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Seoul Third Most Hated City in the World?

Sunrise over Yeouido
Sunset over a “heartless, spiritless” city

OK, so the Lonely Planet website releases a list of its readers’ — or at least its blog’s readers’ — least favorite cities.

And yes, Seoul got third place.

Detroit — all the scenic charm, security and good governance of Grozny, without the dramatic background story! — got first place, further reinforcing my suspicion that the NYT’s inclusion of the city in its list of places to visit in 2008 was a clever ploy to boost the average IQ of its readership through attrition. Most of the other cities on the list are Third World shitholes like Accra, San Salvador and Los Angeles.

Not sure how Arusha got on there, though. It’s a really pleasant town, and a lot nicer than the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma. I’ve also heard Accra ain’t so bad, either.

Back to Seoul. The poster quotes this commenter on a previous list of least favorite cities, who writes:

It’s an appallingly repetitive sprawl of freeways and Soviet-style concrete apartment buildings, horribly polluted, with no heart or spirit to it. So oppressively bland that the populace is driven to alcoholism.

No heart or spirit to it, eh? Clearly, the commenter in question has never been to Washington, DC.

I’m not sure how the list in question was composed, or how its order was determined. I’d like to thing it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, although I’m afraid Seoul’s tourism authorities might not see it that way.

Seoul has plenty of heart and spirit to it — granted, some of the more chronically bitter species of expatriate might not notice — and while nobody will deny the city has an over-concentration of concrete apartment buildings, there’s a lot of charm and beauty hiding beneath it all. You’ve just got to put down the beer bottle, get out of Itaewon and look around a bit. Maybe buy my book.

Clearly, though, Seoul could be doing a better job promoting what it has to offer, and more importantly, the city needs to realize it can’t keep flattening neighborhoods B-52-style without destroying the local culture, heritage and identity, too. Like I said, there’s still a ton of history and charm lurking beneath the concrete, but the sad fact remains that there’d be a lot more of it if city planners had made even a modest attempt to incorporate neighborhood heritage into redevelopment plans. See, for instance, Pitmatgol. Now, to be fair, there’s more awareness of the importance of preservation now than there has ever been. In my neighborhood, for example, there’s controversy over the possible destruction by KORAIL of the old Yongsan Railway Hospital (the old brick building in front of Yongsan Station, photographed and discussed here). That there’s a controversy at all is a positive development. Still, read stories like this and you realize the cause of historical preservation has a long, long way to go.

(HT to Adams-awry)

About the author: Just the administrator of this humble blog.

  • sulperman

    It might be bad form, but I am going to copy and paste my comment from the new year’s thread…..

    I suppose if you followed the lonely planet’s advice you would find Seoul to be pretty awful. 10 year old information including completely random restaurant recommendations that would lead you to some bog standard galbi place (if you could ever find it, as there are no directions), horribly outdated bar info, boring and half-informed commentary about the different areas in Seoul, and even less specific info on the rest of the country. I was looking for my copy to find some specific quotes, but like many others, I threw it out because it was no longer useful.

  • seokso

    Anyone who votes Seoul in the top ten needs to get out more. The problem with any kind of list like that is that if it’s honest, it would be dominated by crappy industrial cities that most of us have never heard of and wouldn’t think to complain about. Seoul isn’t especially accessible to short-term visitors and the cool spots are harder to find, but it’s got plenty to offer.

    I certainly have to object to the stab at DC. If you’ve only visited as a tourist, then maybe I can see why you’d hate it. But if you manage to break out of the government/museum area, it’s got a great arts scene and restaurants from just about every cuisine in the world.

  • R. Elgin

    . . . Clearly, the commenter in question has never been to Washington, DC.

    Though the museums are very nice, I would concur and also say that is why “The Exorcist” story occurred there too.

    If someone nukes DC, it could only be a chance for a fresh start.

    As Robert quipped elsewhere, the worst part of Seoul is the willingness to kill whole areas with developer/bank projects that build buildings while killing the very social fabric of a neighborhood. Such focus on “buildings” is contrary to any humane notion of urban planning. It undermines the social network that holds the society together since once the people are forced out of an area, the usually can not afford to move back in.

  • R. Elgin

    P.S. I lived in D.C. for some years too. I’ve had enough of seeing the reaction of people who get scared if you just look at them or think you are trying to rip them off if you smile in their direction.

    It is the people that make Seoul fun, not the buildings.

  • valkilmerisiceman

    bah! i love seoul. great city.

  • gangpehmoderniste

    well if i have to speak the whole truth i think some of what the guy said about Seoul might even be true. It is a city incredibly modern and well sometimes the former soviet bloc indeed came up to my mind, but hey that’s precisely what i found charming about the place: Tokyo consumerism meets Manhattan skyline meets Pankow circa 1979 design.

    Seoul looked to me like a giant electroclash hallucination, it is a place a i fell in love with immediately, its colors, its geometrical patterns, its architecture

    well it mght help also the fact that’s where my future wife is from and i was there with her :)

  • seokso

    I suppose if you followed the lonely planet’s advice you would find Seoul to be pretty awful. … like many others, I threw it out because it was no longer useful.

    Ditto. I feel like I need something traveling around, but the LP has let me down so many times and the other brands don’t seem any better.

    So what do people use instead? For Korea, I like the Galbijim wiki. What about elsewhere?

