Monday, October 11, 2010

Is Seoul Ready for the G20 Summit?

The G20 Summit is coming to Seoul and that means a lot of important people will be sharing the air here. This also means that a lot of foreign visitors to the summit will be arriving as well. Therefore, is Seoul ready to accommodate these Western people?

I have noticed on the Seoul City Blog job opportunities of the sort that reflect this nervousness towards being a host country. I can't say for sure whether these job postings are directly related to the G20, but I have a gut feeling they are. Just what are these specialty jobs, you ask?

What are the most important aspects of making your city accommodating? Apparently, thus far these things include hygienic facilities, efficient and clean buses along with legible and accurate signs in various languages.
COEX Hygiene:
Take for example the hygienic one.

Hygiene inspection of restaurants at Coex , a venue for the upcoming G20 Summit
Job Descriptions :
 -Date & Time:  September 30 (Thursday) 13:00~17:00
 -Seats available: 10 foreigners (first-come first-served)
 -Inspection method: inspecting restaurants with a team of 3 persons (2 Koreans and 1 foreigner)
 -Details: writing a restaurant hygiene inspection report from a  foreigner’s perspective
-Payment: 40,000KRW
- Meeting place: in front of Bandi & Lunis’ Bookstore, Coex mall
For those who don't know, COEX is a large underground complex with shopping, a movie theatre and many restaurants. It also has large exhibition halls adjacent to it along with the Intercontinental hotel. I can't recall how many times I have been to COEX, but I think I can safely vouch my opinion of it's hygiene levels.

COEX Hygiene Report: (from past experience)
  • The level of cleanliness inside restaurants is pretty good. Tableware never seemed to be spotty or dirty. Tables were cleaned before sitting down, and floors were acceptable as well. As for food I have eaten I would say that they usually came out without any debris such as hair or other such foreign objects. 
  • As for the food court I would say that area is pretty clean, however tables seemed a bit messy and not cleaned up often. That would be an area to consider improving.
  • Overall COEX's restaurants are pretty well kept up with and I don't see any need for improvement.
Bus Monitors
That job seemed like a fairly easy one and wouldn't yield too much criticism. But then came the next request for bus "mystery passengers."
 “Mystery Passenger”
· Seat availability: 10 persons (on a first-come and first-served basis)
     · Qualification: Any foreign resident in Seoul
               *prefer those who have Korean proficiency
     · Payment: 70,000KRW per day
     · Working hours: 5 hours anytime during the day
               *One person can work for up to 5 days.
The Seoul city government is seeking foreigners residing in Korea who can monitor the conditions of buses in Seoul (e.g. safety, hygiene, and convenience of the buses)

Ah, public transportation. Is it safe? It is easy to use? Is it fast and efficient? Is it clean? I can tell you this might be the most important factor for the city as far as this is issue is concerned. Why? Because not only is it difficult to adjust to being in a land where you don't know the language but even more challenging to figure out your way around it all. I think being able to use a public transportation system in a foreign country is a great accomplishment.

Having visited New York City and resided in San Francisco I have some background here on judging public transportation (especially buses) in Seoul. The buses in San Francisco would rate poorly on my scale. Typically, they smell bad, difficult to figure out the route and have a plethora of service related problems. I have read articles in the SF Chronicle of people getting stabbed on the bus. The bus drivers tend to ignore unruly behavior, but they take a lot of heat from riders who have angst against the public transportation system.

To sum it up, Seoul's bus system looks very good when compared with San Francisco's.

Here's my breakdown:
  • Seoul buses are generally clean and well kept. But there are all different types of buses going around Seoul. There are the village type buses that go short distances, then there are the ones that go from one dong to the next. I can't say whether this makes for different types of hygiene. But in my experience the village buses tend to be a little more dirty, but not too bad.
  • Safety on the buses doesn't seem to be a problem. However, there have been reported incidences of foreigners being treated poorly on buses. As for safety in general, whether your ride on the bus will end up causing you to get hurt or not, that is another story. Let's not forget when a Seoul bus blew up recently. I hope they have gotten that under control. 
  • Safety in regards to your ride on the bus and whether you feel like it is a death trap, well that is questionable. For one bus drivers make very sharp turns, and they hit the breaks quick and hard. A traveler who has little experience in this might find themselves falling over. Also there is the unsafe feeling of having to head towards the middle-back of the bus to make sure you get out in time. Bus drivers tend to stop for very short periods of time to let passengers on and off. 
  • This takes me to my next point, which is the bus passenger system. Having ridden the bus in Japan I can say that if I didn't know to board in the back-middle first I would have been lost. Seoul's riding system might be tricky to the newcomer. They need to know to board in the front. Knowing where to put the money is another thing. Also the use of a T-Card can make it all better. Do people know this right away when they are at a bus stop? Not really. Also do people know that if they use the T-Card they have to "beep-it" on the way out? Are signs at the bus easy to understand? (Not completely)
  • This might make you think that Seoul buses are not convenient. However, once you know how to use the bus they become a great form of transportation in your travels around the city. Due to the bus drivers driving fast you can get from one place to the next quickly. Also there are dedicated bus lanes to help them get through heavy traffic. They also go practically everywhere in Seoul. In San Francisco, with recent budget cuts, there are some places that would take hours by bus to get to because there are no direct routes. 
As you can see Seoul already has a really good bus system and doesn't need much room for improvement. However, the only improvement I would see is passenger etiquette towards each other and hopefully that Korean citizens will treat foreigners with respect (same with the other way around).

