Sunday, September 16, 2007

Seoul... and a bit about God

Saturday was another day of firsts for us in Seoul. It was our first trip up Namsan tower at night, our first trip to COEX Mall, and our first time see Seoul's version of the Exorcist stairs. However, it was far from our first time seeing rather unique religious phenomena. I'm not talking about the vague image of Jesus on a piece of toast. I'm talking about people like this guy...

We saw him at Suwon Station. He is one of many people we've seen here who take the hard-line approach to Christianity - who seem intent to warn us of the dangers of our ways by showing us artistic renditions of Jesus on the cross, non-believers burning in eternal hell fire, and by broadcasting their thoughts on megaphones as the masses pass.

Now worried about our sinful ways, Steph, our friends Amy and Roger and I, climbed the steps of Suwon Station ready for a trip to the largest underground mall in Asia - probably the closest we'll come to eternal hell fire, at least here on earth. But we wouldn't be done with fire and brimstone for the day... stay tuned.
Our trip to Seoul began with a nice surprise - while we waited for our subway, Steph spotted a vending machine on the platform and it didn't sell snacks or drinks - it sold books! What a cool idea. She was very sweet and bought me a copy of The Little Prince in Korean. What could be better motivation for me to learn the language?

As the weather network had forcasted rain in Seoul, we decided to hit-up Coex Mall - as I mentioned, the larget underground mall in Asia. It has a world-class aquarium in it and it is pretty freaking large, so we thought it would be worth a trip since our regular site-seeing plan was headed for a rain-check.
Well, as it turns out, it was really just a big freaking mall. We decided not to check out the aquarium, but save it for another day. We did see a couple of cool Christmas present-type stuff to potentially buy, but we'll wait a while for that. It took us only about an hour or so to decide that a mall was not where we wanted to be, and we left as soon as we could find our way out.

We did run into a few cool things on our trip through the mall though. We saw a fantastic place called a boardgame cafe, which apparently is a common thing here in Korea. I peered through the window and saw dudes playing chess as well as families playing Monopoly and The Game of Life together. It really made me long for Settlers of Catan, and I'm hoping that if Mom reads this, she can maybe send it to me in a Christmas package ;)

There were some other cool things too, like a bookstore that was about the size of two Chapters stores put-together. They had a HUGE English section with a great selection of all sorts of books. I think I'll be making a few stops there in upcoming weeks. I did buy my first Learning Korean book (which was recommended to me by a nearby English teacher who has been there for a few months) and I'm looking forward to cracking into it so that I can start feeling like I can at least begin to read some signs soon. I think it'll actually be a lot of fun to have some homework that is not school related.

We also saw a couple of bizarre mall and restaurant mascots as well as a great shop that sold classic western foods - like Campbell's Soup! It reminded me of the British-themed shops that used to be in Eau Claire market - the ones that sold zany English chocolates and the like, only here it was Snickers bars and instant mushroom soup mix. We indulged a little bit - just to have some comfort food at the ready.

I also saw a shop full of wacky character toys that Lonni and Tim would love, and a couple of great toy shops for Christian and Brandon, but perhaps the most wacky-ass thing we saw was a jewelry store called The Kiss. It caters solely to couples who want to buy that special something for their sweetie-pie so they can wear matching "I love you" rings, bracelets, necklaces and other glittery stuff.
I have to admit though, they have perhaps the worst translation I've seen here on a major advertisement so far.

If you can't read the photo, just trust me when I tell you it reads: "The Kiss is a Phenomenon that Happens to Lovers at the Precious Moment of Coming so much" I think I want to buy a ring that says just that. I know that this sounds terrible (especially coming from someone who has yet to learn more than five words in the native tongue), but I am constantly amazed at how much mis-translation goes on with major advertisements from large companies, or even with official World
Heritage merchandise or travel brochures.