  • Wedge

    Lonely Planet: Pretentious pointy-heads pontitificating poorly (usually–sometimes they hit the mark).

  • judge judy

    seoul takes an investment of time and energy to find its better parts-something tourist don’t have much interest in expending.

    i’ve been in DC twice lately and had grand times. great restaurants, people from all over the world involved in interesting work and a general economic buzz you don’t currently find in other US cities.

    i remember having a lonely planet korea that recommended staying out of the alley behind the hamilton hotel lest you get knifed.

  • 3gyupsal

    Detroit is too easy a target. I don’t really think that Seoul deserves to be in the top ten worst cities in the world though. It’s one of my least favorite cities in Korea, but it is still a million times better than Changwon/Masan. I fucking hate those places. Definately not one of the worst cities in the world though. (Hey Korean city planners, build an interesting looking building every once and a while will ya.)

  • Maekchu

    I actually kind of have to agree with the article. Especially when you consider the source; The Lonely Planet exists for backpackers and tourists. It’s a compiled patchwork of “semi-information” compiled by travelers who have spent a limited amount of time researching and experiencing the nuances of the area on which they are giving guidance.

    Now imagine you’re a backpacker just coming from Thailand on a swing through Seoul. The first thing you notice is the drab cookie cutter apartment building and gray concrete in every direction you look. Then the polluted air hits you followed by the traffic and overall lack of hospitality from the less than friendly locals. Then you add the lack of budget hotels/hostels, high cost of shopping and lack of variety in cuisine and you have a city that is not very accommodating to the typical low budget Lonely Planet traveler. I think Seoul deserves it’s place in the Top 10 based on the criteria that the locations were judged.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    i wanna know how they compiled this list. they don’t seem to say. in the very long thread that follows, chennai seems to grab the most attention. seoul? just a few comments. here lookee:

    ‘I have to agree with Seoul – it’s vile.

    I’m in Daegu, which is lovely – not too big, easy to get around, very pedestrianised, reasonable prices, and much friendlier people than Seoul.

    Seoul is too congested, dirty, ugly, and it has no heart. The Koreans you find in Seoul are horrible enough to anybody from the south of S. Korea (aka Daegu, Busan etc.) let alone to foreigners.

    The current ads running for it which call it “Soul of Asia” are a joke – guess the Korean tourism board have never heard of or been to Tokyo, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai…to name a few…

    And the Korean government wonder why it isn’t a booming tourist destination, surely nothing to do with how racist Koreans tend to be, the fact that they won’t let budget airlines run international flights so that Korean Air and Asiana retain a monopoly, or the fact that they promote their cuisine internationally with kimchi…’ comment 1

    ‘I’m also surprised that Seoul is in the top 9. Just come back from a week in Seoul and I was surprised that it had quite a few distinct historical districts and that it’s relatively green. Also loved the food and the fish market. ‘ comment 2

    ‘Seoul is fabulously fun if you know where to go and what to do… it’s open 24 hours, and has endless activities.

    The problem is that Korea is not that touristique and the culture is pretty insular. So, you need a local if you want to really experience the place.

    You might get a flavor if you watch a few Korean dramas and films’
    comment 3

    i would say that seoul is very much like san jose, ca: big, sprawling, nothing to look at but in possession of some wonderful food and nightlife. btw, san jose is an asian foodie paradise.

    one last thing, korean food is just not popluar in japan, it also seems to be the most popular ethnic food in china even beating out japanese. the orientation of koreans is to get ‘whitey’ to like korean things while ignoring fellow asians. tsk, tsk, tsk…

  • Maekchu

    #12…good comment about the budget airlines. That is a HUGE reason for the lack of big tourism numbers here but it rarely ever gets mentioned.

  • judge judy

    at least seoul has din tai fung.

  • NetizenKim

    Maybe buy my book.

    Gotta get me a coffee table first. Just kidding, Robert.

  • silver surfer

    My experience is that Lonely Planet guides, while they may be ok in Europe, for instance, aren’t up to much when it comes to Asian countries. Or perhaps I should say ‘Asian countries which are off the beaten track for tourists’ like Korea or Taiwan.

    My Korean friends’ guides to Taiwan were much more detailed, interesting, and helpful than Lonely Planet.

  • Tommy

    This type of poll is merely a gripe fest and should not be taken seriously by anyone. Seoul isn’t a tourist mecca, it is a capital city with a very large population. There are many things to see and do, but it is also noisy and crowded (as are many large cities). Some people need to take a reality check.

  • Darth Babaganoosh

    Seoul isn’t even the third worst in Korea, FFS. Pohang has to be near, if not at, the top of the list in that regard. Kunsan wouldn’t be too far behind.

  • rockon

    As someone with a little guidebook writing experience, I’m often amused by the largely negative tones expressed by expat teachers in Korea about Lonely Planet books. I especially enjoy those crisp messages with undertones like this: “I have a firm opinion about x (fill in your own topic) even though I know f*cking nothing about the subject.”

    So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to give you quasi-publishing experts a tip. Guidebooks are largely written for travelers. Last time I checked, most international visitors to Korea stayed for about 2-5 days, with a good chunk staying for a one night layover in Seoul. Excluding the sector of Asian tourists who prefer the environs of a blackjack table, cocktail refills and female companionship (and therefore don’t need an LP book), most visitors focus on Seoul’s busy tourist areas with the odd run up to the DMZ.

