시작이 반이다 “Starting is half the task”
Or welcome back on our blog. I know time is going quick and we get older. But it’s never too late to tell a good story.
What would be your destination, if you went to Asia for the first time? Tokyo? Shanghai? Bangkok?
Who of you would choose a city like Seoul?
Well, we did. Korea was so far the first completely unknown country on our world trip. The only knowledge shared about Seoul was from the great movie “Old Boy”. Check it out Here. And some pink bubblegum k-pop with the group Girls Generation.
As most of travelers we entered Seoul through “Incheon” airport. But before entering the land we proceeded to have our passports controlled: Typical snake queue was formed. The wonders of globalization! Korean bureaucracy queues look the same as back home. In such situations, the norms of decorum dictate that one should focus attention on the mobile phone or at some point on the white wall, but we were hungry travelers, and stared at our queue companions regardless. The vast majority of tourists carried a Chinese passport, a feeling we got that is supported by numbers: According to the Korean Tourism Organization’s data, Chinese represent the 53.9% of overall tourism¹. As portrayed in the statistic, we Caucasian were on the minority. This made us both feel excited in a somewhat adventurous way, but it came from different things for each of us. For Artur on one hand, his average German height (1,83 cm) made him an elf in Korea, a little bit uncomfortable. Uru on the other hand, contemplated the attire of the people finding with horror that we were the most ordinary looking ones, a feeling I never once felt in Russia.
I But quickly we experienced the uneasy sensation of being taller than the most people here. It’s weird to see so many dark heads moving in a hypnotic rhythm. We went slowly forward and tried not to hurt anybody with our massive Backpacks. After trying to convert some money we tried to buy something to eat at a convenience store still in the airport: Of course we couldn’t read a word of Hangul (Korean alphabet) and relied heavily on the many pictures in the package, so we picked some mystery rice balls, that turned out pretty delicious – Next time you are in a supermarket check if a foreigner, with zero knowledge of your alphabet, has to rely on the pictures of the food. And how about moving around? Luckily many direction signs all over Seoul are in English as well as in Korean – touristic places even in Chinese. Time to strike for the city.
The first thing that actually formed our point of view for Korea were the incredible high buildings some good 40 km outside the city. As we strolled on the airport bus, these grey monuments of glass and steel stand firm in the middle of nothing like a mighty wall a modern city. The cloudy day made these massive steel blocks even more gray. Heck, we couldn’t even stretch my neck so far to see the top of the buildings. Grey suburbia of an ever-growing metropolis.
Seoul was approaching. We knew where we had to go because we used the opportunity of Couchsurfing. You know, this great social-sharing site (Check out my older article about CS). Our very first host in Seoul provided us with a detailed map to his home. Thanks goodness, otherwise we could have got lost.
Our host, Marc (age 40 something, young spirited, seasoned traveler), seemed an interesting guy over CS. He wasn’t originally from Seoul. Uru and I tried guessing his origin – a Korean ice-cream was on the stack. Marc’s last name was Spanish and his appearance British, plus he seemed to have an German affection for LEGO. The only way to solve the riddle was meeting him.
His home lies a little bit outside Seoul, not far away from the North Korean border. Of course “a little bit” is relatively spoken for such an enormous city as Seoul, and so we needed around 90 min to reach city center. Marc’s home gives a hint of Asian life style; old wooden furniture combined with modern technology gadgets (What is this? A Monolith from “2001 Odyssey in Space?” _ we gorillas danced around confused, “No, just the air conditioner” _ visibly amused Marc).
By the way, Marc is British, with Spanish roots and a nearly unhealthy love for LEGO which made his English school in Korea an official LEGO museum, I kid you not. He lived already 20 years in Korea and he is maybe the first ginger man living there. In the end neither of us won the bet but we got an ice-cream anyways, because we love ourselves even in failure.
At the late hour Marc and his son took us to a Korean bar. The bar is, as in many countries typical, a great place to meet people and get a bit more “intimate”. But in Korea it is not a place for a quick and quiet chit chat, as more a place filled with loud laughter, lots of alcohol and many kinds of different people; from families with their children to business men in an “end of work” mood. (As the great German word Feierabend embraces it pretty well). Accordingly, we spend the evening with bad jokes, great stories, sweet Korean alcohol “Soju” and incredible delicious chicken wings (Dakgangjeong: 닭강정). Uru fell in love with the sauce and the crispiness of the wings. It is truly a super addictive Korean snack – and really easy to make, check out this funny Korean lady on YouTube. With a sip of beer or soju everything tastes better! –> CHIMAEK: Chiken+Maegju (Korean for Beer) – Koreans, like Japanese enjoy making new words from abbreviation mash ups.
After filling our stomachs and heads, Uru and I went out for a stroll. Basically to catch the vibe of the city. We maybe got a bit more sensitive after the Korean alcohol, which left a new taste on our tongues. Anyways, the dark hours provided us with enough camouflage to observe the people and buildings, but not being detected by others. We where two curious cats above the rooftops, figuratively speaking of course.
As we slowly walked around, our attention was stolen by the glimmering neon lights of every coming building. There was the Christian church with its Las Vegas like invitation to the bright side of life. Further away the endless lights of restaurants and bars. Always full with people. Always bringing a new and unknown flavor into the air. So far Seoul seemed a city of the awakened. As expected from a rising megalopolis, Seoul seemed to be too vibrant to need any sleep. We don’t want no sleeping cities. Sleeping is overrated anyways.
On our way we saw traditional gates near super luxurious hotels, thousands of shining stars hanging from the ceiling. Posh cars at every corner and old grannies selling street food on self-made plastic carts. The extremes didn’t seem separated parts of Seoul, but looked more like many tiny pieces of a modern and dynamic city. Might be that my view was blended by the numerous neon lights but we could feel the respect of the people towards to the past traditions of their country. Traditions of the old and hyper modern Korea. Or is this all just a hint of the western cliché thinking, when you visit Asia for the first time?
The next days would give us a deeper look into the soul of Seoul. Also check out my Video about the “Soul of Seoul”.
Follow us to the second part and leave a comment.