Monday, October 16, 2006

Three Days

It was a bit noisy late last night and when we went out this morning we discovered someone had been very sick in the stairwell of our apartment building. I have no idea what type of area I'm living in (ignorance is bliss), but I have to admit that alongside the somewhat 'earthy' nature of the local shops this isn't helping create too positive a picture. I don't mind it so far though.

Penny Profits

We had to go to City Hall today for my girlfriend to renew her passport. This entailed a 30 minute subway journey into what must, I suppose, pass for the city centre even if everywhere seems to be a shopping district here. So far, it seems to me that this is a nation of shopkeepers - everyone seems to be selling something wherever there's a space to put down a few boxes of wares. This could be quite endearing but the darker side reared its head today in the subway, as a disabled person worked their way from carriage to carriage trying to sell chewing gum. There is of course not much in the way of social security here and certainly it's nothing like the UK in that respect. People have to make what they can, and the disabled especially are in a difficult position so do what they must to earn some small income. My girlfriend explained that while selling in the underground was illegal, people did it anyway, although most passengers ignored the three sellers which visited our carriage. Those that bought may well have done so as an act of charity or guilt.

The disabled guy worked from person to person but ignored me. The next seller - an old man without any obvious disabilities - came up to me. I tried to ignore him at first in the style of the other passengers but when this didn't work (and from what I saw he didn't always give up with a simple brush off) I broke ranks, looked at him apologetically and said "I'm sorry" in English with an apologetic shrug of my shoulders. I probably wouldn't have bought anything he was selling anyway, but even if I'd been minded to I shouldn't have done it. There are so few Westerners here I feel the need to be mindful of the fact that I am, whether I like it or not, an ambassador of sorts, and were I to encourage these subway salesmen I might be thought of as encouraging the 'problem'. But I was really sad to think that this is what he might have been reduced to retain some small amount of dignity in the face of poverty. Perhaps I have it all wrong but it was at this point I remembered why I paid my taxes in the UK.

A third seller appeared in the carriage but he merely announced his products to the au
dience and demonstrated them - insofar as it's possible to demonstrate a wallet - before leaving when there were clearly no takers.

This is Where the Gas Masks Are Stored

In the event of an emergency gas masks are available (in the yellow cabinet) on the station platform near the Pepsi machine. I wonder how long it will be before such cabinets appear in the London Underground?

Foreigners Finally
A Japanese guy was on the subway today - the first time I'd seen a non-Korean since I arrived in Busan on Friday. Perhaps there have been
others but this was the first obvious one - obvious because he insisted on talking Japanese very loudly in the carriage. Clearly he wasn't so concerned with any ambassadorial duties. There was also a South-Asian American later in a local bank.

Open/Close Accounts
The local branch of Kookmin Bank - or KB as they seem to prefer to be known - has four desks, one of which declares itself as being for Account Opening/Closing. Banks in the UK would be appalled; the concept of closing an account is not one they'd advertise I'm sure. A friendly security guard with a gun bowed to customers when they entered and left the bank.

Civil Defence Alert
The air-raid sirens went off early afternoon in an unscheduled exercise. Apparently there are scheduled exercises once a month but this wasn't one of them. People are supposed to stop their cars and stand still on the street. Most do, and I have to say it's a pretty surreal experience and not one I particularly enjoyed having grown up in the late stages of the cold war two miles away from the nearest nuclear target.

We hurried down the street in a way which suggested genuine concern, but it turned out that Korean mother merely wanted to dive into a nearby eating establishment and avoid standing around on the street for ten minutes. A wise choice as it turned out; I'd almost finished my lunch by the time the alert was over. On the far side of the road - or maybe I should say six-lane highway, a police car, ambulance and two fire engines pulled up to what was, presumably, their assigned emergency point. I don't know if this indicates there are likely to be more fires than casualties if whatever unspecified event transpires.

Office Equipment
After the desks and chairs we'd bought yesterday were delivered in the afternoon, we shopped for computers for my girlfriend and I tried to resolve some portable computer problems - the conversion plugs I'd brought from the UK weren't working properly. Korean father brought another conversion plug to try and it seems more stable in the socket but it's probably doing something it shouldn't be in terms of volts and hertz so it continues to be a problem.

Shopping for computers is a thankless task here. It seems there are no computer stores locally - many Koreans access the Internet from their phones or from PC-bangs (rooms) so they don't need to buy machines or peripherals. Armed with little more than a recommendation I'd seen on one bulletin board we spent several hours roaming through some poorly designed websites trying to find a computer, webcam, router, keyboard, two monitors and a pair of speakers. This country needs an eBuyer or Amazon.

Busan Model in City Hall
While at City Hall I stumbled across this amazing model of the city which really gives you a sense of the local topography.

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