PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Featured: Top of Home Page

From South Korea, sans Seoul

Dear All,

It's been a long time since I've written home. Sorry. It's on account of the two manuscripts that have kept me scratching my head every waking hour for the last ten months. But they are both at the point where I can get them out to publishers; hence, I have begun to hear strains of the road's siren call, beckoning, once more.

Today I'm holed up in a hotel somewhere in South Korea and so, thought I'd catch you up. Even though it is a two hour flight into Incheon from my abode, one country over, it took me about twelve hours to get from my apartment in Sendai, over to Daejeon, which is where I'm sitting now. For those of you who haven't traveled here -- do! it's still all good -- but just so that you know: the airport in Incheon is a one hour limo ride outside Seoul; and Daejeon -- known as South Korea's Tech City -- is another hour by train to the south. So if you are coming this way, be prepared for some seat time.

As an aside, you'd have to think that the one hour trip to work is one drawback for the pilots, stews and stewards based in Seoul who work for Korean Air. Looking at that bus ride either before or after the long day of riding the jet stream to and fro, here and there, would get old rather quick. For those of us with short commutes, that falls on the list of blessings counted.

As for me, the day didn't begin without surprise. Into November and Sendai train station is still flying its tanabata decorations. Seems as if the city elders have decided that this festival, which is celebrated in July in most Japanese cities (though in August in Sendai), might just be the perfect symbol for a city devoid of many natural landmarks or -- aside from Date Masamune, the ferocious one-eyed warrior-chief -- moments in cultural history.

Then there was the revamped Narita Express. Now in its eighteenth year, and getting a bit long in the tooth, new trains have been unveiled, with lockable luggage racks (I always worried about people jumping off the train with my bag at the stop prior to mine -- and judging from the locks, I guess that probably actually happened once or twice in the past). There were also video consoles with not only the latest news, but the kinds of information that few savvy travelers actually need (since they've already checked it before leaving the hotel), such as weather updates from around the world, and flight schedules for various carriers at the two Narita terminals.

Once in Korea the biggest surprise is not how unattractive the environment can be:

or how hard and militaristic the architecture often is:

We all probably know some of that. This is still a country trying to grow into itself, and cultivate an indigenous identity alongside the encroaching global identities that touch and seek to speak to it.

No, the biggest surprise was the art in public spaces.

For instance, the Korean ceramic urns at the airport:

. . . and the Chinese and Japanese art in the subway station:

The latter, the Japanese pen and inks, coming as a pleasant surprise -- given the residual anger Koreans often express over the colonial legacy.

Still, perhaps the day's greatest surprise was in my encounter with a subway station staffer, who inadvertently provided me with some more information about where South Korea stands in its quest for greater internationalization.

As the sun had long set and I was hankering for the warm confines of my hotel room, I was hoping to avoid marching out of the wrong subway exit and in the wrong direction to my final point of rest. So, I approached a woman in her early twenties, seated behind a desk labeled "Information" in English. Directing a map with my Hotel name written in roman script under the glass partition, I asked (in English) "which way, please?" She squinted through the pane separating us, then turned her eyes skyward, in thought. After a couple beats she held up her hand, universal gesture, one supposes, for "just a sec". She then reached for a white, glossy book, which she opened to a page somewhere in the middle, moved her finger down the page until she had what her hand was searching for, then looked at me, then down at the book for reassurance, and then raised her outstretched hand -- all fingers splayed and pointing upward.

"Five," she said aloud. Simply. That one word.

Then she extended one digit past my shoulder.

Following the direction of her finger I spied a warren of tunnels, all leading toward exits, all numbered -- from 1 to 8. So, Exit Five, I would imagine is what she had meant.

I thanked her, with a bow, then headed off in the direction of "Five" . . .

and onto my next Korean adventure.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.