My Brilliant Korea (Seoul, South Korea)

Written 29 September 2010.

You cannot be so right
Not on the way down
We were falling I fear
When the sun was here and we lay around.

“I’ll get the salmon as an entree, the lamb for the main, and for the dessert, yes, I think I’ll get the greyhound pudding.” That’s right kids: I’m in Korea.

Truth be told, I thought that most Koreans were cannibals, but it turns that that assumption is wrong on both fronts: they don’t eat dog and they’re actually quite nice. Unlike China with its clean air* and Japan with its dry heat*, Korea is actually a sunny, mild place with friendly, remarkably flat, faces utop dimunitive bodies. I’m here as part of my World Cup 2010 tour, which has already taken in the REAL World Cup, and which later tonight will incorporate the 2010 World Cup of Cooking (proudly brought to you by KFC). Now, KFC isn’t actually the sponsor of this World Cup, a major Korean electronics brand that is not Samsung is, but KFC is the sponsor of this latest installment from your globetrotting reminiscing ranconteur, so we must pay homage. If you don’t like fried chicken, you don’t deserve freedom.

And freedom is something in abundance here. Around 100,000 US troops come through Korea every year (I write ‘around’ because I just made that figure up), and their presence is very noticable. Around 50 kilometres north of where I write this is the most militarised installation in the history of the world. And 54 kilometres from here lies the realm of the most dangerous man in the world. That’s right: Glenn Beck lives in North Korea.

Kim Jong-Il is currently positioning his youngest son, the roustabout Kim Jung-Un to be his successor. According to the official news reports being released in the Korea Times, Jung-Un is more moderate that his father: he only hits four or five holes-in-one every time he plays golf.

So because South Korea (or the Korean Republic, as it is known at international sporting events) is the US’ biggest ally in Asia, there is a need to cater for the thousands of bawdy 20-year-old GIs that come here to spy on/monitor the Chinese. Sure, there are the usual transgender clubs (which, amusingly, doubles as a Greek restaurant), casinos (which, amusingly, are promoted by Pierce Brosnan as James Bond (as opposed to Brosnan himself)) and Starbucks (which, disturbingly, is popular); but the most common form of R&R venue in Seoul is fried chicken. Everywhere you go, you see restaurants with the very descriptive sign: Fried Chicken and Beer. We all know the Koreans are great marketers, after all, they’ve convinced me they don’t eat dog, but surely no-one, not even a poorly-educated, most likely black or hispanic, not gay man or woman from a low socio-economic background can be drawn so easily to such an establishment. Wrong! The seppos love it.

James Bond's Korean casino of choice

It was a long, long year
Hiding here on safe ground
But they were calling us here
Saying please don’t fear
This is your town.

There is a mountain that overlooks Seoul called something. On the top, one receives a beautiful view of the whole city – a panarama if you will – that rivals any other height-based observation platform that I have visited in Sydney, Melbourne, New York, London, Paris, Berkeley, Cape Town, Osaka, Singapore or Beijing (a tall structure is Tourism 101). At the peak of this mountain, on the verandah, Koreans lock in locks to seal their heart’s strongest desire. Most of them have the names of their girlfriend, boyfriend or popular Korean singer and Colbert antagonist Rain on them. I purchased a lock for KW5,000 (which is either $5 or $50) and locked mine right at the front, because Korea has to make way for me, with the word Dragons scratched onto it. My Korean guide (who is Christian, you can tell because his name is Joseph) asked why I didn’t put in the name of someone I loved. My reply: I don’t need superstition to pick up. Just rohypnol.

Korea is currently in the middle of a charm offensive. And I mean that literally: the man charged with improving Korea’s reputation as a tourist destination is named Kim Charm. With the G20 coming in November, Charm is charged with making Korea a more viable destination, as it is slipping in the rankings behind Japan, with its ear cleaners, and China, with its vacuum cleaners. I’ve barely seen much of Korea since arriving, but we did visit a major public foot thoroughfare, not dissimilar to Martin Place, named something. At the two ends of this majestic path lie the statues of Korea’s two great heroes. Whereas Australia has an abundance of cricketers, swimmers, Oscar winners and Kyle Sandilands to look up to, Korea only has two (they used to have three, but Kim Sandilands was kimnapped and taken to the North to host So You Think You Can Dictate?). One of them is the first King from the something dynasty. His name is something. The other is of a great Korean naval commander named something, who defeated the Japanese in a fierce battle – their version of Trafalgar – in the late 1500s. Both are pretty awesome.

One of the Korean heroes.

I was the stone that lay in your stride
The thorn in your side
We were the stars of our time.

I’m heading off now, so I’ll leave it here. Sorry for the obscure reference to a song none of you have heard from a band only four of you know of, and sorry for this email. So very boring.

(CP: The song being quoted in this post is My Brilliant Career by The Panics, written by The Panics.)

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