Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Visiting Seoul again (including an outsiders perspective on the American Military Base)

(Optional additional title - "Ch. 5: Where is Gyeongbokgung?")

Jason, Erik and I at Gyeongbokgung Palace

First, let me start off by saying I enjoyed my weekend in Seoul.  Getting western food again was great.  Jason's friend Matt was a great host and was kind enough to let the three of us crash at his place.  We got to visit the main palace in the city, Gyeongbokgung, do some outdoor shopping and enjoy a couple fun evenings out.

We stayed on the American Military Base in the heart of Seoul.  Being there felt disconnected from reality.  On the one hand, almost everything was either similar or exactly the same as it was in the US.  There were houses with yards, people drove everywhere, everyone spoke English and the restaurants were all familiar.  But on the flip side, there were just enough differences to make it all feel unnerving.  This doesn't normally occur when traveling because everything is so different that unusual feels normal.  Despite far nicer than my accommodations, I don't think i'd want to live there.  I prefer a more authentic experience.  If I wanted to live somewhere just like America, I'd go back!  But it sure was nice to visit.

I also saw a bit of why many South Koreans quietly resent Americans.  By staying on the base, I saw a place where the only outsiders are usually politicians and attractive young women (given the base is populated by diplomats and soldiers, it shouldn't be hard to figure out how either group gets in).  If more Koreans saw it, I doubt i'd get as warm a reception as I have.

To understand why, think about how Americans would feel if the French took over Central Park in New York City.  Then they built a huge wall around it, erected houses complete with yards all over it (and remember NO ONE has a house in either NYC or Seoul), consumed tons of resources and left only long enough to pick up women and start fights.  Now reduce America to just New York state.  So the most valuable real-estate in the heart of your most important city is being occupied by foreigners who are generally perceived as wasteful, obnoxious and are only there as symbolic protection.  This is roughly how Koreans feel.

I also noticed people were noticably colder towards me there than they are here.  I suspect that is partially due to the real and imagined bad-behavior of the soldiers there and partially due to big city indifference.  I suspect a bit more of the latter since their demeanor radically shifted when I mentioned I was a teacher on Jeju.  Again despite the drastically improved level of English and improved supply of attractive women in Seoul, I'm still happy I live on Jeju.  The open, curious and friendly approach people take to foreigners here is quite endearing.

For now I've got 2 more weeks until the summer session and a seriously reduced workload begins (note: I will be spending the same amount of time at school, just with less to do).  I don't know if this is necessarily a good thing but me being me, I'll find a way to enjoy it.  For now i've got a couple kids that need a demonstration of ninja skills followed by a serious scare.

PS.  I also found a little something I haven't seen overseas until now.  It's currently bringing me great joy!

Rule #32 once again put into practice!  (if you can't remember what rule #32 is, refer to my previous posts)

1 comment:

  1. Remember why that base is there? We gave 45,000 lives so that they can live in a free, wealthy democracy rather than the world's largest concentration camp that is next door. Also remember that the US military presence is the single greatest obstacle to an invasion from N.Korea. Resentment to the American military presence is the epitome of ingratitude. As for the French setting up in Central Park, if they saved us from total destruction & were the single greatest thing keeping us from a very, real threat, I would thank God that they were there.