Monday, December 1, 2008

Navigating Seoul

Exploring Seoul has been an interesting challenge. Back in the States, England, and Japan, We were always able to count on Google maps, but they don't cover Korea yet. Adding to the fun is that fact that Seoul is an ancient city, so there's no easy-to-navigate grid thing going on, and many of the streets aren't even named.

Then there are the addresses.

Korean cities are divided in gu, or districts (Seoul has 25). Each gu is then further subdivided into dong, which are neighborhoods. So the first part of a written address will include the gu and dong, which is fine. The problem comes when you get down to the "which building and street" level, both because of the aforementioned nameless streets, and the fact that buildings are numbered by the order in which they were built. The oldest building in a dong is #1, the next oldest is #2, etc. The problem here is that, unless you know a neighborhood intimately, there is no rhyme or reason to this system. If #37 gets torn down and rebuilt, the new building becomes #480.

This isn't just an issue for us waegook either, because most local cabbies have the same problem. Every cab you get into here sports a GPS, and they use it constantly to figure out where they're going. Seoul is so frigging huge that there is no way a single person is going to know the ins and outs of every single dong; there are hundreds of them, with more springing up as the population grows. When someone gives you their card here, it often includes a little map along with the address. These maps usually use landmarks to help you out, but they are not always oriented with north being "up".

I have yet to find a decent map of Seoul; most of them are stylized tourist maps which aren't much good for serious navigation; if anyone reading this knows of a good English-language map for Seoul, please let me know. Because of this, I spend a lot of time on Wikimapia, which is a lifesaver. It's basically Google Maps with a whiteboard overlay, so users can label buildings and other points of interest. What I'll often do is print out an overhead shot from this site, with wherever it is that I'm looking for highlighted. I'm blessed with a pretty decent sense of direction, and I've also got a little pocket compass if I get turned around and it's a cloudy day. With these in hand and a little shoe leather, I've been able to find everything I've tried to find so far.. and I've certainly been getting a lot of exercise.


daeguowl December 2, 2008 at 3:55 PM  

Do you mean a real paper map? Google maps is available on the google korea website (in korean). For an online map in english, the map produced by the bus company is not bad...

Gabe Fife December 4, 2008 at 3:12 AM  

wow! you really have your nose in the book! you know more about the city than i do. i lived in korea for a year and have been back on a couple research trips and my wedding trip. while i was in korea i just stuck to my studies and didn't really learn much about korea other than what was presented to me in my relationships with korean friends and the history class that i got a D in. thumbs up on the know how in korea. hope things continue to be awesome for you in korea. wish i was there!

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