Here are some comparisons of Korea with other places. More observations from this old dad.
South Korea is just over 100km – or a few hours ferry ride – from Japan. Across the stretch of water known as the East Sea or Sea of Japan depending where you come from. Yet Korea has relatively little seismic activity, compared with neighbouring Japan.
The other day they had an earthquake not far from here – so I was told. I never felt it, but I later found out it was about the time I noticed a lot of fairly large fish jumping out of sea as if they were going crazy!! I was walking along the quayside looking into the water at the little fish close to the rocks when I suddenly noticed some much larger fish jumping out of the water. Then more and more joined in. Leaping fully out of the sea like salmon trying to fight their way up the falls of a descending river. At the time I thought that there must have been a much larger predator in the quay but now I believe it was about the time of the “quake”. My senses may be deteriorating due to age but I am sure those fish felt the tremors.
In the work’s canteen the Koreans file in, serve up their food and sit down. Then it’s heads down. Hardly raising their heads until they have eaten enough. Then it’s straight over to drop off their trays and chopsticks.
On the way out of the canteen they pass rows of water fountains and take a quick slurp of water – never any drinks with the meal! Very curious.
Then, just before the exit there are two large urns of tea where most will drink it standing almost without pausing. The whole thing is a like a production line. Then out.
In the UK we tend to eat quickly and go back to work but it’s nothing like the conveyor belt style of this place. And there would always be drinks to take a little time with at the end of the meal.
In Spain eating lunch it is a national pastime where it normally lasts for 2 hours – or even longer. If the Spanish did a Korean style lunch it would be like finding a restaurant that you want to eat in then turning around and going straight back to work!! It couldn’t be more different.
Of the three oriental languages Korean must be by far the easiest to learn for westerners. Chinese writing contains thousands of characters. Japanese is initially even more confusing. It uses Chinese-like characters (of which there are thousands) plus a kind of syllable based writing which is possibly simpler and more like an alphabet (but not quite).
Korean is very simple by comparison. It has an alphabet consisting of 40 letters – 19 consonants and 21 vowels. The letters are grouped into blocks, usually of two or three letters, to form syllables – possibly often confused for being characters. If you know the 40 letters of the alphabet you can, more or less, instantly read it. Even if you do not know what the words mean. Great when you are looking for a place name on a bus for example.
Written Korean is very distinctive. You can spot it right away because of the repeated use of circular and oval letters. There are no circles in Chinese and hardly noticeable in Japanese.
Furthermore, Korean is also written left to right, top to bottom. Another good reason it would be easier for westerners.
In this part of Korea at least there is no chance of a car/bus/van stopping at a pedestrian (zebra) crossing unless there are traffic lights. It can be quite annoying and dangerous even if you are at a zebra. It reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago where I mentioned how the Spanish cross the roads at zebra crossings. They would not survive long here. That probably explains why I have neither seen nor heard any Spanish people here.
Today is the last day of my first visit to Korea and the job is not complete. There is talk of another trip in the new year. But I am not thinking about that right now. I just want to head west and see my boy.