Sunday, December 23, 2012

How we survived public transport in Seoul without speaking Korean... and Instant Korean Cosmetic Surgery

Seoul is a modern and affluent city boasting of big brands under her belt that are now conquering the world such as LG, Kia, Samsung and Hyundai... and oh PSY as well, but that is reserved for another blog entry. So you would obviously think that you can simply get by going around Seoul with (at least very basic) English. Well, this was not the case when we were there.

Based on our experience, the average Korean you meet on the street does not speak English. We noticed that only the ones who are in corporate jobs with international contact and entrepreneurs speak English. Given this fact, we were faced with the challenge of asking around for directions.

Moi here waiting near Anguk station for our bus to Myeongdong. This is our second day in the city and it has been raining on and off the whole day.

Dutchman and I prefer to walk of course but Seoul is a massive city, a conglomerate of neighbourhoods that extends to the north and south of the River Han, so eventually we would need to use public transportation to go to farther places at some point.

There were cabs everywhere as well but what better way to discover a new city by going local, getting on the bus or the subway.

After thoughtful discussions, we decided to buy the ‘T-Money’ card for our bus and subway transportation. The concept is the same as the Oyster Card in London, Octopus Card in HK, as well as what we have here in the Netherlands, the OV-Chipkaart. It is basically a debit/credit payment card where you have the facility to load money as you go.

They worked perfectly for us. We still have the T-Money cards with us because we know for sure we will be using them in the near future when we return to Seoul. Incheon International Airport through Korean Air has a direct connection to Cebu where my parents live.

You can find more information here: Using T-Money in South Korea

But, how did Dutchman and I survived going around Seoul without speaking Korean?

Quite simple, here is the answer:

GOOGLEMAPS because in Seoul city centre there is FREE INTERNET EVERYWHERE!

And I mean literally everywhere on the street. If the signal is weak just walk around the corner, you might get a better connection, or better yet, hop on to another free wifi =)

I have my iPhone with me and Dutchman has his Nexus tablet with him so we were both equally equipped to go anywhere without getting lost. With just a quick search on Googlemaps’—‘Get directions from A to B’, well et voila =)

Trivia: Did you know that the fastest internet connection in the world is in Seoul, South Korea?

Well, this did not mean that we had rocket fast internet connections on the street but it definitely was fast enough to bring us from point A to B when asking Google for directions than say, asking a local.

Below are some of the pictures I took during our vagabonding through the network of buses and subways in Seoul.

JONGNO-GU or JONGNO (Seoul Old City Centre) area:

In Jongno (Seoul old city centre) area, we mainly walked or took the buses. Everything is in Korean but the bus numbers are not!

GANGNAM-GU or GANGNAM (across the Han River) area:

In Gangnam we meandered through the subway network. I like Seoul’s subway system, although everything is in Korean (numbers are not so that is helpful), it is very orderly, efficient, clean and well-maintained.

And oh, they also announce the stops in English!

Koreans (well, Asians in particular) have the habit of working late. This was quite late in the evening already as we just had dinner in Gangnam and were on our way back to Jongno (Seoul city centre). Many workers just came out from work and I guess are on their way home.

Noticed as well that everyone is constantly busy with their phone? I am probably one of the very few people on earth who has a smartphone and who does not tinker the whole time with her phone. I do not even bother checking on it during weekends until Sunday evening comes when it is dead and I need to re-charge it so it can function as my alarm clock in the morning.

By the way, they have different types of Samsung phones here, they are super high-tech and some even with little antennas.

In the subway tram, I found this intriguing and very convincing advertisement:

Instant beauty! This plastic surgery ad in the subway is one of the ubiquituous advertisements found everywhere in South Korea.

One of the many trending corrective cosmetic surgery in Asia is the ‘Eyelid Surgery’. Especially in countries with many chinky-eyed women (Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, etc), they have their upper and lower eyelids corrected to form into perfect round-shaped eyes. South Korea for example has toppled Brazil as the country with the highest number of surgeries per capita.

Here are some news articles I found on the net about this topic:

Daily Mail UK: South Korean girls’ obsession on double eyelid surgery as they strive hard to look like ‘pretty western celebrities’

The NY Times: In South Korea, Plastic Surgery Comes out of the Closet

As you can see, in Asia it is not about botox and stopping those scary wrinkles from multiplying. Only the celebrities fall for this or those who are over 50 and 60, after all Asian women genetically look younger than other races.

In the Philippines, for those who can afford, it is ‘Rhinoplasty’ that is availed. In lay man’s term—‘Nose job’.

I guess each country has its own trending beauty, er, I mean vanity needs =)

More of Seoul next!

Travel Period: October 2012
Destination: Jongno-gu and Gangnam-gu (Seoul), South Korea

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

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