I captioned this photo of my 10-year-old student’s January 20, 2010 journal entry: “The wisdom of 10-year-olds trumps the folly of cultural generalization. A recent Lonely Planet guide says Seoul “has no heart”. Seoul is ALL heart! A recent newspaper item says (because their govt. gives less foreign aid than others) Koreans don’t care about others.”
Nashira Priester replied in Facebook: Jack;interesting to contemplate that they were not talking about the city center – as in no central location where a traveller might be able to people watch, gather themselves and relax. ?
My response to her comment: Interesting, indeed. My comment, in fact, while insufficiently explicit in that regard, ir really about both. Taking the first issue, place, that you point up, I am immediately put in mind of the Seoul system of public transportation, and the anatomical metaphor, at the circulatory point where all points are connected to all others. A favorite gambit of mine, in any city where public transport is user friendly (ubiquitous, safe, cheap) is to get on somewhere (wherever I get tired of walking), ride for a bit, and get off to walk some more. There is almost nowhere one can jump off the subway, train, bus or taxi, and not find signs of lives lived exuberantly.
Furthermore, all I have to do is stand in the thoroughfare scratching my head, and a citizen will approach me to find out why. Unlike too many places, that citizen sees me as a possible source of good, only in the extent that I can give affirmation that all those hours of late-night English study produce more than a din in the head.
There is a long list of places that one could think of as central to the Seoul experience, but none in the sense, say, of Beijing, with its vast tract encompassing Red Square and the Forbidden City, etc. I can’t imagine why any traveler would want to find such a place, furthermore, in a city so intimately connected with its many interesting parts by transport…. See More
The trains are clean and run on time. The buses are efficient and go everywhere the trains do not. Almost anywhere in Seoul can be reached by taxi from anywhere else, and the fare can be paid with T-money. T-money cards are available at the bank, and chargeable at convenience stores found everywhere near transit points. An example of T-money use: I can get on a bus outside my apartment and get of 1 km away at the station, where I board a train that, in 1 hour’s time, unloads at Seoul Station, where I then get on the subway to Gwanghwamun, a few stops away. In Chongno, nearby, I can continue on a bus to Itaewon-dong, near the international area (center?). I use one card at the entrance to each conveyance, and the amount is electronically deducted. By the time I arrive, I’ve spent less than 2 dollars.
But that isn’t all I mean when I say Heart. The second biggest train and subway station is found underground at Youngdeungpo. Above it sits a giant department store and shopping complex of the sort that might be called Seoul Posh. At night, in the plaza outside the station, several church organizations are banded together to feed homeless people who inhabit the streets in the heart that is Youngdeungpo. After the feeding, the homeless wait patiently, if colorfully, in the plaza, knowing that when 10 o’clock rolls around, they will be free to spread their blankets on the masonry floors of the station for a night’s sleep. Several hundred people are thus sheltered from the often freezing winter night. If there is any animosity between the two 4-man police squads I saw there, and the dossers, I couldn’t detect it.
The truth as I see it, is that no country could be as superior to all others as thie citizens of Korea regard “Uri Nara”. I haven’t seen another country, though, that tries any harder to be worthy of such over-esteem. These are just a few of the reasons that I say, “Seoul is ALL heart.”