Thursday, February 23, 2006

Travel: Korea ~ Come prepared.

In response to the comments over the last two posts on: 1.Whether I am in Seoul, 2.I should leave an address for that raw fish place, and 3.People are all rave about Korea, and would like to visit.

I definitely appreciate the comments, and there is no doubt that Korea is quite the place to visit.


Response 1:

I am NOT in Seoul, but in Suncheon (순천) city of the South Jeolla ~ Jeollanam Do (전라남도).

I am a gazillion miles from Seoul!

Let me jog your memory by re-posting this map.

Response 2:

I wished I could leave you an address, but the fact is, it would not do you ANY good...

Addresses DO NOT work in Korea!

Streets are messy as hell here. Sure ~ officially, EVERY building has an address, but people rarely have a friggin clue about where that would be. This is VERY evident especially in Busan (부산), where side streets, lanes and haphazardly built houses are scattered all over the bloody place.

*Any thoughts about Jeju Island G?

People work with LANDMARKS and MAPS. That was how fax machines were popularized in Korea, as people often faxed each other maps of where they lived/did business ~ Quote from Lonely Planet Korea.

Many businesses that don't have an address in a premier building, or on a main road, like this motel I stayed at once, would have a map of their business location printed out on the back of their card.

I salute Korean postal workers.

Response 3:

Don't come to Korea unless you have local contacts, speak and read the Korean language, or are with a tour group.

It is ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to experience the real culture if you do not fall into the afore-mentioned categories.

To illustrate this ~ I had to go to Seoul for my IELTS exam in January, and also a medical checkup. So the clinic I had to go to was at the Hanaro building.

Fair enough. I called up, and the nice front desk lady said it was "... in Insadong... two corners away from Pizza Hut... get off at Jonggak metro station... you will see a BIG sign that says Ha-Na-Ro".

How hard can that be right?

*Mumbles: "Yeah right..."

Instructions were clear, but it still took me awhile. Have a look at the picture below.

See any English writing ANYWHERE, apart from that microscopically lame excuse for an English signage at the bottom? Even though I read Korean, I'm still not as fluent as I should be. That's why it took 30 minutes before I spotted the words "하나로" up top.

Not convinced?

Most local restaurants (non of that tourist restaurant crap) have only Korean menus. Services such as most banks and even motels have no English speaking personnel... and good luck to trying to find an English roadmap if you intend to drive around the country ~ there is non detailed enough that I know of.

Heck, if you are still hell-bent on visiting... come prepared!


At February 23, 2006 11:42 AM, Blogger hteekay said...

but you can be spontaneous there... so it means more fun!!

At February 23, 2006 1:44 PM, Blogger domestic rat said...

Haha. Hilarious! I guess Japan is alot more tourist-friendly then, despite my hemhawing grasp of the language, while furiously referring to the language book for the next word.

Maybe next time, u post a map of the restaurant then. :P

At February 23, 2006 3:00 PM, Blogger Kurios1978 said...

hteekay: Can't enjoy if you DON'T KNOW what to order, HOW TO GET THERE, and CAN'T GET HELP can you? It can get frustrating... not fun.

domestic: The dog ate my scanner, and crashed my photoshop... can't post maps. *Winkz

At February 23, 2006 4:56 PM, Anonymous Antonia said...

I think it's still pretty "survive-able" in Seoul, since there're alot of foreigners there. American GIs, English teachers and whatnot. If you want to stick to the familiar, just hang around Itaewon, although that's not exactly an authentic Korean experience. One of my friends once said that in order to experience the real Korea, you gotta go beyond the big cities and go to the boonies instead.

I find Gangwon "primitive" enough for me, so I can't imagine myself surviving other rural areas NOT in Gyonggi province. I'm guessing foreigners are a rare sight in Suncheon?

At February 23, 2006 5:30 PM, Anonymous Antonia said...

BTW, any idea about KLPT (Korean Language Proficiency Test)? I'm currently doing my Japanese proficiency test, but I have plans to attempt the Korean one maybe in a couple of years from now. I haven't done much research into it yet, since it's a thing of the future, but if you know anything about it, do share! ^_^

At February 23, 2006 7:33 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Hey - about those crazy Korean roads. When I was first visiting Korea, I read somewhere that the roads in Seoul were simply paved-over Ox paths. One day, my Korean friend and I were driving somewhere, and I noticed a new street under construction. I told him... "do you know how do they chose the route for a new street? They just turn an Ox loose at the desired starting point and follow his path." He got a real kick out of that....


At February 23, 2006 8:42 PM, Anonymous G said...

Same system here on Jeju.

I seem to recall from when I first got here that Japan actually instituted the very inefficient way of creating addresses here. If true, it would be kind of ironic as I would say most people think "efficient" when they think of Japan.

