While roaming through South Korea’s bustling capital last month, I saw a funny sign. It said: Welcome to The Seoul of Asia.
And it made me think: This is true! Korea captures in so many aspects all the different sides of Asia, even if it seems a bit different than the rest. To me, this city has it all: The charm and life of Southeast Asia, with all its street food, nice climate, bubbly people, and friendly smiles. And it has the food: Korean food is said to be among the best of the world. Well, there must be a reason why the first thing Koreans look for when traveling abroad is a Korean restaurant!
And then, you have this touch of North Asia. With a hint of China and its temples, its cultural influence. And, of course, the much-loathed Japan, the big and scary neighbor which they hate so much (and which has so much in common, at the same time).
Korea is a funny country, and I love the Korean people. They are outgoing, they like to drink, and they work hard. They probably work harder than in any other country of the world, but they still keep their relaxed attitude when in social gatherings. I like that. Work hard, play hard. The Koreans got it.
Seoul, at first glance, is nothing special. Yet another Asian Megacity. Or is it? The clue is, as always, in the details. Go to the central shopping streets: Nowhere else you find this amount of cute, original designer stores. And restaurants. Lots of restaurants. Did I mention those restaurants?
Food is a big thing here. And every Korean is a specialist in it. The country’s long-lasting tradition in preserving all kinds of foods has led to a variety and richness in flavors not seen elsewhere. Okay, not everything is for the western palate. Fermented fish can be a bit hard on someone who is new to this kind of culture. And, we don’t have to eat everything (but at least try!).
The best of all: Everyone speaks English. Not like in Japan, where you get lost in translation. Here, the US are a friend. Well, at least they seem to be.
Spending an evening in the center of Seoul can be very romantic. Be it on a river walk through the city’s newly-built stream which runs right through the center, or a ride with the cable car to the top of the Namsan mountain, where you can ascend to the top of Namsan Tower and have a grandiose view over the entire city. And maybe buy one of those rubber hearts and chain it to the fence here, such as other millions of lovers have done with their vows.
So who says Korea isn’t romantic?