4 May 2003 - Seoul Tower, Seoul
Walking around Seoul

Seoul is a large city. After the compactness of Saigon and Phnom Penh, it comes as a surprise to the senses that it takes an hour to get across the city using the subway. At least, it's a very good and far-reaching subway that pretty much goes anywhere you want to go in the city (unlike subways in some capital cities I could mention that don't even allow you to change lines without exiting the station). And people actually line up when getting on trains. Incredible.

Actually, the main sites are all quite compact and close together, so it does make some sense to walk around parts, but where I'm staying and that part is some distance away.

Seoul is a mix of large highways meshed with narrow, twisting alleyways that zig and zag to nowhere in particular. The more interesting shops seem to be hidden away in the small corners.

Walking around is a rewarding experience. Street vendors dot some of the main thoroughfares where you can buy anything from snacks to plugs to this funny wine that has a centipede in it. Meant to be good for your health, I'm sure.

The only downside is that everything is in Korean, and not too many people speak English well, but sign language works well enough.

There are a number of underground shopping malls hidden away under the street surface. It's a bit of a lottery as to what you'll find there, but it's good fun to dip in and take a look.

Amongst the more interesting thing I saw was Tagpol Park. It's like a normal park whose inhabitants have been suddenly aged by thirty or forty years. Everywhere you look, there are senior citizens dancing, excercising, playing chinese chess or go, orating, arguing. I half-expected to see them zooming around on rollerblades.

If you want to see active young koreans, try the Olympic park, with a large square seemingly tailor-made for roller-blading. Even at night there are people playing roller hockey, or having a go on motorised skateboards.

A big difference between Seoul and the other cities I've been to so far is that people here heed the trafffic signals. Red means stop, green means go, regardless of what the traffic is like at that time. People wait patiently on kerbsides and then move in a mass exodus as soon as they're given the signal. Cars are expected to stop and give way. Makes a big difference from dodging traffic in Saigon, I tell you.


posted on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - permalink
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