28 September 2008

Collegiate Seoul: from Sarah's perspective

It's 10:30AM on Monday, September 29. Yesterday afternoon was spent exploring Sinchon, a very collegiate part of Seoul with four major universities. This is one part of Seoul that Sarah will most likely end up visiting, probably with Korean-speaking coworkers. My main blog has the rest of the photos, and here are some photos, re-uploaded here, as seen from Sarah's perspective.

Two most popular ways to unwind, after cramming for exams, are the PC room (on top) and the karaoke bar (on bottom).

The PC room is an affordable way to get on the Internet and get in touch with those back home, though Sarah will probably take care of that from her hotel room. It's also possible to play online RPGs, a national obsession here.

Meanwhile, the karaoke bar is a social place, where a group of friends can try to see who sings best; the machine will score one's singing based on how accurate the singer's rhythm is (tone deaf is perfectly acceptable - which will be a huge relief to Sarah, who simply doesn't have a natural female range). While K-Pop won't be Sarah's territory, there will be plenty of English-language music to make up for it; I expect her to sing various numbers by her idol Sarah McLachlan and lesbian icon Melissa Etheridge, though she might attempt a Mariah Carey number as a tribute to her wife Kirsten.

There are small boutiques like this, scattered around quiet residential streets away from the bars and restaurants. These boutiques probably won't carry items in Sarah's size; she is US size 12 extra-tall, a rather unusual size here. But she'll love window-shopping anyway. This boutique is displaying a black Ally McBeal-esque miniskirt suit, which will be another reminder of Kirsten, who loves that look.

Sarah will really feel at home looking at this sign. It marks the entrance to Lesbos, the first lesbian bar in South Korea. This neighborhood has several well-known lesbian bars. English is not well-spoken at these bars, so most likely Sarah will have to visit them with a few coworkers.

I could note a few key differences between US gay bars and their counterparts here. In the US, men's bars frown on women, and women's bars usually welcome men. Here, it's the other way; men are strictly forbidden at Lesbos and other lesbian bars, while men's bars often welcome women. Sarah may have trouble entering Lesbos, as the concept of a transgender lesbian is absolutely unknown in South Korea, and she will probably be dismissed as another boycrazy ladyboy.

Another women-only bar, appropriately named Lady First. I couldn't figure out if this is a lesbian bar or not, however.

A book fair was taking place, just for the weekend. Here are two notable American bookworms featured. On the left is Margaret Cho, whose sight will be a relief to Sarah, as Cho is not only a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, like Sarah herself, but also a well-known member and ally of the LGBT community (though mentioning that is a taboo in South Korea). On the right is Laura Bush; it's a good thing Sarah doesn't know Korean, because the caption underneath is written in very glowing terms - something a South Korean bureaucrat is obliged to do for a US Republican, in a show of Confucian respect and deference.

A streetside vendor selling tunics and legwear, Sarah's favorite items (and also very popular among Seoul fashionistas). I don't think Sarah likes stirrups, whether they are the tights with toe and ankle cutouts as seen on the right, currently the must-have item here in Seoul, or the pants that were so popular in the early 1980s. But Sarah surely loves leggings, as seen on the left.

Again, given Sarah's six-foot frame, proper fit will be difficult. Ankle-length leggings will probably become capris when Sarah puts them on, because her legs are so long. And the tunics will be probably too short, and leave her derriere and crotch uncovered. I don't think Sarah's idea of a good day is walking around like that and getting unwanted attention from men (or even worse, making her pre-op status known to the world).

This is an upscale boutique near Ewha Women's University, a conservative Christian institution that used to expel its students for getting married - until very recently. Plaid is the key here; Sarah will love the patterns.

Note the white chess queen on the lower left. Just as Kwan Yin is a well-known transwoman figure here in East Asia, the chess queen fills that role in Europe. The original Indian chess had a male advisor next to the king, who had the same moves and powers as the king. The versions of chess played here in Korea, as well as in China, continue to have male advisors - though each side gets two advisors in both games, and the advisor's moves are different from the king's in Chinese chess. However, in Europe, the advisor changed genders, became a queen, and expanded her powers tremendously. Sarah will surely appreciate that.

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