Semi-frequent flyer miles (cont’d)
Though I don’t really want to shoebox it, I’d say that Seoul is somewhere between Shanghai and Tokyo. It’s fairly clean in some of the more expensive areas, but a vast majority of it is still plagued by a lack of social consciousness. The primitive construction practices and poorly managed growth don’t help much either. The food is cheap (at least by the yen or the dollar), but salaries are probably lower too, so it might not be so fantastic if one actually lived there. The convenience stores too, are better than their Chinese counterparts but still lag in product variety and services when compared to the network blanketing Tokyo.
There was a really tasty waffle vendor on the way home to the hostel though. Sweet things are popular here just like anyplace else, but meat on a stick seems to be the walking food of choice, however. There are lots of stores labelled “PC” which I think basically means internet cafes with network games installed. Online gaming is a pretty big thing in Korea, much moreso than Japan or the United States. It’s quite competitive, actually.
On my first night of wandering around Hyehwa, I passed through a park where a hip-hop group was performing an impromptu live event. A large group of people both young and old had gathered around, the closest ones dancing. It was interesting to watch for a while. Upon returning to the hostel around nine, I had the good luck to run into most of the other backpackers and strike up a conversation. I ended up not being utterly alone for the ringing in of the new year, and joined a shuffling party of westerners drinking bad Asian beer (Hite, O.B., Cass) and lighting fireworks bought from roving street vendors. Towards the center of the city basically everyone was shooting off roman candles, and the clear night air became a drubbing of ash and cinders, so I spent the last couple hours with my hood up and under the protection of my thick wool jacket. There was an unbelieveably cute girl, probably not more than sixteen years old, selling rockets which virtually everyone in our group bought one of. Her smile was too infectious, she could have been selling rotten eggs and we probably would have caved just as fast.
Paul was from Britain, teaching English in Miyagi-ken. He was one of those people that you know right away is about the nicest person on the planet, and you want to be near as much as possible. Tim was also planning to teach English, but in Seoul and originally being from Calgary. He’d previously been teaching in one of the more industrial frontier cities in China. I think Alan (from New Zealand) was teaching English as well, though I’m not sure too much about his details, he was incredibly girl hungry and chasing virtually every female we came into contact with. Lastly, there were Rodney and Nikki, who taught English in Hiroshima. They seemed to have quite a bit of experience in the Seoul tourism scene. It was Nikki that first invited me to come along with the group.
After walking through crowds of thousands of revelers we finally made our way back to a subway station that was open, and decided to chance a potentially packed train in favor of stumbling home in the mind-numbing cold. While waiting (a _very_ long time) on the platform, a middle-aged Korean man who spoke suprisingly good English starting talking with me. I didn’t catch his name but he said he was an adventurer, and an ice climber. He told me of some of the famous mountains he’d scaled, and how he lost one of his best friends while climbing a glacier in Alaska. He was a really nice guy, and although his English was broken, his pronunciation was really on the mark.
After we got back to Hyehwa, the majority decided to go to a bar, but I wanted to get up fairly early and start my wandering, so I turned in early (01:00) by myself. The dorm room I was staying in had four metal bunk beds, probably similar to the kind in military barracks or summer camp. Since I normally sleep on a loft in Tokyo though, I was quite at home and my only difficult decision was whether to crash on the top or bottom.