    Guide books are not primarily written for expats – or should say “experts” – who have lived in Seoul for x number of years. So why are some people surprised when their favorite meat restaurant isn’t in the book? Duh. There are lots of reasons. Many are related to the practicalities of book publishing. Here’s one: ever hear of word count restrictions?

    I enjoy MH’s comment section but it often seems like a place where people shout at each other after downing a few bottles of soju. It’s not a place for communication.

    Here’s an example. What’s up with DC? Shite hole or bastion of cool diners and neat people with interesting lives? If I read what some of you have said on this board about DC, I will never get a clear picture. Your words are loud static, as if someone left the TV on all night.

    And that’s why I still like guidebooks. Faults and all, guidebooks provide a clear picture of what to expect and point me in the right direction. I don’t need a guide book to hold my hand. Just get me started.

    This concludes my transmission.

  • wookinponub

    Expats are to blame for everything. If they are present, it’s Hell.

  • http://briandeutsch.blogspot.com Brian D

    Seoul’s not even the third most-hated city in Korea.

    People still trust Lonely Planet? Sulperman and Wedge said it all in comments 1 and 8.

  • Sonagi

    one last thing, korean food is just not popluar in japan, it also seems to be the most popular ethnic food in china even beating out japanese.

    I don’t know which Chinese cities you visited or how long you stayed, but during my four years in China, I did not observe Korean food to be any more popular than other domestic or international ethnic cuisines, except in cities or neighborhoods with many residents from South Korea. China’s great ethnic and culinary diversity means that no single cuisine stands out from the rest. Sorry to rain on your hanliu parade, Pawi.

  • http://sungnyemun.org/downloads/no.php dda

    one last thing, korean food is just not popluar [sic] in japan, it also seems to be the most popular ethnic food in china even beating out japanese.

    Bahahahahaha! It seems you have as much experience with/in China as in Korea, eh? That is, none… I have been in a bunch of cities in China, over and over, the last 3 years, and Korean food is actually hard to get by unless you go to the Korean ghettos, as Sonagi mentioned…

    Even in Hong Kong, there aren’t that many Korean restaurants, especially compared to other asian cuisines…

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    you aren’t raining on my hanliu parade, sonagi. i read that from a source often qouted here. i’ll take their word over yours. have a good day.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    ps, how’s your mongol, dda?

  • yuna

    Sorry to rain on your hanliu parade

    though written 한류, read 할류(hallyu). just a small point.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    she’s using the chinese pronunciation, yuna.

  • yuna

    thanks pawi, it did occur to me at the back of my mind but wasn’t sure.

  • Granfalloon

    Honestly, Seoul has never “wowed” me the way other cities have. I think if, as a tourist, I’d laid down several hundred to a thousand bucks for a vacation in Seoul, I would be a bit disappointed.

    That said, I don’t understand the “hatred” that some people seem to have for the place. I can think of far worse cities. It’s not THAT bad, and it looks very out of place on the LP list.

    PS 3gyupsal: Masan and Changwon are night and day, and it’s a shame they’re linked together. I can’t see how anyone could dislike Changwon: clean, well-planned, great arts scene, international restaurants, modern facilities with a few charming old-school neighborhoods as well. Masan, eh, not so much.

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    Seoul as the world’s third-most-hated city? That’s overrating the place. It surely can’t be even in the top ten!

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • http://www.zenkimchi.com/FoodJournal ZenKimchi

    Robert, do you think City Hall will call us in another meeting with a Lonely Planet dude to change their opinion?

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    Granfalloon, if Masan would improve its architecture, the place would be stunning. It has the natural beauty of San Francisco.

    I lived there for six months and actually liked it . . . though I like Seoul a whole lot more.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • Granfalloon

    Mr Hodges,

    Muhaksan is indeed one of the most spectacular hikes I’ve taken in Korea. And Masan makes a decent effort in terms of quality pubs and restaurants (the Mexican restaurant is a true diamond in the rough). But it simply cannot compete with it’s younger, better-looking, more worldly and affluent sister Changwon. Riding my bicycle from one to the other, it’s very obvious exactly where the municipal boundary is. It’s like proverbially crossing the train tracks to the “other side” of town. Changwon’s restaurants are far superior (whether you want Korean or international), the arts scene flourishes, shopping, entertainment . . . there’s no comparison, and the locals know it.

    I’m curious as to what will happen, if anything, when these cities are “merged,” as is scheduled to happen this year.

    When did you live there? We might have crossed paths.

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    I lived there from August 2000 through March 2001, when I left Kyungnam University for Hanshin University.

    I didn’t see much of the area in my short time there, but we lived high up above the university on the mountainside, just below where the moutain paths began, and I walked a winding way with stunning views down a steep incline to Kyungnam early every morning.

    Our paths might have crossed, but perhaps in different times.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    The lonely planet Korea TSK was briefly excellent, in the form of its 1997 edition. Then there was, uhmm, an unfortunate change of writers and the quality declined. Their policy of using writers who don’t actually live in the country or have scholastic knowledge of it does maintain their “fresh eyes” theme, but leads to all the problems we note here and several more. The History/Culture sections are sometimes pure comedy… Having a team of one outsider professional-guidebook-writer and one academically knowledgeable expat-resident, as was done in 1996-7, worked out very well in my opinion… But they usually don’t roll like that.

