Monday, October 05, 2009

[Travelogue] A whirlwind tour of Seoul

Rolled into Inchon (which the Koreans spell Incheon) harbor this morning, and rolled out again ten hours later. Inchon harbor is interesting because of its extreme tides, as much as 30 feet. The harbor itself is set apart from the bay by locks, and ships can only come and go at high tide. The tide actually figured prominently in one of the most famous military actions of all time, Douglas MacArthur's invasion of Inchon during the Korean war. All of his advisors said that it was madness to try to invade Inchon because the timing had to be so precise, otherwise the boats would get mired in mud at low tide and be sitting ducks. MacArthur insisted that the plan would succeed precisely because it was so unlikely to succeed, so the North Koreans wouldn't be expecting it. MacArthur was right, and the rest, as they say, is history. If not for MacArthur's audacity there might not be a South Korea today.

I was pleasantly surprised by Korea, at least what little I saw of it in the few hours we were here. I was expecting a sort of run-down version of Japan, but it's not like that at all. Seoul is not quite as spotless as Tokyo, but still much cleaner than many American cities. It's as modern as any city in the world (except that, like Japan, ATMs are unaccountably scarce). The people are friendly, prices are reasonable, the food is delicious (but beware the kimchee), and the architecture is stunning. In Japan, the eaves of the traditional pagodas are all painted black and white with simple geometric patterns. The Koreans, by contrast, paint their eaves with intricate designs and bright colors. The effect is dazzling. I'm adding Korea to my list of countries to which I'd happily return some day to spend more time.

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