I don't mention this intending to sound condescending, but I am simply amazed that some Korean speaking English, or English-speaking Korean person hasn't become a millionaire translator for exactly this type of purpose. Just a little something I thought I'd mention and if I ever find more mistranslation that puts a smile on my face, I will be certain to post it for you. I will also be happy to post future moments of me trying to say something in Korean, only to mistakenly ask some vendor for a t-shirt that is a more tomato size, or something equally unintelligible.
Before leaving the mall, I was handed this brochure - as I said, fire and brimstone was the order of the day. I must have looked a little bit downcast after spending so much time in a green mall.

We then headed back to the subway towards Gangnam where we had some dinner and after re-fueling, decided that we wanted to make the trip to Myeong-Dong which was right next to Namsan Tower - in case we wanted to make a night visit for a nice twilight view of Seoul. We wandered around the shopping district for a while and we ran into this guy...
Apparently not content to simply let the pictures of Hades stand on the ground like his Suwon Station brethren, this dude was packing heat! He unsheathed his own brand of God-fearing like a modern-day archangel would his wings and was able to move freely among the Myeong-Dong revelers while he tried to warn us about the approaching rapture with a more mobile approach.

After checking out the night time madness, we opened our map to find a way to get to the Namsan Tower cable car station. I pretty much guessed, but apparently guessed correctly as we were heading up some bizarre side-street that honestly looked more like someone's personal driveway, we finally saw this sign.

But to get there, we had to climb more than a few flights of stairs and some of us were beginning to be a little bit cross. I was excited though, and I was mostly excited that we had found what looked to be like the most backward way to a major tourist attraction. After a bit of a wait, we were herded into a waiting area that looked a lot like a Higgins Landing Craft from WWII and we made our way up Namsan Mountain in a cable car.

It was beautiful. The view of Seoul north of Namsan Mountain was stunning and the night time view from the tower's base view point was also worth the ride up. Here are a couple of shots to give you an idea of what it was like, but it's honestly impossible to describe the view. You just have to see it for yourself. Seoul looked almost larger at night time - the edges of the city seem to disappear into the night time mist as opposed to ending abruptly - it gives the effect of a limitless city.



After a trip back down the mountain on the cable car, we were ready for a long ride back to Suwon on the subway. But first - those stairs. It's always a lot easier on the way back down, but I ask you - how much do these stairs look like The Exorcist stairs? A lot, I think. It was admittedly a little bit creepy to take the trip down. There was even a windowed apartment to the right. Hmmmm...

All in all, it was another good trip into the city, though I must admit that I am more looking forward to checking-out a few more palaces and temples, a few parks by the river, and a few cool landmarks (Olympic and World Cup Stadiums to name a few). So much to see outside of Seoul, but so much to see inside of Seoul too. We slept well on Saturday.
Today has been another relaxing Sunday and tomorrow begins another week of teaching. It's been fun marking essays so far and I look forward to reading more as well as posting a few of my favourite excerpts here soon.
As far as the God blog goes, I like the sense of spirituality that exists here in places. Being someone who is more agnostic than anything else you can throw a label at, I find it interesting, not off-putting or enticing, to see people respond to religion or promote their religion in often extreme and public ways, but I prefer the quiet ways. I don't know enough about the culture here to comment on it with anything besides the odd snide remark, so please pardon my insensitivity if it offends you. I do wonder though why it exists here in this way. Something to think about, when I'm not thinking about cute little Coby, Cocco and Connie - the idols of consumerism and official mascots of COEX Mall, or the fact that a quiet Korean temple seems so much more appealing than an angry (and likely afraid) man walking with pictures of violent death strapped to his back.
I am looking forward to being in the company of children again tomorrow. Despite the rowdiness and sudden sleepiness that comes to young students in night school, their relative innocence will be a welcome reprieve.

1 comment:

Dana said...

Okay, I do believe that is the best bit of mis-translation I have ever seen!! After reading many an amusing menu in Italy or tourist pamphlet in France, I have had the idea for years that multi-lingual students studying abroad could make a pretty penny offering to fix ridiculous translations. And then I wonder why no one has actually DONE it..... well, maybe you'll be the first - hurry up and learn Korean!!