Handphone (mobile phone) vendor [May 2000].
(Please read this before you copy our photos or text.)

Koreans love their electronic gadgets even more than we do. The cellular phone revolution here was years ahead of America's. Their mobile phones shrank before ours did, played tunes before ours did, and outnumbered the landlines before ours did.

It's about convenience, of course -- but, surprisingly, it's also about cost. Mobile phone service usually isn't any more expensive and sometimes it's actually cheaper. There are no flat rates for landlines -- the phone company bills them by the minute, just like cellular service. Incoming cellular calls are free.

The Korean name for mobile phones is pieced together from English bits: haendeu-pon -- "handphone." They're tiny and colorful -- and on the pricey side, compared to mobiles in the west. There's even a category of jewelry, little baubles that are hung from handphones, presumably so they are easier to find in pocket or purse.

You don't see this so much now, but when Margaret taught in Korea in 2000, handphones were still sold from street kiosks like the one above. They were usually staffed by one or two young women clad in tight, short skirts. I guess in those days the phone companies figured that most of their customers would be men. Now everyone is a customer.

Good bet you will be, too. Don't bother taking along your Western phone when you go -- Korea's mobile phone system is incompatible with almost every other system in the world. Supposedly they're building a new system which will be, or maybe even is, by now. However, the scuttlebutt I hear is that the Korean cellular companies are dragging their feet about making it available to people with "foreign" phones. I guess they want to carry on with selling both the service and the phones. If you're going for a visit, not to stay, you can rent a Korean mobile at the airport.

Before you leave this pic, one thing more. See that loudspeaker at the photo's lower right? It was blasting Korean rock when I shot this photo. That's typical. Stores and street vendors play music and even hire dancers to attract customers. If noise makes you crazy, a Korean city probably isn't the place for you.

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