Saturday, November 05, 2016

Song of Seoul

After thinking a bit on how to begin this post, I decided on starting it by saying this - the world is not fair, I feel it is nicer to a single woman traveler. There, I have said it, as it's important to point out inequality even while being on the beneficial side of it :)

Seoul was no exception, it was an awesome experience exploring Seoul as a single woman traveler. I have said it so many times but I have to say it here again, for the record that the people there are incredibly nice. They have the warmth and emotions of the east, I felt home interacting with people even though I couldn't speak their language. It started with explaining the address of my hotel to the airport bus driver, I had learnt a few Korean greetings and practiced the street/locality names but I realized very soon that my pronunciation made it impossible for them to understand anything I said. I was amazed by how he and others smiled/laughed when they heard me say anything (not in a condescending way but they really were not understanding what I was trying to say). So I gave up on saying anything in Korean and resorted to my Google translate app from then on :) While am at this point, I should thank Google for making that amazing app, it really made a huge difference to my travel experience! When I was still having trouble explaining where I had to go, one of the guys on the bus suggested that I call the hotel guys and ask them to talk to the driver. So I called them, explained that I needed help in making the driver understand (in English), and they were happy to speak to the driver, they did (in Korean) and I thought it all worked well. Then I thanked the guy for the suggestion and he told me that the next time I call the hotel guys, I need not talk to them but just hand over the phone to the driver :) I smiled at this as that's kind of what we would have done in India as well.

I was there for a conference, so I didn't find it challenging for the first two days in terms of language or food as it was a global conference and they had some vegetarian food. And I had the company of my colleagues on one of the days so they helped explain what all I didn't eat. And then for the rest of the days, I got my colleague to write a note in Korean :)

Seoul subway connectivity is awesome but it takes some effort to get a hang of it as it's a big city and there are way too many trains, and way too many exits in each station! And most of the sign boards are in Korean only, so it's very important to get an English subway map. It's available online ( and in most of the big stations. I got mine from the gangnam station as my hotel was very close to the gangnam street/station. The ones in the station come with both English and Korean text so it helps sometimes when you may have to do some pattern matching. Ok I am kidding, it doesn't get that bad. Plus there are super nice people who walk up to you and tell you they can speak English and they can help, when you are busy reading the English subway map!

And coming to what to do in Seoul, ah, way too many things to do! I got a chance to explore the Hongdae area with my colleagues on a Friday night. It's a university area, very energetic, lively, filled with young people, music, and performances. And they have very nice cafes with very nice desserts. I explored the gangnam street a bit on the Saturday night and that again was a high energy, buzzing, vibrant place. The city never sleeps so the parties and the streets are busy until early mornings, at least on the weekends. Then there are too many areas to explore and shop - Insadong area is artsy, Mengdong is in the heart of the city, with lots of street shops, Ewah women's university area is specially nice for women. I had sugar cane juice here :) I also did some of the touristy stuff, visited the Gyeongbokgung palace, went up the cable car to the N Seoul tower. The Han river is beautiful, the rainbow bridge, specially in the night.
Most of the travel blogs I read seemed to talk about getting your hair done in Seoul so I dared to try that out as well. Women and men dress very well in Seoul, and I had read about that and made sure I didn't carry any lulu-lemons. But I must say that I was surprised to see the hair dresser in a suit. It was a great experience, getting my hair cut. They were super friendly, I used my google translate app and they used their Korean translation app to talk to me :) They seemed to have everything so well organized. Also the equipment used were fancy, with many controls and designed for ease of use. 

In general I noticed that the Koreans are big on organization, automation, and tidiness - I had chosen a Korean hotel and it was evident from the interior design, that they liked things organized and tidy. The kitchen sink, stove, refrigerator, washer, everything was hidden behind the closet doors. They had a single touch screen guest control system that could controls all the lights, temp, music, phone inside the guest room.

I bought various things, like socks, chopsticks, spoons - they had so much to offer to even someone like me who doesn't like shopping. I even bought some clothes, as everything fit me and I didn't have to try anything. Only thing on my list I couldn't find were the Korean movies with English subtitles.

Lastly, this song of Seoul is dedicated to my dear friend, Rush, who is a huge fan of everything Korean, their culture, movies, food, etc. It is she who introduced to me to Korea and it's culture much before I got a chance to travel to Seoul and I think it is because of her I enjoyed this experience so much more :)