Location: Seoul, South Korea.
I hiked the amazing Seoul Fortress Trail yesterday. I started with a cafe Americano in-hand, and did the hike backwards, apparently, and in a tank top, which is indecent. 18 kilometers, 2 checkpoints, and 90 security personnel later, I reached Waryong Park and trotted past a group of ten older Korean fellows kickin’ it on a badminton court.
“Nice to meet you!” yelled one man. “Nice to meet you, too!” I yelled back. They laughed like schoolboys, and the guy shouted, “Hey! Next…time…you come here…I will kiss you!” I shouted back, “You are a show off!” (I think I could have yelled “You are a hampster!” and it would have been equally as entertaining to those guys.) American women abroad are often perceived as loud and skanky. Well, we’re also fun. (I hope I don’t get into trouble.)
Stuff You Can Read:
- Navigating the ‘slut factor’ abroad
- Norwegian woman raped in Dubai, sentenced to 16 months in prison
- Canadian woman hates dating English men
- CNN in Seoul: “no pants” look has become a fashion staple
Photo: Rika Safrina
Navigating Seoul on Free Wi-Fi.
One of my goals on this trip to Asia was to learn how mobile tech addresses the usability of urban infrastructure for cross-cultural, cross-linguistic travelers. Seoul might be the most advanced laboratory in the world for this kind of accessibility. From Wikipedia:
Seoul has…the world’s highest fibre-optic broadband penetration…the world’s fastest internet connections with speeds up to 1Gbps…[and] the world’s largest subway network…featuring 4G LTE, WiFi, DMB and WiBro. [The subway system includes access] to Incheon International Airport, rated the world’s best airport seven years in a row… A UNESCO City of Design, Seoul was named the 2010 World Design Capital.
From The Economist:
In 1960, in the aftermath of a devastating war, the exhausted south was one of the poorest countries in the world, with an income per head on a par with the poorest parts of Africa. By the end of 2011 it will be richer than the European Union average… South Korea is the only country that has so far managed to go from being the recipient of a lot of development aid to being rich within a working life.
[And it] has combined growth with democracy [and equity]. Though its spurt began under a military dictator, Park Chung-hee, for the past 25 years the country has had a vibrant parliamentary system. … [In 2010, its] Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality…was 0.31, a bit worse than Scandinavian countries, a bit better than Canada.
So how do you feel about this?
South Koreans are among the world’s most frequent phone upgraders, buying about 15 million new mobile phones each year… To tackle the issue of [e-waste], the Seoul city government…employs elderly or low-income people to break [down discarded mobile devices] and process the parts.
People say there are many Koreas; Seoul is just one. Leave the city, and the spoken English (and romanized signage) disappear. But this city is the most accessible place I’ve ever been. Free museums. Epic hiking accessible by public transit. 24-hour cafes (with free, fast wi-fi, no table time-limits, and tons of power outlets). Locals say wins like this are what led the Seoul Special City’s mayor Lee Myung-bak to become president in 2007. (Currently, ROK has its first female president in office.) Here’s Park Won-soon, the new mayor of Seoul:
Park has had a thirty-year history as a social justice and human rights activist… In 1994, he was a principal founder of the nonprofit watchdog organization People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy which monitors government regulatory practices and fights political corruption. In 2002, Park [began running] The Beautiful Foundation, a philanthropic group that promotes volunteerism and community service and addresses issues of income inequality.
This place is kind of a dream come true – even as the dream is changing. In a country where language, ethnicity, and identity have long been intertwined (and the first mixed-blood children were leftovers from a terrible war), xenophobia is a part of the multi-cultural experience. But foreigners like me can open Google Maps and see romanized location names, and navigate easily to any destination.
Here are three written versions of a subway station:
- Hangul (Korean alphabet): 동대문 역사 문화 공원 역
- romaja (Latin alphabet): dongdaemun yeogsa munhwa gong-won yeog
- romanized: Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station
And the difference between transcription and transliteration:
It’s both amazing and tragic, right? Foreigners can access tourist payload without learning the native language or wading through strange narratives of meaning. (Why are building numbers not sequential? Because they are assigned like birthdays, when buildings are constructed.) Mobile tech enables users like me to bypass differences; it improves our ease of access to a more uniform experience where destinations (not journeys) are paramount. And the more you lean on technology, the more profoundly you will remain foreign.
Or not. Curmudgeons may cringe, but being wired enabled me to find language exchange Meet-Ups where I can make my Korean intelligible, and grab some basic Chinese before I land in PEK (Beijing). We may not learn and travel the way explorers have in the past, but we are learning and traveling. Wandering far, and finding a smaller world. I feel like I’m in Star Trek.
More Things You Can Read:
- Article about Hines Ward and mixed-blood children in South Korea
- Video from Al Jazeera English with more discussion of this issue
- Wikipedia entry for Prostitutes in South Korea for U.S. Military
- Thesis paper from an undergrad at OSU: “Purebloodness, Multiculturalism, and Living Alongside the U.S. Military Empire“
Learn to Read Korean in Ten Minutes.
- Yes, you can!