Monday, January 27, 2014

Travelin' Love

I'm so unspeakably fortunate that I get paid to do something which I would be PAYING to do in another life. I've always loved travel and longed to do more of it, but I expected the opportunities would be limited and would cost me dearly. To be well paid to circle the globe is hardly short of winning the lottery.

I spent yesterday in Dubai and now find myself back in Germany. A free day in Cologne and then back to Philly and homeward after a full two weeks on the road.

As I walked around Dubai during my 29 hour layover, I found myself on a kind of continuous cloud of amazement, and I've felt this before on these Dubai layovers. I've chewed many times on why this should be so. I have similar feelings about Hong Kong and--I realize yet again--about Cologne, but each place has its unique pull. And the pull of Dubai is maybe the strongest, perhaps because it's the most unexpected.

First, there's the question of extremes. The poor of Dubai are not poorer than other places I've visited--I've seen no homeless in Dubai, for example--but the rich sure seem richer. The big stuff is bigger, the expensive stuff is... expensiver. The opulence of the architecture, the extravagance of the shopping, the profligacy of the water usage in an arid desert, just the sheer ostentation of the place--it's like Vegas, but 10 times the size and encompassing every facet of life and not just adult playtime. Highways are wider, buildings are taller. That's one part of it. (A sign in the airport says that in 1970 there were 5 skyscrapers in Dubai; today there are over 900.)

Also in the 'extremity' category is the climate. Flying in from every direction one crosses an arid moonscape (or water) to get to this oasis--from the East it's an ocean of drifted sand like scenes from a David Lean film. It's just the most unlikely place to have a major city, since it has no indigenous food or water needed to sustain that city and little natural shelter; if you take away the man-made structures, people would bake to death in no time. (OK, it has access to energy, but even then there's irony: the oil of this region fuels the planet, and yet there must be no place better suited to solar energy). Flying in, the city gradually appears like a mirage, everything baked white and shimmering in a heat haze and almost indistinguishable from the surrounding eternity of sand. I grew up in Minnesota, where we regularly saw 30- and 40-below ambient winter temps. If you've never known anything different this seems normal and manageable. And I suppose the 120° summer temps of Dubai are looked at by the natives in exactly the same way. But to me the heat is mesmerizing and a little terrifying. You just feel so vulnerable to it; get away from your support structure and you wouldn't last long. (But this is true in the MN winter too, no?) Cars have to be parked in covered spaces; vehicles left uncovered age VERY quickly; greenery shrivels and disappears unless watered profusely (which is no easy task in a desert); everything is bleached of its color. The extravagant architecture of Dubai needs untold gigawatts of electricity to keep the air conditioning running--I cannot imagine what kind of electrical grid is needed to keep this place humming--and constant maintenance to keep buildings looking fresh. (I marvel at the army of guys making deliveries on little scooters--hundreds of them. You see them on the freeway, covered head-to-toe to protect them from the sun, driving in the hot blast like riding into a massive hair-dryer, baking in their helmets. I always wonder what would happen if they crashed; if they fell to the ground they would literally cook on the scalding pavement.)

On our end, the airplane pulls into its parking spot and is met with an air conditioning truck which immediately hooks up and pumps cool air through the airplane to keep things from overheating. It stays hooked up and running the whole time the airplane is on the ground. An overheated airplane can cause all sorts of mechanical trouble, and getting it cooled back down with onboard systems may ask too much of them. (Again, we make similar use of heat carts all the time in the Midwestern winters and I don't bat an eye. But here it seems somehow like SO MUCH ENERGY to keep the blistering sun at bay.) On the other side of the field the massive and ever-expanding passenger terminals keep a football-stadium's worth of atmosphere comfy-cool, passengers ferried from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned massive terminal to pre-cooled jumbo jet. That huge fleet of Emirates jets is pumped full of cool air at the gate just as ours is while people fuel and stock and maintain the fleet in the crushing heat. The whole business is just so... improbable.

And then there is the service culture. I generally dislike being singled-out for special treatment (not least because so many of my coworkers feel it is their due and I so strongly disagree with this sentiment). But Dubai is a place designed in its bone marrow to cater to people as if they were royalty (especially if they have money or if they're, you know, actual royalty). We stay at the Fairmont in Dubai, widely considered the best hotel in the layover database (it is one of a great many high-end hotels in Dubai), and the staff there almost appears to be under the influence of some kind of service-producing drug. We are so well-treated that it's almost suspicious. The staff remember our names and our preferences, and we are routinely upgraded to nicer rooms (even the broom closets at the Fairmont are Leona Helmsley nice). The porters seem actually eager to drag our bags for us, and everyone makes conversation with you like they actually care what you think. Our food is deeply discounted and the TVs in the room always have a personal greeting when you check in. Everyone is addressed as "Captain" (it must irk the captains to hear a co-pilot addressed that way). It's hard not to look forward to a Fairmont layover.