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    But anyway, that comment they use is totally out to lunch — Koreans were alcoholics long before modern soul was built ;-)

    Our Seoul is very far from being “horribly polluted”, good lawd, not even close — anyone who could say that has obviously never been to China, not any Chinese city at all — nor most of the metropoli of Southeast Asia or India, geez — they don’t know the definition of that term. Certainly they were not in the Seoul of 1982-83, when poor asthma-prone me survived the winter with most residents still burning coal for heat and cooking — putting an end to that is the one thing that we bless ol’ Chun for (OK, getting the Olympics too).

    Jeez, you can drink the water straight from the tap in Seoul and while it may not be the best you won’t get sick or blood-polluted from it — how many gigantic cities can claim that…?

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    “Seoul” in that first sentence just above of course — damn this voice-recognition program. And anyway, on the lists we could draw up of why its residents become increasingly devoted to alcohol, the blandness of our architecture must rank rather low on that list, compared with the real causes that all of us here are all-too-aware of… Korean bosses and Korean wives / girlfriends / boyfriends / husbands certainly ranking higher! ;-)

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Robert, do you think City Hall will call us in another meeting with a Lonely Planet dude to change their opinion?

    Hopefully not, but I can’t image they’re too thrilled by this, either. And frankly, they have a right to be annoyed — it was a gratuitous shot that seems to have been based mostly on an anonymous comment.

  • seouldout

    I’ve actually liked my Lonely Planets; over twenty-odd years have owned pretty much all the Asian country guides. Much better than Fodor’s and Frommer’s. The India edition for instance was invaluable. And heavy. With the arrival of the web and inexpensive publishing, guides such as Time Out and Pocket Guides are much more up to date.

    Their policy of using writers who don’t actually live in the country or have scholastic knowledge of it does maintain their “fresh eyes” theme

    True dat, but it ain’t but the gospel. I recall Robert Storey lived (or is still living) in Taiwan for quite a long time. He contributed to the much earlier Korea editions. And has also contributed to China, Hong Kong, Macau and Vietnam editions at various points. The guy has over 20 years experience.

    BTW, next edition is due out April 2010.

    The waitress suggests that I come back after she closes down the restaurant, around midnight. We end up having sex in a chair and then on one of the tables in the back corner. I pen a note in my Moleskine that I will later recount in the guidebook review, saying that the restaurant “is a pleasant surprise . . . and the table service is friendly.” –Thomas Kohnstamm, professional travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks

  • keith

    For the target audience of the Lonely Planet book I’m not suprised that Seoul has been ‘honoured’ in this way. I think part of it is a reflection of the absurd hyperbole that the KNTO and others employ in their tourism marketing, if you believed their nonsense and came here expecting an amazing trip you’d be sorely disappointed. Anyone who doesn’t think Seoul is polluted must have been born in a pigsty! Seoul is filthy, vomit puddles, noisome sewers, cig butts everywhere, kids dropping candy wrappers all over the place, no litter bins.

    When some friends and family came over for our wedding I took some time off work and acted as their guide. I took them to lots of interesting places, some great restaurants and they had a wonderful time. You need a guide in Korea with local knowledge to enjoy the place as it is very difficult for a tourist to have a good time independently. I met a charming nice Swedish couple on a trip to Edinburgh not too long ago and they were shocked when I said I lived in Seoul, basically their reaction was ‘how can you live there?’, ‘the people are so rude’, ‘why do they push into people all the time’, ‘their manners are revolting’,’ why do they stare so much’ and other negative impressions. They had traveled to Seoul as tourists after watching some Korean promotional material which intrigued them, they emphatically did not have a positive opinion of the place after their visit!

    Whilst some things are very cheap here such as the great public transport system, booze, cigarettes, taxis a lot of other stuff is ludicrously expensive. A half decent hotel, decent clothes, electronic goods, anything imported (due to their ludicrous tariffs), fruit (4 dollars for 1 mango is frankly obscene), cheese, bread, rice and many other things. Rice is cheaper in countries where they don’t even grow it!

    Seoul is also in general very ugly. The architecture is shockingly brutal, there are some nice bits here and there, but it is mostly revolting. The ‘events’ put on for tourists are silly, an example of this is the ‘guards’ at some of the old palaces wearing their silly taped on pretend beards.

    Whilst I’m sure Mogadishu and other places are much worse, they don’t market themselves as tourist hot spots.

    Seoul is fun and interesting if you know where to go, if you don’t it’s a dreadful place. Calling it ‘Soul of Asia’ is laughable.

    I’m not a ‘hater’, but Seoul is dirty, ugly and expensive. Most non Koreans come here for business, not for any other purpose.

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler
  • http://www.racecarcreative.com seouliva

    jsut got back from Manila. was that place on the list? yikes.

  • hardyandtiny

    Seoul is dirty?! As compared to what, Topeka, Kansas? Walk around NYC on a Sunday night and you’ll see bags of garbage piled four feet high every 20 feet. Actually I don’t know how Koreans do it. Where does all the garbage go? There’s very little litter, the subway and bus systems in Seoul are spotless, everything is very well organized and well kept. Dirty? Dirty? That’s just plain fucking crazy.
    And safe, and fantastic late night and daytime markets, and plenty of interesting places to eat, and bars galore, and excellent movie theaters, and subway rides to mountain parks around the city, and museums, and unbelievable sexy-sexy everywhere, and…come on, Seoul kicks ass.

