13 Reasons Seoul Moves My Soul
It’s been a few years since I’ve been in Korea, and even more years since I lived in Shinchon, Seoul, but Korea still holds a place in my heart.
1. Korean food—all the delicious vegetables, so much mouth watering garlic and the varying levels of spiciness definitely fulfill my cravings.The quantity of food is good for your money in Korea, and it is relatively healthy, with most meals full of vegetables and natural ingredients. Street food, mostly spicy rice based foods, are even cheaper. The desserts are pretty good too, and I’m always a fan of Korean creations of Western food like “green tea” donuts and other twists on Koreanized desserts. I can’t live without kimchi!
Korean dessert- popbinsu
Korean pizza @ Mr Pizza with Ena
complimentary Kimchi (fermented vegetable) side dishes
My favorite cake shop in Karasugil–green tea cake
2. Warm & passionate culture—Koreans are some of the best people I know. In college I was lucky enough to have amazing Korean friends from Korea U and Yonsei University. The first time I went to Korea I was blown away by the level of hospitality by my friends’ families; it was comparable to only the Middle East! Likewise, wherever I went, everyone was very helpful and kind, ready to show me directions whenever I became lost.
3. The resourcefulness of Koreans–Having been through the Korean War, Japanese occupation, and other hardships, Koreans are tough and scrappy. Older generations lived through poverty across the country that was comparable to the poorest nations in Africa only 60 years ago. Just as Korean resourcefulness, along with good economic policy, has led to the great economic miracle of South Korea, Korea continues to flourish with its entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is everywhere you look—from subway stations to the informal sector in shops, Koreans hustle to make their livings selling goods from China and even tiny chicks to school children. Although part of this is due to the lack of a social safety net in Korea, I feel it somehow adds to Korea’s charm.
4. Affordable alternative to Japan. Before going to Korea, I spent many summers since my teenage years saving for trips to Japan, only to blow my savings each time. Korea is similar to Japan in terms of quality and safety, but a much cheaper alternative, and a bit more laid back.
5. Amazing public transport known only to East Asia, still at an affordable price. Korea’s metro system is amazing, like its bus and train system, but also very easy to use.
6. Han River bridge– One of my favorite activities in Korea was sitting at the bridge watching the lights of the bridge turn colors at at night. It’s easy to grab a couple of beers or a banana milk and sit with friends and hangout under the night lights of Seoul. It’s also a great place to run in the day or night, but it gets busy with bicyclists as well. You can also rent bikes for fairly cheap along the river.
7. Insadon–The old part of Seoul, and definitely my favorite. You can find many old traditional shops selling traditional Korean toys, sweets, and other handmade goods. It’s quiet and quaint, and like taking a small trip back in time to the Yangbang period. My favorite place is a small tea shop filled with little birds roaming around freely. Decorated in a natural vibe with lots of wood, there are small fish under some of the glass tables.
8. Getting naked in Jimjilbang–the gender segregated Korean bath houses, excellent for relaxation, open 24/7. Perfect place to retreat on the weekend, and also an affordable and relaxing place to sleep if you’re 19, and you stayed out too late, missing the last subway, but are too cheap to cab back home. (It’s like a Japanese onsen)
9. Biwan–the secret garden. Tucked away in the middle of Seoul behind large former castle walls, you won’t believe you’re still in bustling Seoul when you step inside the massive garden. Full of green and nature, it’s definitely one of my favorite places in Seoul.
10. Plenty of opportunities for hiking and exercise–Seoul, like Korea, is a mountainous terrain. You naturally get exercise just by walking around the city, and you can walk everywhere without getting a car, with the help of some handy public transit. There are many great chances to do some hiking in the small parks on the mountainous hills surrounding and overlooking Seoul. It’s an excellent weekend activity.
11. Stylishness, at an affordable price. Koreans are incredibly fashionable and well dressed. Sometimes it makes me feel underdressed, but I appreciate their sense of fashion when compared to California. Shopping in Korea is cheap. Not quite as cheap as China or Vietnam, but the quality is good (comparable to that of Turkey).
12. Haggling & knock off designer goods—It’s not quite Istanbul, but going to Dongdaemun to APM satisfies my yearn for bargaining. The 12 story building is one of many filled with knock off goods from China if you know where to look and ask. Craving a fake LV or Chanel bag? Dongdaemun underground hawkers have A+ grade fakes straight from the factory workers in China themselves, either made after hours with the same material, or stolen from the workers themselves.
13. Calling everyone Oppa—No it’s not just for Psy from Gangnam style. Young Koreans (girls usually) call older men who are their brothers, boyfriends, and male friends “Oppa” as a sign of respect. Girls call older girls “unni,” boys call older boys “hyung,” and so forth as terms of respect.
Fun fact: “Korean age” is different than Western age. In Korea, babies are born at age 1 not 0. Likewise, your “Korean age” turns with the New Year, making someone born on December 31st in 2011 age 2 on January 1st in 2012.
***Chuseok is a Korean holiday, celebrating the autumn harvest. It’s somewhat similar to Thanksgiving in the West; Koreans share Chuseok by feasting on delicious foods with their families. Many who are not originally from Seoul return to their grandparents’ and family homes during this holiday to share the time with loved ones, while paying respects to the spirits of their ancestors. Traditional foods such as songpyeon (rice cake), hangwa (bright colored eats shaped somewhat like flowers made of rice flour, honey, roots, etc), japchae, and bulgogi are commonly eaten for this holiday with fruits.
By economist & writer, Heather R Morgan (@HeatherReyhan)