Out on the street the vibe is a little different. I've never been threatened or cat-called or mumbled at or even looked at askance particularly, and yet as a Westerner one is definitely a visitor (a lot of Aussies and New Zealanders and Brits and Germans work here, though they seem to live... elsewhere; I'm typically the only Westerner wandering off the beaten path). Where the Chinese are cheerfully oblivious to a fat white guy wandering in their midst, there is a subtle sense here that everybody knows I'm a visitor. I've never been badly treated, but neither is there any sense that anyone (other than the Fairmont staff) is glad to see you.

I have no problem with this whatsoever. I'm perfectly happy being no special commodity to the residents of Dubai--it's my preference, actually. My coworkers often bitch about how the airport staff treat us "like they're better than us," oblivious to how often WE project that impression to almost everyone we come into contact with the world over. Indeed, the very complaint implies that it's somehow wrong to treat us like just anybody.

My point here is not to bitch (yet again) about my coworkers. My point is that even in how we are treated Dubai is a place of extremes. There's a sense that a (presumed) Christian in a Muslim country is a distinct minority and a (presumed) American in the Middle East is not a treasured entity. Add to this the differential treatment of women--though even this is far from universal--and you end up with a place that's impossible to put your finger on. And that makes it intriguing almost by definition. It's simply not reducible to a single substance. Even as I completely understand those who dislike the place, and especially my wife's reticence about visiting a culture that treats women so badly; even as I agree with many of those sentiments; yet there's just something about the place that stays with me. I try to put my finger on it and I fail. But there's something.

***

Germany is much less mysterious. I've flown in here enough that the accents of the controllers (who after all speak very good English and use top-shelf equipment) are nearly invisible, and I've grown used to the Germany way of doing air traffic control, so that it's almost like the drop in blood pressure one feels when one flies back into the US and returns to our oh-so-easy ATC system.

And there is the city itself. Cologne is a perfect mixture of big city and quaint small-ish town. And I simply love everything about it: the people, the dress, the food, the festive atmosphere, the public transportation, the cleanliness and order of everything, the shopping, on and on and on and on. It's a place I would be eager to live. Maybe someday I'll grow tired of the place, but that sentiment is nowhere on the horizon presently.

In fact, I'll be back here in just over a week. Even as I sit at my desk at the Maritim typing this, I'm already looking forward to coming back. How cool is that?

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Lovely Day's Walk

Another near-perfect day in Cologne (walking map--though the out and back were slightly different and this map only partly captures it--can be found here). 

The usual deal: a quick walk over to the train station for a bite to eat—McDonald’s if it’s early, a currywurst if it’s later—and then I strike out in, hopefully, a new direction (or one I haven’t visited in a while). With recent walks taking me up and down the Rhine, today's plan was to strike out to the Southwest until I hit the 10-mile mark, and then turn around and head back. Rain was forecast until about noon, but by the time I left the hotel at 8:20 or so it was dry (though gray) and it remained so for the next five-plus hours. Nice.

After getting through the Street Shopping district along Schildergasse and emerging at Neumarkt I headed Southwest, and I was lucky enough to pick a street that continued almost unbroken for the next eight miles or so, winding up in the sleepy bedroom community of Gleuel. Big enough to have a bakery and a convenience kiosk for a snack and beverage, but there was little else in town. However, the place seemed well-served by city bus, which doubtless brought people into Cologne and back.

I made it back to the hotel footsore and hungry despite a couple snacks along my walk. So a change of shoes and I headed over to my favorite little pub where they serve these delicious little flatbread pizzas called “flammkuchen” or “flame cakes” (also, I see, called a Tarte flambée--so it's not an original creation). I ate too much of that, since I couldn’t bring the leftovers back with me as I usually do. After a quick shower I packed up and headed downstairs for the 90-minute van ride to Frankfurt, where I’m catching Emirates down to Dubai.


