The Soul of Asia

Yeah, I totally stole Seoul’s tagline.

What?! You can’t blame me. I’m in a country of constant near-trademark infringement. Besides I would’ve made the same pun myself.

With four trips to Seoul on my backpack, I finally feel ready to talk about the megacity of some 10 million. (That’s just the metro area by the way.)

In a word, intense.

Seoul is unlike any city I’ve ever experienced. And until this last trip, I positively hated the place. I only wanted to go when I had good reason to be there. It is so huge and overwhelming. There are people EVERYWHERE!

5 a.m. subway ride to Suwon? You are sharing seats with strangers.

An afternoon shopping expedition in Dongdaemun? Count on being jostled as you walk through crowds.

Clubbing in Hongdae from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.? Not even the slowest bar is empty.

And that’s just the number of people.

All these people are doing things like sleeping, selling, working, talking, moving and eating all around you all the time. My small town soul has a giant freak out every time I’m in the Soul of Asia. (See? You can’t NOT say it.)

But I also love it. The excitement of so much humanity hustling to get from one place to another. The ridiculous competition between shops to sell you the same thing. The city moves to it’s own rhythm. Moving through the crowds takes some practice, I’m still terrified of the surge of people running up the subway station steps at every station. But I’m finding the city addicting. (Although apparently so overwhelming I can’t ever remember to take pictures when I visit.)

This last trip was a shopping expedition to Dongdaemun with Linda. The Dongdaemun markets offer thousands of clothes. Imagine as many stores as you can in one department building, take off all the front doors then double the number of clothing stores. I was so overwhelmed with looking at the hundreds of sweaters, dresses, skirts, pants, scarfs and jackets on two floors of shopping in one department store, I could hardly think about what I wanted to buy. I ended up with a sweater, a dress, a scarf and a coat for a total of about $75. Not too bad for my wallet or my wardrobe.

After the hardcore shopping of Dongdaemun, we took a break at a lovely little coffee shop in the basement of one of the many malls. It was great to relax and just enjoy a cup of warm tea (Gasp! No coffee?) with the craziness of the shopping center above us and the happiness of the couples around us.

Next it was on to the fabulous subway. (I am so in love with public transportation in this country. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take the subway, buses and trains of South Korea and just stretch them out over America?) About 20 minutes later we arrived in Sinchon for our love motel search.We found a decent place for about $25 and happily it was open for check in at 8 p.m. After carrying around bags all day, Linda and I were ready to throw everything down and just call it a day. Which we promptly did. We were ready for the night.

We quickly got ready for clubbing in Hongdae. The IT neighborhood of Seoul. If you ever want to find a party, that’s the place to look. After a bit of misdirection and an angry cab driver, we finally found ourselves in Papa Gorilla where the party was very mellow.

The night was young however and shenanigans would ensue.

But more on that tomorrow.

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