Monday, August 29, 2011

Seoul Explorations

I can honestly say now that I am adapting to Korea. Maybe not all of Korea, but definitely the subway system, which I have grown to love dearly. (Seriously, why can't LA have a subway like Korea??) I might actually be happy to not have a car (!), and that's saying a lot for someone from LA.

It used to seem ludicrous to me that I needed to take the subway for about an hour (give or take) to go to Seoul (depending on where in Seoul I was trying to go), but now that I've made the trip a few times, it's not bad at all.

The subways here are air-conditioned to the point of frigidity and they are generally quiet, unless they're stuffed like tins of sardines (I've only experienced that once). Even inside the sardine tin, it's not nearly as loud as it could be. (God save me if I ever go to New York and have to get on one of their notoriously rank and noisy subways.)

I can usually find a seat, put in my ear buds, listen to music, read a book on my iPhone, play games, or even watch TV on my Korean phone (more about that later). The time passes by really quickly, to the point that I've never impatiently checked the clock while sitting on a subway.

This past weekend, I went to Seoul to wander around and to look at camera lenses (I got the one I wanted- I've been eyeballing that lens for years!). I saw some interesting things, trekked over a pretty large area, and never even worried about getting lost. Suddenly, Seoul does not seem as big as I had previously though. I'm counting that as a sign of adaptation to my surroundings.

There was an underground mall between the Hoehyeon (회현) and Myeong-Dong (명동) subway stations (Line 4). It was mostly closed by the time I was walking through it, but I had fun anyway. There are so many weird little shops- the ever-present nail salons and cosmetic road shops, but also a surprisingly large number of currency stores (you can buy currency from other countries) and hiking shops (literally to buy hiking supplies- Koreans are crazy about hiking).

There were also records all over the place. The interesting thing was, they didn't bother to lock up their records or anything. They were on shelves that lined entire outer walls (not even inside shops), just sitting out in the open. I love the idea of records, even if I've never owned a record player, so I took a few snaps on my phone.

째즈 is the phonetic Korean spelling for "jazz." There were random labels all over the place- some by genre, some by the Korean alphabet, some by the American alphabet. I love the way vinyl looks in its big cardboard sleeve, all lined up on shelves.
An Edith Piaf record that certainly looked original- the thing was banged up and the sleeve was yellowing, but I really liked the artwork. The woman manages to look like Edith Piaf without being a caricature; she looks rather depressed, which I think is true of Piaf and her melancholy eyebrows.
The picture above is, perhaps, a fantastic representation of my childhood. My mother, the pianist, introduced me to Tchaikovsky quite early. My father, the guitarist and drummer, had me singing Beatles songs before I ever knew what the phrase "twist and shout" might possibly mean. I love that these records were just sprawled out like this (I didn't touch any of them, lest the shopkeepers think I was going to buy something), two mismatching records that together, mean something to me.
This is the staircase up and out of the subway station. I like that natural stripes of stone were used, instead of smoothing over any trace of perfectly imperfect nature. Subway stations in Korea vary wildly, from the somewhat posh, like this one, and then the very 70s style, with orange and subway tile and kitsch. I like them all.
Shinsegae (신세계) is a famous department store in Korea. I went and picked up a few things from Shu Uemura (they don't have any Shu Uemera counters in LA, I always had to order online), admired the polish and shine of the place, and then left before I could spend any more money.
This is an interesting display at Chungmuro (충무로) Station, where I switch from Line 4 to Line 3 (my house is off Line 3). I guess it has something to do with movies? There was nothing to explain why this was inside a subway station. Perhaps they're just trying to make the stations more interesting.
I've never seen this before- see the back of the car? There are no seats. I don't know what that area is for, and nobody stood there or anything while I was on this subway car. Maybe it's for people with lots of luggage? People in wheelchairs? I have no idea.
TV on my phone- it's not just because I have a fancy phone (it's a Samsung Galaxy SII), everyone seems to get streaming TV on their phones. I see people with flip phones watching TV. The white thing coming out of the phone is the jack for my ear buds. The metal thing protruding from the phone above the headphone jack is the antennae, which pulls out quite a lot from the body of the phone. I marvel at how light my phone is when it packs such a long antennae in it (seriously, iPhone, your screen is smaller and you weigh at least twice a much, and you don't even stream TV- if it wasn't for your superior camera, I would chuck you).

The above is the browsing screen, where I can scroll though the channels (right) and a preview pops up (upper left) so I can check what's on which channels. There is no stutter, no lag, no playback issue, no sync issues between picture and sound. Back home, I couldn't even get YouTube to play a 20-second video on my phone without problems. How is streaming TV possible and even successful in Korea?
Full screen mode (I was watching "I Am A Singer (나는 가수다)" and the lighting was intentionally crazy green, it's not a weird problem with my phone. It really is like watching a portable TV. I was underground, for crying out loud, on a moving subway, and the TV never even hiccuped. American wireless technology, please get with it.

I actually spent the majority of my time in Seoul at Namdaemun Market (남대문), which is essentially like a giant, organized flea market. The shoe stores and stalls are all together, the (knock-off) purses and luggage shops are all together, the herbal medicine vendors are all together, etc. I wandered around and around and around, but I still don't think I saw the whole thing. I did manage to find a few camera places, which is where I found my lens (I really need to start taking some real pictures). I didn't take any snaps because, frankly, Namdaemun is ugly. Think flea market or swap meet, and you're pretty much there.

While I've been in Korea (almost two months!), I have realized that I am capable of things that I would never have thought to do before. I haggled down the price of my camera lens, I ask random strangers questions, I go into shops to ask for directions, I take subways alone- all things that I have never really done before. Though I may come across as assertive, I'm not really a pushy Asian woman. I've always had my sister to be pushy for both our sakes, so I was spared having to deal with strangers. My sister never had a problem going up to people and saying whatever she had to say, whereas I was always terrified of strangers.

I'm not going to lie, I'm still a little scared of strangers. Especially the pushier Korean strangers that seem to have been raised by parents with incredibly sharply pointed elbows. But I'm getting better, and I credit Korea for that- I am forced to do things that I don't like to do.

Hopefully, I don't turn into an outright Korean ajumma. Shudder.

Almost 9 p.m. and I'm still at work (!). We have a big meeting tomorrow. I'm tired just thinking about it. 


awwwjin August 29, 2011 at 1:52 PM  

Hi jeanny,

I can't remember how, but I stumbled upon your blog through another blog and started following it a while back. I meant to come clean with my "stalking," but haven't come around to it till now. I really appreciate your posts, especially the ones that wrestle with issues having to do with Korean American identity (something I can definitely relate to as a KA female raised in SoCal). I've also enjoyed following your journey to and back from NM- it reminded me of my time when I first moved to Wisconsin for work.

Anyway, just wanted to tell you that I appreciate your posts, and that I look forward to reading about your time in Korea (unless of course, this comment freaks you out and you lock your blog or something :)). I visited Korea this summer for a couple weeks, and thought it would be nice to live there short-term.

jeanny August 29, 2011 at 9:40 PM  


Thanks for the lovely words!

I have no plans on locking my blog and appreciate that you're reading. :)

Good luck in Wisconsin (especially in the winter)- I actually work with someone here in Korea that immigrated to Wisconsin for high school. He's been great, speaking to me in English when I'm tired of thinking in Korean.

Korea is a nice place to live short term, for sure- I would recommend it to anyone that would like to try it!