Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Seoul spirit

One of the most startling aspects of Korean urban spaces when we arrived was the number of high-rise appartment and office blocks.  This is in stark contrast with Japan's mainly low-rise cities.  It seemed so dramatic.  Now as we wander the streets of Seoul it seems normal again that you can only see the sky by craning your neck.  It gives you the strange sensation of being penned-in.  In the Donghae area where we are staying there are thousands of youngsters filling the streets and the shops.  It's supposed to be hip and cool around here, but that's not immediately apparent.  It's just that everyone is a teenager. Is that hip? 

busking in Donghae
Invariably, because of spending the last five months or so in Japan, we end up drawing comparisons.  You rarely see an advertising hoarding in Japan.  The shops are all tucked away into arcades in the downtown.  Here the consumerism is in your face, everywhere.  One Korean woman told us that although Japan is rich, the people are poor.  It's an interesting view.  We think the Japanese enjoy a very high standard of living, even in the countryside, despite their infamously cramped living spaces.  But wages are low and there's no conspicuous consumption.  In Seoul we are seeing wealthy people but clearly ones with very little too.  Economically Korea is growing faster than Japan and while it continues to develop Japan seems to be on a very long and slow decline.   There's a buzz on the streets of Seoul that we didn't get in Tokyo - but that might just be because the Japanese don't do 'buzz' - they only do 'hum'.

I am washed up and worn out and disinterested.  I am looking forward to our break in Laos, house-sitting for our friends, and want only to rest.  Gayle goes out to explore some of the old palaces and temples and the neighbourhoods of traditional houses that have survived the developer's punishing hand.  These have survived by attracting tourism.  There are also some busy markets.  To get around she takes the subway, which looks large and messy but is very easy to use.  I find some plastic sheeting and tape to wrap our bikes for our AirAsia flight to Chiang Rai.  Our flight is a morning one and to save money we intend to sleep at the airport. 

We meet Brad at the end of the cycle path which has taken us from the city and along a canal to the sea just north of Incheon.  He's a friendly chatty fella who has come to say hello and kindly  show us the way to the airport, which is on an island just offshore.  There are two expressways to the island, neither of which we can cycle.  But we know there's a ferry - Brad is directing us to the place where can catch it.  For some reason it seems to be a lot further than we thought and we finally reach the ferry after a long ride between the docks and the city.  On the island we still have a way to go and it's almost 5 in the afternoon.  We grab a very late lunch of noodles and head south along the coastal road reaching the airport before it gets dark.  Flying through and flying out - we will have to return to Korea to explore further. Autumn seems like the right season - but when isn't it?

we'll be back Brad

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