25 April 2004

Welcome to Seoul

This morning we forgot to get up, so it was a mad dash to get ready and down to the bus station, on board five minutes before it pulled out of Kwangju and headed for Incheon. All along the route (well, at least the parts I was awake for) are small farms, a reminder that despite its technology and industry, South Korea is still primarily an agricultural society. Perhaps that explains both the friendliness and the confusion as the country rushes through decades or centuries of growth all at the same time.

At the Incheon international airport, there was an unexpected demonstration of security forces in action. Apparently some absent minded traveler left a small suitcase sitting near a bench, and the South Korean security in their black uniforms swooped in to take control of the situation. The area around the bag was roped off, the bomb sniffing machine brought in, as was the portable x-ray machine (which takes a sort of really oversized Polaroid, right through the bag). The contents were then displayed all over the floor of the airport as the security forces sorted and recorded all items. They were then neatly repacked and the bag taken away. All in all an interesting view of security procedures in action, though if it HAD been a bomb, I wouldn't be writing this now, given the proximity they allowed the curious to get to the suspicious suitcase...

After a sad farewell to the family, I hopped a bus to Kimpo, transferred one subway stop and am now at my homestay in Seoul with a very friendly small family of three. I have internet access, my own bathroom and bedroom, and company when I need it, as well as folks from which to ask directions and get guidance. It is a little odd to them, I think, that I have a Korean wife and know some of Korean "culture," but I am happier being here than in a hotel all alone. I really don't know Seoul very well (if it weren't for the subway, I'd probably never get around here) so it is useful to stay with people who know the area. Tomorrow it is off to the USO to get my ticket for the DMZ tour, then off to the War memorial and perhaps to meet a few folks.

I have been looking at the pictures of the North Korean rail explosion and the devastation is amazing. (Here and Here) The hole where the explosion took place is massive, and parts of the city resemble pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are some interesting bits of everyday North Korean life visible in the furniture and items being carted out of the rubble, something I will be looking at more over time to compare to South Korea. At first glance, the basic furnishings are the same, the large free-standing closets being the most noticeable, but the design and decoration is much simpler. Pyongyang has taken the important step of asking for aid, publicizing the incident, and even asking South Korea directly for assistance. It is interesting to watch how Pyongyang handles the incident further, whether it can gain assistance in revitalizing not only the immediate area but the rail lines overall -- something that South Korea, China and Russia may pay for if they want a connected rail system with each other.

Oh, on a parting note, here is the latest SARS update from China.

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