Surprising Findings in North and South Korea
No Whistling, Abandoned Hotels Fetish – and Some Very Well-Behaved Ladies
In many ways, I guess everything about Korea was inevitably going to surprise me, because I knew so little about the country before I came here. It’s on the other side of the world from England, and we rarely get any news about it there.
Some things that surprised me:
1) Koreans don’t whistle. In fact, many Koreans can’t whistle. When I asked my students why, they said that whistling was taboo. I’ll have to look into that one a bit more.
2) Teachers must not correct books using a red pen! If you write someone’s name in red, it means they are dead!
3) There is a TV channel devoted 24/7 to showing a board game, called Paduk, which is a bit like chess. On the screen you see the board and hands occasionally moving pieces. I think that channel would slowly take over my life if it weren’t for the fact that there are other TV channels, which just show teenagers playing video games all day and night. In fact, it’s the same video game all of the time and it’s not even a very good one. I mean if it were Age of Empires or something, at least it would look nice.
4) Oh, and another thing, the commercial breaks are longer than the actual programmes. Sometimes, you’ll just be getting into a Korean soap, and then a commercial break will start and go on and on and on and on. So, you wait, right? And what comes on after the commercial break? A completely different programme! So, you never do get to find out which one of those two guys she ended up with. I guess if you are watching the board game or video game channels, it doesn’t really matter anyway.
5) Loudspeakers everywhere. I have never heard so many loudspeakers in the streets anywhere else in the world. There are mobile shops (flatbed trucks) constantly cruising the streets, with loudpeakers turned up to maximum volume, advertising everything from onions to computers. The schools have even bigger and louder loudspeakers blaring out childrens’ songs, physical education instructions etc. not only to the whole school, but to the entire neighbourhood.
6) Palaces. Korea is really big on palaces. There are five different royal palaces in Seoul alone and they are vast. It took me about two hours just to walk round one of them.
7) One of the tallest buildings in Korea (if not the tallest) is in North Korea! It’s also the most grotesque:
The World’s Largest Ruin? Ryugyong Hotel, The Pyongyang Ghost Tower – an unfinished hotel, looking very atmospheric early in the morning (a new haunt for Dracula, if he is still around):
Pyongyang officials do seem to realize how depressing this hotel looks, so they started to dress the outside of the hotel with glass, but this will hardly take care of the rotten core inside. However, you should not underestimate North Koreans, one day the Ryugyong Hotel might even look like this:
Another abandoned building, probably a hotel, nearby -
Koreans don’t use knives. They cut meat, noodles and anything else that is inconveniently long with scissors. Sometimes in a restaurant a waitress will just lean over, with her pair of scissors, and helpfully snip a few pieces of food for you. The funny thing is, it makes sense! I realize now that the rest of the world has got it wrong. It’s actually much easier to cut with scissors than with a knife.
9) Koreans invented printing. Forget all of that Guttenburg press rubbish. The Koreans invented printing long before that – more info.
10) No Japanese cars. Korea must be the only country in the world where you don’t see Japanese cars on the roads. In fact, you don’t see any foreign cars on the roads. They are all Korean.
11) On Valentine’s Day, February 14th, women give gifts of flowers and chocolates to men. And, no I haven’t got that the wrong way round, but you may think they have.
12) Confusing street numbers. In most countries when you are looking for a house, you can follow the numbers on the buildings. They are arranged in a logical numbered sequence, right? Not in Korea. Next to House No. 1 could be house No. 88 or anything! House No. 2 will probably be half a mile away. Why? I wondered. Something to do with confusing the invading North Korean troops when they arrive, as somebody helpfully suggested? No. Apparently, they are numbered according to their age. So No. 1 will be the oldest house on the street. What happens if they tear it down and build a new one on the same spot, God only knows. Anyway, what it all means is that giving your address to a taxi driver is next-to-useless. You have to guide them every step of the way.
13) OK, I know you are expecting it, but the first time you see a dead dog, skinned, on a butcher’s slab at the market, it does surprise you, believe me!
BONUS: Some Curious Imagery From North Korea
North Korean Traffic Lady (see her in action in this video) -
Apparenty, there are no streetlights in Pyongyang, so these ladies take over in bossing around the few cars that Pyongyang does have.
Impersonal architecture style is definitely intimidating:
Contrary to the popular belief, North Korea can boast some color – see these children out for a walk:
Colorful clothing of a group of workers attending the Kim Ir-sen’s Mausoleum in the memorial Kumsusan palace:
Same colors seem to be present in this visual joke:
North Korea Mass Dance Performances can include 100,000 dancers at once – here is one pretty girl dancer:
These mass parades can get pretty weird:
Beauty and propaganda not too far apart:
Graveyard “night shift” must be somewhat spooky in these places:
Such a show of emotions! -
Cute-looking vintage buses in Pyongyang:
Life Is Good!..
Looking with optimism into the future! (We can’t be more sarcastic, of course) -
Ian Scott is an Englishman who is trying to visit 100 countries and live in 20 of them. He is getting there: so far he’s been to 94 and Oman is the eighteenth country he’s lived and worked in. Other countries he’s lived in recently include South Korea, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Romania. The name of his site, which started out as An Englishman in Korea, has changed accordingly. His blog includes his observations and photos of some of the more unusual aspects of these countries.