Disposable Blue Rios – 2

Seoul 03/12/1999

Hey-ho Everyone,

Thank you all for coming to the today’s show. Sit back and relax as your host ducks and dives and tries to keep your attention.

Much has happened since my last issue. I’m finally speaking English again, still getting lost on the way from the subway to the guest house, thinking a lot about my Australian plans upon my return AFTER I get that bloody degree, and am so far not showing any adverse affects on my neck muscles from all the bowing and nodding the locals do.

My current guesthouse, Travellers A Motel, is exceptional. It’s more a backpackers than a motel, but don’t let that worry you. There’s single rooms available, as well as dorms. Upstairs is a coffee shop, rooms known as yogwans, which is a traditional Korean room where one sleeps on small mats and upstairs again are more rooms. Its four storeys high and is run by one family. I think the son and daughter of the Han family own the actual guesthouse on the ground floor and run it together. Mrs Han is the overseer of all the floors. She speaks fluent Japanese as a result of the Japanese invasion and occupation of Korea 1910-1945. Currently I’m sharing my dorm with Masa from Japan and James from England. Masa and Mrs Han have big talks every morning and I’ve had Masa translate a request or thanks, which is far easier than both parties (me and Mrs Han) trying to  understand the other. I can get my clothes cleaned for a very reasonable fee, which is neccessary as laundromats don’t exist in Seoul. Mrs Han also took care of drycleaning my dufflecoat, after I soiled it last Friday with the infamous Ice Choco Atrocity. It hadn’t been cleaned anytime this year, just wedged in the back of successive cupboards in Brisbane. I’m only including this detail to justify my drycleaning.

Before James and Masa arrived, I was starting to wish I could speak English with ANYONE. It’s wonderful being here, unable to follow what people are saying, then you’re handed a piece of paper and it’s “Yep, so there’s Jehova’s Witnesses in Seoul too…” There’s at least 10 daily newspapers and only 2 in English. Waiting for my train, I look over the Korean papers and try to understand the stories from the pictures or the way the paper is laid out. There must definitely be tabloid papers here, judging from the height of the headlines and the overuse of ! in said headlines. 

Also at least 10 radio stations on both AM and FM bands. Only one English one, that hopeless US Forces FM station. Today they did play Bowie’s new single, so I now move them up the tolerable scale just a wee bit. 

Korean TV is madness incarnate. More than five channels devoted soley to game shows or home-shopping. Then there’s local dramas and music videos which are exactly like ours in the West, only the faces and language is different. We watched Chinese Channel V earlier this week. The male presenter dressed and delivered his routine just like David Letterman. The music videos and pop stars are the same as ours, but more hair dye and hair product. Korea too has boy bands.

I’ve noticed too that in the music videos, the shots and camera techniques are exactly the same in China, Korea and Australia. All have the “road movie” type video with the singer in big hat miming while driving a convertible, or the girl singing while on swings, trying to get the attention of the prettiest boy in school. There’s no difference here or back there. Quite scary actually. The fashions too are American, as I may have previously recorded. Tonight we passed a shop that sells soley American football and baseball merchandise. On Tuesday while out walking in Oksu I spotted a Chicago Bulls shop, which sells nothing but stuff with the basketball team’s logo stamped somewhere. 

Almost all the clothing available from the markets are fakes, so it seems strange to see the official stores here trying to sell the same goods for a greater price. Brands such as Colorado and Chanel spring to mind. 

Yesterday myself and James, the Englishman en route to Auckland, walked through many palaces and shrines in the city heart. The first shrine we stopped in had protesters out front, so as we left I put on my journo’s hat and asked a flag bearer what Marvin Gaye said. “What’s goin’ on?”

The demonstrators were Korean private school teachers protesting against the owners of the schools, demanding better pay and labour conditions. There were perhaps 500 teachers sitting down singing and clapping. All wore red headbands and many carried placards. In the interests of subjectivity, I asked if I could buy a headband, but they were only for union members. 

I don’t think the teachers, some of whom looked young enough to be students themselves, were expecting any foreign media to observe as no signs were in English.

As we walked in to our first shrine, Chongmyo, were found ourselves behind scores of monks in pale outifts and white padded shoes. One of the monks whipped out his mobile and called someone. This seemed very strange. Further on into the open area, I saw a black light with white cardboard over it. Turns out a film was being shot there later that afternoon and all the monks were extras. But it seemed so real!

Later I learned another unsaid rule for Real Travellers. Real travellers don’t wait until six days into their journey to call their mother. I called, much to her surprise, and promised I will shortly after I’ve landed at Heathrow.

Sure, I know parents think the place could crash or something bad’s happened, but…Hang on, I’ve not told the Australian Embassy I’m here, so there’s no way anyone would find out. OK I was wrong. It won’t happen again.

I’m also dying to call Her, but I don’t know when she’ll be near a phone. 

The next stop on our journey was the magnificent Kyongbokkung Palace, just in front of the President’s home. The entrance is patrolled by uniformed and plain clothes police. In fact Seoul is teeming with uniformed police. Talk about It’s Raining Men, Hallelujah. Such as presence seems to me like a mild case of paranoia. Maybe they’re just in training for 2002 when Korea and Japan co-host football’s World Cup. 

Everyone must see Kyongbokkung. I’ve taken about eight photos, but it will never do it justice. An entire section containing ancient King’s residences is being rebuilt for 2002, but much of what already stands is original. Or as original as buildings can be after the Japanese ransacked and burnt much of Seoul’s wonderful palaces in their many invasions. I’ve learned of at least three in the past 600 years. No wonder Japan is sometimes left off Korean maps. 

I’d like to go into more detail of Kyongbokkunng because the place itself is so very intricate. Unfortunately James is waiting for me outside of this internet cafe and my tummy’s also complaining. Today we scaled a mountain and I’ve not adquately rewarded it. 

More details next entry.

I’ve decided to stay here until next Wednesday’s 12 hr, 35min flight to London. I will catch a bus to a national park at the other end of Korea before then, though.

Thank you for reading.



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