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Seoul

SOUTH KOREA | Wednesday, 28 May 2008 | Views [848]

When I included Seoul in my trip all those months ago, I knew the 5 days I planned to stay here would likely be the most daunting of my entire trip... and they were! Caused more by the confluence of many issues: not being able to communicate in Korean, having no prior familiarity, Korean cuisine not being the most appetising, or just a general lacklustre. I admit to being spoilt by Singapore, and more so, I had to deal with some work-issues that left me just going through the tourist motions, and retreating to the hotel to nurse my head cold.

But that said, I did manage to get around the city enough to get a good grasp of what Seoul is: a huge city with an even bigger population, and a discernable preoccupation with Western culture, especially in the youth. I can say so comfortably because the baby boomer and older generation are noticeably true to Korean culture, and wholeheartedly so.

It’s actually quite comical watching the young Koreans. Most are polarised between the recurring 70s fashion of London or the hip hop culture of America. But juxtapose that to a preoccupation with hairstyles – and largely feminine / model styles – I had to keep a straight face many a time. It’s also mirrored back to them in their pop culture... Korea still has a host of pop soloists and groups, and boy do they go wild at the sight of one! (I stumbled upon the clichéd pop star opening of a new shopping mall.) But to be honest, I saw the same thing in Singapore, and sometimes in Bangkok too. So let’s just say it’s an Asian trend, and leave it at that.

So to why I’m in Seoul: it’s the capital city of one of the oldest cultures in history. In contrast to Thailand, Korean monuments are not temples but palaces, similar to London’s monuments. So to visit Korea is to peak into the history of a culture that has survived itself, and several attacks of China, Japan, and its war-prone sister country to the north. I found docile people struggling with the advent of Westernisation, but still proud of their history. But I also found a city that’s probably 4 times bigger than London, with a population to match. Seoul is so big that the international airport has now been relegated to its own island! The subway system has 8 lines, and it can take 3 hours to traverse it on a single train... that’s huge! Tourists shouldn’t consider using busses as they’re only marked in Korean, which makes navigation almost impossible. Underground stations are so big that they often are several storeys themselves... and many of them have their own underground malls... or even a museum!

It’s not a place I would like to visit again, but I can say that Seoul lived up to my expectations, and put me through enough adversity for me to know that I’m tempered well for travel. Having said that, I know there’s worse things that can happen while travelling... But if anything, it was a good place to recharge my batteries before tackling the great USA!

 

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