Seoul, the “Soul of Asia”

I have spent 4 great days in Seoul.  I didn’t quite know what to expect from this city, but I find it to be a mix of Tokyo and Beijing, though more the latter. I find myself running to more juxtaposed traditional and modern areas (such as the Buckchon Hanok Village which you can access around the corner from City Hall, a major Lotte department store and grand hotels) than I have to date on this trip.

Seoul very big too. It took me 1 hour to walk 3 subway stops, and I wasn’t wandering aimlessly! Just look at this subway map!

More than 25% of South Korea’s population resides in Seoul, but it doesn’t feel crowded. Then again, no city will ever seem as crowded as New York to me.

There doesn’t seem to be a lack of coffee shops or dessert places here. I have no idea how they all manage to stay in business. No joke, a café occupies just about every other storefront.

There are also Palaces around every corner (maybe about 6 in central Seoul) and they make a nice morning or afternoon stroll. I inadvertently timed my visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace for the changing of the guard ceremony.

One of the days, I wandered around with a Finnish girl named Maiju pronounced, wait…. wait…. MAYOU! (my nickname since childhood)

Maiju is currently living in Tokyo, but is in Seoul visiting her 17 year old brother who suspended his schooling to compete for a European team in the computer game, League of Legends. Apparently South Korea has the best team, so others are flocking to Seoul to figure out their secrets. There’s a lot of money involved it seems. Sponsors, etc. It’s crazy what people will do for…games.

Seoul is surrounded by hills that offer a nice hike if you are here for more than just a few days, but there is one hill in the center of the city, Mount Namsan, which houses the Seoul Tower. From the top of the hill (and especially up in the tower) you get amazing views of the city. I haven’t uploaded these photos yet, so here is one from the internet:

 

I have been asked to be photographed several times now, first in Beijing, and now twice in Seoul (by Chinese tourists) for my “white skin and hair”. Skin whitening is all the craze here. Every beauty product contains whitening ingredients. Even sunscreen! I was thrilled to have found cheap, local sunscreen (foreign brands are twice the price here) and was placing the bottle on the counter when low and behold, I saw it in tiny letters, just below the large print SPF 30 UVA/UVB spectrum: “Whitening formula”

I am ok with sunscreen that is so effective it leaves my skin pale as is, but definitely not alright with lathering bleach on my face on top of that! This is not the exact product, but similar:

My next post will be on my trip to the de-militarized zone (DMZ) on the border with North Korea. Stay tuned!

 

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