Posted 3.11.2010, updated 4.11.2010
25.05.2010 - 31.12.2010 10 °C
I have spent more than half a year in Korea now. Time for some recap:
I live with Bomi in Ansan, a small town of just 700'000 people in the periphery of Seoul. Our apartment is just one room with a kitchen at the entrance and a bathroom, but that seems to be the most widespread small apartment configuration. It is conveniently located in the vicinity of one of the Seoul Metro Stations. The Korean way of paying rent is that you pay a cash deposit to the landlord and your monthly rent will depend on the amount of the deposit. This means that if you pay around 100'000 dollars deposit you can live rent-free in a normal apartment (needless to say this is not the option Bomi and I could go for).
Ansan is a planned city. This means at some point the government decided to build a city over the rice-paddies that used to be here. As a result, not only are the roads logically structured, but the city is incredibly green. I read that over 70% of Ansan consists of parks, gardens, green areas, etc. Here's an example of one of the main streets in my area:
Actually that main street is on either side of this green stretch. There are pedestrian and bicycle paths in there with fitness machines along the way. Outdoor fitness machines can be found everywhere in South Korea and cleverly use your own weight. Cycling roads are also very common.
In Ansan every citizen can take a city-bicycle for free from several bicycle stations and keep it for one or two days. The bicycle can then be returned to any of the bicycle stations. On non-rainy days I usually take a bike to go to work and give it back in the evening. It's very convenient. On rainy days I take the shuttle bus that takes people from the Metro Station to KORDI.
The Korea Ocean Research & Development Institute is a semi-governmental research institute located on some kind of campus. There are several research buildings, 4 tennis courts, one soccer pitch, a basket ball pitch, a kick-volley pitch (some kind of one-bounce foot-volley), a table-tennis room, and a fitness room. I've started playing all these sports again. I didn't know kick-volley before, but it's very popular in Korea and quite fun. Here's one picture of the kickvolley court (on a Saturday when the pitch is rented out) and of the building where I work. Note the abundant green areas also inside the institute.
Work in Korea starts at 9:00 and ends at 18:00. In practice however, many private companies make their employees work 3-4 hours more per day (without compensation, of course). In addition, I heard that Koreans take on average 3-4 days of holiday per year. Taking your complete two weeks of holiday is considered being unmotivated and uninterested in the well-being of your company. Fortunately for me, KORDI is a governmental institute, even if most of the funding comes from the private sector.
Bomi started grad studies in some kind of socio-political environmental program. I always forget the exact name. She did manage to get into the best university in Korea, though, which is quite a feat. Seoul National University is located in the South of Seoul in the hills. Here's a picture of part of the campus (it's really big!) in the foreground and Seoul in the background. I took this picture when I went for a hike in the hills around SNU:
We're thinking about moving to Southern Seoul in early 2011. Living in Seoul will make it easier for us to have a social life and to go out in the evenings. From Ansan it takes us over one hour to go downtown. We'll see...
Seoul itself is quite clean despite the 25 million people that live in and around Seoul. And if you know where to go there are many green and quiet places here as well:
Less well hidden are the many parks along the river Nam that separates Seoul in two parts:
The last picture was taken in the early morning during the soccer world cup. Korea's matches were broadcast live on giant screens all over the city. Interestingly, Korean supporters always wear red, in distinction of the Korean team that wears blue dresses.
Because of the density of the population around Seoul, the government has started large-scale land-reclaiming from the sea around Incheon. Here are two pictures. The first picture shows a muddy area that was recently reclaimed. The second picture is from the area right next to it and used to look like the first picture only one year ago. Koreans build fast!
In early October the Swiss embassy organized a trip to Panmunjom, which is where the Swiss and Swedish neutral envoys are located in the middle of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. I got to meet the only General in the Swiss army eat Swiss food made with actual Swiss cheese! Bliss... Here are pictures of the ambassador giving a speech (Lieutenant-General J-J. Joss is on his right), the dividing line between North and South, me on North Korean ground in the meeting room, and the only North Korean soldier that was present and occasionally watched us with binoculars (all the others were probably recalled to Pyongyang for the parade during the party meeting).
Here are some pictures of the mountains along the East coast where Bomi and I went for some kind of hippie festival. There's some really beautiful nature once you get out of Seoul:
And finally these are pictures from an excursion that KORDI organized to visit it's subsidiary on the South coast:
The bay where the South Sea Research Institute is located on Geoje Island;
Fishfarms along the Southern Sea. Unfortunately, Koreans are very fond of Sachimi, or raw fish. What a waste, this fish would taste so much better if cooked!
The obligatory Karaoke evening. The English song section is unfortunately rather small. I am usually limited to 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up?", No Doubt's "Don't Speak", Radiohead's "Creep", or Queen's "We are the champions". I either have to learn more mainstream songs or start learning Korean songs.
A reconstruction of the "turtle ship" from the 15th century, which may have been the earliest ironclad warships.
Al right, I'm going to stop here for today. I will write more about Korean life and my future plans in a separate post. For now just this: I will be in Kyoto, Japan, December 5th to 11th, I will be in San Francicso, USA, December 12th to 18th, and I will be in Switzerland December 23rd to January 4th.