Club Soda and Salt

No more stains

48 Hours In Seoul

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on October 22, 2004

So I’ve been here in Seoul for a few weeks now, and it seems like as good a time as any to talk about what I’ve been doing while I’m here. I won’t include work, since that would (a) get me fired and (b) bore you all to death.

Anyway. I figured I’d talk about the weekend I’ve spent here so far (the other weekend was in Shanghai, which I’ll talk about later). I may cheat and include pictures and events that didn’t happen on that weekend, because I’m just that kind of guy.

I woke up early on Saturday morning to head off to the DMZ. The tour was… interesting. First of all, there’s the absurdity inherent in making a touristy tour thing out of something so very serious and depressing. To try to deal with this, the Koreans have tried to make the tour less serious (there’s an amusement park near the place you go to buy tickets near the Freedom Bridge) and less depressing (there is _NO_ discussion of present day North Korea).

Really, that theme pervades throughout the tour. The first thing you do is head into the DMZ Pavilion, where they have youwatch a movie about the DMZ’s history. After talking about the war and how painful it was, there’s a lot of talk about the fact that the DMZ is now something of a wildlife refuge (which is what happens when you stop humans from going somewhere), and they’re going to preserve it once reunification happens.

And, in case you’re wondering, people REALLY want reunification to happen here. They want it very badly. I don’t blame them, but I’m also surprised at how little attention is paid to just how difficult any reunfication will be. Some articles in the paper will address various issues (like whether North Koreans will be allowed to emigrate en masse to Seoul), but in general, a lot of the discussion of the issue seems to be a lot like that movie – “Look! The birds and flowers are telling us to make peace! Peace!” (I’m not being a prick here, I’m actually paraphrasing part of the presentation). I know people need to be hopeful about this, but too much optimism can be dangerous, you know? Attaching a little more gravity to the mess is probably in order, I think. I know Steve felt similarly when he visited a couple years ago.

Anyway. After the movie, we headed into the Third Infiltration Tunnel, which the North tried to build to launch a surprise attack. Very Shawshank of them. The tunnel itself was pretty underwhelming. It was about as exciting as, well, a hole in the ground. The only thing of note is that their are a lot of signs explaining how the North Koreans tried to claim that the South had built the tunnel to frame the North, but how various features of the tunnel that I forget show that the North built it. Lonely Planet and its ilk go on about how the tunnel is a reminder of the tension here and so on, but I think the little signs saying “mine field!” and the limits on camera use accomplish the same thing.

The next spot was the Observatory Deck, from which you could see North Korea. This was by far the best part of the trip. Just the allure of seeing into the world’s most isolated country, I guess. A Korean soldier give an explanation of what you’ll see, and off you go to the deck. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any good pictures, since they make you stand about 10 feet away from the edge when you’re taking photos, so that you can’t snap any pics of South Korean installations. All I’ve got is the pic I posted last week. Still, very cool.

The trip ended at the Dorasan train station, which is the last train station in South Korea before heading over the border (there’s now a train line that goes into NK to serve various SK investments there). The train station is a prime spot for observing the hopefullness of the South, as can be seen with signs telling you where to go should you want to weekend in Pyeongyang. It’s also a prime spot for observing… former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung! Which is admittedly not that exciting, but for some reason our entire tour group decided to play paparazzi and snap photos when we saw him (he’d been there to give a press conference). So, more Kim Dae Jung info here.

The afternoon was spent checking out Gangnam, which is apprently the hot place to live in Seoul. Eh. Interestingly, some article I read that talked about the trendiness of Gangnam, and as an example of said trendiness, mentioned that while your average Seoul teen hangs out in the Baskin Robbins, the rich kids in Gangnam hang out at Haagen Dazs. I was not aware that Haagen Dazs was where the cool kids hang out, but there you go. Also, what is up with the Korean obsession with American ice cream chains?

Right. So Gangnam was pretty underwhelming. Both of its draws, the COEX Aquarium and the Korea Electronics Fair, were disappointing. I did get to see many, many LCD TVs, though. Also, iRiver probably deserves to beat the crap out of Apple, but probably won’t, despite their copious use of hot women and red VW Beetles. Ironic, no?

Sunday was taken up by the Electronics Fair, Gyeongbukgung palace, and the Korean War Memorial. The last of those is very interesting, but I will have to get to that in a later post. I need to be up in six hours to catch a plane to Japan, where I will get even more story fodder. See you then.


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