Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Leaving (my) Seoul Behind

I have now been being bewildered in South Korea for just over 11 days, and have spent most of this time with my sister Clare, who has just finished teaching English here for a year and a half. I am less literate in this country even than in Beijing, so Clare's knowledge of Korean and its 한굴 writing system has been most helpful. We spent a few days exploring the woods and mountains of Jiri-san National Park (including the highest peak on the South Korean mainland) and then spent a couple of days wandering around the area she's been living, engaged in flying paper aeroplanes from high-rise apartment blocks and other such frivolities. Yesterday morning I accompanied her to Incheon airport to catch a plane to Vietnam, and then sat in the airport for a few hours, attempting to catch up with myself. Even the smallest iota of self-catch-up organization takes many hours, and I have had so much input, and so many varied experiences during the last month that I need a good bit of time and space to process it all.

After the airport, I was going to head straight to Busan, but 서울 sucked me in, as these big cities have a tendency to do. Seoul seems to be on a frantic mission to be a demonstrative example of the most modern, perfect city possible. It seems to be doing pretty well, although as with any such city, there is plenty of evidence of homelessness. Skyscrapers abound, with many more on the way, and in the spaces between them, extreme looking rocky peaks form a backdrop that seems almost as planned as the city. Information and advertising are everywhere you look, and the whole effect is a frenetic mix of organization and disorganisation. I can imagine Ulaan Baatar becoming very like this city in about 10 or 20 years time. 北京, by comparison, seemed very chilled out.

Last night, I found myself on the first bed that I have slept on (not including dormitory bunks) since leaving Jo and Tom's Wood Green flat 33 days ago. I had been looking around for a 짐질방 that Clare had told me was opposite Seoul station. Since there were a myriad of things opposite the station (from the 서울Hilton to the 東京 Japanese restaurant), the 짐질방 eluded me, and I eventually found myself wandering a backstreet in the direction of a sign saying "Motel". Long before I reached this, however, an old lady approached me asking if - or insisting that - I wanted a motel room for the night. Without giving me a chance to refuse, she ushered me down the road in the opposite direction, around the corner through crowds of drunken businessmen, and up a dingy staircase into a corridor above a row of restaurants. She told me that checkout time was midday, and she would charge me 30000 won (just over £15). While this is 3 times the cost of a Chinese or Mongolian dorm room, and several times what it would have cost me for a mat on the floor of a 짐질방 (which may also be filled with drunken businessmen in varying states of slumber), it turns out to be fairly reasonable for what I got: a not-overly-dingy private bedsit with TV, aircon and ensuite shower. Pointing out the shower, the lady told me in no uncertain charades that I stank terribly and had better use it ASAP.

Having de-stinked, slept off yesterday morning's early start, and checked out - by leaving the room key in the ashtray and nodding to the lady as I passed her standing in the same spot where she had originally accosted me - I found a place to fill up on supposedly meat free 김밮 (which nevertheless contained some sort of reconstituted pigflesh). Thence to the station, and I am now being whisked backwards on the Southbound KTX.

KTX is Korea's high-speed train, and is almost indistinguishable from France's TGV. I was excited to notice, as I entered the carriage, a sign on the door saying "@ internet Zone". Like on the Brussels-Koln Thalys, however, the internet service is only for those willing to pay extra money. We have just stopped at 대구, which means that by spending the journey typing, I have missed the chance to see from the train the town called 구미 where Clare has been living. Now at last I am en-route to 부산, Korea's second largest city and the main port for ferry crossings to Japan, in search of a place to stop and spend a few days catching up with myself, perhaps filling in a few of the glaring holes in this blog, and then a few more days formulating a plan for Japan.


clelba said...

you made a few spelling mistakes, but good work in the hangul in general :-P

Anonymous said...

What is it to catch up with oneself? What is there to catch up with more than the eternal round of physical sensations and mental illusions? On my recent retreat I had this deep sense that there IS nothing substantive experiencing the eternal round of physical sensations changing and emotional clinging onto some states and resisting others. There IS nothing else - our whole idea that we exist as an independent experiencer of what is happening is just a mental facade, another aspect of delusion.
But anyway - I look forward to reading more of what happens when you really have caught up with yourself!!