Interestingly, the driver announced at the outset that our ride would take 90-100 minutes, though I noticed (with my little iPhone GPS speedometer) that he spent most of the drive on the autobahn going 80-85 mph in our Sprinter van. So they must count on that rate of progress to make the schedule work. We were passed occasionally at that pace, though we passed far more people than passed us; and the DB ICE (Inter-City Express) train passed us at one point like we were standing still. The countryside is rolling and beautifully-wooded and -manicured. It’s a really beautiful part of the world, and everything seems top-shelf: the highways and signage, the airports, the rest stops, the farms, the little towns; it’s all clean and well-maintained and very civilized.

I've heard criticisms that the place is TOO orderly, too regimented, too insistent that everybody play strictly by the rules, and I could see that one might chafe at that if there were a steady diet of it, but honestly (apart from getting ticketed and fined on the spot for jaywalking a couple years ago) I've never really run up against this in any meaningful way. True, people will stand at a "don't walk" signal at 3:AM when the streets are utterly empty of pedestrians or cars, but  nobody seems too put out by my crossing against the light (after I've checked for the polizei, of course).

I love Deutschland!

Breakfast.

Someone's waiting patiently.








I always find these so moving.

Dead at 17. How excruciating for her family.


New hybrid buses. Not sure about the specifics, but they're very quiet.

A fair number of these around.

A new little app for my Pebble tracks time and distance and pace. The pace is instantaneous, so my stopping to photograph it caused the 16-minute pace to quickly lengthen.

And the post-perambulatory payoff: flammkuchen!


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's All About Seoul

Hotel room view. OK, not the best walking weather.


An almost perfect day spent walking in Seoul. Last time, about a month ago, I made a short jaunt to try out the train system (essential, since there's little to see here in Incheon) and to get a look at Itaewon, the shopping district of Seoul favored by Western tourists and servicefolk stationed here. There wasn't time for much more.

This layover amounted to a more luxurious 53 hours, the schedules written so that we could catch up on our sleep. (We cross so many time zones in quick succession that resting can be a challenge.) We got to the hotel about 8:AM on Monday morning and were overdue for sleep. But with the sun up already, and having logged a couple hours' sleep on the airplane on the leg up from Sydney, my body was good for only about three hours before I was up. It was sleeting and snowing for most of Monday (see above), so that made for a short day confined to the hotel. I was back in bed by 7:30 PM.

This morning, Tuesday, I was awake by about 3:AM and twiddled my thumbs until about 8:AM before catching the train into town. My plan was to use a couple notorious shopping districts as signposts for my planned walk, less because I planned to do any actual shopping than because these areas are probably a good example of the larger culture, and because I would surely see a lot of unexpected stuff in between. (A mostly-accurate Google Pedometer re-creation of my route is here.)

It's a long ride from Incheon into Seoul, and the train system is extensive and not entirely user-friendly, at least for a foreigner with no language. (If Wikipedia is to be believed, the Seoul train system is the second largest in the world in both length and ridership.) But I was able to get to my first stop--Dongdaemun--with only a single transfer at Bupyeong. The journey took a good 90+ minutes and one has to remain fairly alert since the English-language announcements and signage are easily missed. (We're lucky to have them at all, of course, and it's only proper that some extra vigilance falls to the tourist; but last time I nearly missed one connection, and then found myself on the right train line but branched off to the wrong terminal--so there's definitely a learning curve.) The trains are slow and the stops deliberate, a change from the crush of New York's subway and that of some Chinese cities I've seen.

Seoul is a big place, and typical of an older city there is little or no grid. I studied the area I planned to walk on Google Maps the night before, and once underway I relied on a couple iPhone apps and my compass to remain oriented. But with that little bit of preparation I found it quite easy to keep going in generally the right direction, and the only real concern was that I terminate at my planned train station, and even that wasn't really necessary so long as I ended up at SOME station in the train system. The getting lost along the way is a key part of the adventure.

The only downside today was the weather. It was better today than yesterday, but it's cold and damp here (low-mid 20s) and everything was covered with a sheet of ice. Everybody seemed to cope well enough--the crush of scooters delivering stuff was on the job despite the cold and ice--but one senses that this is not a daily occurrence here. The barkers in Myeong-dong all had outdoor heaters to make their jobs tolerable. The ice made walking a little tricky and walking at a goodly clip impossible. Still, nine miles (according to my phone GPS tracker) is a reasonable tally for the conditions, and except for the train station at Yongsan EVERYTHING was new.

It was the best possible way to spend a day.

At least 50% of the train riders were playing with their phones--mostly Korean models, naturally.

