A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I recently made the short trip from the Land of the Rising Sun to the Land of the Morning Calm to check out Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Despite Korea being Japan’s closest neighbour, with the cheap flight taking just 1.5 hours, surprisingly few of my Japanese colleagues have ever visited. Among the older generation, Korea just doesn’t seem to rank too highly on the list of “must see” destinations of the world, though many younger Japanese do make the journey.

As with all the best trips, my travelling companion The Bran Pan Man and I had made few plans, deciding instead to just go with the flow. However we ran into minor difficulties from the word go. Catching a bus from the airport, somehow we either missed our stop or were on the wrong bus altogether, leaving us a little puzzled when we were the last people left on the bus, having reached the end of the line.

We then jumped in a cab, but the driver didn’t seem to know where our guest house was, so we ended up getting out at a nearby station, which according to our map was a short walk away. However, after asking several people, some of whom made phone calls to the guest house, we ended up on a wild goose chase trying to find the place, being sent back and forth down the same streets.

At this point The Bran Pan Man got a little stressed out. Perhaps because this was the first time he found himself in a situation where he couldn’t understand anything that was going on around him, it made him feel a little uncomfortable. For me, this is a situation that I’m quite used to (most of the time in Japan!), so I was not phased, knowing we would find it eventually – which we did.

It was interesting for us to see how incredibly different Korea was to Japan, despite their close proximity. On the outside, Seoul looked similar to any large city in Japan, if a little less glitzy and a little more raw and dirty. But we soon discovered that the Koreans were quite different in personality to our Japanese hosts.

The first thing that struck us, was how friendly the Koreans were toward us. Now, the Japanese are also very helpful once you enlist their help as I have reported many times on thefunkydrummer, but in Korea, we would only have to look at a subway map with a quizzical expression for 10 seconds, before somebody would offer us their help. The shyness often seen in the Japanese did not seem to be apparent in the Koreans, who seemed much more outgoing, and jumped at the chance to be friendly.

The highlight of the trip for me was a Korean street magician we met, who went by the name of Danny. Whilst we were waiting for our Fukui friends Celeste and Sarah to change some money, we were approached by Danny, guitar slung over his back, who performed some magic for us. We ended up hanging out with him for the rest of the day, as he took us round the shopping districts, introduced us to some great food, and even took us his friend’s drum centre where I ended up banging out some beats, whilst all the time continuing to dazzle passers by with his slight of hand. We even ended up being interviewed about our opinions on fortune tellers by a TV crew.

I’d heard the Seoul was a shopping paradise, but I was a little disappointed with the goods on offer. I could not find a single t-shirt with a single bit of Korean on, which I found absolutely ridiculous. Even in Japan where Engrish is very common on t-shirts you can still find Japanese designs, but after searching some 100 stalls and shops and asking the locals, I left the country without seeing one.

It was sad to see stalls packed full of fake Nike, Puma, and other western brands, but not a single Korean t-shirt in sight. I don’t want to go all the way to Korea to buy some generic corporate brand that can be found in any city on Earth. Budding entrepreneurs take note: there is a niche for cool hangul t-shirts.

Now, everyone knows that bad experiences make for the best stories, so here’s my little portion of grief. I don’t know whether it was the super spicy food, a stomach bug, or just a little food poisoning, but my body had an internal argument with something and it let me know about it.

The famous Johnny Cash song: “And it burns, burns, burns... the ring of fire” would have been an appropriate soundtrack to the day I spent on the toilet whilst the rest of the crew were out at the border in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) trying to get a sneaky look at communist North Korea.

Thankfully, by the time we were ready to leave, there was nothing left for my body to purge and I decided to keep it that way by not eating anything more until I was safe home again, with a toilet in range.

Aside from this little illness, it was a great trip, and with some very tasty food and very friendly people I’d have to recommend Korea as a solid destination if you’re ever heading over the Asia.

Just watch out for the red hot chilli peppers...


Blogger Lewis said...

Sorry to hear about your tummy grumbles old chap! Sounds like a cracking trip though.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006 8:49:00 pm

Blogger magnus said...


Friday, April 14, 2006 11:14:00 am

Blogger Benito Aramando said...

Ooh unlucky, my rhythmically-inclined friend. Unfortunately as we all know, Runnip pays no attention to your prior arrangements.

Interesting insight into Korea. Perhaps you could arrange to visit the North next time, your journalistic tendencies could be put to good use there...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 2:50:00 am

Blogger S. Rex said...

yo, i'm wondering where you picked up that sea eagle. i'd like to get one of those for myself.

Monday, June 19, 2006 8:47:00 pm


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