안녕하세요 ( = annyong haseyo = hello),
How are you?
It's autumn in South Korea, the leaves are going yellow, the temperatures have dropped in the last fortnight, and the newspaper today reported the season's first snowfall on Baekdu-san (san = mountain). Daytime temperatures are pleasant but it's getting cold at night, and the summer humidity has gone. I'm sitting up on the roof of my 5-storey apartment building, which is small compared to the 20-25 storey blocks across the other side of the subway on my left. Most urban Koreans live in these tall buildings of identical design. Busan has the population of Melbourne, but the area and geography of Wellington.
On my right, past the shops and Pusan National University, is Geumjong-san, which is 700m high and takes up the western skyline. It's one of the highlights of living here, as it's big enough to tramp around all day and provides much-needed green space. It has Buddhist temples, granite rock formations, and squirrels running around in the forest. As a Taranaki boy, it's good to have a mountain nearby.
From here I can hear trains, construction work, water pumping, traffic and a fruit-seller's truck with its monotonous loudspeaker sales pitch. A train has just passed; they come every five minutes. I have to walk up on the mountain if I need quiet. At night-time there are often cats "fighting", arguments, alms collectors and an ajuma (= old woman) who comes at midnight to sort through the rubbish bags.
The air today is clear, with a minimum of haze. Coming to a densely populated country (about 10% larger than Tasmania; double the population of Australia and New Zealand combined) with air pollution issues has definitely taught me to enjoy clean air and blue sky when I can get it! Busan does have its bad air days, but is a big improvement on Suwon. It also has seven beaches, though I've become disillusioned thanks to a persistent ear infection I picked up swimming at Haeundae a fortnight ago. I'm on antibiotics.
Overall things are going well. I'm 191 days down, 255 to go in Korea. I've adapted to the local conditions and food (gained weight a few months ago but have slimmed back down), and paid off my student loan. From here I can concentrate on making music – trying to book gigs in Seoul and get involved in the NZ-smalltown-sized Busan music scene, and making some new pieces out of my backlog of Korean field recordings. I'm also keen to take the opportunity to visit some other Asian countries when I get time off work – Cynthia and I are visiting Osaka and Kyoto in Japan from Nov 1-4.
Korea is just one specific Asian culture, with a different language and writing system, food, arts, culture and history from anywhere else. It's a conformist society, and one part of the world where the cold war is still going for example (the Korean war 1950-1953 never officially ended, the North and South just had a ceasefire) - military service is compulsory for young men. They're keen to take on the West in some ways, but take a lot of the wrong things (brand names, plastic surgery, rampant commercialism) onboard. Then there's the Stalinist dynasty North Korea, making the two countries a kind of split-personality yin/yang.
We're on target to finally get to Europe in the second half of 2008. Scandinavia (the "every man's right" law of free camping on public land) and Portugal (the Carnation Revolution, where the soldiers declined to open fire on peaceful demonstrators, thus forcing the military government to step down) particularly appeal to me at this distance.
In the meantime I want to learn what I can about this part of the world and make the most of it. I'm alive and well in Busan – and hoping to hear back from you!
Posted by fiffdimension at November 20, 2007 05:45 PM
Best wishes, Dave