Shopping a mixture of big, pricey malls and small, Chinese-style booths and kiosks.



An unexpected find for the day: the Gyeongdong Market, specializing in dried seafood. Not being a seafood eater, walking thru this market was like watching an autopsy being performed. Ugh, but fascinating, but ugh.

Say it with me: Ugh.

Uuuuuuuugh.

Ewww. Ugh.

Yowza. Ugh.

Really? Holy god, ugh.

Jesus. Uuuuuuuuugh.

Holy fuck. This is NOT FOOD. I'll have nightmares for a month. No more swimming. Ever.

Etc.

Finally. Approaching Myeong-dong.


Seoul train station main ticketing concourse. Extensive shopping here.

One of the train sheds of the Seoul Station.

Lots of these outdoor shops: auto work or scrap metal processing or recycling.

How to make your already-huge phone even huger. Arms to hug you; it's almost Her.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Here Comes the Sun



I finished Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth Of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2010) a couple weeks ago. The book tells of what has become visible now as the great migration of slave-state blacks Northward and Westward between 1915 and 1975. Though she interviewed a thousand people for the book, the narrative primarily follows three people from their varied backgrounds in Jim Crow states to what is hoped will be better lives up North. Sharecropper Ida Mae Brandon Gladney left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937; field worker George Swanson Starling left Florida for Harlem in 1945; and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, a physician and surgeon, left Louisiana in 1953 for a better life in California. Though none of these migrants saw themselves as part of a movement, with a little distance we can see them as exactly representative of a mass movement involving some six million blacks, mostly in waves after the two World Wars.

As has become a custom of late, I'm reading this book in audio form which makes it difficult for me to recount my way through the pages by way of favorite passages. But like Matt Taibbi's Griftopia or Chris Hedges' Death Of the Liberal Class, this one has too many quotable passages anyway. It's not the language that grabs me, though Wilkerson is a former Pulitzer Prize-winner. The magnetism comes from the world she captures, an alien place that most of us--I, certainly--don't really understand.

Everyone knows the term Jim Crow, and most of us know that it represents a series of laws and codes intended to enforce a racist view of the world. But that description, ugly as it is, sounds considerably less menacing and heinous than the reality of Jim Crow. On many occasions in the past I have found myself shocked by information I should have taken on board years before; and so it is here. I've seen many a photo of "whites only" and "colored only" signs from the Jim Crow era and I know a little about the Civil Rights marches of the '60s, but somehow I never really took this information in and processed it.

Wilkerson's book goes into minute detail about what life was like for Southern blacks after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and provides a chilling rationale for what became a mass exodus of blacks from their homes over a 60-year period. I want to think that Lincoln's proclamation marked the beginning of the end of one of the epic wrongs of history--slavery--but in fact the act changed very little in the lives of the now-former slaves. The conquered Confederacy was under Northern control after the war for the decade of Reconstruction, and Northern values were enforced during this time. But with the withdrawal of Union garrisons, the ways of the Old South quickly reasserted themselves, and an ugly and rigid caste system--a system of apartheid--was enforced. This was Jim Crow.

I knew all this, of course, but it depresses one right to one's bone marrow to see the totalitarian and cunning and slippery way this tyranny was enacted--to see the frantic urgency with which this system was built and expanded. Far beyond separate-but-decidedly-UNequal facilities, blacks were placed, by law and custom, in an inferior position to whites in all things, and harsh and differential treatment was mandated and brutally enforced. This enforcement went so far as to punish any white person not wishing to follow these rules, and any black person even suspected of an infraction was dealt a brutal, and often fatal, reprimand. Many slaves became sharecroppers, working as "free men" the same land they had hitherto worked under duress. These land owners quickly found novel and unconscionable ways to keep their former slaves under their iron control. The common scenario was for a sharecropper to work an entire year and then go to the boss at season's end for a "reckoning." The boss would add up the worth of the sharecropper's labor and subtract from that the "costs" the sharecropper incurred from the boss--food and lodging and medical expenses, etc. The laborer had no say in these calculations. And the outcome in the vast numbers of cases was--at best--a draw: the sharecropper worked for a year for no wages, "earning" only the most meager hardscrabble existence. With a "fair" boss, a sharecropper might earn a few dollars at year's end, but more often the books would show the sharecropper further in the hole than when he started. That placed the sharecropper in the boss's debt, a position of legal standing which would give the boss leverage over the workers' very lives. Naturally, there was no legal recourse for any black person in the South, and even beatings and lynchings were not considered matters of legal importance--unless it was a white person who was beaten, then any kind of mob "justice" was tolerated, even mandated. A white man could do virtually anything to any black man, woman, or child and be reasonably assured that no legal action could be taken against him (nor would he likely face public condemnation). Blacks on the other hand were routinely beaten and tortured and killed for infractions they may never have committed. As men and women and families fled this oppression and injustice (imagine a black soldier returning to the South after fighting for his country overseas, only to face Jim Crow back at home!), the South saw its free-labor economy evaporating; it's incredibly revealing to watch the oblivion of the Southern whites as their economy faltered, and to see the risible and offensive attempts to correct the situation--always without admitting the epic wrong that lay at the core of the problem.

