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Korea: Seoul is a living being

Seoul is a living being. No longer to me is it just a name on a map, but it is a bustling, vibrant, and breathing being. It survives without sleep, with people who go to work all day, diligent and dedicated, and then there are those who are equally dedicated to taking advantage of the pulsing nightlife.

 

I have had the opportunity to spend the weekend in Seoul, and we will actually be returning there over Chuseok, a Korean holiday. This holiday began as a harvest festival and is best described to us foreigners as Korean Thanksgiving, no doubt attributed to the fact that most Koreans head home taking three days off work and school, spending time with family that probably drives them crazy, eating enough to make them unbutton their pants, and generally just having a good time.

 

Anyway, back to the subject of Seoul. The very first thing we did when arriving in this clash of Korean and western culture was experience authentic Korean cuisine, so we decided to dine out the classy way by eating in Taco Bell. The menus are similar to the ones back home, with a few exceptions such as a substitution for a more Korean style meat than the familiar beef. After this nourishing meal, we entered the district of Hongdae, which was nothing less than an assault on the senses. Open markets are ubiquitous and juxtaposed beside a mass migrating herd of people that crowd the narrow street. Cars slowly push their way through the splitting tidal wave of people. Street vendors sell delicious enticing smelling delicacies, restaurants play club music for the pedestrians, musicians performed to small milling crowds, and old men watch the passerby’s from their stoops.

 

We found our way into a cat café. Although the name can be a little misleading, as there is actually no consumption of cats, rather, we paid an entry fee and bought a typical coffee shop drink, and then basically got to frolic with cats for as long as we wanted. The café was home to about 20 different cats, all different types and with different levels of friendliness. We were able to pet them, take pictures with them, let them eat food off of the back of our hands, and even watch as the owner of the café used a laser pointer to tantalize their little cat minds. It was quite enjoyable to most of the people in my group, except for those with cat allergies, meaning Jordan and I, but we watched the fun from a distance and washed our hands numerous times.

 

Next on the agenda was the Coex Aquarium in Seoul’s district of Gangnam, which is the namesake district from the song “Gangnam Style,” due to the districts more ritzy feel. The aquarium was a nice escape from the realities of being an adult, such as college classes, money problems, and relationship troubles. Rather, we could go back to our childhood, and simply stand back and be mesmerized by all that that the animal kingdom has to offer. The aquarium was filled with equally curious and joyous Korean families with small children that are barely large enough to stand up on their own. We were able to catch glimpses of blue piranhas, which are much more beautiful and less menacing when viewed behind a thick glass. Also in the murky water of another glass was a giant and strangely beautiful orange and white octopus which gazed back at the visitors who gazed into his beady eyes. We also had the pleasure of having our fingers cared for by friendly doctor fish. They would nibble on our hands, which is a strange, almost tickling sensation that is like nothing else. The ultimate relaxing animal, though, has to be the jellyfish. There is something about their carefree and translucent manner that just puts people at ease. Now that we are older, many of us held different views than that of the carefree and awed children. It is difficult to see these magnificent creatures now confined to such a small habitat that is incredibly limited compared to their natural habitat. It is a beautiful tragedy: prisoners of human curiosity, yet with an ability to bring sheer joy to young children.

 

The last major place we visited was Namsam Tower. Although it is called Seoul Tower on English maps, it turns out that if you say this name to a taxi driver, they will look confused and point to a building across the street from the train station that is called ‘Seoul Tower’ which is something of a corporate company. Once the actual name was discovered, we were able to ride up to the base of the real tower. The monolith stands 237 meters tall on top of a hill, with an observation deck nearly at the top, and when we traveled there, we were rewarded with a beautiful 360 degree vista of Seoul at night. The city is flooded with busy cars that travel over well-lit bridges. The tower is a place (as we learned) that is very popular among couples. The fences are littered with locks that couples have placed to declare their everlasting love for each other. It’s enough to make you sick. Just kidding, sort of. Every single person in our group was single, and probably had some sort of unrequited love in our hearts, and so the fact that it was difficult to walk anywhere without tripping over two people that were so in love did not do us any good. However, the view of the incredible, sprawling, twinkling city was an amazing vista, and if you have a loved one I strongly suggest taking them there.

 

These things mentioned are only the major points of interest. In reality, our days were a blur of so much more, including meeting people, shopping at open markets, clubbing until dawn (the drinking age here is 19, but those are stories for another article), eating delicious actual Korean food, and getting lost in the subway. I should note, also, that friendly Koreans will always come to the rescue, and even though they may only speak limited English, they will still go out of their way to do all they can to help you on their way.

We also found a very inexpensive, yet quality hostel called the Kimchee guest house. This was my first hostel experience, and I was quite impressed by the cleanliness and clean service. The beds were quite warm and inviting after long days of walking and long nights of not sleeping. I will definitely be returning.

 

I would wager that in this city of 10 million people, one could live a lifetime and still not see all that there is to see. Tomorrow, we leave to another district, and hopefully we will take in the best of what this one small section of metropolis has to offer. More adventures await, more places to get lost, more senses to be assaulted; it is just another day in Seoul.

Article and Photo 993989_591649667539940_291515126_n IMG_0425 IMG_0518 IMG_0531By Ryan Loughrey

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