  • http://sungnyemun.org/downloads/no.php dda

    ps, how’s your mongol, dda?

    Better than your Korean or Chinese.

  • dogbertt

    Oh snap!!

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    ‘Seoul is filthy, vomit puddles, noisome sewers, cig butts everywhere, kids dropping candy wrappers all over the place, no litter bins.’ keith

    sounds like any big city here in the states though i’d replace ‘vomit’ puddles’ with strong smell of dried urine. that’s a common smell in san francisco.

    ‘I’m not a ‘hater’….’ keith

    really?

    *****

    dda, how do you say ‘i want you to be happy’ in mongol? lol.

  • http://askakorean.blogspot.com thekorean

    Seoul is dirty?! As compared to what, Topeka, Kansas? Walk around NYC on a Sunday night and you’ll see bags of garbage piled four feet high every 20 feet. Actually I don’t know how Koreans do it. Where does all the garbage go? There’s very little litter, the subway and bus systems in Seoul are spotless, everything is very well organized and well kept. Dirty? Dirty? That’s just plain fucking crazy.

    It is now Sunday night in New York City, and I confirm that there are bags of garbage piled everywhere. Only thing that’s preventing them from stinking up the joint is that it is insanely cold right now.

    Agreed 100 percent on this, by the way. I can see how some criticisms leveled against Seoul could be reasonable, but “dirty” is just not. So much of criticisms against Seoul come from hicks who have never been to a city larger than their own piss-ant backwater.

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  • red sparrow

    In defense of guide books PRINTING out-dated information, consider the pace of change in Seoul. Entire neighbourhoods get razed overnight and your favourite restaurant one week might just as easily be turned into a mediocre localised Italian joint or a Starbucks the next. I could go on but you get my point. A printed publication simply cannot keep up.

    And to anyone who says “Seoul is a cool place if you know where to go…” Well, you can say that about any city in the world. Tourists are here for a few days at most and Seoul is inaccessible to foreigners unless you are a long-term resident with the time, energy and desire to get out and explore. There is some very interesting stuff here but I often feel Koreans don’t want visitors scratching beneath the surface judging by their refusal to offer information in any other language than Korean.

  • yuna

    it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be by people who had a bad experience. however, one thing is for certain. the government does an excellent job to completely ruin everything. you don’t get a reputation by declaring it yourself, and all the government campaign seems to do is to declare.

    seoul is not a tourist city. it’s no venice(which i wouldn’t like to live in), it’s no hong kong or singapore, which i hope it never becomes like. i hate that model of “east serving the west blandness”.

    it’s not that different from tokyo apart from the street vendors, which should be phased out (well done government) and the ugly apartment blocks instead of the endless suburban sprawl. The biggest difference is that its own pop/contemporary/consumer culture so far, has failed to appeal to the west, only to the east.

    when i first visited tokyo i thought, “meh!” but after learning japanese and being interested in their dramas, it was so much more fun to go back..

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    TK#47 wrote:

    “So much of criticisms against Seoul come from hicks who have never been to a city larger than their own piss-ant backwater.”

    Probably correct in a lot of cases. And a lot of the criticism directed toward Korea comes from people who’ve never before lived in a foreign country.

    After living in Switzerland for a year, Germany for six years, Australia for three years, and Israel for a year, I rather expected that I’d find a lot of things that I don’t like in any foreign country where I might reside. One either learns to make do . . . or just goes back home.

    I choose to stay, and my life here in Korea is probably better than I’d have back in the States.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • http://adamsawry.wordpress.com Adams-awry

    Rome would have made top of my list.

  • yuna

    anyway people who rely on lonely planets to navigate are the same bunch as herds who followed baedekers as their compass a hundred years ago. trend followers not setters – they won’t ever discover anything.

  • br

    yuna> I don’t get your point about HK and Singapore “east serving the west blandness”, could you develop ?

    I also find your comment about lonely planet readers a bit condescending… i’ve been relying on LP for quite a few years now, and it’s always been a pretty good base. But feel free to think “I never discovered anything”.

  • yuna

    you’re right so nevermind br, it’s just my opinion & it sounds condescending.

    about hk or singapore, if i need to develop it’s likely that you won’t agree. i think i detailed it in the past a couple of times when people waxed lyrical about either places, especially when they were doing it in comparison with korea.

  • Sonagi

    but I often feel Koreans don’t want visitors scratching beneath the surface judging by their refusal to offer information in any other language than Korean.

    The last time I visited Seoul was with a Canadian colleague in China. Since I know that most store clerks and office workers have some conversational ability in English, I hung back, let her talk directly in English, and stepped in to translate only on a few occasions, mostly with blue-collar ajosshis and ajummas. I worried that if I translated automatically, educated Seoulites might feel insulted by the presumption that they didn’t understand basic English. On a previous visit to Seoul, a Canadian-American couple tagged along. Again, few communication difficulties, and they delighted in chatting up locals. I never lived outside Seoul, but at least within Seoul, it doesn’t seem that English speakers should have much trouble getting around and finding places to eat, sleep, and shop.

