Sunday, June 22, 2003

Weekend blog, item from the past, #6.

June 13, 1990.

Korea has come and gone. Like the rest of Korea -- the rest that I saw out of my train windows -- Seoul was ringed by low mountains green and brown, stubby and not-so-distant. Central Seoul reminded me more of a Western city than either Osaka or Tokyo: wide streets, large sidewalks, towering buildings and a crush of cars. Largest non-highway streets I've ever seen, some of them. Twelve lanes, sometimes, crossable by underpasses. This size has the effect of absorbing the constant flow of cars, segregating them from pedestrians. Even buses keep to their place.

Thursday, June 7, I did my main sightseeing, on a warm, clear day. In Pagoda Park, the first place I went, I was buttonholed by some friendly college students, eager for free English practice. They treated me to some Korean wine -- like weak sake -- bought from a gnarled old woman, a streetside vendor. Out from its white plastic bottle into plastic cups that the students had, and from there to our stomachs. Not bad.

Entered Changgyonggdong, the main palace of the Korean kings of old, in the 19th century at least. Took the tour in English -- a sort of English, with the petite, pretty guide putting her mouth directly into a small, colorful bullhorn. It came out like bad radio, but I hardly minded, since I could read the signs anyway, which were in Korean and English. The tour stopped while a TV production company filmed a scene or two from an historic epic, or historic drama, or something.

In it (I was told), the second-to-last king of Korea was taking his son away in a carriage. A very polished and European-looking carriage, and except for the multicolored and flowing robes of the distressed courtiers surrounding the carriage, you’d never know it was a Korean scene. The courtiers were sore upset about seeing the king and his son go, and moaned realistically on cue. The plot had something to do with the son going off to Japan to be a hostage. Pretty much any Korean epic set in the late 19th century is going to have the Japanese as villains, as well it should, I figure.

The human actors turned on and off, on cue. The horses weren't so disciplined. The director -- or at least the guy with a bigger bullhorn than my guide -- went over to whack the beasts a time or two.

I watched a fair amount of AFKN television in my YMCA hotel room, especially The Longest Day on June 6. No commercials on Armed Forces television; no standard commercials, anyway, but a fair number of "military commercials," such as the one that detailed allowable hairstyles for both male and female enlisted members of the armed forces. There was also a bulletin about prohibited places and times for those in service, places that sounded like bar-heavy districts with high potential for late-night fights among soldiers, or between soldiers and Koreans.

My last full day in town, June 8, it rained most of the time. Went out for lunch & tea and met some more students. Talked a while. But mostly I was in my room, reading and watching TV.


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