23 August 2009

First Impressions

After cutting my too-long fingernails, I thought I'd write a few notes about my first 2 days in Korea.

The first thing I noticed was actually on the ferry before leaving Japan where there were a few Korean people. Naturally, I'll contrast Korea with Japan, since I've lived in Japan for 2 years and hadn't been to Korea yet.

Japanese people tend to be quieter, less subtle, not so verbose, and indirect in their communication. I noticed Koreans are more upfront, bit louder (but not loud), more aggressive, and not so shy in comparision. Koreans seem to be more relaxed in their movements and in how they conduct themselves, in contrast to Japanese people who have relatively more social protocols and pressures (although I'm not very familiar with Korea yet to make fair comparisions).

Respect for people older than you is also very strong in Korea. In Japan, there was still respect, but no like in Korea. Also, people of different ages don't mix as readily in Korea.

Things in Korea and Japan which are similar, include the "group" and "club" structure of society and thinking. Clubs are very important. Outside of the a group, there is not much reason to talk with a stranger. There seems to be more social expectations and "respects", compared to Australia.

Of course, Japanese and Korea people look very similar (from an Australian point of view), but I do notice a difference and can sometimes tell if someone is from Japan or Korea. I notice that glasses (for your eyes) in Korea typically have the thicker dark-rimmed simple style. Girls do their hair differently (the pony-tail tied up higher is quite common). Japan fashion seems more "out-there", modern, and crazy.

Korea seems more dynamic than Japan. Japan seems more closed and conservative in personal interaction, but when it comes to entertainment, Japan is more open, allowing or accepting more.

The mountains in Korea are less steep and tall, compared to the mountiains in Japan. Both countries have a lot of rice fields. The KTX train in Korea (from Busan to Seoul) I think was a little bit faster than the Shinkansen in Japan, and the Seoul metro is more simple and navigable than the Tokyo train network, but Japan overall has a more extensive fast-train and local train network.

Twice I've seen men in trains trying to sell something, which I never saw in Japan. Also, this morning when I went to buy a ticket, I saw junior-high school aged girls or guys (obviously employed by the train company) at the ticket gates standing there, helping people buy tickets. It was kind nice to see. In Japan, you would only see officially dressed, mature aged (or at least over 25) staff employed.

Anyway, the buildings are brighter, more colourful and have more variety than in Japan, where the buildings are closer to greys, browns and creams. They drive on the opposite side of the road in Korea (ie. US and Korea are the same and drive on the right-hand side, but in Japan and Australia cars drive on the left side). I have to be careful crossing the road!

I've enjoyed the time so far. Quick rundown on events:

Thursday night: Ferry from Shimonoseki, Japan overnight to Busan, South Korea. At Shimonoseki buying tickets, realised a few young Koreans were just a few yen short on buying a ticket to get back home. I lent them a few yen, and enjoyed chatting with them on the ferry over dinner and after. I enjoyed the ferry ride. Plenty of stuff on the ferry (baths, karaoke, dance room, restaurant, lounge area, games rooms). You can also go outside to see the night sea. Nice feeling. No rough sees. Slept really well. Woke up to rainy Busan.

Friday morn: Get of ferry. Breakfast with few new friends. Went to Beomeosa Temple in Busan, one of the most famous in Korea. It's a Buddhist temple, which is the dominant traditional religion in Korea. There are many churches in Korea also, with maybe about a third or a bit more Christian.

Friday afternoon: Caught KTX express train to Seoul. Travels at 304 km/h! Nice. About 3 hour trip. Comfy train, and has internet, but have to pay for it. Found my way to Mok-dong station and met Jason, my friend. Met some students, teachers and friends and enjoyed Friday night meeting.

Today: Slept really well, and woke up and met some good friends, and made a heap more friends. Played some games tonight and ate pizza!

Time to get a bit of rest. Seoul is a nice city! It feels quite safe, is quite beautiful from what I've seen, and has a good feel about it.

Off for a bit of sight seeing tomorrow and Monday!

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