This system, laid bare before us, is absolutely shocking to my naive and easy-going nature. The details--and I had no idea how vast and all-encompassing this institutionalized racism was--leave one sick to one's stomach. To think of millions of people living in this system, denied essential human rights and the basic rights of law and citizenry, and for this system to have existed after the legal abolition of slavery, makes one realize that the greatest stain on our country continued long after the Civil War was said to have settled the issue. And as the story continues, we realize that the monstrous discrimination continued on, closer and closer to our own day, until we find ourselves in the present day (where we hear Supreme Court justices claim that racism is no longer an issue--which proves the lie much more eloquently than a detailed roster of infractions could do).

But as a white person a hundred years removed from slavery, I can only wonder at this state of affairs. I can't really understand what it was to live under this system, on either side. All I can do is try to absorb the reality of those times and translate it to something in my own world. And here's what strikes me: it seems that the country went through an episode of mass mental illness in the 1860s (and beyond). There was a wild irrationality in the Confederate mind, a blood-boiling certainty about things that just weren't true--not least in the conviction that a person's merit could be determined by their race (or their sex). Seven states--slave-holding states all--seceded immediately upon Lincoln's election to the Presidency, even though he had stated for the record that he had no desire, and felt he had no legal right, to interfere with slavery where it presently existed (all that was being proposed was that new territories added to the nation be free). But the would-be Confederacy took that information and concluded that "He's a-comin' for my slaves!" or "He's reducing me to the equal of a slave" and felt the only way to hang onto their "property" was to secede and form a new nation--a nation whose constitution, tellingly, held as a central tenet that whites MUST occupy a superior status to non-whites

It's just hard to make a rational account of this, and yet we descended into massive and prolonged bloodshed, town against town, neighbor against neighbor, because of it.

And as horrific and inexplicable as this seems when I read it, the real take-away is the recognition that very little has changed. As I read I find myself again and again thinking that this crazy, conspiracy-laden irrationality, this fear-and-armageddon thinking, is alive and well and completely unchanged in our present day. And it's centered in exactly the same geographical area (though racism and irrationality are found everywhere): the states of the Old Confederacy--the "red state" phenomenon where "conservatism" and social dysfunction are inextricably linked. The primary speakers of this country's political right--Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly--spout exactly the same kind of apocalyptic, made-up garbage (presumably because a straight accounting of the facts won't really get anyone's blood up). They and their followers are mad as hell at an awful lot of things that are demonstrably untrue--and talk of secession from the union once again swirls.

Any sober look at the opposition to Obama can't help but see a thick sinew of racism in the criticism of the policies of his administration--indeed, finding overt racism is not hard to do. Which REALLY makes it seem as though we've made zero progress in the last 150 years. While racism has always been with us and probably will continue to be a force until whites are soundly outnumbered in our population; and while far fewer people in 1860, North or South, were likely comfortable with the idea of full equality between races; I suspect the proportion who would reorder the world based on race remains similar to what it was back then.

It says the worst things about us that we seem unable to progress beyond this ugly clannishness, and that our culture, far from embracing rationality, is moving backward as rapidly as big money can write the checks.

Wilkerson's book tells an important story and is entertaining and engaging, but it's overlong. I appreciate that she did years' worth of prodigious research, but there is a lot of repetition. There's an argument to be made (tho she has not done so) that a lengthier immersion into this horribly unjust world is needed for those of us in the privileged classes to begin to grasp what it means to live under such strictures; but the book's impact was limited by our seeming to cover the same ground too many times. But that's a small complaint that does not undo the book's importance. If we are to prevent history repeating itself--as it seems to want so badly to do--we must first know this history. If this story is as eye-opening to others as it was to me, this book should be required reading. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Seoul

A few photos for today's walk in addition to these are here.


