Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Big City Adventure!

I’ve used this quote before, but it’s A.A. Milne (like the template of this blog) and appropriate at the moment.

I found the Bear of Little Brain in Seoul!
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

I confess that I’ve been a little lazy about traveling ever since I came to Korea. Call me self-satisfied, but I felt pretty happy with my bold move across the globe. Since it’s impossible to settle into a new place while hopping from here to there, I chose to making a home in Busan: a life with friends, family, a job, and a decent understanding of the local public transportation. I’m happy with the choice, but it’s time to stray from my corner of the Korean Forest.

So I bought my KTX ticket to the opposite corner of Korea: Seoul!

Minor Korean Pronunciation Lesson: “Seoul” not pronounced “soul” as in patch, unfortunately. There are two syllables: “Seo” and “ul.” The “eo” sound in Korean is like the “u” of “jug.” And “u” is more like “oo.”

This is Seoul's mascot Haechi. He's
supposed to be a dragon?
Saw—ool is close.

But remember how I said there were two syllables? You have to slur them together into one. Seoul.

Okay, lesson over, but keep trying. I’m not very good yet either. I’ll give you plenty of “Seoul’s” to practice with in this next paragraph:

Seoul is big, but not shocking in a vertical way like New York or Tokyo. Seoul (saw—ool!) is, in a word, sprawling. Seoul’s skyscrapers, shopping districts, parks, and population of 10 million or so are spread out over 605 square kilometers, so unlike most megacities of its caliber, Seoul’s impressiveness is more about breadth than height. (Can you say it yet? Seoul? Seoul. Seoul.) Today I ventured up Namsan Tower (N Seoul Tower) and saw Seoul’s Sprawlage: it is vast.

I thought Busan was big. It takes me an hour and a half to cross the city, after all, but Busan has only four subway lines. Seoul has upwards of fifteen with a total of 328 stations and 6.7 million people riding daily. Vast, I tell you. Sprawlage.
So. Much. Subway.

Also, with everything written out in English, there’s actually no reason to learn Hangeul here in Seoul, unlike Busan where it’s often essential on bus routes and in restaurants. Yesterday I heard Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese, and (I think) Cambodian and Viet bandied about like 500-won coins[1]. One friendly Korean staff member of a theatre I went to finished speaking fluently in Japanese (ぺらぺら pera pera, they say) only to greet us in English and proceed to explain the reservation process with flawless grammar and listening comprehension.

Seoul is a marvelous place: impressive and metropolitan and intricate and it has a magnificent array of theatres.

After only a short weekend, I find myself missing Busan’s gawking, monolingual people and its ambiguous “b” or “p” initial consonant, and its hoddeok. I think I like my corner of the Forest just a little better.

[1] Maybe one of the more difficult transitions to living not in America: using paper money and coinage on a daily basis.

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