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When we landed at Gimpo Airport, I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first visit to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and I didn’t know much about the city (neither did I speak Korean).
The immigration officer was the first good sign – she stamped my passport without showing any emotions or asking questions. That was a relief from the nightmarish dealings with the US and Russian officers, who always display some sadistic pleasure in humiliating you (I guess they don’t have much of a life).
After clearing that obstacle, I am worried what to expect outside of the airport. My memories from other Asian countries are not that good – in Istanbul as soon as you leave the gates, you are immediately surrounded by a bunch of smelly characters in dirty clothes, who claim they are taxi drivers. If you are stupid enough to get in their cars (and I was), you’ll end up losing a lot of money – there are no meters and if you refuse to pay the excessive fee they demand, you may lose more than your money. In Turkey, to many people it’s a matter of honour to rip off a non-Muslim (or gyaur in Turkish, the equivalent of the Arab kaffir).
Anyway, I don’t see such people in Seoul. There are taxi drivers, but they are real and don’t go after you. The girl in the info booth outside tells me that the best way to get to my hotel is by bus – it’s actually a luxury bus with wide seats and free soft drinks (the ticket is only $7). The only bump is that I don’t know I have to fasten my seat belt – the driver comes to my seat, bows, and asks me to fasten it, then apologizes for the inconvenience.
On the way to the city I see mostly high-rise buildings. It looks a little bit like Moscow under Brezhnev, but the buildings are better designed and even better maintained. Later I learn that during the Korean War Seoul was almost completely destroyed, very few of the old buildings survived. When the Korean economy started to pick up, millions of people moved to the capital. That drove the real estate prices up, so the apartments became the most common accommodation.
One of the first things you notice about Seoul is how clean the city is. It has the look and feel of a Western city, but it is much better maintained. The subway
is squeaky clean, it provides written information and announcements in three languages (there are about 10 lines). The ticket vending machines also work in
three languages and accept all kinds of payments, all at the price of approximately $1 per ticket. You can’t help but compare that with Toronto, where for $3 you get two lines with filthy trains and grumpy TTC union people in the ticket booths, who yell at you for using too many pennies when paying.
The other striking difference compared to North America is how few foreigners you see in Seoul. There are no niqab gargoyles, no stinky halal food joints, and no head-bangers praying in the streets. The few outsiders are either tourists or professionals working for some companies. Yet, despite the lack of diversity, the Koreans are doing just fine.
When meeting local people, I had fun trying to explain the concept of multiculturalism that had infected Europe and North America. They had hard time understanding how in our countries we can let some desert fanatic in and let him take control over our schools and other public institutions. It is incomprehensible to them that somebody would change their way of life to accommodate some foreign culture.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Koreans are hostile when dealing with foreigners – on the contrary, they are courteous and polite, but they don’t like it at all if you go against their customs and values. A Muslim fanatic, who would have everybody in Europe bend over on his whims, would have no chance of getting the same treatment in Korea. Multiculturalism is truly a Western disease.
Food is not multicultural either – pork dominates the Korean cuisine, which our desert friends wouldn’t approve. The American fast food chains also adapted to the local tastes – Burger King offers bulgoki burger (that’s a traditional Korean meat dish). Kentucky Fried Chicken includes more spices in the recipe. And Pizza Hut and the other pizza joints have some odd toppings like corn, mayonnaise, shrimp, etc. (just like in Japan).
Another great thing in Korea, if you are a foreigner, is that nobody is trying to swindle you. There are no beggars or kids running around selling post cards or other trinkets at inflated prices (like in Turkey or Thailand). The money exchange places give you a rate similar to the bank exchange, unlike Singapore and Thailand (where they tried to cheat me on the exchange).
In case you think I want to present Korea as a bed of roses, let me tell you that they have their problems. There are bums, whom I saw only near the central railway station. They look really destitute (unlike the professional beggars in Toronto, who beg, get welfare payments and all other benefits that the late Jack Layton got for them).
Despite that, Seoul is a very safe city where you can go out late at night without running the risk of being robbed and mugged (like in the multicultural North America).
Here are more pictures of what I saw in Seoul.
A few more views from downtown:
As I said, there are very few older buildings that survived the war, this is one of them:
And this is a monument not far from it:
Another building, which survived, was the old railway station:
Right next to it they build the new station, which is of course much bigger:
Seoul has many large department stores, which look exactly the same as those in North America and Japan. There is also a huge market in the downtown area, which occupies many streets. Here is what it looks like:
There is a huge Olympic Park, where the 1988 Olympics took place. The Peace Gate is located near its entrance:
There are quite a few artworks spread throughout the park. Cesar’s The Thumb is one of them:
And here is even more street art:
A very high percentage of the religious Koreans are followers of Christianity (mostly of the Protestant churches). Many different church building could be seen all over the city (there are no mosques). This is the huge Methodist Church near the Olympic Park:
As with all good things, this trip had to end with going home. I left Canada on September 21, when there was a fight between the stewardesses union and Air Canada, which could have resulted in a strike. The appointments in Japan and Korea were too important to make them dependent on any union, so instead of the direct flight from Toronto to Tokyo, I had to use the United Airlines.
That brings me to the initial point of my post. I had to deal again with the US border Nazis. After landing in Chicago, I had to go again through the US paranoid security. While waiting at the long immigration line, I was eventually directed to a certain booth. When I went to that shorter line, a short blonde girl with a big gun hanging over her hip asked me to move to another one. When I timidly told her that the previous officer told me to get to this line, she summoned all aggressiveness of her squeaky voice to yell at me: “I told you to go over there!!!” Coming from a psychotic girl with a big gun, the command was difficult to disobey.
After overcoming this hurdle, I had to line up to be searched and groped by the TSA agents – that went better, compared to the gun girl, they were only moderately rude. Because of the long time spent with those nice people, I missed my connecting flight to Toronto and had to book another one.
While waiting at the gate, I was treated to an unadvertised multicultural bonus. A Pakistani family showed up to take the same flight. Only the father wore Western clothes, mom and the daughter (no more than 8 years old) had hijabs, grandma was with fully covered face and the two boys ran around in those long white robes. They brought with them boxes with meals from the nearby McDonald’s. When they were done, the floor was littered with ketchup stains, squashed French fries, used napkins, and even pieces of Pringles. None of them tried to clean up (why should they, the kaffirs would do it for them). Of course, nobody from the waiting people dared to question their “diverse” eating habits.
Ain’t it grand that we have all that diversity?
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