Thursday, 1 November 2012

My First Day in Korea

It's 8 in the evening and I'm currently sitting in a Dunkin' Donuts branch with K-pop blasting in my ears and my laptop running low on battery. I'd never been in a Dunkin' Donuts until very recently, as we don't have them in the UK. They did attempt to enter the British market in the early 2000s, but poor sales resulted in all the branches being closed down. That's according to Wikipedia, at least. But I don't need Wikipedia to know that the company is currently thriving in South Korea. They're everywhere here. And they have really fast internet wi-fi, which is pretty helpful as I won't get my own internet service until my Alien Registration Card comes through in a month or so.

A Dunkin' Donuts in downtown Seoul

In any case, for now, Dunkin' Donuts (as well as my local Starbucks, probably) will be my only means of accessing the internet, which, for now, makes creating blog posts a tricky affair. But I really want to document my time here as much as I can, and I have already taken so many photos that I already feel like I'm falling way behind. For now, I'll start with some photos of my journey and arrival in South Korea, as well as some early impressions of the country.

Last Wednesday, I departed from Heathrow Airport in the late afternoon, leaving behind some distinctly British murky weather.

Including my layover in Istanbul, the journey took about 16 hours.
I spent most of that time playing in-flight Bejewelled.

At Seoul-Incheon Airport, my first taste of Korean culture was through the various screens airing local baseball games. It's the national sport here (besides video-gaming, of course).

But the moment when Korea really smacked me in the chops was when I arrived, via airport-bus, in Gwangmyeong, a satellite city of Seoul and my home for the next year. London has its share of brightly lit areas, and I remember seeing quite a lot of neon signs in Hong Kong and other parts of China, but Korea's lights are on a whole other level. Most of these signs moved like lights on a gambling machine, and seedy club music blared from many of the buildings.

I met my boss nearby, and was escorted, jet-lagged and culture-shocked, to another staple of contemporary Korean city culture: the love motel. I've heard stories of heart-shaped beds and neon-lit bathrooms at these kinds of establishments; my room wasn't that smutty, though it did include a bunch of free condoms.

And within that very same motel, the elevator betrayed yet another interesting quirk of local culture. In the same way that the number 13 is considered bad luck in many Western cultures, the number 4 is considered very bad luck in Korea. But unlike in Western cultures, here the superstition is taken so seriously that many buildings simply don't have a fourth floor:
And as if I needed any further reminder of what part of the world I was in, the first thing that appeared when I switched on the TV in my room was a news report about Korea's famous recent internet sensation: PSY and his song "Gangnam Style"

To end with, here is a pic of how Gwangmyeong looks under sunlight. It's completely dead for most of the day, and doesn't come alive until the darker hours.

That concludes the first of my (hopefully many) posts from Korea! I have a lot of other stuff to cover, like my explorations of Seoul over the weekend, further accounts of Korean cultural oddities, and of course, my first experiences teaching English to Korean children. But that can wait. For now, my laptop is down to 6% battery life, and the Dunkin' Donuts staff look eager to shut down for the night. Back into the bright lights, I go.

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