Street Signs:
Finally, we come to the last request for inspectors that of "Street-sign monitors." These job titles sound more and more fun, and I wish I could do them if I had the free time during the week.
The Seoul city government is seeking foreign residents in Seoul who can monitor the use of the English, Chineses, Japanese languges on signs (e.g. detecting spelling errors on road/traffic signs) on the strees in Seoul.
*Seat Availability: 3 persons (1 native speaker of English, 1 Chinese, 1  Japanese)
         **prefer those who have Korean proficiency
*Working Hours: October 14 (Thursday) starting from 1 p.m for 3 - 3.5 hrs
*Payment: 50,000KRW
Since I am an English speaker I can only judge on the quality of the English on street signs in Seoul. My verdict is that as far as major tourist and directional signs go they have done a good job. Road and traffic signs offer typically both English and Korean, however I have seen here and there Chinese and Japanese too. But mostly it is just English and Korean. Have there been any spelling errors? Well not from what I can remember but I can bet that they are out there.

On the contrary, if one were to inspect any kind of sign in Seoul for it's English usage than that would definitely end up being a full time job.

The conundrum:
Is Seoul ready? Well I think the city as far as these items are concerned are ready. However, when you ask yourself whether Korean citizens themselves are ready for a high influx of foreigners into their land then you can get the jitters. Just reading Scribblings of the Metropolitician's post on Korean's treatment and attitude toward foreigners you will start to see that Korean people are not quite ready to embrace a global society.
American GI's have been stabbed and murdered by Koreans -- never hits the news.
Foreign women raped by Korean men? Hospitals won't even examine them unless they prove they're not a "Russian prostitute." Never gets in the paper.
Beating and stabbings on foreigners?
Yes, it is pretty grim but real. The problem many people are going to have with the G20 coming to Seoul is that the Korean media are going to hype it up to the visitors that their city is a place of "peace" and "globalization." When in fact, yes it is globalized, but in a very asymmetrical kind of way. I would say that Korean people see globalization as a coat they put on to show off to other countries. But they don't really plan on wearing it all day.

What I wish Korean citizens and officials would do is take in for a moment what their behaivor looks like to outsiders. As the Metropolitician exemplifies:

You want to know the REAL problem people in this society? The asshole old man who came up the the table next to me in the coffee shop yesterday, where a girl had been sitting alone, and they all sat in the empty seats around her. Because they didn't want to sit at an inside seat. It was the smoking area. Then the asshole old man started yelling and cursing at her about smoking in front of men. She told them she was there first and why are you cursing at me? He stood up, called her the English equivalent of "crazy bitch" and all kinds of threatening speech. Then he told HER to move. When she spoke back at him more -- in polite honorifics -- he wanted to HIT her. Sound familiar?
The Metropolitician wrote this in discussion about violence against women and the hyped up media in Korea. But it shows an extreme example of some of the behavior that one could witness here. You don't see this stuff everyday, but you can come across more subtle varieties. Of course, all of it has a reason and meaning behind it, but unfortunately the new traveler to this city will just see the ugliness and not really the history behind it. This goes for travelers in my own country who see the kind of behavior on the streets (such as junkies shooting up or people yelling at each other). In other words, we all should reflect on how our social behavior looks to others around us.

My opinion is that as the younger generation grows up it is possible for Korea to look more like what a globalized and "peaceful" city would look like. And as foreigners stay here longer and make roots that our role will look less pedestrian and more meaningful.

So is Seoul ready? Let's ask it again in another 10 years.


  1. Joy,
    I started to type a comment - which then grew into a post of its own! It's online at

    There's also information about a little social experiment I'd like to run. See the post for more :)

  2. Get real Joy, by your criteria nobody in the world is ready. There are criminals and assholes everywhere in the world.

  3. woof woof! Bow wow! growl.....

    I don't actually get the purpose of your post Joy!
    Why are you critiquing all this in such detail in your post? Did you submit these answers somewhere or apply for these foreigner jobs?


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