dmtravels

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My impressions of Korea


Jaya and I spent a week in South Korea during August 2011. We visited Seoul, Gyeongju and Geoje island. Here are some observations of mine about South Korea :

1) Almost everywhere we went, we were amazed by the loud chirping of cicadas in the trees. Even in the heart of Seoul (which has many big trees) we could hear the chirping all the time. The chirping of cicadas on different trees at any location seems to be in sync and waxes and wanes in a peculiar manner. Sometimes it rises to such a crescendo that it interferes with conversation outdoors. We came across the same phenomenon in Gyeongju and Geoje island. Nowhere else in the world had I come across such continuous and loud chirping, especially in urban regions.

2) Korea is quite warm and humid in August. Though rainy season usually ends in July, this year the monsoons are somewhat prolonged.

3) The country is highly developed, with top class infrastructure everywhere. People are very disciplined and helpful.

4) Free, clean and modern toilets are everywhere. It is mandatory for every organization or establishment to provide good toilet facilities to the public.

5) The use of electronic toilet seat / bidet is common in Korea.

Controls on an electronic toilet seat

6) The independence day of South Korea is 15 August (1945).

7) Most cars are medium to large size sedans or SUVs / trucks. Small cars or hatchbacks are few. Most automobiles are made by Korean manufacturers like Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo, Ssangyong. Automobiles are left hand drive.

8) The country is full of hills and one passes through scores of tunnels (many very long ones) while travelling. One unique thing I found is that each and every hill is covered by dense vegetation. Apparently, many ‘mountain vegetables’ essential to Korean cuisine as well as ginseng are grown on the hills.

Large number of tunnels

9) The expressways are top class and there are many excellent service stations (comprising restaurants / eateries, toilets, grocery stores, petrol pumps, etc.) along the expressways.

A typical Service Station along expressways

10) On most expressways and even in some areas in the cities, the fastest lane is reserved for buses. So buses take you fastest (apart from trains and bullet trains) from one city to another. Strict lane discipline is maintained. One service lane on expressways is always left free for ambulances, police and other emergency vehicles.

11) I saw very few goods carriers (trucks) on the expressway. I was told that most goods are carried by rail or sea.

12) Power generation is mostly by nuclear energy.

13) I liked Korean food which is quite different from Chinese food. Koreans are very fond of eating out and eateries serving traditional Korean food are omnipresent. Making traditional food is quite an elaborate process and making it at home for working couples must be difficult.

Traditional Korean food

14) Very few poor people were visible in all the places we visited. In the Seoul subway train I saw a blind beggar seeking alms. He had a portable music player slung from his neck which was playing local music at a low volume. In the subway I also saw some hawkers selling small knick knacks.

15) Punctuality is given high importance. During our sightseeing tours, inter-city travel, etc., we found stringent adherence to time schedules.

16) Though language is a big problem (few understand English), it’s a very tourist-friendly country. There are many tourist information centres which are manned by English speaking girls who are very polite and helpful. Apart from free maps, brochures, etc., computers with free internet are available for tourists at these information centres. At all sites of tourist interest there are signages in English, as well as free English speaking guides.

Tourist information readily available

17) Motels are economical (INR 2500 to 3500 per night) and don’t charge any taxes. Tariffs can be negotiated to some extent. A desktop computer with free internet in every room is standard. One neither needs to identify oneself nor sign any register while checking in / out. In spite of this, nobody checks your room when you check out, though there are many costly items in the rooms that can be easily pilfered. This country obviously runs on trust, faith and honesty.

18) Many people often leave their homes for work without bothering to lock them.

19) If one loses ones wallet, bag, camera, etc., one just has to lodge a police complaint. In most cases, people lose things due to their own negligence and not due to theft and so the lost items are usually found and the police courier the recovered items to the owner’s home at govt. expense.

20) Motels are also used as love nests by Koreans and can be rented by the hour as well.

21) Wi-fi is almost everywhere. Even in the subway, bus terminals, tourist buses and some public buses one can use free wi-fi.

22) All old historical sites, palaces and monuments are perfectly maintained. Many historical monuments which were destroyed by the Japanese occupants or due to accidental fire have been perfectly restored to their former glory.

23) The Korean War Memorial in Seoul is probably the largest war memorial in the world. It is definitely worth seeing.

Korean War Memorial, Seoul

24) Geoje island has two shipyards – Daewoo and Samsung. Between these 2 shipyards, about 150 ships of VLCC size are produced per year (3 ships being delivered every week!). I visited Daewoo shipyard and was amazed at the infrastructure, efficiency, techniques and cleanliness. Above all, work was going on smoothly without any fuss. Obviously, the work culture in Korea is on a different orbit altogether as compared to India.

Daewoo Shipyard at Geoje

25) The biggest shipyard in Korea is Hyundai (in Ulsan). I did not visit Ulsan.

26) Christianity is rapidly spreading in Korea. About 20 years ago, ratio of Buddhists to Christians was about 70:30. But now it is approximately 50:50. America helped Korea in many major ways and American culture has been embraced by many Koreans as ‘modern’. American Christian missionaries have been propagating Christianity as a ‘modern’ religion. Senior officials in many Korean Chaebols and companies are Christians and they openly favour their Christian employees in promotions, etc. over Buddhists. Koreans are apparently religion-neutral mostly, i.e., they don’t attach too much importance to religion in their day-to-day lives. Therefore, they readily convert to Christianity either for the sake of their careers or due to the ‘modern’ image of Christianity.

27) Most employers credit their male employees’ pay check to their wives’ bank account.

28) Divorce rates in Korea are one of the highest in the world.

Some more pics I took in Korea may be seen at https://picasaweb.google.com/108492058125179050996/SouthKorea

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3 Comments:

At 7:37 PM, OpenID santoshojha said...

Lovely write-up Debuda! I am surprised about the piece on Cicadas as I have not noticed it on my trips. I must be more observant the next time round.

Did you try the khimchi there? That omnipresent adjunct to all Korean meals. I wonder how it can be described to the uninitiated: pickle or a salad. I love the stuff! What I cant take personally is the beef though the sight of beef being barbecued in front of your eyes, on your table is quite appetizing. I asked for a substitute and they cheerfully barbecued some squid for me instead!

 
At 7:38 PM, OpenID santoshojha said...

Lovely write-up Debuda! I am surprised about the piece on Cicadas as I have not noticed it on my trips. I must be more observant the next time round.

Did you try the khimchi there? That omnipresent adjunct to all Korean meals. I wonder how it can be described to the uninitiated: pickle or a salad. I love the stuff! What I cant take personally is the beef though the sight of beef being barbecued in front of your eyes, on your table is quite appetizing. I asked for a substitute and they cheerfully barbecued some squid for me instead!

 
At 8:55 PM, Blogger Debashis Mukherjee said...

Thanks, Santosh. Yes, we did have kimchi and liked it. We tried traditional Korean food several times.

 

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