  • PineForest

    I think Seoul completely earned this. You have to remember that the respondents were tourists.
    Imagine a tourist trying to get a cab on a cold night. A nightmare. Watching empty cab after empty cab go by and watching denizens haplessly yell a destination into the window that is open 1 inch…only to be denied because their destination is not far enough.

    Or imagine a tourist trying to actually ask directions with a guidebook, from any bus driver, taxi driver. The rudeness is apalling.

    The bit about the uniformity and ugliness of the buildings is absolutely true… but long term residents like the Marmot have learned to look past it. You just can’t expect tourists to do the same.

    And then, when you get to the urban destinations that are worth checking out.. you find that they can’t hold a candle to the offerings of Japan or China. Not that they aren’t wonderful in their own right.. but anyone who follows up a trip to KyongBokKung with a little traipse to the great wall the temple of heaven, or the Ming tombs will have a clear winner. Likewise, what does Korea dream of holding up to compare with Kyoto? It’s laughable.

  • PineForest

    yuna January 4, 2010 at 7:38 am

    “” it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be by people who had a bad experience””

    Riigghhtt…..those who have a bad experience and feel….bad about it… must UNDERSTAND Korea… they just have to UNDERSTAND….

    Oh please.

  • Sonagi

    And as for information in languages other than Korean, the KNTO has a wealth of brochures and maps in a number of languages, and the subway and major tourist sites in Seoul have long had bilingual signposting.

  • PineForest

    Here I go again… I have to take issue with those who look down on people who use a guidebook when they travel. There is nothing wrong with it. If it helps you find a hotel/ restaurant, or tourist destination now and again, or even most of the time, what great crime has been committed if you use it? To disparage those kind of travelers will get you nowhere. If they have a bad experience, it’s not necessarily going to be the fault of a guidebook.

    As I get older, I have less and less patience for snobbish travelers who insist that theirs is the only way to fly.

  • JW

    Ok, i think it’s time to close this thread, like right now. :)

  • yuna

    pineforest: kyoto to korea? or tokyo to seoul? are we comparing cities or countries? kyoto may be better compared with kyungju.
    my main point is that the asian tourists keep coming. they don’t get put off by lonely planet like opinions, precisely because, they DO understand.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    i’ll just bet the majority of those who voted for seoul were actually expats like ‘pine forrest’ and kevin. they weren’t tourists.

  • yuna

    but i am by no way advocating that you, or anyone else *should* understand, simply stating.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    ‘asian tourists keep coming’

    koreans too busy trying to get ‘whitey’ to like them while ignoring people who actually like korean things.

    ‘whitey’ is yestrday. asians are today and tommorow.

  • yuna

    To disparage those kind of travelers will get you nowhere. If they have a bad experience, it’s not necessarily going to be the fault of a guidebook.

    yeah, but lonely planet’s main (selling) point is that the information does not guise itself as opinion-free? people are not just getting a directory but they also buy into the lonely-planet traveller type dictated opinions you know? (of course not all)

  • cm

    Over 8 million tourists visited Korea in 2009. Most of them were Asians. Asians appreciate Korea for what it is. A few Westerners…. on the other hand… it’s amazing how much they like to slag off on this country. Most of those who voted in the Lonely Planet for Seoul as the ugliest city in the world, are probably Expat teachers. Isn’t that much obvious? I guess it’s one of the backlash against all the restrictions that are being placed on the ESL teachers right now by the K government. Frankly I think the K government is doing these teachers a favor by making it easy for the ESL teachers so that they don’t have to work in the most ugly terrible city in the world. They can all go back to their utopian beautiful countries and their unemployment lines.

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    And then, when you get to the urban destinations that are worth checking out.. you find that they can’t hold a candle to the offerings of Japan or China. Not that they aren’t wonderful in their own right.. but anyone who follows up a trip to KyongBokKung with a little traipse to the great wall the temple of heaven, or the Ming tombs will have a clear winner. Likewise, what does Korea dream of holding up to compare with Kyoto? It’s laughable.

    There’s a wide gap between “Seoul doesn’t have the standout tourist attractions of Beijing and Kyoto” and “Seoul is an appallingly repetitive sprawl of freeways and Soviet-style concrete apartment buildings, horribly polluted, with no heart or spirit to it. So oppressively bland that the populace is driven to alcoholism.”

  • br

    yuna> why would I disagree with you ? I’m sure that to have such a definitive and authoritative opinion on HK or Singapore you must have thorough, long, first-hand experience of living there and experiencing all the “blandness” those places have to offer, as compared or not, to Korea.
    so why wouldn’t I agree with you if your point is reasoned and well founded ? I’d be happy to share your experience.

  • NetizenKim

    Soviet-style concrete apartment buildings

    Over here we call ‘em The Projects. A legacy of the WPA right after WW2.

  • dogbertt

    They can all go back to their utopian beautiful countries and their unemployment lines.

    And where is it you live again, cm?

  • dogbertt

    It is now Sunday night in New York City, and I confirm that there are bags of garbage piled everywhere.

    And do you expect that they won’t be collected early tomorrow morning?

    I won’t slag Seoul, but I do have to say I lived there a number of yours and saw my fair share of trash piles in the streets, same as in many other large cities outside Korea.

  • dogbertt

    LOL … “years”, not “yours”, of course.