I've laid over here once before.

We fly in and out of Incheon, a suburb of Seoul approximately 30 miles to the Southwest of the city proper. Incheon, at least the area where we stay, is a nice, modern place, but it's kind of like a ghost town. The couple times I've been here there are people on the street, but many of the businesses are closed down and most of the buildings are residential high-rises. So it feels like the kind of place that folks pass thru.

On my last visit there wasn't time to get into town, and I contented myself with a walk around Incheon instead. On this visit we got to the hotel around 6:30 AM after an all-night flight from Sydney. I should have been ready for bed, but I found I was not sleepy when I got to my room. And I was excited to see another foreign place. So I headed down to talk to the concierge and made my way to the train station. He gave me a single-sheet photocopied map of the subway system and highlighted the trains I'd need to use to get to one of the town's big shopping districts, Itaewon.

Turns out, it's no simple task to get into town. There is a local Incheon subway system consisting of a single line of 29 stops that connects up with the greater Seoul train system. I wandered around for half an hour before finding the stop nearest the hotel (after going to a convenience store and buying a transit card for 9,500 Won--2,500 for the card and 7,000 to "charge" the card). I had walked past the station on my last visit, but had trouble finding it again today. Then one had to ride the Incheon train for 15-16 stops to the Seoul #1 line, where another 15 or so stops were needed to get into town. A third train was needed to get to Incheon, for which there is no easy connection--you kind of have to go well past your stop to a more distant connection node and then change trains back in the opposite direction. I was told that cabs are cheap and that there are buses as well, but after getting a tourist map I decided that it would be easier to walk. So I got off the #1 train at the Yongsan Electronics Mall and walked the 2-3 miles from there to the start of Itaewon.

I wasn't sure what to expect, really, but I somehow expected New York City. I believe Seoul and Tokyo vie for the world's two biggest metropolitan areas, and I of course saw about 1/100th of 1% of it. But it's much more Chinese-feeling than I expected (no offense intended--this is perhaps an unforgivable insult). There are a lot of high-rises, but the city is much more spread out than I expected, and much of it less vertical. The construction feels very like what I'm used to from Shanghai and Chengdu and Shenzhen, and there is the same mix of new and old, of spectacular and crumbling. The (presumably) lower-income stuff seems to follow the Chinese pattern: corrugated metal roofs and concrete construction, houses piled on top of each other with no yards, useful spaces found in every little void. The streets meander without a recognizable grid, and there are the narrow, dark alleyways so characteristic of China. I stayed along the main drag of Itaewon, but there appears to be much back-alley shopping on both sides of the main drag. These will wait for a longer visit coming up in January.

I walked a couple miles along the main drag of Itaewon and back. It was about 10:30 in the morning at this point and very little was open. I stopped at a Starbuck's for a hot chocolate--it was quite chilly. From there I made my way on foot back to Yongsan and the train home--which I then screwed up a couple times. My train line is the #1 to Incheon, but the platform I went to in Yongsan, to which the signs for Train #1 directed me, was for a different line. I was on the train before I heard an announcement for an unfamiliar next stop (It doesn't help that I speak not a word of Korean, of course, and that everything sounds the same. I'm lucky they say everything in English as well, but even then it's hard to understand). I stepped off right as the doors were closing. After looking at the incomprehensible signage and scratching my head for 15 minutes, I asked a passing policeman for help and he pointed across the station to a different platform (there are about 10 platforms--he waved his hand to say "over there a ways"). Eventually, after seeing no mention of line #1 anywhere upstairs except the platform where I was, I stumbled onto platform #5 despite there being no mention there of train #1. In small print it said "Incheon," though it had said that at the wrong platform as well. I decided to go with this.

Well, this was the right train--I'm still not quite sure how I was supposed to have found it--though it has two widely-divergent termini, and I of course got on the wrong one. But I didn't know it until I was two stops past the divergence point. Backtrack. I eventually made it back to Bupyeong, where the Incheon train ran, and then back to the hotel. I love riding trains, and even the wrong turns and missteps were enjoyable. I'd seen none of it before, and it was all part of the same adventure. Plus, now I kind of know how the trains work here. Kind of.

Next up, Almaty.

Xmas tree in our hotel lobby.

The No. 1 Seoul train rides on the surface.

Part of the iPark Mall at the Yongsan Station.




Lots of carts and scooters, much like China.




Entrance to Itaewon shopping street.