You might have thought that I was completely gone from the face of the earth, but far from it. Unfortunately, it’s been an extremely hectic time at work – starting already back in November and still contiuing. Right now I am in Seoul, South Korea working for our Korean office temporarily. It’s my second time here, having spent the past two weeks here, just being back in Tokyo over last weekend.
It’s interesting comparing South Korea with Japan because for someone in e.g. Europe or US, these two countries must seem perfectly alike. I actually thought so myself for a long time. But although the two countries (and its residents) are similar on the surface, there are some fundamental differences which become apparent when you spend time over here.
The first thing that hits you when you get off the plane and step into a taxi (or bus) into the city is how much like China this place is. This is also clear when you look out over the skyline in the center of the city. It’s cluttered in a Hong Kong-way more than a Tokyo-way. Can’t really explain it in words, but you who have been in both cities probably understand.
Secondly, walking in the city is something you do at your own risk! Well, I don’t mean that there is much violence or crime (because there isn’t, that’s one things that Seoul has in common with Tokyo) but the traffic is downright dangerous! People seem to drive like maniacs here! Don’t, don’t, DON’T try to cross a big street anywhere else than on a dedicated pedestrian crossing, and of course don’t jaywalk, you’ll get killed by a frustrated Korean taxi-driver on his way home from work. I haven’t figured out if it is OK to turn right on a red light here (like it is in some places in the States) or it’s just simply OK to turn any direction as long as there is no one in the way! Sure, the traffic in Tokyo is bad, but it’s more a problem related to amount of traffic. Here in Seoul the amount is equal (or more) than Tokyo, plus the dangers of the reckless and wild driving.
Shopping. Is there any other pastime which Koreans or Japanese people love more? It seems unlikely. Whereas the signature shopping experience in Tokyo is a luxury boutique on Aoyama-dori or Ginza, the must-do shopping here is haggling over a few thousand Won at the market in Dondaenmon. The shopping is much more “exotic” for lack of a better word. Sure there are Western style department stores and boutiques here en masse, but there is even more shopping to be found at markets and bargain-ripe low cost shopping complexes. Another thing is the shocking openness with which copies of brand goods like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermes, Gucci et al are sold here! Compared with China where it seems the government (and USA) are clamping down hard on pirated goods, here it seems no one cares. Pirated DVDs of the latest movies are sold openly in the street around the electronic shopping areas (but also along popular night spots like Gangnam) – and although the quality of the packaging does not match that found in China or Malaysia, the goods are not sold with the objective of looking real. If you are looking for the latest LV bag and do not want to pay a fortune for it at Lotte Department store, take a trip to e.g. Dongdaemon and you’ll soon find yourselv enticed by sales people wanting to show you their “miraculous” copies. The sale itself might take place in a slightly secluded area (often inside the sellers booth) but there is nothing of the paranoia which you find so often in China.
Wow. Long post… I think I’ll stop here and update again during the weekend (yes, I’m stuck here over the weekend, alone).
Photo by Kalle Anka