodation happens soon.

I’ll keep you all posted as to my movements, both bowel and physical.

Expect postcards very soon.

Thank you for reading.



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