04 May 2004

Surreal in Seoul and Another Good-Bye

So today I had one of those surreal experiences. I was sitting on a bench in Duksu Palace (also spelled DeokSu, or DeokSuGung or DeokSuKung, the Gong/Kong being “palace,” but basically it is pronounced like Duck Soup, without the final “p”), admiring the pines, the calm breeze, and doing another interview for students from Ewha University. In the background the faint but rhythmic sounds of traditional Korean instruments wafted in the breeze (playing from a loudspeaker near the restrooms, it turned out, but from where I was the mood was nice).

Suddenly (though not unexpectedly because I knew it would happen), the palace grounds were filled with South Korea amateur heavy metal riffs, screaming throaty vocals, buzz saw grinding guitars, pounding drums, complete with the staccato of excessive rim-shots. Now here I was in an ancient palace, once lived in by Korea’s kings, with its gardens and classic buildings and the soundtrack was raucous metal.

And that was my surreal experience, sitting in the past and listening to the future. It was a great example of the dichotomy of the city, something seen across the street on the lawn in front of the Seoul City Hall, the heart of the Hi Seoul Festival (see, this is why I new the music was coming), where rock bands played a side stage and a samulnori procession too place on the lawn, where yoot boards were set up for players on the lawn, and people snapped pictures with their cell-phones (or “hand phones” as they are known here).

And this was a great way to say good-bye to Seoul (for now). A beautiful sunny day, clear but for the ubiquitous dust of the springtime, warm but touched with a gentle breeze, the streets crowded with Seoulites and Japanese tourists. This is Japan’s Golden Week, China’s May Day (week-long) celebrations and one day before South Korea’s Children’s Day (which falls on May 5, though if you ask most parents, they say EVERY day is children’s day). Seoul’s Hi Seoul festival is an attempt to capitalize on the tourism of the other neighbor’s holidays, and it appears to be working, at least somewhat.

So I went back to Myongdong today, and saw Shalom Coffee House (though when I tried to find it a second time to actually get a drink, I got caught in the maze of streets and never did re-find it). For clarification, the Jackie Chan restaurant I was talking about yesterday IS a real Jackie’s Kitchen, but not open yet. Also the building I thought was the Taiwanese interest section IS the Taiwanese interest section. Oh, and not far from the Chinese embassy was a pro-Falun Gong display, showing the abuses of the Chinese security forces on captured Falun Gong practitioners.

I got good, cheap Mul NaengMyun for lunch (just 3500 won) and later got ripped off at a coffee shop (after giving up my hours-long search for Shalom) and spent 5000 won on a cup of iced green tea. ACK. But the coffee shops are places where you pay for the PLACE, not the drink. They still serve as meeting places, hangouts, conversation locations or simply places to kick back and relax, people watch and write in journals.

Now, for some quick updates of previous posts. If you want to see the trailer for Arahan, you can go to the Chosun Ilbo’s movie page and click on the little trailer link (the movie was number one at the box office for the weekend – thanks to me, no doubt). Also, going way back in the posts, my son, after a few years, wont be able to ask questions about the “fancy girls” anymore, as the government is phasing out red light districts beginning in 2007. More information is available in this Korea Herald column.

Now, on to the future. Tomorrow it’s off to Beijing. I leave Incheon International Airport at 11:00 AM, take an hour and 45 minute flight to Beijing and arrive at 11:45 AM at Beijing Capital International Airport. My host is supposed to meet me their, holding a sign with my name on it. You can see the Beijing Subway HERE or HERE, my stop should be the Xidan stop. For some stuff in Beijing, see Beijing Window.

It is with mixed emotions that I leave my homestay family in Seoul and head to Beijing. Without a doubt I recommend the homestay option to people heading to a new country and interested not only in less expensive accommodations but also a more realistic taste of life in that country or culture as well as a ready source of information and conversation (not to mention the meals). If I had my way, every student at every university in the world would have at least one semester-long study abroad, living with a host family and experiencing life from a different perspective.

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