Hot on the phone in Seoul

I was having a fight with Optus yesterday about my overdue phone bill. I had queries about it and they said ‘why didn’t you ring earlier?’ Because I was in Seoul, I said.

South Korea, like Japan, doesn’t sing from the same hymn sheet as the rest of us. Their phones are predominantly non-GSM, running instead on CDMA technology (isn’t this the technology that Australia just turned off so we could all go digital? Any illumination welcomed.).

So instead of wrestling with my Australian phone and gladly offering my bank account up, lock stock to Optus, I hired a phone at the airport from one of the line of phone companies set up at the exit doors.Not just a SIM card to slip into my phone, but the whole shebang.

When I got the phone, it was so clunky and old, I wanted to put a bumper sticker on it saying something like, “My other phone is a Blackberry.” Incidentally, out of all the Koreans and expats I met, they were all trucking god-ugly phones: mostly clam shells. (Toooo early naughties!) And this in a country where something like 95% of the population has a mobile phone, and the home of Samsung and LG.

The international wires say that smartphones have been slow on the take-up due to lack of mobile apps and the high cost of the technology. The cynic in my head says keeping the government is keeping the non-Korean brands out of town. Can anyone else smell the non-competition rat here?

About the author

Fear is found on a creaking glacier in the Caucasus mountains and joy is encapsulated in the perfect Shanghai dumpling. And while I love a $500-a-night hotel room (who doesn’t?), sometimes the best stories are found in a $20 guesthouse. With an eye always out for good markets and great street eats, I write the travel news and features for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and features for whoever else asks. I have a particular soft spot for the wilds of the Middle East, scarves and carpets. My articles and photographs have been published in a range of consumer magazines and newspapers in Australia and abroad.

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