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New Years

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Last night started late at the Speakeasy in downtown Gwangju. We arrived at around 11:00 and wandered around lighting off roman candles and watching the live pop show concert in the center of town before heading to the foreigner bar.

The place was packed and I had a great time meeting folks from all over the world. Pretty standard countdown to intoxication kind of New Year.

I’m on a bus now bound for Busan and Korean guys next to me keep feeding me dried octopus, potatoes, and kimbap (Korean sushi). My voice is a wreck from karaoke two nights ago and according to my new friend I “smell strongly of alcohol.” I’m heading to Busan to catch a ferry that exists in theory, but have no idea if it’s running on New Years since it’s a holiday for both countries.

An entertainment assessment: Korea v. Japan

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Late start needless to say. We caught a movie before shifting into New Years mode. The movie got me thinking about Japan. Throughout the trip I’ve tried to be careful about comparing the countries too much, but it’s been difficult to resist. Korea is often described as being somewhere in between China and Japan, and I’m not talking solely about geography. It’s not as clean and overly polite as Japan, but not as dirty as China, and Koreans have figured out how to form an orderly line. Cost of living is less than Japan and more than China. I’ve also found that people are genuinely interested in foreigners here as in Japan, but are more outgoing in their willingness to approach you. This gung-ho attitude is also present in Chinese society, but when taken to extremes comes off as aloofness or blatant disregard for others. While I don’t like using blanket descriptions or comparisons, I have had occasions in my time here where they are useful.

So in regard to Japan, I’ve been refreshed by the entertainment options readily available in Korea. It seems that Korean’s enjoy their free time more by the numerous options available to them. Japan’s primary entertainment venues are karaoke and Pachinko. Pachinko in particular is everywhere and is an activity that is so incredibly unappealing to me personally that it has become a symbol in my mind of the depressing workaholic lifestyle of some Japanese. It is a type of casino gambling that’s akin to vertical pinball. I haven’t quite figured it out completely because it’s played in a brightly lit, noisy, smoke-filled hall that I can’t stand, and is expensive to boot. As neither a fan of gambling nor sitting for hours at a time breathing second-hand smoke, I will never understand Pachinko’s popularity. But by its prevalence on every corner, it appears to be the entertainment of choice.

In a typical shopping area in Korea you can find many internet cafes, pool halls, noribong (karaoke), and movie theaters. There are simply more choices. Movie theaters tell a larger story. I spent about $10 to see an evening show, the price including popcorn and drink. In Japan, seeing a movie in a theater costs between $15-20 dollars for the ticket alone. This doesn’t include the train or bus ride that getting to the theater might require, as theaters are few and far between.

The prevalence of affordable, convenient movie theaters and Korea’s thriving entertainment industry are no coincidence. The film and television industries have been exporting Korean movies and shows around Asia for years, and a few movies have enjoyed acclaim recently worldwide. The most popular soap operas in Japan are Korean, sparking a surge in middle aged Japanese women tourists coming to Korea to chance a glimpse of their favorite heart-throb stars.

While manga and anime are Japanese mainstays, film that falls out of the animated category is stagnant in Japan. The movie companies are barely hanging on, bolstered slightly by the recent Japanese horror boom, but generally in a slump.

In the two years I’ve been in Japan, I’ve seen three movies in theaters. A week in Korea and I saw one because how can I resist when the option is there and cheap? While we waited for the show we played a few games of poor downstairs, the whole experience making me realize what I’ve been reluctant to admit; Japan is kind of boring.



Gwangju, May 18 Revolt

Saturday, December 30th, 2006
Gwangju was the site of a large uprising against the government which started on May 18, 1980. A group of pro-communist student activists took to the streets, angered by the closing of the University by military personnel. The ... [Continue reading this entry]

Gwangju, South Korea

Friday, December 29th, 2006
It was nice to wake up in an apartment. Scott had to work, so I had the day to myself to explore Gwangju. As South Korea's fifth largest city, this home to 1.4 million people has a ... [Continue reading this entry]

National Museum of Korea

Thursday, December 28th, 2006
Chiaki left this morning, catching the early flight back to Tokyo to bring her ridiculously short vacation to a close. I slept in before checking out of the hotel and beginning my long solo trip back to Japan. ... [Continue reading this entry]

The 38th Parallel

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
I am not much for tours. I like doing touristy things at times while traveling of course, but the thought of piling in and out of a bus and anything involving a blow horn or following a flag sends ... [Continue reading this entry]

Best of Seoul, and another spot to miss

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006
The Korean War Memorial is a must. You can wander about the huge military junkyard and larger than life statues that surrounds the fortress-like building. I felt like a kid sitting in the cockpit of an old B-52 ... [Continue reading this entry]

Big day in Seoul

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006
Seoul is by far the most tourist friendly of all the huge Asian cities I've been. When you arrive, head straight to one of the many kiosks scattered about the tourist areas, especially the bustling markets of Namdaemun and ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Japanese travel juggernaut

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006
We were greeted at Incheon airport by the travel agency coordinator. Since Incheon is about an hour from Seoul, we thought we'd take advantage of the free ride to the hotel. In the past I've used Japanese travel ... [Continue reading this entry]

You have bullet?

Monday, December 25th, 2006
I've been waiting at this luggage carasol way too long, starting to think that all of my good travel karma has finally been exhausted when I spot my bag. We made it to Seoul at last and are in ... [Continue reading this entry]