First Impressions of Seoul

Justin and I have been in South Korea since Monday, and so far we’re really enjoying everything. A little too much. So much that we keep asking ourselves the question, “Why didn’t we move to Korea instead of China?”

Now, now….we didn’t turn completely turncoat. We still really like China and we’re still going back there in a few weeks to complete our second term of school. But two weeks suddenly seems like a very short time to spend in such an incredible place. Korea has a very western style; it reminds us of America so much that I keep having to remind myself that I’m overseas. All of the convenience stores (they have 7-11 here!) have the American snacks that we love; I’ve seen Cheetos, Doritos, Sour Cream and Onion Pringles, Pepperidge Farm chocolate chip cookies, and Starbucks frappes in the fridge! Speaking of frappes, there seems to be a coffee shop every hundred feet or so—Koreans have apparently really fallen in love with coffee (much more than the Chinese in Huzhou–it’s nearly impossible to find a coffee there). Korean television has a wealth of western programming—not just dramas and sitcoms, but also American news channels like CNN and sports broadcasts like NFL games. The cars look more western, every public toilet I’ve used is western-style, and even the people are “western-sized” (meaning they don’t all come in miniature). Also, English is much more prevalent here. Maybe this is just a mistaken first impression, but I think that one could easily move to Korea and not have to learn a bit of Korean because it seems that every sign has an English translation and every random person on the street can speak enough English to get their point across. I’m realizing all over again that China is just such a different, separate place from any other country in the world—even a neighboring country that is only a short plane ride away.

Korea also has a bit of the Asian flavor that we’ve come to love about China. Amidst the skyscrapers and taxis you can find ancient pagodas that used to house royalty in ancient times or are still functioning as Buddhist temples. You can also, of course, sample traditional Korean food (and my favorite, Korean BBQ) at every corner, which so far has been a welcome break for us from Chinese food. Another reminder that we’re in an Asian country: we see many people here do a quick bow when they greet each other, say goodbye, or thank-you. We’ve also been seeing a lot of this in different restaurants:

It caught me off-guard when I was asked to take of my shoes before entering a restaurant. Kind of made me wish that I hadn’t worn my fuzzy rainbow socks that day. It also took me by surprise when I saw everyone seated on the ground on little pillows to eat their dinner—even business ladies dressed in hosiery and pencil skirts seemed to manage it! But I enjoyed the experience. Justin and I ate dinner the other night next to a giant table full of revelers who seemed to be celebrating someone’s birthday (which I confirmed when they brought out a cake with candles and sang the birthday song with Korean lyrics—I guess some birthday traditions are trans-cultural). Maybe I was doing a bit too much staring at all of the birthday festivities, because only a few minutes after they finished singing the birthday song, the birthday boy (a guy who looked to be in his twenties) came over to our table and served us a giant slice of his cake. How nice! And it was delicious…

Another cool thing about being in Korea is that we have so many friends who are staying here right now! We got the chance to meet up with our friend Halley who used to live in the same apartment complex as us in Tallahassee (when she was the foreigner living in America). Now the shoe is on the other foot, and she has opened her Incheon apartment to us and offered to be our tour guide while we’re visiting Korea. Here is a picture of us with Halley and her sister (who looks almost identical to her) in their apartment, courtesy of the automatic timer feature on my camera:

We also had the chance to meet up with Justin’s friend, Young. I had never actually met him before, but Justin went to Bible study with him several years ago when Young was living in Tallahassee and attending FSU. The funny thing is, it had been so long since Justin had seen Young, he accidentally greeted a stranger who seemed to be walking our way. But then we saw Young waiting for us on the other side of the street, and we went over to say hello. Here’s a picture of us right after we met up:

Young is in his thirties now, living in Seoul with his wife and his eleven-year-old daughter. We were excited to learn that he works for the KBS television network on the popular Korean show Scandals of Art. He gets the chance to tour famous museums all over the world with his camera crew and interview the art curators who work there in effort to get the story behind the artists of certain famous pieces. We’re hoping to see a couple of episodes of his show while we’re here.

Anyways, Young treated us to dinner at an Italian restaurant interestingly named My X-Wife’s Secret Recipe. He also helped Justin get a bargain on a new suitcase in a downtown market. One of his wheels on his old one was broken (China tends to be very rough terrain on rolling luggage), so he switched it out for a new suitcase. Here’s a picture of him with his purchase:

After that, Young took us up a hill to see the Tower of Seoul. Every city seems to love boasting about its tallest point, and Seoul is no exception. I would never have thought to try going to the tower at night, but I’m glad Young suggested it, because the view of the city at night with all of the lights was dazzling! I couldn’t quite capture it with my camera, but here are a few of my best shots:

Just like the Chinese, Koreans are apparently very into romance. The Tower of Seoul is, in a way, the “Eiffel Tower” of Korea. There were many lovebirds there enjoying the nighttime view, and many romantic activities and traditions available to those inclined. There were designated areas for people to write love notes and send them in the mail from “the world’s tallest post office.” There were also some artificial trees on the observation floor where many people had written down their wishes and dreams on notecards and tied them to the branches. My favorite feature, though, was an outdoor deck where thousands of locks were chained together.

These are called “locks of love.” Apparently lovers have been coming here for years to vow their undying love for each other in a tangible way. They bring a padlock to the deck and write a message on it in permanent marker. Then they link it to the chain of locks along the fence and leave hand in hand, knowing that no one will ever be able to “unlock” their love. (If I had only known, I would have brought my own padlock! I tried to convince Justin to part with the tiny TSA-approved lock on his luggage, but he thought I was being silly.)

We haven’t done much else in South Korea as of yet. I spent the first few days of our vacation being very sick with some flu-like symptoms, but I’ve been feeling better every day. We’re hoping to meet up with Young again next week—he told us that my favorite Mexican chain restaurant, On the Border, has a location in Seoul, and he’s going to take us there!  Right now, as I type, we are on a boat headed to Fukuoka, Japan from Busan, South Korea. We’re going to spend just a couple of days in Japan before going back to Halley’s apartment in Incheon. As always, I will update with all of our adventures in Japan when I get the chance!

Happy Trails! (Or should I say “Sails?”)

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