  • The Artful Dodger

    (a.k.a. Extra! Korea)

    @ yuna

    [I]t’s [Seoul is] not that different from tokyo …

    Really?

    i hate that model [Hong kong and Singapore's] of “east serving the west blandness”.

    it’s not that different from tokyo apart from the street vendors, which should be phased out (well done government)

    Isn’t this a contradiction? Phasing out those street vendors leads to that blandness that you rail against. Aren’t they part of Korea’s charm? Would this happen to you in bright, shiny Kangnam?

    As we went up to pay, she noted my backpack and asked what was all over it, and Scott joked that I was homeless. When we got the change back, Scott noticed that there was too much and asked why. Mrs. Seok’s response was, “It’s a homeless discount.” Somehow I doubt those working in the shops in the office tower that replaces the neighborhood will be quite so friendly.

    And those street vendors are officially endorsed by Baek Ji-young.

    “Well done government”? I don’t think so.

    You might want to think about using capital letters. Otherwise, it hurts your credibility.

  • yuna

    blandness is on a different level (5th dimension?), i guess. let’s just say, not being a foreigner myself, i appreciate exactly the points which make korea/seoul *not as foreigner* friendly as those two ex-european colonies and some other parts in south east asia…i have lived in hongkong more than three years and as for singapore, visited it several times. i have always been glad that korea is unlike either (fingers crossed)..
    i do appreciate tokyo a lot, especially since learning the language, and would like to live there one day maybe.
    seoul does not fit into your western man’s (or woman’s) average vision asia and i like that a lot, but that’s just me. if i go into this in more detail, i might start a flame war so i won’t, and just leave it at my one-line condescension.

    hong kong has a lot of street vendors too. bland, was the wrong choice of the word..

    as for street vendors, no, the way koreans have them doesn’t make it less bland.-sprouting anywhere- it just lets people get away with not paying tax on what they earn.. i love street food (especially 떡볶이 which is my favourite food in the whole wide world) but i think they should try to constrain the stalls in designated areas.

    피맛골 != street vendors, it was a charming alleyway (or collection of) of tiny three-tabled restaurants and i think it was a pity it was scrapped.

    my credibility is usually 1 star and/or -1 rating so, there’s not much to hurt but i might try writing with capitals, from tomorrow, just for you.

  • JW

    I have yet to taste ddukbokki here in the States that tastes anything like what they have in the street stalls in korea. If just about every street vendor in korea can pull it off, why the hell can’t they do it here? Always seemed odd to me.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    Over here we call ‘em The Projects. A legacy of the WPA right after WW2.

    The WPA (Works Progress Administrtation, later Works Projects Administration) was a pre-war, Depression-era initiative created by Roosevelt in 1935. It succeeded to and expanded the scope of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation created under Hoover in 1932. The WPA was terminated in 1943. The WPA built many infrastructure projects, but almost no housing.

    Public housing in the US is generally a local government responsibility, but as in all things since the ’30s the Feds have muscled in, using finance as their leverage. National public housing initiatives were handled by the housing division of the Public Works Administration, later the U.S. Housing Authority, and (most notoriously) beginning in the “Great Society” years of LBJ, HUD (the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development).

    And, of course, “The Projects” (certainly pre-HUD) were vastly superior in terms of planning, architecture, design and amenities to the typical Seoul apartment – and they were built for the poor, not (by and large) the middle and upper middle classes and the rich (although there were middle class exceptions). Only with HUD, although there were notorious previous exceptions in, e.g., New York’s old Penn South Houses, you got the big apartment blocks also characteristic of Seoul, where the superblock concept has been taken to grotesque extremes.

    We can all “thank” Le Corbusier.

  • yuna

    jw, I’ve been thinking a lot about this mystery of why I can never produce 떡볶이 at home like on the street – I’ve concluded it’s the same reason that 짜장면 from expensive places don’t taste half as good as the ones which come from chinese joints notorious for poor hygiene.. you need to use the worst quality ingredients in the most unhealthy way possible..

    In the US, I was appalled at the 떡볶이 from the korean supermarkets – the 떡 tasted like it’d had a happy, obese life instead of being 쫄깃쫄깃! The sauce also needs to consist of some bloody hot red-colouring of a questionable origin instead of the best quality 고추가루/고추장 from your grandma which your mum has been saving… Another key ingredient is 물엿 or 올리고당

    On a related issue, I’ve also noticed that KFC tasted better in Mexico – the chicken tasted meaner and leaner, like it ran faster during its life (and maybe was a mean shot too)

  • JW

    I swear, next time I go to korea, finding out their secret will be the first thing I do, cuz that stuff will sell like hotcakes here in gyopo areas if you can get it right.

  • http://www.korealawblog.com Brendon Carr

    Some pre-HUD public housing is downright splendid — so splendid, in fact, that private equity fund BlackRock, for one example, laid out US$4.1 billion in 2006 (at the height of the property bubble, oops) to buy Peter Cooper Village-Stuyvesant Town (there’s that Stuyvesant name again…), a 1943-vintage assemblage of 11,250 apartments renting for up to $6000 a month. Even though it’s three times denser than the rest of Manhattan, Stuy Town is apparently in demand.

    Meanwhile most of HUD’s output ends up getting imploded after 20 years or so, after a descent into violence, anarchy and hopelessness. See St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe for the best-known example of Federal prowess in affordable housing.

