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Where the streets have no name March 25, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.

bono“I want to feel, sunlight on my face
See that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I want to take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name”

Excerpt from the song Where the Streets Have No Name – U2

I used to think that this song was about Ireland, but after carefully listening to the song and reading the lyrics, I’m pretty confident that Bono is singing about Korea.

For some reason I’ve been obsessed with this song lately. There’s karaoke on every corner in this city and I can’t seem to find one with this song. Everytime I hear it, it reminds me of the raucous Bell Centre during Habs games as this used to be the song that played right before the players came on the ice. So when I listen to it now, I close my eyes and  feel like I’m back at the best place in the world to watch hockey. My obsession with this song has also coincided with the Habs most recent free-fall. They fired their coach, their stud goalie is a mess, and they got trounced again this past Saturday at home by the lowly Leafs 5-2 for the second straight time. Right now is one of the very few times when it would be fun to be a Leafs fan in Montreal.


Tuesday, March 24th will marked our one month anniversary here in Korea. Aside from Katie’s obvious health concerns, we couldn’t be happier. (She’s on medication and feeling a bit better, by the way)

Adjusting to life in a completely different culture has been easier than expected and we genuinely feel comfortable in our surroundings. Even when we’re being stared at on the subway by old people. We’re fortunate to live in a very westernized part of Seoul so english is fairly common here and most of the locals are used to dealing with foreigners so it makes for going about you daily routine a little easier.

Seoul is one of the cleanest an efficient cities I’ve ever seen. Granted, my sample size is relatively small so I have little basis for comparison, but so far everything from the subway system to the hospital and even the airport is first class all the way. I’m a freak when it comes to organization and efficiency and these people have quickly won me over. With a few exceptions.

1) The currency

Here is what the equivalent of $500 CAD looks like when converted into Korean Won’s.


This picture really doesn’t do it justice. This is an obscene amount of bills that is close to 2 inches thick.

545,000 won.

I could go on and on about the huge number as nothing here costs less than 500 won, which is less than 50 cents, but my biggest issue if the denomination of the bills. The largest bill that they print is 10,000 won (the green one on the left) which works out to less than $10 CAD. Can you imagine carrying nothing but $10, 5 and 1 bills and a buttload of change on top of that. It’s pretty ridiculous. I HATE change. Actually, hate isn’t a strong enough word. Now, I’m being given coins worth 50, 10, 5 and 1 won or what would work out to less than $0.05, 0.01, half a cent and a tenth of a cent. Awesome.

I’ve been living here for just over a month now so I feel more than qualified to comment and criticize a monetary system that’s been around for hundreds of years. 2 suggestions. Drop the 3 zeroes and print some 20’s, 50’s and 100’s.

2) Age

I still can’t understand the logic behind this one. Here’s how it works. When you’re born, you’re already 1 and even though everyone acknowledges their actual birthdate every year, you don’t actually turn 2 until the Lunar New Year which typically falls around the end of January. Therefore, if you’re born in mid-January you would be considered 2 years old before you’re actually 2 weeks old. So when a child tells you they are 6 years old, all you know is that they are in fact between 4-5 years old. Makes sense.

I have no idea how they organize their youth sports leagues but this age thing can’t be a good thing. In Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book “Outliers”, he points out how the majority of Canadian professional hockey players are born within the first three months of the year. His rationale is that because they have matured sooner and are more developed then their peers, that they rise through the ranks faster, make the better teams and thus receive the better coaching and opportunities (Personal note: I was born in October and got killed when contact started and puberty hadn’t). So what chance does a 13-year who is actually 11, have against a 13-year old who is actually 12?

My youngest class is made up entirely of “6-year olds”, but some of them might actually be 4. Wouldn’t it be helpful for the teacher to know from a developmental standpoint which children may not be as advanced as others? Especially at such a young age?

Maybe there’s a rational explanation for this system but I’ve yet to hear one. 

3) No street names

This one kills me. No street signs. All directions are given based on landmarks and addresses are based on blocks, districts and postal codes. Our address at home is Seocho-gu, Banpo 2 Dong, 732-7, No. 202. But there’s a 79 on the outside of our building? We’ve been tempted to order a pizza but I have no idea how it’s ever going to get here.

We also read in one of the travel books we have about Korea that fax machines are popular amongst Koreans so that they fax over directions to each other so everyone knows where to go. We’ve had to ask some of the Korean teachers at our school for directions and unless they know the area and can describe landmarks, it’s a useless exercise. This place has more signs hanging everywhere than anywhere else I’ve been outside of Times Square. Remember our little excursion to Costco a couple weeks ago? Yeah, well that could have been avoided with an address instead of a crappy map from their website. Would it kill them to name at least a few of the major streets and make everyone’s life a little easier?

If poison rain starts to fall, we’re outta here.


1. Sub - March 26, 2009

The sad thing is that stack of bills is going to be twice that size once you cash your last paycheque. Save a couple so we can backhand Robertson in the face with them everytime he drops a flyball this summer. Read that last sentence again. That’s right, I’m taking the under.

2. Mulqueen - March 26, 2009

Great post.

3. Dyson - March 27, 2009

Just wait until the little Hungary economic adventure currently taking place runs it’s course…

4. MRobertson - March 27, 2009

No doubt in my mind that I’m going to hit Sub on the back of the head with an alluminum baseball bat on his wedding day.

5. Mulqueen - April 2, 2009

It is now April 1st in Canada, one week after March 25th. Did Korea get stuck at March 25th?

Where are the updates and why have you foresaken your readers?

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