on…Manchester to Seoul (via Dubai)

Posted: 05/06/2012 in Architecture, Asia, Korea, Travel
Tags: , , , ,

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Why write?

I thought I would let everyone know what’s going on in East Asia. I’ve only been here a few days but most people don’t move to Korea very often so I feel I need to write something, my sleep pattern hasn’t yet normalized either so I will e-mail myself to sleep with any luck.
I think I will need to write in Korea because this is a unique experience, at least for me, there are countless other people doing this gig. I didn’t bother writing much in Italy because people know what it’s like, but after only a couple of days here it really is like another world, I also think that most people genuinely don’t  know what it’s like over here, I certainly didn’t before reading about it.  With this in mind I’d like to think that some conversations will change from…

They eat dogs, beat their wives and blow each other up.’

to something more like…

Ah yes Korea, I know someone over there in the provincial capital of Jellobuk-do, you know… the famous seat of the Joseon dynasty and the home of the national dish Bibimbap…. what’s that you say? No no I don’t believe the spicy meat dish Bulgogi originates from Jellobuk-do, the rice bowl of Korea. ………yes yes, the sunshine policy towards the North did yield some positives, take the joint flag at the Olympics in Sydney for example……………..blah blah.’………………………………………………………………………….no pressure!!

on…the journey:

I flew from Manchester to Dubai then Dubai to Incheon (Seoul) with Emirates. The first flight was 7 hours and the second was 8 hours, with 3 and a half hours in Dubai airport. The flights were great because I was on the MASSIVE Airbus A380, you know, the one that the Aussies crashed the other week. It’s difficult to imagine the scale of the thing, the engine looked bigger than my house. Both flights were great and I enjoyed the food which I barely remember eating as I was semi-somnant, I also watched the film Green Zone with Matt Damon and about 6 episodes of the IT Crowd. This is all pretty mundane stuff, one thing which was not mundane however was Dubai Airport. I flew over Dubai at night and got to see the Khalifa tower:

The airport itself is extremely sleek, shiny and most importantly well designed, (at least from the outside), it makes me embarrassed that people have to shuffle through places like Manchester and Heathrow, they look like provincial conference centres by comparison. Dubai has several storeys under a semi circular glass canopy which snakes it’s way to encompass all the landing zones. The ground floor is for the basic workings, the first floor is all the gates and the access to the gates are on either side of the gigantic shopping mall above. My lack of time meant I didn’t get to see above but I think it was mostly hotels, leisure clubs and casinos for another 5 levels. The whole place is very long though, I wouldn’t like to rush for a flight in Gate 1000, there is a lot of mileage from one end to the other. Some of the non shopping areas feel spacious and relaxing. However, there is something slightly tacky and crass about the whole thing, I imagine the city is 10 times as bad. Despite my uneasiness about the toy camels, gold phones and general mass commercialism, I can’t help but admire the chic Sheiks for having the ambition and vision to turn a desert into a yuppies playground. The switch from an Oil town to a service sector economy means that it will probably outlive all the other oil rich two camel towns throughout the Gulf. The scale of construction is staggering and I have respect for the ambition of the projects they pursue, if not for the final result. How many artificial islands can one place need? Despite all the glitz and glamour though, having flown over the place there is some nagging feeling that it may well turn into a Mad Max style ghost town within my own life time, I have no rational reason for this, it’s just a feeling, when something is built in a day it can also be destroyed in a day.
My second flight was in association with Air Korea so the meal was a spice fest and many of the staff were Korean. On arrival in Korea I had another jolt into the 21st Century, a century which most of the UK hasn’t seen by comparison, have you seen the Milenium Dome? It’s like a theme tent of the 21st Century made by someone from the recent past. The real 21st Century of glass and light (the dome has neither) is another super sleek highly efficient airport. Incheon International is a good 50km from Seoul and sits on a mostly manmade island in the China Sea (or West Sea as I now have to call it). The great thing about this airport is that the basic bones of air travel i.e getting off a plane and having your luggage removed by a funny little truck, are separated from the terminal by a mini underground train. This makes the main terminal less chaotic and more spacious. The whole place facilitates getting from one place to another in comfort and style with minimum fuss. Unlike the relentless shopping frenzy of Dubai, Incheon is understated and  extremely convenient. You barely have to look around to find where you are going. the best thing is that ALL transport connections leave from the same place, albeit on different levels. Once you step out of the terminal you are in the fast paced mega busy neon lit world of East Asia. Luckily my instructions to catch my bus were pretty straight forward and I managed to get a ticket easily. Like pretty much all of Asia I have seen so far, all the most important signs are bilingual Korean/English, in some cases they have the Chinese script as well. The bus stops are divided by province and the staff in the ticket booths were comfortable with English. There is no relaxing in the transport zone though, just an incredible number of people coming and going. I arrived in Korea as the sun had set so I only saw Seoul by night, the bus skirted the mighty Han river which divides Seoul north from south. I mostly associated the river with the film Host in which a mutant fish worm goes mental and kills as many Seoulites as possible.

I felt a little apprehensive but on the whole quite relieved about arriving in Korea. It seemed modern, efficient and a good place to live. Let’s see.

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