This is South Korea’s new slogan, I think primarily for tourism purposes. But it captures the essence of this country’s culture, landscape, and people perfectly. I live an hour away from the super-metropolis of Seoul, and 4 hours away from Seoraksan National Park, a nature reserve with hiking, hot springs, and of course beautiful sights, which I will visit this coming weekend. On a more practical note, the idea of constant change and energy is epitomized in my days at the high school, which has a giant whiteboard dedicated to noting (in a highly organized format of course) all of the schedule changes throughout the day. This is very typical of Korean schools, and foreign teachers throughout the country love to commiserate with one another about the constant change. But this idea of dynamism most definitely applies to the weekend I just spent in Seoul, where I was able to experience an insanely wide range of activities.
Monday and Tuesday was Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving. They honor ancestors and deceased family members by eating mass quantities of delicious foods, and taking two days off from school and work. So, all the English teachers get to have a long weekend to play in Seoul!
The city’s landscape really does symbolize the weekend I had, with thousand-year-old pavilions situated beside 21st-century gargantuan skyscrapers that are unlike most I have seen in the states. I visited Namsan Park, situated in the middle of the city at the top of a large hill, and you can either hike up to or take a cable car. Me and my flip-flop-clad group opted for the latter, and got to see an unbelievable view of this expansive city on the way up. It says a lot when you have this kind of view on a cloudy day–I can’t even imagine what it would look like with clear skies! At the top of the park is N. Seoul Tower and a smaller outdoor area for families and tourists to congregate.
Restaurants and gift shops surround the area, but the most charming features of this place were the Locks of Love chained to banisters all around the tower. Couples go to this spot beneath the tower and place a lock on the banister to “lock-in” their love. When I first heard we’d be seeing something like that, I was reminded of the Lock Love Bridge in Prague…an adorable bridge in Old Town with the same concept. But I soon realized that in Korea, everything is maximized, ultimized, and multiplied to the 11th degree. I don’t think my photos can capture the vastness of the locks–but I tried. Whether or not you think it’s a corny concept, you can’t deny how impressive this sight is to see.
We spent another day at the biggest palace complex in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung. Palaces are the “thing” to see in Seoul, so we figured we’d start with the big, touristy one first. It was nice to walk around in the warm weather and absorb the colorful pavilions. I would’ve liked more information about what we were actually looking at, but I know I have a whole year’s worth of travelling ahead to learn.
A wonderful, relatively new park we checked out is the uncovered Cheongyye River, which was covered by a highway until 2003. As part of many cities attempts to “greenify” their cities, the mayor of Seoul at the time decided this body of water was the perfect spot for a park–and it is.
The nightlife in Seoul is great. We went out to clubs, bars, and most importantly, NORE BANG! Korean for “singing room,” kareoke rooms are HUGE in Korea. It’s best to go with a huge group, you get your own private room, a book of 1000s of songs, and a remote control. And of course, it’s wise to bring in your own Soju.
Seoul is divided into many districts. When giving directions, people usually just say the district and give landmarks, instead of using street addresses or cross-streets. This weekend we stayed in Hongdae, a very young, nightlife-oriented neighborhood. It was the perfect place for us. We met lots of other English teachers at the hostel. Seoul is crawling with English teachers from all over the country, it’s fun to swap stories and compare schools, and get some sound advice on how to deal with Korean superiors.
We also spent some time in Itaewon, the foreigners’ district. Yes, there is a neighborhood specifically designated for foreigners. An outgrowth of the nearby American military base (I heard there are 40,000 American troops currently stationed in S.K.), the area contains American, Canadian, Australian-style bars and restaurants, along with a plethora of other ethnic foods. (We had some mediocre Indian food one night…my next task is to find excellent Indian or Thai food.) Even saw a restaurant called Praha! Must go. Most of the crime in Seoul goes on in Itaewon, where the American troops get into fights with locals, other foreigners, or each other. They have immunity and can’t get into trouble for anything, so it’s not the most ideal place to hang out. But there are great clubs there, so I’ve heard, and I’m not ready to completely write it off!
I think that’s enough for now. Happy Chuseok!