Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hi Seoul - The Soul of Asia

Here is my a little late report about Seoul - being homesick also resulted in having a little "writer's block" and when I didn't have a "writer's block", I wrote on my assignment for the uni. I am feeling better now so let's start with my tales about Seoul.

On the flight to Tokyo, I read in the inflight magazine that according to the Forbes' magazine, Seoul is now in the top ten of "Must See place in the world" and also is the 2010 World Design Capital. These 2 facts made me more curious about the South Korean Capital with its about 12 million inhabitants. 
Of course I didn't expect Seoul to be a small city. It must be a global city after hosting the 1988 Olympics, the 2002 World Cup (you know, when Germany was in the final against Brazil) and will also host the G20 submit later on in the year.

After a comfortable 6 hours flight and 1.5 hr drive from the airport later, we are finally at our hotel in the district Gangnam, the traditional club and bar area but also in the heart of the CBD. Seoul is divided into two parts by the Han River, the older and more historic Gangbuk ("river north") and the newer and more affluent Gangnam ("river south").

One of the biggest challenges in Seoul is being able to communicate and read a menu in a restaurant as hardly anything is written in English. After walking around for 30 minutes or so, we ended up in an "All you can eat" tuna sashimi restaurant - they only served tuna sashimi with a few side dishes but nothing else. Luckily one of the waiter spoke English really well. He explained us which type of tuna was served, which part of the tuna it is and how to eat it. Not only I decided that I don't like to eat the belly button of a tuna, I also found my new favorite drink "bokbunja ju" - Black Raspberry wine. The waiter explained to us that it provides a lot of power and can be translated into "toilet breaker". No need to add anything here, don't you think?
Yummy tuna sashimi
On the next day, I explored the streets of the famous shopping district Myeongdong. It is a little district with small lanes and lots of cool shops. I spent a small fortune at H&M (unfortunately there is still no H&M in Singapore and Melbourne). Also never mind that I almost only bought autumn clothes which I can't wear in Singapore, but you never know. Loaded with my shopping bags, I walked through the Namdaemun Market (which seems to be "just another market in Asia") and finished my tour at the Deoksugung Palace which is next to the City Hall. I was lucky enough to changing ceremony of guards. 

I call this "successful shopping"
We were invited to Korean barbeque in the evening. I had it once in Singapore and didn't like it much. But it was soooo good in Seoul. Oh, and I am not a fan of soju. It is a spirit like vodka, but tasted far worse. After my discovery of "bokbunja ju" the night before, I was happy that I could drink that instead of soju.

The next day I stayed in bed for almost the whole day. I felt quite sick with a sore throat when I woke up. So that wasn't too bad because it rained the whole day. And no, it didn't stop - it continued raining for another 2 days. That evening we went to THE famous shopping area Dongdaemun. It is an area with many shopping complexes that houses hundreds of individual stalls. Doota is the one which is much more upmarket and the fashion is very trendy. I felt like I was in heaven.

The next day was probably the most exciting day of our Seoul trip. We went to the  Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South Korea and North Korea. Seoul is only about 75 km away from North Korea. I am still not sure what I expected when we got there - I was so shocked and impressed by it. There were soldiers everywhere, we had to present our passports and were only allowed to stay for 2.5 hrs in the DMZ. There are areas full with land mines.
We also weren't allowed to take any photos, or only photos in restricted areas, in case we would be spying for North Korea. Part of the tour was to a tunnel which was dug N Korea to invade S Korea after the war. The most interesting part of the tour was to learn that the South Korean people are so hopeful for a reunion. They don't hate the North Korean, they actually feel sorry for them. South Korea has already built a train station and train track close to border so there would be infrastructure in the event of a reunion. This is also sign of hope. 

This tour really opened my eyes, in particular since I was born in East Germany but I was too small remember the wall. It made me also aware again that it is so important that North Korea will be stopped before they do anything with the nuclear weapons. I could write so much more about this but I won't bore you too much. 

This is a view of North Korea. Unfortunately the weather was really bad but you get an impression what we saw. 
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in Itaweon. Itaweon is very close to the US army base (there are about 20,000 GIs in Seoul) and therefore largely influenced by the American. I read that you can get really good fake designer handbags in Itaweon. Apparently someone would approach me and whisper "Handbag?" and then I would have to go into someone's house or so because the good fakes wouldn't be sold on the street. Well no one approached me which was a little bit disappointing. But this also means I need to get a real one instead. Any suggestions?

Our last day we spent a few hours at the Gyeongbokgung place which is the main palace of the city. Luckily the rain has stopped so we could enjoy the walk and the beautiful view. 
Seoul is definitely under-rated and if you have a chance, it is worth seeing. It is a very modern city and the people are really nice. Seoul's slogan is "Hi Seoul - The Soul of Asia" and couldn't agree more with it.   

Oh, and who thought that Singapore Changi Airport is thbest airport in the world, you are still right, but depending on the source, Seoul Incheon Airport has also been voted as the best airport in the worldI agree with both - Seoul Airport has some great shopping (I love my Bobby Brown Eye and Lip Palette) and it is not as busy as Singapore Airport.


  1. Well that little story should have fixed any writer's block! Kristin and I have this great little Korean restaurant in high st windsor. We were a little wary of the food at first but now its our favourite by far.

  2. That sounds great. Maybe we can go there when we are back in town.