Twelve days. And yet it feels like I haven’t gotten enough of this city. Save Jeju for another time. My goal was to travel slow, leisurely breathe in the scenes of this Korean capital.
Seoul is one of those dynamic cities – the epitome of first world efficiency with its flashy neon lights, complex subway system, and sublime internet speed, converging with a rich historical context that dates to as far back as 18 BC. In its midst are layers of a collectivist society with a very visually-driven culture, unfailing love for kimchi, and a certain brand of kookiness that seems to jive with my own.
I had twelve days and some loose plans. It was a quick splash into the epicenter of Hallyu, otherwise known as the Korean Wave. I got sucked in, and got swept away by it.
Post-travel syndrome sees one recollecting memories. This is my ‘highlight reel’ – of people, things, places, impressions, and experiences I’ll remember this trip by.
In other words, this is the ‘Daebak!’ list.
#1 Gone Seoul-o!
I finally did it! For six days, I roamed Seoul pretending to be a local. Only to fail miserably when people start to talk to me in Korean. Or when I finally had to pull out a map. Ha, busted!
I can see now why some people are into solo traveling. It’s a different experience, in a sense that it opens you up to a whole new set of circumstances, unlikely to happen if you’re with a companion. I shared a meal with a stranger, bunked with people from different parts of the globe, and got to explore with undistracted perception, fueled by a curiosity not tempered by the need to fit in with the expectations of others.
Not to say that I will ditch my travel friends from here on out, but I will definitely create more opportunities for solo travel in the future.
#2 How I Met My Chingu
Jeong (정) is a special kind of Korean love. To put it simply, it is the love you feel for someone even if you don’t know them. It can be as simple as a random act of kindness extended to a stranger. That afternoon, I was a happy recipient of it.
#3 This Tropicana Meets Cold, Cold Spring
This tropicana conquered 10-15°C temperatures! With minimal layers on, and even eating ice cream. Believe me, it’s an achievement. Hellz yeah, #booyahtropicana!
#4 A Surreal Moment
Amazingly, I was able to Google the song they were shooting a music video for. It was somehow imprinted in my memory, and I knew I’d recognize it if I hear it again. And I did.
Turns out, the artist wasn’t just some guy! He’s Korea’s August Rush guitar prodigy. The title of the track is The Milky Way by Sungha Jung. Unbelievable.
That moment – so simple, yet so surreal. You’ll understand once you give this a listen.
#5 Sewol Memorial at the Lotus Lantern Festival
Spring festivals have either been canceled or scaled down in the wake of the Sewol ferry tragedy. The Lotus Lantern Festival this year took on a more solemn atmosphere. Soft chanting filled the air instead of music and dance, as the parade of silk lanterns glided by.
#6 Art + Design Overload
Street murals, themed cafes, museum-like retail spaces, or a rehabilitated stream – art and design flow freely in this city. Theirs is a visually-driven culture.
#7 Love: A National Obsession
Koreans aren’t fans of conscious uncoupling, ‘coz couple-dom is HUGE here. On the subway, I’ve encountered a few couples wearing matching outfits, from eye accessories down to their rubber shoes. Up on the N Seoul Tower, lovers latch their love padlocks to symbolize forever. Nami Island is practically an island for lovers. I would have rolled over in amusement if I see a guy giving his girlfriend a piggyback ride K-drama style.
Couple bikes, couple tees, couple rings, couple meals – it seems everything comes with a couple option here. Oh man, V-day’s gonna suck if you’re single!
#8 History Lessons
I like history lessons. It provides context for the things I observe, helping me understand their connectedness. Like understanding a person better by knowing more about his past.
#9 The Arrival of Nonsense in Korea
These guys flew in from Manila on my second week of stay.
True to form, this nonsense crew was a rain fashion disaster. It rained in Nami Island so we had no choice but to don these plastic rain coats. The thing is, it also rained the next day while we were shopping in Insadong. Guess who got the stares and sympathetic giggles from the locals?
Yep, certified nonsense.
#10 A Few Minutes on North Korean Soil
That was intense! Spotted three North Korean soldiers peeking through the curtains of their white building (blue ones are South Korea’s). One of them seems to be holding a camera. Then this girl beside me started pointing at things when we were told during orientation not to. I wanted to bite her finger off. Seriously.
#11 My First Portrait
Insadong was meeeh and too crowded so I left the gang to their shopping spree. I’m so happy I did, ‘coz Samcheongdong is ❤❤❤!
My favorite shopping districts – Edae, Hongdae, Myeongdong, Samcheongdong. Stocked up on skin care products and got this awesome world map at Sangsangmadang. Oh how I wish I had more money to burn! I purposely avoided Hongdae’s vintage shops and Samcheongdong’s quirky stores, ‘coz it’s either I’ll go broke or I’ll be too bitter about not buying.
A dozen stories to hold on to ’til we meet again.
Saranghae Seoul, saranghae. ❤❤❤