Seoul

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In October my friend Natalie and I decided to get out of China for the national holiday. The only place we could get cheap flights to was Seoul, which was lucky as I really wanted to go anyway. Natalie had been a few times before and raved about the shopping.

We stayed in Hongdae, which is a buzzing area full of good bars, shops and nori bang (karaoke places). On the first night we met up with my friend Hannah from back home, who had been living in Seoul for a while but was about to leave, and a group of Natalie’s workmates.

We played some drinking games and got a polaroid taken by the waitress to add to the mass of pictures covering the walls of the bar. We also played a game where the waitress held out a plastic crocodile’s head and each person had to press one of its teeth and hope that it didn’t snap shut on their hand. We each had to do it three times and if it closed at any point you had to dance around the bar on your own (which happened to most people). I won this bizarre lottery so was spared the punishment and given free cocktails instead. The night culminated in karaoke, as all good nights should.

We went shopping the following day and I was a bit overexcited by the clothing, which was stylish, great quality and CHEAP… pretty much the opposite of clothes shopping in Shanghai. The make-up and skincare shops were copious and ridiculously good (and gave out loads of free samples).

Then there was the stationery. I had high hopes, knowing that most of my best notebooks, stickers etc. originated in Korea. I was not disappointed. I ended up with a stash of beautiful, insane items adorned with nonsensical English and cute pictures, to which I’ll probably dedicate a blog post at some point. I am being good though and actually USING some of the stuff for the purposes of decorating snail mail instead of just looking at it and slowly creating my very own stationery museum (I can’t claim this is not on the cards though. There’s a chance it could multiply to a degree that this is the only sensible option).

We didn’t just spend all our time buying frivolous items, however. We also climbed a mountain. A hardcore mountain. We’d forgotten what real mountains were like, having grown used to Chinese ones like Huang Shan, made easily accessible for the average tourist and helpfully carved out with steps and, you know, paths. We turned up at the base of Dobangsan and saw the Korean hikers kitted out with all the right boots, clothes, bags, gloves, walking sticks etc. Were they being over the top? Were they just a bit too excited about hiking and keen to look like seasoned enthusiasts? No, they were sensible hikers, sensibly prepared for the hike. I suppose we did make it more difficult for ourselves by being ill-prepared. Our biggest mistake was not buying a pair of hiking boots from one of the many shops at the foot of the mountain. Natalie was wearing her old battered Converse and I was wearing my no-grip Feiyues.

We spent a lot of time slipping over on the scree, landing on our bums and cutting our hands as we tried to stop sliding further down (ah, if only we’d bought the gloves…) There were places where there was no path, no signposts and we had to pull ourselves up onto big rocks with ropes that were handily attached to them. There was a point where we weren’t sure if we’d make it back down while it was still light. That could have been a problem, seeing as our phones didn’t work in Korea. We did, however, have the foresight to buy walking sticks and backpacks (we had shoulder bags and carrier bags at the beginning of the day, which were not exactly appropriate for hiking). The sticks probably helped us to fall down about 70% less than we would have without them.

We met up with our friend Kim the next day, who was also visiting from Shanghai, and went to Gyeongbokgong, a beautiful Joseon Dynasty palace. We also went to the National Folk Museum, then a bargainous bibimpbap restaurant and a cheesy bar for a couple of beers.

The following day Natalie and I went to Lotte World, which I was pretty excited about as I haven’t been to many world-class theme parks in my life. Flamingo Land, anyone? American Adventure? I’ve never been to Disneyland, Alton Towers or any of the usual suspects. However, Lotte World looked initially like it might be a big disapointment as it appeared to be all indoors and not that big. Then we found the outdoors area, with some heart-stopping gyro drop rides and a couple dressed in matching cute animal outfits, and everything got a lot better. We also bought comedy headgear (a giant red bow for Natalie and leopard ears for me) and played around with some photobooth machines.

I felt relaxed for pretty much the whole time in Seoul. The traffic was much saner than in Shanghai. The streets were generally much quieter and calmer, even in busy areas, and people were friendlier. It had character and an exciting atmosphere I never really managed to find while living in Shanghai. I had visited other large Asian cities which I loved – Taipei and Tokyo among them, but Shanghai was not for me. The trip to Seoul reminded me I didn’t have a problem with big cities per se.

The holiday would ordinarily have fallen on the Monday-Wednesday so the Chinese government decided to extend it to the incorporate the whole week… but not without a catch. Everyone had to work the Saturday and Sunday immediately afterwards, resulting in a 7-day working week. Great! Oh well, it was worth it for the opportunity to go to Korea. I want to go back soon please.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Seoul”
  1. Kim Lange says:

    Great post, Alexis. Fun to see your photos. I just got back into Shanghai this afternoon (Mon). I have to say I was not looking forward to coming back from Chicago; wish I could have stayed longer. Hope you had good holidays with your family. Stay in touch!

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