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November 20, 2011

Seoul: traditions and modernism

As mentioned before, Paul and I were following different routes after Vietnam. The original plan, to go to Japan was crossed out by the severe events at Fukushima, so I decided to give a visit to Korea instead. So it happened to be that I arrived to Seoul without my sidekick, but I met here our friend and fellow traveller, Eunjung, who we had already met in Peru and Argentina. She did a great job introducing me to everything, that’s Korean, especially helped me a lot with eating only the best Korean food:) I have also met here Zoltan, an old friend and colleague of mine from Hungary …talk about a small World!
Arriving to Seoul one can not help but notice the modernism, the advanced infrastructure, and the number of big and small bridges. The current president, formerly the mayor of Seoul has strong connections in the construction business, the explanation can be. He was also the youngest CEO in Korea at the age of 35 and he consults with Chuck Norris on a daily basis.
Apart from the modernism, Seoul also puts great emphasis on the traditions. A number of temples can be visited and traditional costumes are worn at changing of the guards and other occasions. If you are lucky, you can also catch some tunes played on the traditional Korean gayageum.
A funny tradition in Korea that you take off your shoes before entering someone’s home. The first hostel I stayed happened to be in one bigger house, so the shoe store facility was right outside the front door. It was not that funny to take off your shoes in 5 degrees Celsius. Korean homes traditionally had neither chairs, nor beds: you were sitting on the floor and sleeping on the floor. On the plus side however, their floor-heating technology dates back quite some time, so once inside the house, you won’t be cold.
Korean cuisine is great, especially if you dig spicy food. Traditional Korean meals consist of a number of shared side dishes and one or two main dishes. Amongst the side dishes you can almost always find the ever-popular kimchi, a spicy kind of cabbage. Korean barbecue is made right at your table and Korean pancakes are a cheap and yummie alternative if you don’t feel like eating anything complicated. Soju is the local “sake”, and men and women are not afraid to get a bottle, even if they can not handle the alcohol content of it. Unique in Korea that they are using steel chopsticks. Originally the royal family started to use them, being afraid of food poisoning, but later on it became the number one utensil of the common people as well. I have to say, it feels much better to eat with them, than with their wooden and plastic brothers.
Korean writing might seem Chinese at first, but it is actually based on a standard alphabet. In a matter of days you can start reading out loud Korean words, even though you will have most of the time no idea what they mean:)
Being a Korean teenager has it’s own peculiarities. Young adults keep living with their parents, they are spoiled with technology, but dating a boyfriend/girlfriend has some very rigid rules. Couples have hardly any place to go if they want to spend some time together. That’d where DVD rooms come into picture. Originally these are small private rooms, that you can rent to watch a movie with your friends, but they are mostly used as a place of romantic encounters. No need to say, DVD rooms are not difficult to find anywhere in Seoul.
Youngsters are also flooded by hundreds of teen boy and girl bands. The recipe is always the same: a group of 6 or 7 teen stars, converted by excess plastic surgery, sings stupid songs on the TV all day long…literally … and they are popular.
One of the last days I stayed in Seoul, I hit the local fish market. Normally it is full of merchants and customers, but those days consumption dropped to a minimum as people were afraid of radioactive leakage at the shores of Japan. The local authorities did their best to tell people that the fish is safe and it is being monitored 24/7.


  1. Would love to go there once or twice :)

  2. U know more than i thought about korea! Kkk now the temperature is BELOW 5 degrees celcius... :(