When deciding on my next vacation destination, I wanted to pick a place that would allow me to learn about a culture that I wasn’t familiar with. Korea immediately came to my mind. I figured those Korea Tourism billboards around KL worked on me.
Constrained by limited budget, I thought of just exploring only one city in Korea for a week. I chose Seoul for the obvious reason. It is the capital of the country and it’s packed with famous attractions.
A couple of weeks before my trip to Seoul, I realized that I probably should have done a little bit of research about Korean culture so I would know what to ‘hunt’ for.
Asking around, it seemed two words were trending: Kimchi and K-Pop. I remember saying to myself, “Boy, I have never tried kimchi in my life and I know nothing about K-Pop. Am I missing out here?”
Coincidentally, Psy-chological phenomenon of Gangnam Style was invading the world. In a way, I felt like the singer was personally welcoming me to his culture. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for the journey. I realized then my trip to Korea would be about discovering kimchi and K-Pop culture for the first time ever in my life.
Myeongdong was one of the first spots I checked in when I was in Seoul. It was a busy commercial area, being Seoul's main shopping and tourism district. It was definitely the best place for me to hop on the K-Pop bandwagon. The streets were walled by mid-to-high priced retail stores and international brand outlets, as well as many favorite local brands. K-Pop music was blasting from everywhere and people were strolling the pavement donning the latest trends in fashion. Simply put, the sight was vibrant and the energy was lucid.
Communication wasn’t challenging as I thought it would be. English was fairly spoken and understood. Leveraging on friendly locals, I gathered clues about must-do’s and must-eat’s in the city as i went along.
Hongdae, unlike Myeongdong, was rather a small district, but rated 5 stars by a colleague. She described it as “very hip” and it really did live up to that. Due to being populated mostly by students from surrounding universities, it is known for its urban arts and indie music culture, clubs and entertainment. I was lucky to be able to catch its famous weekend flea market called “Hope Market”. One-of-the-kind arts and crafts made by students and street artists were being showcased there. Live performances attracted an even larger crowd to the joint.
Not until in Itaewon, at a small local restaurant, did I finally have my first kimchi. It was a somewhat familiar-looking dish called kimchi bokkeumbap, a kimchi-flavored fried rice served with more fresh kimchi on the side. Like Ying and Yang of life, the kimchi which I had was crispy yet soft, spicy yet a little sweet, and light yet satisfying. It was a really balanced creation. It reminded me of acar in Malaysian cuisine. I couldn’t say it was love at first bite, but it grew on me after a while. I tried several types of kimchi dishes throughout the trip but my favorite was definitely kimchijeon (a kimchi pancake) for its subtleness in texture and taste.
My Seoul trip covered a few other places as well like Gyeongbokgung Palace, Sinchon, Hanok Village, Namdaemon Market, Itaewon and Nami Island.
After my whirlwind first-hand crash course in Korean culture, I knew I acquired a tremendous amount of knowledge about the country. I brought back with me a copy of Big Bang’s latest album and a small jar of kimchi sauce to symbolize my great discovery of kimchi and K-Pop. Seoul, I will definitely be back!
Some pictures of Seoul from writer's personal collection:
|Gyeongbokgung Palace's entrance gate|
|Entrance guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace|
|City of Seoul|
|Street artists in Seoul|
|Shopping at Namdaemon Market|
|Traditional Korean houses at Hanok Village|
|Lemonade drinks sold at Myeongdong|
|Ferry to Nami Island|
|Iconic Winter Sonata statue at Nami Island|
|Autumn color at Nami Island|
|Taking a break at Nami Island with latte art coffee|
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