Wednesday, 9 October 2013

5 Observations About South Korea

I went to South Korea last month. It was great! And, in a welcome break from the usual, nothing particularly embarrassing or untoward happened to me. This leaves me little recourse but to write an unabashedly trite list of observations. Don’t worry, you can skip to the (also quite shit) photos.

South Korean food is mostly gross.

I’m not one of those ‘live like a local’ type travellers who believes that sampling the native diet is imperative to any given journey. This is very often because local food is a horrific abomination. South Koreans like fish. Any fish. If a creature has so much as taken a breath of sea air they will eat it. Banks of restaurants are fronted by tanks writhing with octopi and sea urchins and things that worryingly resemble human hearts. I visited South Korea’s largest fish market. At any given moment it officially* represents 97% of the ocean’s maximum occupancy (*not a made up statistic). Koreans eat the fish raw and, very often, while it’s still alive.

Dave’s travel tip: Eat only ice cream. If the milk comes from Korean cows, it’s technically local food.

The North/South border is a pantomime put on by children.

The border between North and South Korea is amongst the most militarised places on Earth, second only to a Millwall FC home game. They like to highlight this fact as often as possible. The empirical evidence (checkpoints, minefields, the world’s most respected barbed wire collection) doesn’t prevent the tour guides hammering it home every few minutes that you might be randomly exploded by a North Korean shell. The border visit itself is a series of fleetingly staged procedural line-ups overseen by soldiers who, due to mandatory service, are barely out of school. Half of them stand for hours in poses of aggression that make it seem as if the biggest hazard at the border is chronic constipation.

Dave’s travel tip: Seriously though, those kids could kill you with their left thumb.

Everyone in South Korea is a model.

I am not an attractive man. My eyes are beady and I walk like a half-witted oaf. By English standards, I am merely forgettable. By Korean standards, I am pepper spray to the eyes. Everyone in South Korea is beautiful. I have never seen such a high concentration of attractive individuals outside of that recurring dream where I’m naked and everyone laughs. This is partly because they have an attitude to caring for themselves that puts much of the world to shame. It also has something to do with cosmetic surgery being commonplace. They even advertise it on the subway.

Dave’s travel tip: Don’t expect to have any sex in South Korea.

You might die of old age at South Korean traffic lights.

South Korean roads are so wide that most English people would expect sponsorship just to cross them. A wait at South Korean traffic lights is like a queue for the world’s worst theme park ride. Chance it, and you’ll certainly be killed on one of approximately twenty-seven lanes of traffic. Bus drivers spend so much time at junctions that they actually get out for a cigarette break before the lights turn green.

Dave’s travel tip: Just stay in your hostel. Sod it.

South Korea is absolutely beautiful.

Capital city Seoul has no globally famous landmarks; there’s no Big Ben or Eiffel Tower or Penge Market. The majority of buildings are identikit apartment blocks. But what it lacks in a focal point it more than makes up for in green spaces, clean and efficient transport, and preserved heritage. Stray out of the city and it’s nothing but stunning mountain scenery in all directions. It’s one of the more beautiful countries I’ve ever visited.

Dave’s travel tip: Or just look it up on Google Earth. It’s basically the same.

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