South Korea I: S(e)OUL

So, I’ve moved into my new home! 

And it is all black everything.  Seoulites stay monochrome as they take the city’s sidewalks extending between the high-rise junglescape.  And then as they get older they start to mix patterns, visors, and tennis shoes of fluorescent varieties.  Korean grandmas have a style of their own.

Koreans also love to hike.  While most will pull together the best gear and set out like an REI catalog, I saw multiple Seoulites taking the hills of Itaewon flashing the notorious red bottoms of designer Christian Loubatin.  Y’all wack.  This is easily the most homogenous place I have been in my life, maybe apart from Tokyo.  I have seen few halfsies, and everytime, we share that sign of recognition, almost like a nod of understanding.  And I thought I would blend…  The lingering eye contact betrays their curiosity.  I figure that it’s better to have some eye contact than none, like what it was in a lot of Europe. 

Seoul Base Camp—is stuffed with the friendliest people, ready to go out any day of the week, which actually happens in Hongdae.  I will be doing a work exchange here for my stay. It is the intersection of a great staff and great location for the metro, nightlife, street food, and university.  Let alone the multiple Uniqlos within walking distance.
My introduction to the whole K-POP genre came while sitting in the hostel common room.  During my first week they completed a hot tub on the roof.  Many guests are fresh off of tours of Southeast Asia and are full of stories that make me want to drop everything and get on a plane.  I have since added Malaysia and Indonesia to my post-class trip.  Hostel life also means that people are constantly flashing in and out of your life; it means that you have to find consistency elsewhere.  It was fun having familiar faces with me as I adjusted to my new home.  I got mad love for you, Caroline Ezzo! 

I will be attending Yonsei University for the Korean Language Institute, which is just a 40 minute walk or 5 minute metro ride away. Or so they say. I was wandering around the neighborhood and then the gargantuan campus for what felt like forever before stumbling into Ewha Women’s University without finding my building…I will try to find class later this week.

One of my favorite days while Caroline and Adam were here was a trip to the Noryangjin Fish Market.  You scour the long aisles of sea dwellers to choose from an overwhelming variety.  From sea slugs that resemble live potatoes (actually, the most terrifying mobile thing I’ve seen) to sting rays getting skinned, to enormous crabs, to fish heads.  We chose a platter of sashimi and a fresh octopus for lunch.  After you purchase, at prices that will make Americans stutter in disbelief, you bring it to a small restaurant behind the market for preparation.  I will never forget carrying a plastic bag holding our live octopus to lunch. 

The nighttime atmosphere in Seoul is alive.  Hongdae is a great place for urban youth.  One place, Club FF has a decidedly Western feel.  It is reminiscent of the Barbary with no cover, 3,000 won ($3) tequila shots, and hype on Grimes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.   This weekend there is a Grimes concert at Hongdae’s Rolling Hall, so her face plasters a lot of open wall space throughout the city.  For about 40,000 won ($40), easily twice the cost of a ticket in the states or Canada, the show sold out quickly.  Another bar I liked was lined with records of 60’s Korean rock to jive to while drinking makkeoli and shitty watery Korean beer.  Happy.  Everything stays open late also, so when you are walking home at 6 A.M. and crave some kimchi mandu, you can have it all.  It was strange to see business men combing the streets, waking in the gutters, and jumping on the train to work in the mornings. Luckily, if you can’t make it home, Seoul has a support system. You can spend the night in the nearest bathhouse, a jjimjilbang.

When ordering food for delivery in Seoul the drivers will take their motorbikes to your door and whip your hot and ready nangmyeun out of their suitcases.  And later they will be back to pick up the empty bowls.  On the food note, I cannot find good local chocolate.  This is going to be a problem.  A lot of imported processed foods are also crazy expensive, like cereal and oatmeal (my go-tos).  So I will take up my heritage learn to eat fish soup for breakfast.

I also MUST LEARN WORDS FOR ENTRANCE AND EXIT, COUNTING, and basic manners.  So far I’ve gotten by with: thank you, what is your name, and happy new year.   It’s charming to be so innocent for only so long.




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