City with a Seoul

My introduction to South Korea was managing to wedge myself with the 35kg remnants of my year away down the ridiculously small Korean-sized human aisle of the bus from the airport.

I was so wedged I had to back up, taking out all the ridiculously small Korean-sized travellers on the way.

In fairness to me, my brain wasn’t quite working, I’d just managed to not sleep a second on my flight from London and arrived to discover it was winter and snowing, when I genuinely thought it would be summer and sweltering.

It threw me, as did the directions to my hostel, so after losing complete feeling of my fingers I took refuge in the Korean version of Starbucks, where despite the fact I was clearly lost, the three local businessmen sitting next to me proceeded to just stare and then usefully remark upon leaving – ‘you too many bag.’

That I already knew, my rucksack was now so heavy swinging it at speed to get it onto my back came with the added sound effect of each spinal vertebrae clicking into a new place, reminiscent of what the osteopath did to me that time I somehow wound up with one leg longer than the other.

As for my hostel (when I did manage to find it), it was – what’s a euphemism for this – adequate.

Can’t really complain, it was the cheapest on the market and I could actually pronounce its name – ‘Banana Backpackers.’

It was Korean-sized though, with me hitting my head every time I sat up on my top bunk and a campervan-style bathroom where you shower over the toilet.

But despite my hostel woes and my exceptional unpreparedness for Korea, I must say I am exceptionally proud of my sightseeing efforts on day one – managing to stumble across a hit lists of the capital’s must-sees, including:

The Gyeongbokgung Palace, right in time for the midday changing of the guard.

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The largest collection of traditional Hanok-style housing.

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The incredibly modern and living City Hall.

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Seoul Tower, the city’s top tourist attraction and home to the best panoramic views of the city.

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And the US$384-million Cheong-gye-cheon – basically a 9-kilometre public stream-side walkway, running through the city out to the Han River, which was created after they ripped up an old highway.

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It was a great day, topped off by genuinely delicious Korean BBQ mystery meat for dinner.

Day two and I decided to cross the Han and visit the posh part of town – Gangnam.

Yep the place pop sensation Psy is singing about in his hit song ‘Gangnam Style,’ with brilliantly mundane lyrics once translated into English like – ‘A girl who is warm and humanly during the day.
A classy girl who knows how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee.’

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I too enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee, but the type of girl Psy is singing about is those tiny, two-dimensional girls with porcelain skin and unnaturally shiny hair.

They made me feel even more cuddly than I already am, but at least I could take comfort in the fact many of them owe their model good looks to the boutique plastic surgeries which have earned this part of town the nickname – ‘the Korean Beverly Hills.’

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Clear to say I stuck out in Seoul, with me only encountering one other blonde during my time here whilst at Asia’s largest underground mall.

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But people were genuinely friendly and even though they couldn’t speak much English still offered to help me and not in that – ‘I’m going to scam the crap out of you’ sort of way you encounter in South East Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam.

In fact in my four days here the only place I didn’t feel welcome was the afternoon I rubbernecked the 24-hour fish market, where giant octopuses slip between buckets and large snapper sit in tanks hardly big enough for a goldfish.

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It was disturbing, but not disturbing enough to stop me from going upstairs and ordering myself a crab soup from one of the ubiquitous restaurants.

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It was delicious.

Actually all Korean food was delicious and it didn’t give me the shits once, despite the reoccurring presence of mystery meat.

There was also fantastic shopping (if I had money or room in my pack to buy anything) and the coolest Christmas trees I’ve ever seen.

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It was bloody freezing though, with it dropping to -17C at one point.

But the thought of that was quite pleasant upon arriving in Sydney to a casual 60 degree temperature change.

And while I may not know what the future holds for me back in the South Pacific I do know two things – I’m going to be a sweaty mess and I’m going to burn in the ozone layer-less sun like a Brit abroad.