1000 words

Well I forgot my camera. What can you do. I found a stash of them here, though. And here.

Whateverthecase, I didn't study writing for nothing. Today, since I'm still catching up on sleep, I'll just give me general impression of the city based off my experience of having come to Korea after 6 months of living in Japan. I'll add more later if I think of something cool.

My image of Korea before heading there was largely grey. I always imagined the country as being grey, and, at least at first, that impression was strangely backed up. Upon landing, it was the kind of overcast where the clouds weren't oppressive, but they were stretched thin so that they weren't exactly white and the sky wasn't exactly blue. Sort of the faded pastel blue that was as neutral a color for the sky to ever be. An oracle would be hard-pressed to say the day carried a good or bad omen based off that color.

We shuffled onto the bus and hit the road. It was late afternoon at this point. Maybe because at some point in the distant past the sun was particularly strong here, or because tall blue-eyed folk like me complained of some glare from somewhere, the top half of the bus windows were tinted. This created a situation where everything was tinted blahish-brown: the river, the winter trees, the highway, the oil refinery, the pipeline. Everything largely remained its original color.

The city itself seemed to share the philosophy of many Japanese cities--that garbage cans have no business being anywhere obvious at all--but it worked in Korea like it would work in any other country in the world. (e.g. it didn't; Japanese culture is abnormally dedicated to public welfare on the aesthetic level.) As a result, garbage congregated everywhere and spilled out from most alleyways like a puss-filled, pimply teenager of a city. Either in preparation for this or as a result, any alleyway that wasn't a main pedestrian thoroughfare was paved with concrete that flowed more like a river than a sidewalk. It looked a lot like a cement truck was made to come to life and vomit the sidewalk into place, rather than having men lay it out and flatten it to serve the purpose of walking. It wasn't uncomfortable--there were no cracks in the sidewalks, just smooth transitions in elevation from here to there, giving you the impression that if there was a need to do so, all he garbage in an alley could be washed to one end by turning on a hose at the other. For pedestrians, an icy winter would be the only real concern with this layout. Otherwise it was pretty cool.

I stepped onto the balcony in the hotel room and saw the sun. It was late afternoon, so it was still hours from setting, but I could look at it pretty much directly. I looked at the horizon and saw the familiar off-brown pollution screen stretching higher than I've ever seen, mixing with the blue sky in gradients until it went transparent. As far as sunsets (or their canny opposites) go, it was like a firmamental pair of sunglasses, effectively filtering out all the harmful UV rays that fry your retinas. I paid with five years of lung-health.

Seoul has about 12 million souls, growing to over 24 million--half of the country's population--in the suburbs. In Europe this kind of burgeoning population results in wee cars for everyone and competitive outdoor markets where you can bargain and people are always offering deals. In Japan they keep the big cars but live in (often absurdly) small apartments. Japanese public philosophy doesn't allow for the wantonness of European or Arabian marketplaces, so those tend to stay respectful and fixed in price. In Korea they keep the big cars, but not a single person with money lives in a house. On the edge of the city, apartment blocks like computer chips rise out of the ground in disturbingly practical lines, as far as you care to see. The inner city contains older apartment blocks, many made from brick (which I didn't realize I hadn't seen for six or so months). The poorest people live in houses, but the houses are tin-roofed shantytowns that look like a flood dragged them from their various birthplaces and washed them up on some metaphysical urban sandbar, crushed together in textural disarray and pervading greyness. Korea keeps the European/Arabian marketplace philosophy, though, and it was a wonderful refresher to me buying things from people that wanted you to buy from them badly enough to ask you to. Lots of my coworkers weren't as fond of the customer service--which to this lively yin had the necessary yang of pissed off food service employees--but I dug it. It seemed more natural to me; God knows I was a ball of piss-off'dness when I worked at BK or Subway and a bus full of whoever pulled up to the store and wanted fed. It was nice to relate to people again on that level, however strange that sounds.

Another thing Korea does to manage its business affairs is employ motorcycles instead of trucks to deliver wares to and from markets. The motorcycles themselves interested me because I didn't realize until Korea the distinctive sleek look of Japanese motorcycles. There were a few of them in Korea, but mostly they drove industrial bikes with pipes aplenty and boxes and crates strapped to the back that were twice as high as the driver. In one case, three or four times. He wasn't driving the bike at the time, and I'm not sure how he ever would.

Also the motorcycles drove on the sidewalk. Among the words and phrases I didn't use just now include sometimes, slowly, cautiously, and without hitting people.

Now that we're done with the greyness, let's move onto the color. I have less to say about this, but I realized in Korea that Japanese cultural landmarks--temples, shrines, etc.--employ color in one way, and Koreans do it in a different way. Both are beautiful in their ways. Japan makes use of lots of reds, browns, and blacks. Sort of earth-heavy natural tones. Korea's palette is also natural, but it's more focused on the heaven's. I noticed lots of blues, yellows, whites, greens, and also pinks. Contrasting with the rest of the city, the cultural landmarks I managed to see really stood out, and not just architecturally. Koreans--at least Seouls--do lights better than any modern city I've ever seen. Vegas, New York, and parts of Tokyo just annoy you with a bombardment of neon (and noise, especially in Tokyo), but Seoul seems to have figured out how to manage color on a metropolitan scale. I was only able to explore the city for a few hours, so what do I know, but that's what I got out of it. They didn't have as much success with crowd management: there wasn't really any place to walk where you wouldn't be in someone's direct path every thirty seconds, but it was cool for the one night I was out.

Time to rest.

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