Seoul Searching

Outside the gate to Gyeongbokgung (The Korean Palace)

I’ve caught the bug… the travel bug that is…

With one of the most convenient places for travel in Asia, Hong Kong has given me many opportunities to explore the surrounding countries and islands at very reasonable prices. Two weeks ago, I was able to go on a little weekend holiday with friends to Seoul, South Korea. This was one of the most memorable experiences I have had to date. Chatting with my friends who went with me on this trip, I found a cultural and environmental difference that didn’t surprise me, but I had just never really put that much thought into. Many of my European friends began traveling internationally with friends from the age of 15. In America, that is extremely uncommon. Of course, geographically it is much less significant for a European to cross an international boarder than it is for many in North America. Knowing my level of maturity (or lack there of) at 15, there is no way I would have let 15-year-old Jake travel with his friends without adult supervision! That’s a whole additional blog post by itself…

Trip Details:

This trip was the first time that I had booked a flight by myself, a tour, researched accommodations, etc. This may sound odd, but when you have a dad like mine, who is easily one of the most well-experienced travelers I have ever met with planning trips, I don’t need to help out much in trip logistics with my family. Several of my friends were the ones that officially locked in reservations for us, but we all contributed in the finding process. However, my buddy Eddie absolutely knocked it out of the park with the Airbnb he found for us. This place had EVERYTHING. It was tucked into a little street just off a main road right next to one of the liveliest districts in Seoul called Itaewon. The location was so convenient and absolutely gorgeous! This place even had a rooftop that we could sit down at and sip on traditional Korean beverages. We escaped the heat of Hong Kong, to dive into freezing temperatures in Seoul. Thus, we did not spend lots of time on the roof J. That is also because we were exploring the entire time!

As much as a fun oriented trip this was, it was also very valuable to my development of seeing and understanding the world. We were able to go on a day trip to the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea). I can’t even begin to describe how I felt about this experience. The amount of history, of both tragedy and fortune, could be spotted at every destination we stopped at. It was an endless roller-coaster of emotion for everyone on the trip.

At one of the observatories we stopped at, we could see “villages” in North Korea. I use quotations because these “villages” are the places that news anchors are taken to with the intention of giving a false view of what truly occurs in the country. They are essentially “fake villages” as many South Koreans call them. Our tour guide said that normally propaganda is blared on both sides of the boarder which is audible from where we were standing. Most of the time, it includes banter regarding the corruption of North Korea and how life is so much easier in the South. Other times, we were told, the South Koreans blare American popular music just to piss off the North Koreans. Of course, I had to ask what kind of music was played. I was told Michael Jackson is commonly played. No wonder so many North Koreans want to say, “beat it” to Mr. Kim. Ha. Ha. Get it?

Unfortunately, nothing was being played that day so we were unable to have that experience. What we did hear was a sound that was almost deafening. Absolutely nothing. Looking over at what was probably the closest I may ever come to North Korea, there was a silence that is indescribable. It could have been the scene out of a horror movie. Not even a bird was flying or chirping. It was a lot to take in after having so much fun at the prior stop’s gift shop.

Later that day, after exploring most of the city on foot, the group was ready for dinner. Boy had I been waiting for this! As most people who know me might expect, I thoroughly researched many options for dinner that evening, prior to our departure that morning. I had a list of 5 things that I absolutely had to eat while I was in Seoul. They are as follows: Korean BBQ, Bulgogi, fried chicken (famous in Korea), Japchae (sweet potato glass noodles), and rice cakes. Yes. I tried Every. Single. One. In my research that day, I came across a place we had to try. A next level BBQ restaurant. I sold the heck out it to my friends, even though the place really speaks for itself. My friends let me have a ball and order for the table, which is probably one of the best compliments anyone can give to me. It shows that they trust me to make a decision that they are literally willing to bet money on, that I will deliver something amazing. The food was FANTASTIC! For most, it was their first experience with this kind of restaurant so it was fun to see everyone’s smiles as the meat was cooked in front of them.

Of course, much more happened on this trip than was included in this post, but I cannot express enough how great the people I have the luxury of calling “my friends” are. I never would have thought that in such a short time, people could grow so close. I look forward to our upcoming adventures in the weeks to come. First, we have to get through midterms this week. That’s right. I am still in school, though I probably could have fooled most of you…

Until next time!