Techno Freaks
Sokcho (South Korea), September 1st 2010

“One double cheeseburger meal and one Bulgogiburger meal, please” are we asking the girl behind the counter of the Loteria fast-food chain. The food tastes remarkably similar to the dishes at Mc Donald’s, but the order handling is typical Korean. When paying with credit card, the customer has to sign on a digital write pad instead of on the bill. We have to wait for our order and we get a small device with us that comes to life as soon as the order is ready. Lights start flashing and the small box is vibrating to make sure that we will notice that our burgers are ready. This is what we mean with “typical Korean”: when there is a technical novelty, the Koreans will use it.

Korea’s love for everything technical, can be seen everywhere. A simple snap check in the subway teaches us that 80% of the people are holding their mobile phone in their hands instead of putting it in their pocket. The phones are normally fixed up with an external antenna, which makes it possible to watch television programmes wherever you are. When Koreans want to know which subway line they have to take, they don’t look at the subway map hanging on the wall but they look at hand phone instead. Hence, the same map can also be found on their own little LCD screen. A visit to the museum is also a pleasure because of all the technical stuff that the Koreans are putting in use. Sensors are measuring your position and make sure that the music starts to play at the right moment, while the lights starts to dim. Touch screen panels are used to teach the visitors something in an interactive way.

As Korea isn’t a cheap country by Asian standards, a visit to the ATM is a recurring phenomenon. While standing at a Korean ATM, there is little doubt that the Dutch ones are still from the technological prehistory. A friendly women’s voice is helping you either in Korean or in English to use the modern touch screen machines. Every machine has its own telephone hanging next to it, to make sure that you don’t have to leave your machine in case of questions or troubles. The machines also have a special load station for mobile phones, where you only have to put your phone to increase its balance.

Taekwondo may be Korea’s most famous sport, but playing computer games is the most popular one. In most streets, you can find a PC-centre which is a kind of gaming hall where people are looking at their monitors for hours in a row to shoot all the digital bad guys. Because of the competitive nature of the Koreans, they all want to win. In the year 2000, Korea started the Cyber Games, an event that has been hosted in several places in the world afterwards. The real gaming stars are sponsored by big Korean companies as Samsung and SK Telecom and can earn more than hundred thousand dollars per year. No wonder that almost a third of Korea’s population is hooked on playing online games and that the real freaks are training more than ten hours per day. However, the gaming hype also has its disadvantages, as many hardcore gamers are suffering from a burn-out when they are 25. In 2005 there was the first case of a cyber death. A 28 year old amateur gamer passed away after playing the game Star Craft for more than 50 hours in a row.

The ones, who like to combine their sport with some fresh air, can head out to the golf course. A golf course may not sound something high-tech, but in Korea you can get surprised. When we passed a golf course during a small walk, we noticed that the bags with golf clubs aren’t moved manually anymore. The small carts are rolling completely automatic next to the golfer, who doesn’t need to touch it with a finger. At the side of the golf track is a narrow path on which the carts are rolling and the cart keeps next to its golfer.

After two weeks of travelling in South Korea, we thought that this would be the first day that we wouldn’t be surprised with a new technical novelty. But, just before we wanted to go back to our hotel, we got our surprise at the local supermarket. Here, they really spoil the cashiers. They still have to take the bank notes out of the cash deck, but the coins they need to give as change are falling out of the cash deck automatically. So, if you think that you have seen it all: the Techno Freaks from Korea will keep surprising you.

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