Around Town: Bugu-ri and Uljin-gun

August 21, 2010

It occurs to me that every last expat on the planet has it easy now compared to, say, thirty years ago. Using Facebook to keep in touch with friends back home. Using Skype to call family. Googling the definition of a foreign word we learn. If I had been confined to Bugu in the 1980’s, I’d still be more or less going through the same routine, but every task would increase in difficulty; how long would it have been before I discovered how to get to Deokgu Hot Springs? How could I connect to other waygook without Couchsurfing? Where would I learn about world news? CNN? The occasional overpriced copy of Newsweek?

I know it’s better in the long run to have such a fountain of information available, but it hurts cultural immersion. I probably would be fluent in Japanese had I not had an English language source like the internet during my two years abroad. And with the spread of information, the lines between countries become even more skewed… I say this, having heard Poker Face blasting from an SVU in the middle of Uljin.

So what are my impressions thus far? The quality of life in Korea is pretty in line with that of Japan:

– Family Mart convenience stores are around, but obento (haven’t learned the Korean name yet) aren’t as popular. They have them, featuring rice, meat, and kimchi, but the cashier doesn’t instinctively ask if you’d like it heated up as she would in Japan, and the selection isn’t as good.

– I’m incredibly biased on bathhouses, sento in Japan and jimjilbang (찜질방) in Korea, but there are some differences worth noting. In Korea, jimjilbang are just as common, but also used for cheap lodging. Prices are comparable: 4500 Won in Korea, 360 Yen in Japan (just for a bath). In addition, Koreans seem to have no problem with others using a hand scrubber near the baths.

– In terms of general “feel”, I’d say Japan is generally more orderly and cleaner… not that it’s that noticeable.

– Transportation is just as easy, but buses can stop anywhere en route. By the same token, anyone can hail a bus from anywhere en route.

– Public restrooms are just as common, but I’d take care to bring your own toilet paper.

– The major car brands in Korea are Kia and Hyundai. But believe me, if Samsung could develop a car, they would.

In both Bugu and Uljin, there is an open market every five days. Mostly fish and fruit. As my negotiating tactics are kind of being reinvented at this point, I’ll stick to the only supermarket in the area, Home Mart.

I’m still looking for a decent beach on which to go barefoot running; Uljin’s was too rocky. The best prospective is Juk-byeon, which seems to stretch for quite a ways. Just a short bus ride from Bugu.

On a more serious note, I’m very selfish to have come back out to Asia. Oh sure, I can claim I just wanted to satisfy my travel demons, but in reality, it’s more of an inflated ego. I’m tall here. I’m seen as more attractive. I stand out… blessing and a curse there. It hasn’t even been two weeks, and already a bystander told me I looked like “talent”, meaning a Hollywood celebrity. I can deflect such flattery, but that doesn’t mean I get tired of hearing it; it’s part of the reason some who live in Asia for years can’t seem to force themselves to return “home”. They don’t know how to cope with being normal again. I can’t really blame them.

I’m definitely tiptoeing around my current environment until I feel at ease. Reminds me of when I relocated to Higashi-Hiroshima; it took me weeks of just hanging out in my apartment after hours and on weekends before I felt like taking the train into Hiroshima City. When I finally did approach Saijo Station for the first time, I didn’t get on the rapid train (only saves you three minutes) because I thought I might be charged extra. What can I say? I didn’t know the train system, I didn’t know the rules. I’m learning the rules in Korea day by day.

Unlike in Japan, where you enter a bus, take a ticket, and pay the far at departure, you pay in advance here, and there are no rules when it comes to getting on and off.

Fried chicken is incredibly popular here. Not that it isn’t stateside, but the majority of restaurants seem to have chicken platters. I can’t imagine how KFC maintains a presence here, as their cuisine is… disgusting.

Brand name cosmetics and toiletries are more prevalent in Korea than they are in Japan. I doubt I’ll find an import store outside of the major cities (Daegu, Seoul, Busan), but some food products and soaps I had to make an effort to find in Nippon are readily available in Family Marts over here. The same is true of clothing; I’m sure you can find Adidas and Nike stores in Tokyo and Osaka, but aside from them, it’s really Japanese product. Over here, even a small community like Uljin is bustling with brand name clothing.

Tomorrow, I think I’m going to try and get an early start by hiking the trail I mentioned near Deokgu. Don’t know how long it’ll take, but I can guarantee a long soak when I finish.

One Response to Around Town: Bugu-ri and Uljin-gun

  1. Brendan on August 24, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Hey, nice to see you are finding your feet round our little town 🙂

    yeah, Hyu-Jong Beach in Jookie is the go for your running fetish, that’s for sure. great for clam diving too by the way, since the water is super-clear.

    Talk to you later on

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