Monday, April 26, 2010

A week in South Korea

Whenever I travel, I think I will write blogs along the way but never seem to fit it in. I'm sorry about that. I'm just back from my first visit to Asia! Aaron was in Korea on business for the fourth time, and probably last time for this project. He has found it very interesting there, so different from Western culture. I don't know when I'll ever have another opportunity so I decided I would meet him there at the end of the work week and we would spend several days exploring. We started in Incheon, where Aaron's customer was and then stayed five days in the center of Seoul.

This is what I always imagined an Asian city would look like (probably from too many movies)-rows and rows of brightly colored signs along narrow streets. It's even more overwhelming at night when all the signs are lit. After nearly two years of rural life, cities can cause sensory overload for me. There are so many things to look at, so much noise, so many people moving fast in all directions, traffic zipping by, the stink of exhaust and city sewers, etc. Seoul might even make the heads of some European city dwellers spin a bit. It's the eighth largest metropolis in the world, with about 20 million people in the city and surrounding area. And it's dense. It seems that everyone lives in a highrise apartment complex. I guess when you live on a peninsula, you just start stacking up.

They are coming up with another solution to the lack of space, though. They're filling in the Yellow Sea. It's called "land reclamation" and they basically drain the water out and fill in the space with dirt. Can you imagine where they get that much dirt? The whole area where Aaron was working sits on reclaimed land, which was underwater just over five years ago. Now it's a planned city that is half filled with sleek silver skyscrapers and corporate buildings while the other half holds vast fields of dirt, weeds and trash. All the municipal infrastructure is there- nice brick sidewalks, pretty parks, six lane roads with stoplights- but no people! It's a very strange place at the moment.

But in Seoul there are plenty of people! They have a great subway system and we read that over five and a half million people ride it every day. I believe it. The only time we had a place to sit down was when we rode to the airport at 5:45 AM. But it's fast and cheap and goes everywhere so we took it all over the city. Normally we prefer to walk around a new city to really get a feel for it but Seoul is just too big to see on foot. Thanks to the subway, a tour bus and Aaron's business colleauge we were able to pack a lot into our week. I'll tell you all about it...

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