(Written by Nick on 4/19)
It was a bit surreal to hop into a small jet for an hour and arrive in South Korea. It didn’t feel like i was flying international when leaving Shenyang airport, but upon arrival, it was obvious I was far, far away from China.
After landing, I was anxious to meet up with Lem and Erin, my two friends from school that Leah and I were staying with. Our plane was delayed and I had no way of communicating this with them, so I was rushing to say the least. The airport was virtually empty but there was a very noticeable, yet undistinguishable presence in the air. Something peculiar was going on that I could not immediately pinpoint… then it hit me. I could not smell cigarettes! For the first time in 7 weeks, I was in a public place that did not allow smoking, not even in the bathrooms!
China is a country of cigarette smokers. China is the reason that on every flight in the world, flight attendants still tell you over and over that it is a non-smoking flight. You get used to it very quickly, just like you would working at a bowling alley or something, but not until it is gone do you realize how amazing it is to once again breathe relatively clean air.
As we rushed through the airport, inhaling the beautiful clean air, and cherishing the cleanliness of such a public place, something else struck me. Not one person in sight was running and I was not getting annoyingly shoved to one side. Was I still in Asia?
Seoul is the home to 25,000,000 people, top 5 of the largest cities in the world. Living in Asia, one gets used to these unimaginable figures and computes these ridiculous numbers to equal crowded, dirty and loud places. Seoul is none of the above. The metropolitan area is spread so far that, standing in the dead center, elevated 500m, you still cannot see any of its edges (trust me, I tried).
Everything about this city was amazing:
and nightlife were up to par, if not better, than any city I have ever been to. I have always said you can get a very good idea of the feel of a city by investigating its public transportation and the subway system in Seoul was the best I have ever seen. The stations and cars were absolutely spotless, you can easily get anywhere without knowing any Korean, and they even had cool touchscreen stop finders like this one.
We rode the subway all day and were able to easily give ourselves a site seeing tour without walking more than five minutes per stop. I had no problem getting around the city whatsoever. It was amazing how much history Seoul had. You could be driving through a completely urbanized area and look forward and see giant palaces with a mountainous back drop. Take a look below for pictures from the different sights we were able to see right off of the subway.
While touring around the city, it was impossible to not be tempted by the amazing aromas of the street food. Korea is known as having some of the best street food in the world. Many streets are lined with vendors, selling a variety of delicious finger foods. From the pastries filled with cinnamon syrup to the condensed rice cakes simmered in spicy sauce, I had no shame in eating 5+ meals a day. Even after a 5am karaoke adventure, we were able to walk a few short blocks and find a small tent serving soup and noodles.
Restaurant eating was just as amazing. Even eating out, Koreans work for their meals. Whether it is cooking kebabs of lamb over center-table grills or dipping thin slices of beef into boiling broth, the spices and flavors of these dishes were unique and great. The food was vastly different than the food I have experienced in China, and being a meat lover, I could definitely get used to the cuisine. Leah had a much more difficult time at restaurants than in China because literally 90% of the meals involved meat in some way or another.
Beer was served with every dinner but Korean beer was not my favorite. When it came to selection and taste, it made even China seem like a western european country. What better solution to bland beer than to spice it up with the Korean liquor Soju. According to my hosts, it was common tradition to take a few swigs of beer and then fill the bottle back up with soju. Soju is a 40 proof liquor that is actually pretty tasty, and it is traditions like these that lead to an excellent nightlife.
Being such a large city, there are many areas to party in Seoul. Our first night we checked out Hondae. The streets were crawling with people and food vendors and there were tons of bars and clubs lining the street. The clubs we went to were very westernized and typical but full of foreigners and tons of fun. Although each bar and club was quite different, they were not very creative with the names. There were very few names and the only difference being a number after the title. For instance, Ho Bar was a popular one… I believe I saw Ho Bar 1, Ho Bar 6, and Ho Bar 12… all scattered through the streets in no apparent order. This is a small detail, but can make finding your friends out nearly impossible.
Another favorite night time activity among our friends was karaoke, but this was no ordinary karaoke. Upon entering and paying the 1$ entrance free you were entitle to free ice cream, an animal costume of your choice, and any of the elegant karaoke rooms available. Weird right? There were 100s of english songs and awesome background videos. My favorites of the night were Tupac and R. Kelly. To our dismay, when we arrived, there were no animal costumes! Apparently they “dry cleaned” them every Sunday. Luckily, after a few bottles of beer and Soju, we found the animal costumes in the washing machine that was conveniently located in the girls bathroom. They were still wet… but we didn’t care.
Another notable bathroom find of the evening was a Korean employee washing his bare feet in the bathroom sink. When we walked in he started cracking up laughing and kept exclaiming, “Sorry, so sorry”. We tried to get him to explain what he was up to but this just lead to him encouraging us to pour mouthwash on his feet… which we happily did.
As we sadly headed to the airport to depart this phenomenal city, an awesome sunset paved our way.
Whether it was the food, the nightlife, or just the good company with good friends, Seoul was a city I will never forget. Till next time.