We’ve never been over-concerned about travelling overseas, but after the Bangkok temple bombing earlier this year, we wondered what changes we’d see. Seeing soldiers on the street is nothing new. In Thailand, most of the young soldiers are about the size of my thirteen year old grandson, although they adopt fierce expressions and try to swagger. The older men tend to be chunkier, their glances are sharper and they move more slowly – perhaps because they’re usually adorned with lots of gold braid and shiny leathers.
In Seoul, there was plenty of evidence of law enforcement – airport police, tourist police, subway police, etc., but they didn’t appear uber-vigilant. In fact, there is a somewhat whimsical approach to making policing more friendly.
The tourist police ladies sported red blazers and jaunty caps. We saw lots of handsome soldiers in camouflage, but they were unarmed.
Watching the traffic police was fascinating. Buses would pull up and out would tumble a few dozen young officers in safety vests, white gloves and what looked like dress shoes. Wielding red wands, they’d stride into the centre of a street and direct traffic, vigorously blowing whistles to keep things moving.
On another day, we were sipping coffee in a shop by City Hall and watched as a group of recruits unloaded a truck of supplies and carried them into the local police station.
The Korean police recruiting poster differs greatly from the ones we see in North America. No whirling helicopters above rappelling Tactical Team members, racing K-9s and lighted police vehicles. The portrayal is so low-key it’s almost ‘sweet’.
Right beside that poster was one highlighting the most wanted. Baddies around the globe must attend the same school of posing for maximum intimidation.
Every Skytrain station has guards at each entrance, checking bags and wanding some passengers who get pulled aside. The larger, high-end shopping malls – Emporium I & Emporium II, and Paragon Siam – have metal detectors and security at every entrance, doing the same thing. There are also doormen – young men dressed in snazzy black uniforms (last time, they were all in white and resembled generals). They pull the heavy store doors open for farang and snap a sharp salute.
The streets were thronged, as always, but while there was a heightened sense of awareness for our surroundings, there was no sense of danger.