The first stop on our world adventure is Seoul, South Korea! Mike’s visited a few times before (mostly to see family) and had already been in the city a month for his language course before I arrived. As a first-time visitor to Asia, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was only in Seoul 11 days before heading off for my month-long solo trip to Bali, but here are some of my initial observations.
History Meets Modernity
Seoul is complicated place. The respect for their history and struggle is evident, but in a city of 10 million people, you can’t stop progress. There are 600 year old palaces right in the middle of the city and traditional hanok villages that are still residential neighbourhoods lived in by the locals. But there are also white utilitarian skyscrapers built for the sole purpose of housing the growing population and McDonald’s scooters racing around delivering galbi burgers. Good or bad, the dichotomy is interesting to witness, especially when you see a 14 year old taking a selfie wearing a hanbok.
So Much Adorable
Living in Vancouver, I already knew Asian cultures love all things cute, but being in Seoul takes it to a new level. Upon arrival, my first purchase was a transit card at the airport. See photo #1 below. The cute continued in the Airbnb we’re staying at with emojis on the toilet paper! You’ll be walking down the street and there will be a random giant teddy bear sculpture on the side of a building. Skincare face masks are Pokeman themed!
Koreans are so into cute stuff that there are entire stores devoted to emoji paraphernalia for their messaging apps. The most popular one is called KakaoTalk. See below for Mike embodying his favourite KakaoTalk emoji, Ryan the Lion.
The Food, Oh the Food
I’m sure we’ll post more on food later, but the itinerary for my first 11 days in Seoul easily revolved around what and where we were going to eat. Sightseeing comes second to culinary delights! There is an overwhelming selection of restaurants here from hole-in-the-wall joints serving one specialty dish, to fancier places. The street food culture is amazing and the food markets are filled with more delicious stalls than you can possibly sample during one visit.
Probably the craziest thing we’ve eaten so far is san-nakji (a raw octopus dish) from an open-air restaurant on the street. The octopus is dead, but because they don’t have a central nervous system, the tentacles are still squiggling around on the plate when it’s served. You have to chew them really thoroughly or the suction cups can stick to your throat on the way down! I said I’d try anything once on this trip – mantra is still in tact so far.
Couples Shoes, It’s a Thing
Maybe this belongs under adorable, but I love the trend of matching couples items so much that I thought it deserved a special shout out. If you’ve ever watched a K-drama you know that Koreans are in love with love!
They also really enjoy showing off their “coupledom” by wearing matching shoes, shirts and likely other items I haven’t seen yet. My goal is to trick Mike into wearing the same shirt as me by the end of our Korea stay. Stay tuned for updates on that.
The Pros & Cons of 10 Million People
As a first time visitor to Seoul, I was warned that a city with so many people could be overwhelming to me coming from the relatively small city of Vancouver. They were both right and wrong. Yes, it’s seemingly impossible to find a moment to yourself and the constant busyness can get tiresome, but the sheer volume of people here also creates an incredible energy I’ve never experienced before.
10 million people can support an incredible array of restaurants, markets, karaoke bars, craft breweries, coffee shops, street performers, art galleries, public parks and K-pop stars! You step outside your door and it’s all available to you. Not to mention the amazing public transit system. There are more than 20 subway lines including one that takes you to a beautiful National park in the mountains! In Canada that would likely be considered sacrilegious, but as a visitor to Seoul it was pretty handy. The apartments are tiny and the traffic is terrible, but the variety Seoul provides is totally mind-boggling.
I’ll be back to Seoul to meet Mike in November, but for now I’m off to Bali for some surf and sunshine! Stay tuned for more on that coming soon.