Seoul

3 Jan

We visited Seoul in late October, which means this post has been pending since early November. I have been incredibly unpunctual in my blogging efforts, and I am going to shamelessly play the preggo card as an excuse. Something tells me that the arrival of the munchkin man will add to these delays… However, I figure better late than never, so here goes with some thoughts on Seoul.

One of the undeniable perks of international teaching is the chance to align interesting professional development opportunities with desirable travel destinations. I was sent to img_6392Seoul to attend an ESL-themed PD, and Orestes came along because adventure! Although I had to spend four solid days attending the conference, I made time to lead Orestes on mini-explorations every evening. Seoul in late October was in the midst of some glorious fall weather. Autumn has always been my favorite season, and living in Thailand has deprived us of that delightful temperature change for five years. I not-so-secretly wish our long break between school years took place in September/October. Seoul had everything I’d been missing: leaves changing colors, the brisk wind and chill that make extra layers necessary, and that unique, dry scent that accompanies the decaying of plants and the turning on of heating systems. I spent our six days in Seoul thrilled and freezing cold (but weirdly thrilled about being cold).

Aside from the fall weather, another great thing about Seoul was the food. Korean barbecue is world-famous for good reason, and we did not waste opportunities to stuff our faces. One of the gentlemen img_6457attending the PD had previously lived in Seoul, and he organized a dinner one evening at a local BBQ joint. It was the sort of place where tourists never end up; the floor was made of cement slabs, and the air was filled with the smoke of dozens of tiny grills. The seating consisted entirely of hollow stools made out of metal barrels. To prevent one’s jacket and other belongings from acquiring a meat/smoke smell, one lifts up the seat cushion, and stashes said belongings inside. Smelly clothes and pick pockets foiled all at once! I thought these were brilliant. I also loved the general concept of Korean BBQ – grilling your meat of choice, choosing tasty tidbits of kimchi, pickled radish, and sautéed garlic to add in, and wrapping it all up in leafy greens with spicy sauce. Here’s a little montage our some of our eating exploits while in Seoul:

Aside from attending my PD and eating BBQ every night, I picked out a few cultural sights for us to see. We visited the War Memorial of Korea located in a park not far from the neighborhood where we were staying. A super short history lesson here: At the end of WWII, the Soviet img_6404Union “liberated” the north of the country from Japan, while the US occupied the southern portion. As the Cold War begin, Korea was split in two. In 1950, North Korea invaded the South in an effort to unite the country. The US defended the South, while China and the USSR aided the North. The war was intense and bloody and incredibly damaging to the entire Korean peninsula. The main fighting came to an end in 1953 when an armistice was signed, creating the DMZ; however, no peace treaty has ever been signed, so technically the two countries are still at war. A large monument in the park, titled the Statue of Brothers, represents a South Korean soldier embracing a North Korean soldier, offering forgiveness. The cracked dome they are standing on symbolizes the split between the two, and the hope for a unified Korea (under the South’s government of course). Both governments consider themselves the true Korean government.

We also explored the National Museum of Korea, with its many cultural art displays, and the Dongdaemun area, where we encountered a delightful combination of food truck festival, architectural ruins, and trendy LED light display. Oh Asia… On our last morning in Seoul, I got up early to watch the changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Although the guard changing was quite popular with tourists, the palace grounds are extensive, and I wandered through a large portion of them in relative peace and quiet, enjoying the cloudy fall morning.

Final impressions of Seoul: The city is ridiculously clean and organized, which contrasts dramatically with what we’ve gotten used to here in Bangkok. The sidewalks are swept daily, and the impeccably punctual metro system has public restrooms in every single station that are monitored by attendants (the new yorker in me was fascinated by this). Seoul is pricier than Bangkok, and colder, but it seems like it would be a great place to live. Orestes and I both agree we would like to return and further explore!

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