Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Notes from Korea trip

Things note-worthy about the Korea trip:
1. Koreans dress well. Like, seriously. The entire street of Seoul is filled with good-looking, well-dressed, well made-up people. For ladies: stockings, cute boots, coats, scarves, sleek and shiny hair, combed lashes, porcelain complexion. And the guys look spiffy in their sweaters, vests, slim-cut jeans and loafers. Even our coach driver (who's sort of cute and is very polite and gentlemanly: see picture below) wears a suit to work. Koreans really do seem to put a lot of stock into their appearance, and that's not a bad thing. Better a whole street of immaculately-dressed people than sloppily-dressed ones, right?
2. Seoul is very much like Singapore, which isn't surprising, given how both are pretty metropolitan. The traffic in Seoul, however, is far worse than that in Singapore. The jams can last for hours, since the roads are too narrow and there are too many cars on the road.
3. Koreans don't seem to like Japanese a lot, given their history. Singaporean's might have been invaded by the Japanese before, but our older generation don't seem to detest them the way the older generation of Koreans seem to. They seem more receptive towards Chinese than Japanese.
4. Jeju is absolutely delightful. Period. It's not a UNESCO World Site for no reason. Fields of wildflowers, the expanse of sea and sky stretched out before you, cliffs of basaltic rock (Jeju is a volcanic island), the salty sea breeze in your hair. I enjoyed the four days in Jeju more than in Seoul, since we mostly just shopped in Seoul. And shopping in Seoul in the month of October yields practically nothing. The clothes they sell are winter wear that I can't possibly wear in sunny Singapore, so I only ended up with a wallet, a watch, some earrings and notebooks.

5. Koreans aren't really the most well-mannered people in the world. Not at all. They push, they shove, and the don't apologise for pushing and shoving; they cut queues, they talk loudly; they don't move out of the way even though they see you coming and they need to move. That said, though, their service staff are friendly and professional; it's just the people on the street who give them a bad name.
6. Koreans eat a lot of meat. Practically every meal we ate consisted of barbecued pork or chicken, along with seaweed, miso soup and of course, kimchi. Still, given that I'm a meat-lover (can't help it - it's just too good), I'm not complaining. Although sometimes it's nice to go a little light on meals. Good thing we had hotel breakfast on occasion, so I could load up on greens.
7. Koreans take pride in their heritage and identity. They are one of the three "pure blooded" ethnic groups in the world, like the Jews (I forget the last one) - no racial mixing - and they are deeply nationalistic partly because of that. There is discrimination of mixed-bloods, like my tour guide, who's Korean Chinese - he was passed up for a bank job in favour of a full-blooded Korean, before he went to become a tour guide.
8. Korea is cleaner than Singapore. Even the public toilets are clean, dry and stocked with toilet paper. No questionable grime on the door handle or footprints on the toilet or dirty water on the floor.
9. The cost of living in Korea is ridiculously high. An apple for S$2.50, a box of grapes (less than 500g) for S$5.00, and a typical meal costs at the very least S$7.00, even something from the roadside stalls. My dad and I spent about S$300 in a week on groceries alone.
10. The younger generation of Korean guys are pretty gentlemanly. The older generation might be reputed to be chauvinistic, but the younger guys I've come across are affectionate to their girlfriends (this teenage guy piggybacked his girlfriend at the amusement park when she was straining to catch a glimpse of the floats) and filial to their mothers (this guy who couldn't be older than 20 scrambled to open up his umbrella to shield his mother from the drizzle and put his arm around her to lead her across the road). They're big on family and responsibility.
I'm trying to upload all the 1000 over photos on Facebook, but 'tis an arduous task and I've just about exhausted all my patience after countless failed attempts. So I'm just going to try again tomorrow!

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