I'm quite sure that I read it in my Lonely Planet, but I don't have it anymore. Maybe when you're flipping through yours sometime you can find out if it's true, or just a bizarre dream I had. Could be either, really.

At February 23, 2006 11:00 PM, Blogger Kurios1978 said...

Antonia: Actually, there are a lot of foreigners outside of Seoul. Mostly English teachers, and quite a few engineers. In our town of 250,000 people, we have a community of about 200 foreigners.

Antonia: Not sure about the test myself, but a blogger I read up on (About Joel) takes the test. You might want to check his site out (on the links) and drop him a mail.

Chris: Ah ~ So that's why the roads are so messed up! Should've taught the ox to read road plans and construction prints!

g: Bizzarre indeed to look at Japan from that angle. Yes, my copy of Lonely Planet says that. You're not dreaming. :)

At February 24, 2006 10:54 AM, Blogger Jo said...

human being is strong survivor..just dump a man in an island of nowhere still can survive, easily can adapt to the environment changes. just like 'LOST' da episod showed on TV. *wink*
just like msia's road / highway signboard always lead u to toll and pay and no U-turn, end up of somewhere else. LOL

At February 24, 2006 8:14 PM, Blogger FatMan Seoul said...

And that's probably why GPS navigation systems are popular in South Korea.

At February 25, 2006 2:41 AM, Blogger Max said...

you forgot to mention:
1) taxi drivers can't speak English
2) you'll need to be able to read hangul if want ride buses in Seoul.
3) it ain't a tourist destination.

Really, I feel sorry for tourists who come to Seoul. I've travelled quite a bit in the last few years of my life, racking up something like 26 countries i think, and Seoul has to be one of the dullest tourist destinations I've been to. Ok, maybe the DMZ is exciting, but I still haven't bothered to go. Save for Imjingak, which is not the DMZ.

Fun place to live, boring place to visit. Head to China, Japan, Thailand, etc, etc, etc...

Oh, and Japan instituted, among many advancements in Korea, the address system. The words for describing regions, like "gu" and "dong" are Japanese words. Of course the Japanese also repressed the hell out of the people here as well...

At February 25, 2006 8:31 AM, Blogger Kurios1978 said...

Jo: That's why they invented taxis... Oh.... read Max's comment on that. I think we're screwed.

fatmanseoul: I'd guess so too. I guess you've figured that out a long time ago, cuz you have maps posted all over your blog. Excellent! Thanks for dropping by :)

Max: I must say what you say is accurate. But hey, every country has it's share of things to see. That DMZ tour really wasn't all THAT fascinating, but still worth a shot. Did you know you could get a FREE trip if you are one of the first 10 persons to sign up in the mornings at ICN airport?

I must say, I got a kick out of standing next to an active landmine zone. :P

At February 25, 2006 1:31 PM, Blogger Jo said...

I think not only korean dun really speak english to tourists.
France also the same, we have to speak basic french to them ask for direction with map. Till the moment can't squeeze out any single word of french anymore, we try to mix with english.
I even tried speak malay / mandarin to them, coz at first they refuse to speak english. End up they speak some english. LOL

At February 26, 2006 3:27 PM, Blogger Max said...

Jo: Yes, the French are quite opposed to using English, and most don't seem to learn. One could draw some parallels between France's postion in Europe and Korea's position in Asia in terms of English.

But, as a native English speaker, it's a helluva lot easier to get around in France than Korea if you don't know the language. For one, you can still quickly read everything that is written, and there is also a quite a few written words that can be understood because of simalaritites in the languages.

Of course in Korea we have Konglish, but if you can't read hangul it ain't gonna do you much good.

Anyway, Korea's a bit odd in Asia in that if you go to Thailand, the Philippines, or Hong Kong you can speak English all day and be fine. Japan and China are going to much tougher... but save Korea for the truly adventurous! Of course, with the current crop of youngins with their great English this is all just a temporary situation. Perhaps in 10 or 20 years all taxi drivers will have at least basic skills.

At February 27, 2006 5:08 PM, Anonymous Robyn said...

A true chowhound can eat well *anywhere* (places with no delicious food at all are excepted of course) as long as he or she is willing to make a fool of him/herself. And willing to try new/unfamiliar things. And willing to get lost.

1) head out at regular mealtimes and follow the local crowds (avoid places with "special" English menus)
2) have a look at what's on other tables.
3) Order by pointing. Drag waiter/waitress/shopkeeper over to another table for a closer point-and-choose if necessary. Ignore annoyed looks on faces of those trying to enjoy their meal without a stoopid foreigner pointing his/her finger at the food.

My husband ate quite nicely in Seoul using this method. He might have felt like an idiot, but his tastebuds were happy. (Does he know the names of the dishes he ate? No. Does it matter?)


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