Back in Seoul

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Seoul, where I’ve found myself for a couple of days for a visa run.

I flew out of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk this morning on that well-known international airline, SAT Airways.  Our aircraft was a Boeing, albeit one from the seventies, and a tiny one at that, which got thrown all over the skies whenever it hit turbulence, and the seatbelt signs came on to warn passengers that they might at any moment be used to strap a wing back on.  But thankfully it got me here in one piece.

While we’re on the subject of Russian airlines, let me just kill one myth dead here and now: that which says that the service on Russian airlines is appallingly bad.  Truth is, it isn’t.  Having flown Aeroflot, Transaero, and now SAT Airways, I have found the service and quality of food on Russian airlines to be no worse than it usually is on Emirates, KLM, or Continental, and infinitely better than on Lufthansa, which I have vowed never to fly again.  Okay, the Germans’ planes are less likely to make an unscheduled descent into the Sea of Japan, but at least when you’re hurtling to your death you’ll find a Russian steward doling out bottles of vodka for the occasion, as opposed to some sour-faced, union-protected, harpy sneering down her nose at the passengers because after paying a long-haul price for a short-haul flight they – God forbid – expect some level of service.  Having made several trips to Germany over the last 15 years, I have noted before that their previously high standards of, well, everything have slipped considerably in recent years.  When Germans find themselves outclassed by Russians in a field of service provision, you know something has gone badly wrong.  Ground-based Russian service is, however, still appallingly bad.

Anyway, I arrived in Incheon airport and after some humming and hawing about whether to take the high-speed railway which turned out not to exist, I jumped in a taxi to take me to my hotel in the centre of Seoul.  My taxi driver, as all airport taxi drivers are wont to do, would not stop rabbitting away in poor English for the whole of the hour-long drive.  He was making a valiant effort at learning English using CDs, he told me, but most of his English was a running commentary on what his phone-based SatNav system was saying to him in Korean.  First time I went to Korea I was impressed with their phones, specifically their ability to sit on the metro and watch TV.  Now they seem to have come up with a system of typing in a phone number, of a hotel for example, and the phone turns into a SatNav which guides you there.  It seemed impressive, until the little lady doing the talking satellite navigated us right into the middle of the biggest traffic jam I’d seen since I was last in Moscow, and then its impressiveness diminished.  Soon it was taking us through narrow streets where we narrowly avoided a head-on collision with a car which had the cheek to be driving down his own side of the street, before it spat us out on a main road right where we needed to be.  Both the driver and I were impressed once more.  I’d have been more impressed if he’d bought a large-screen version so he didn’t need to keep peering at it with a Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass and ignoring road conditions such as walls and large bridges over the Han River.

When I booked the hotel, I couldn’t see whether it had internet connections in the rooms or not.  It mentioned kettles, ironing boards, and hairdryers, but no internet connection.  So I called them up, and I was told they had one in every room.  I seem to remember when I last stayed in Seoul they didn’t advertise the internet connections in the rooms, and this place seems to be no different.  Clearly internet connections in Korean hotel rooms are as standard as doors, windows, and beds.  Sure enough, this place, like my last hotel, has a 100Mbps connection which costs absolutely nothing and works as soon as you hook the cable up to your computer.  No ringing the front desk for usernames, no messing about with passwords, simply plug in and off you go.  Hotels in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk which provide internet services for $10 per hour, please take note.

Tomorrow I must go to the Russian embassy and apply for whatever visa allows me to apply for a work permit once I’ve rentered Russia.  Apparently I can go there first thing in the morning and pick up my passport in the afternoon, although I am a little nervous.  The words “Russian embassy” and “same day” belong together about as well as “Russian customs” and “same day”.

Anyway, we’ll see how I get on.  I’ve got a camera with me, so maybe I’ll take some pictures.

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2 Responses to Back in Seoul

  1. John says:

    Your Soul expedition tingled a few neurons of my trip to the Cameron Hi-lands through Malaysia on a domestic train (big mistake) when a family of 8 loud and well fed locals (plus baby swinging in my face for 500+ kms from the luggage rack overhead) took over the 4 seat compartment we were crammed into. When they realised it was my train stop at 4am I was pushed out of the window politely onto my head with backpack and camera gear to follow, all whilst in REM with a Bali Belly chaser. no taxi, hotel or bush hut in site.
    The whole visa experience could almost be as frustrating and tedious as waiting for the Dubai office of Australian immigration to issue a visa to your prospective wife (tvtvt ?.. wink) after nearly a year because of Australian community concerns labelled more appropriately as keeping the rednecks happy in an election year. Or even more insulting is applying for a simple tourist class 1 month visa so that your prospective wife may visit the country she is considering making her future home and ungraciously being rejected for the very same anonymous reasons. That being she is of Russian decent and fits into an age group between 25 to 45 classified as risk category
    but we arent racists here now are we?
    Hence the campaigns adds full with glossy pickies of the Great Barrier Reef, fluffy Koalas, Crocodile Dundee and bung a shrimp on the BBQ are looking slightly sepia under the carpet because these golden white shores can only be vizzied by those that pay and are guaranteed to go home . None of those pesky old lovesick wogs on nice clean Aussie beaches. aye Mr Howard?

    After abandoning the white Australia policy some 40+ years ago it seems we still have failures to recognising the world has changed, Europe is ever closer to one community and even some Americans know who they just bombed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCkYfYa8ePI&mode=related&search=.
    Unfortunately we still vote to carry the legacy of 50s English domination headed by a monarch we havent seen since Cook and Philip. While our white supremacists government dominates the hearts and small minds of the Australian population with images of mass Soviet feminine invasion similar to the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns of pre war Germany in order to maintain the rage and keep George Bushs sphincter well lubed for that the golden invite to Camp David that is only outclassed by the frequent flyer points gathered on Air Force One.

  2. SWalkerTTU says:

    To John: That’s what happens when Australians vote Liberal, as opposed to (what we in the USA call) “liberal”.

    To Tim: From what I gather, South Koreans consider high-speed Internet service to be as basic a utility as electric power and running water. And now, apparently, Seoul is now working on gigabit Internet service.

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