Saturday, April 22, 2017

Descending Lifelines and Other Korean Oddities

I'm still trying to figure out why I needed two stylists to blow-dry my hair with their duelling dryers in a Seoul salon.

That's the joy of travel. Even everyday situations can surprise. When something is "not like back home" that is to be welcomed.

Anyway, here's my list of some Korean oddities I've encountered this past week.

Descending Lifelines

Along with a hair dryer and a tea kettle, I've found the well-appointed hotel room boasts a rappel line for emergencies. You attach it to a wall bracket, and jump out the window, presumably remembering to hang on to the device.

They're called "Descending Lifelines"--I have one pictured at the top of this post.

In my Mokpo hotel room, the wall bracket was hidden behind a heavy panel. I would never have known it was there had I not bumped the panel and sent it crashing. Behind it was a substantial swing-out bracket capable of supporting a small vehicle.


They all look so young. OK, in my book, anything under fifty is young. But I'm talking about 18- or 19-year-olds in military uniform. There are dozens of them in every train or bus station.

South Korea has compulsory military service for males. This includes 21 to 24 months full-time duty.

I still see the mother, lovingly holding on to her soldier son as he headed towards his train. He treated his mother kindly, and didn't seem embarrassed.
That's a military observation post behind me.
I am very aware that things military are normal. I had to show my passport and wear an ID around my neck when I walked the old Seoul city wall, the bit closest to North Korea (about 30 miles away). In the city of Gwangju, fighter planes flew overhead ever few minutes, sometimes in formation. Subways and pedestrian tunnels are deep and carry "shelter" signs.

Korea suffered in much of the 20th century, and they brace themselves for more.

It is Normal to be Asked Your Age

I was walking through a train station when an older Korean woman ran up to me to chat in English. Early in the conversation she asked me my age. I was not surprised as I have been asked the same thing by other people.

The Korean language has many different honorifics and formal words that depend on a person's age.

I did not ask the woman her age.

We ended the conversation with a high five.

The Alphabet

Well, duh, it's hard to miss. The problem is, it's unique to Korea, so almost nobody except Koreans can read it.

King Sejong the Great invented the alphabet back in the 15th century. It's said he almost lost his eyesight in the process. He claimed a stupid man could learn the alphabet in 10 days. I don't have enough time.

Cell Signal Everywhere

I have always had a cell signal in South Korea.  I've been in subway and intercity train tunnels: strong signal. At the top of mountains in national parks? Strong signal.
On national park trails, every few kilometers you see markers like the one pictured above. Presumably, hikers scan the 2D barcode with their smartphones to inform the authorities of their location.


There's a lot of Christian churches. They tend to have an idealized, Disney look about them and are hard to miss especially at night. The cross, stuck on a rod above the steeple is lit from within with an ever-changing roster of saturated colors.

According to Pew Research:
29% of Koreans identify Christian
46% no affiliation
23% Buddhist
In Japan around 1% identify as Christian.

Love Hotels

Tomorrow night I'll be staying in Gyeongju's Sugar Hotel, a former love hotel. After years of renting to couples by the hour or afternoon, they've finally gone legit. I'll be on the lookout for evidence of it's former business model.
My Busan (South Korea) hotel room, April 2013. Note:
1. The ceiling. This is not normal, not even in Korea.
2. Yes, that is a descending lifeline hanging on the wall beside the curtain.

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