    I’m so looking forward to the same hyper-competent crew taking over all the hospitals.

  • seoulmilk

    weird. with all this talk about toursits not enjoying seoul, from my experience talking with people, it’s usually the ones that stay less than two weeks in seoul who absolutely love seoul. the ones that complain the most are expats who actually live in korea for more than a year.

  • gangpehmoderniste

    Well to me Seouls seemed more civilised, clean and overall likable than most artsy (and crumbling) European capitals, let alone any major city in North America. I’d really enjoyed the comments from the Swedish couple heading for Edinbourgh, as i had a horrible time in both Scotland (the Sicily of Northern Europe) and Sweden, which in terms of rude, drunk people and dirt in the streets was a real surprise.

    And boy if Seoul architecture is Soviet-like, what is Malmoe’s ?

  • JW

    There’s actually dirt in Sweden? I thought the place was all paved in gold or something. If Korea can become like Sweden (in terms of per capita income, low gini– although korea gini is pretty low, high HDI, etc etc) I’d be pretty fricken happy.

  • gangpehmoderniste

    paved in gold in their dreams…Scandiavia is one of the most over priced rip-offs in the world, per capita gdp doesn’t mean much, most of it is seized by the state, real unemployment is approachung 20% and you will find that your 2000 euros a month (that’s a typical take-home paycheck there) don’t get you much of anything, as the cost of life is absurd. Grocery stores look like they’re out of Zivkov’s Bulgaria circa 1982, the average car seems to be 10 years old and H&M is what passes for good clothing overthere. Let alone the fact the locals act like they’re gifts from the sky.

    Ditto with pretty much anywhere in Europe.

    Oh and Malmoe is one of the most squalid, most dangerous places i ever visited

  • yuna

    about malmo, the swedes would say it’s because it’s more denmark than sweden ^^

    actually i’ve heard another friend of mine say exactly the same thing about malmo. interestingly enough he was also italian.

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    Malmoe is radical multicuturalism at its finest. Ethnic enclaves that reject assimilation and engender violence. Let’s hope that Seoul integrates its foreigners more effectively . . . and that depends not only on the Koreans but to a great extent on the immigrants themselves.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • gangpehmoderniste

    i agree with you Jeffery, the problem is there are everyday more and more places turning into Malmoe everyday in Europe and N. America

    Yuna: Itlians are socially as conservative as Asians in public (and as corrupted and sleazy as Northern Europeans in private) we have very little tolreance for ethnic gangs and drunk chavs

    Shall i dare to say ? The richeest contries of Asia are already ahead of the West in terms of overall civilisation

  • yuna

    and as corrupted and sleazy as Northern Europeans in private

    i know! tell me about it, the two-faced snobby swedes! (stockholmers anyway)

    once, i was in the coffee area at arlanda airport at a quiet time – just me and a 50 year old guy at another table (very respectable looking)- he was talking to his wife on the phone, possibly on what cosmetics she was ordering from duty-free, but at the same time IN PLAIN SIGHT he was leafing through a hardcore porn!!!!
    i was so shocked and quite disgusted! it wasn’t the porn as much it was just the fact he didn’t make any effort to hide it, and also whilst talking to his wife..
    weird..

  • gangpehmoderniste

    welcome to Europe Yuna !

    This total lack of respect for themselves and other people they call it “Dynamic, progressive, forward thinking society” (G. Brown) here

    Well this economic DEPRESSION raging right now will teach lots of whiteys what is their true place and worth in this world.

  • PineForest

    gangpehmoderniste,

    pray tell, what is the true place of white people in this world?

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    Hey, no cheating, PineForest! We’re supposed to wait for the economic depression to teach us.

    There’s always somebody trying to ruin the curve . . .

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • gangpehmoderniste

    pine forest

    whitey are 21st century ni__ers

    hey it comes and goes for everybody, it’s just a natural thing otherwise you would still call me Caesar

  • gbnhj

    Nightclubbers? Nile-goers? Ninepin players?

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  • jclskr

    I dunno Seoul does seem to have a lot culture in my opinion.
    Im not going to start some biased claims saying Seoul is great or whatnot but, there are many districts specialized by the government to keep the heritage of seoul intact despite the fast rise of modern skyscrapers and much other western influences.

    A lot of green zones are in place, and many old apartments and buildings are being torn to create new ones, if you guys have’nt forgotten the Korean war isn’t officially over so the archaic style of the helicopter rooftop buildings should be given some excuse.

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  • Sick of them all

    Asians simply suck! We honkeys are severally out numbered. Like blacks they breed like cock roaches and it is scary. Most Asian women are hookers that are here as they are taught that they are like cattle. To be used, sold and traded. They get what they can get, and a price is no option. I am beginning to hate out own country for allowing all these nasty people in to breed and take away what we created. Why on earth can;t we tell these nasty people to stay in their on pathetic countries and stay the hell out of ours? Oh gees these assholes scream racism, a ticket to free money with them fuckers.

    The blacks have the biggest chip on their shoulder always using the racist card. I hate them as they are lazy, most on welfare, thinking we owe them all some living! Go back to where you came from. Believe me most of us don;t want your kind here. You are violent, and cant seem to work! You only know how to breed like cock roaches for free money! URGH!

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