Power of Seoul

Seoul is a gigantic city with one of the most complex-looking metro systems we’ve had to navigate. Seriously, look at this:

seoul_metro

Luckily our hostel was located in Hongdae by Hongik University on the Airport Express line. Of the places we’ve visited on this trip so far, Seoul seemed most similar to Canada – not least because of the near-freezing temperatures and bare trees. The city covers a huge area but it does not feel terribly dense. There are large sidewalks and streets, and in most neighbourhoods the buildings don’t rise more than a few stories. Also taking into consideration the amazing food, friendly and interesting youth culture, and a healthy level of respect for the rules (somewhere between Southeast Asia and Japan), the city seemed quite liveable.

On our first full day in South Korea we headed straight for its northern border to see the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The tour starts with an introductory video featuring an oddly dramatic soundtrack and jumps quickly from the Korean war to a celebration of the beauty and wildlife of the DMZ, and then concludes “Until reunification, the DMZ will live on forever!!” We were able to visit one of the tunnels that North Korea had built in hopes of invading the South, and were given the opportunity to look into North Korea with binoculars to see the mostly empty (and in one case, fake) cities closest to the border.

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The hills in the distance are located in North Korea. Though the view of the cities is mostly obstructed by the pan-Asian smog, the white dot at the base of the hills in the middle is a building in a real city in North Korea.

One of the main reasons for our visit to Seoul was to see Dan’s friend Isaac and for the two of them to perform a concert as half of their band The Vanishing Act (Lee and Gary could not make it to Seoul this time). Metal is not huge in Korea, but Isaac has made good friends in the local scene and plays in a few bands. His friend runs the local venue GBN Live House and was able to throw together a show to give The Vanishing Act a chance to make their first international appearance. Dan hadn’t touched a drum set since June 2018, and Isaac hadn’t played the songs since then either, but they pulled off a good set and even drew in enough of a crowd to get paid!

We used our remaining time in Seoul to do a bit more sightseeing and spend some more time with Isaac. We visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace, where a highschool student practising his English provided us with a free tour.

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Jean LeCastor visits Seoul!

Next we wandered over to the Bukchon Hanok Village, and then to the dense shopping area of Myeongdong. We also visisted the Korean War Memorial museum and learned a ton about the evolution of the conflict between the North and South.

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Limo formerly owned by Kim Il-sung, leader of North Korea from its formation in 1948 until his death in 1994. The museum stated that after this limo was abandoned in the South by Kim during the war, it was gifted to an American and it eventually ended up in a collector’s garage in New Jersey before returning to South Korea.

Naturally we ate a ton of Korean food while in Seoul. We enjoyed jjimdak (a saucy braised chicken dish served on glass noodles), bibimbap, gimbap (random meat and veggies rolled in rice and seaweed, looking like a sushi roll), chimaek (literally just fried chicken with beer), tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cakes in chili sauce with fish cakes), table BBQ, kalguksu (chopped noodle soup), and lots of kimchi!

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Jjimdak – once finished with the chicken, the bowl of crispy fried rice is stirred into the remaining delicious sauce.

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