Last day in Korea

We drove down to Daejeon to visit a customer who’s part of one of these weird Korean companies that dabble both in telecommunications and “energy,” which I suspect covers everything from electricity generation to selling gas.  Our customer had a need to measure something related to displays, and our measurement worked well, except that the structure he had intended to apply to this sample wasn’t there.  So we made a good impression, but not a killer impression, because even though it’s harder to measure a very smooth surface than a surface with clear structures, it doesn’t look as good and it doesn’t tell the customer immediately that we can do what he wants. 

On the way back we stopped at a rest area for water.  I was surprised to see English on the label, and had to chuckle at the declaration that “[t]his water is natural mineral water from the Chojung mineral spring, South Korea, recognized as one of the top three mineral springs in the world with Shasta spring USA and Napolinas spring, U.K.”  Just the countries I think of when I think of fine mineral water.  You can find additional glorious information at the ILWHA homepage

I still haven’t figured out who thought it was a good idea to just have one single southbound expressway out of Seoul.  We’ve been on it twice this trip, and both times as soon as we leave the city roads to join the expressway it turns into a traffic jam.  It did the same on the way back, and so badly that we got off early and drove to the Seocho part of Seoul (where a sign saying “Light of the World – JOY – Seocho” confused me a bit – more information here for those fluent in Korean), where we found ourselves a restaurant to eat.  Budnamujip serves Korean barbecue (only Korean meat, no US meat) and all the neat little side dishes; we finished the meal with Chalbap (steamed sweet rice) and Omija-cha (“Omija cha (오미자차, 五味子茶): Tea made from dried fruits of Schisandra chinensis. Omija cha is named because the tea comprises five distinct flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent. “). 

On the way to the restaurant we came across a guy on a vespa that still had a Roman license plate, which in some way is symptomatic for the carelessness evident in Korean traffic.  I’ve been in cars that ran red lights, that switched lanes during a left turn on a large intersection, and that ignored a lane shift, driving straight ahead instead, and then wondered that someone would honk at them.  I’ve been a helpless part of three lanes trying to merge into one, wondering where all the vaunted Asian sense of collective had gone, watching expensive cars bully their way in because cheaper ones are afraid of hitting them.  And lest you think cars are bad, you ought to see the buses.  They compensate for their difficulty to merge by dint of their size with nonpareil recklessness.  A bus driver will barge in, cut across three fast-moving lanes at 20 km/h, and blow you a raspberry for good measure.  (Ok, maybe I made up the raspberry bit, but it sure feels like it.)  In general, there’s a good chance a Korean will not use his turn signal when turning, use it when not turning, and decide to drive around with the hazard lights on at slightly reduced speed just to spice things up.  And of course you block an intersection – otherwise someone else will when it’s your turn!  My favorite, though, is what I’m dubbing the “Korean lane change” (“koreanisch einspuren”).  If you want to go straight, but there’s a long line at the light, choose the left turn lane, zip up to the intersection, and merge in front of the folks who are waiting to go straight.  If, on the contrary, you’d like to go left, zip up in the lane that goes straight and just turn left with everyone else.  You’ll manage to merge somehow – and ideally you’ll have timed it so that you arrive with some speed at the intersection just as the left turn light turns green.  That way, you’re first to boot! 

I still have to get used to the Hilton.  It baffles me that I can’t just take my suitcase and pull it up to my room.  Somebody takes it from me, asks for my room number, hands it to someone else, who gets on the elevator with me, follows me to my room, and then puts my suitcase away.  It seems like such a waste. 

Gotta yak and pack – enough for now. 

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