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I heart Seoul

Posted December 6 by John Birmingham

I went to Korea for Schoolies Week and I loved it. A long time ago we offered both kids a choice. They could take themselves off to Schoolies, or we could take them overseas. They’re not dummies. They took the travel option.

I got Thomas, who chose Hong Kong (I know, right) and Seoul.

We flew into HK the weekend of the big campus showdown (bows and arrows and molotovs vs sound cannons and tear gas).

It was fine. I thought it would be. Having done a lot of reporting on riots and political violence when I started out I know that as intense as the scenes can be on TV, you get a block away from the action... nada.

Still, you could see the damage from previous street battles most places we went. And beer was very expensive. I was happy to fly up to Seoul after a couple of days.

I know Murph had a terrible time in Korea, but I blame his hosts; the US Army. We had a great time. We stayed in a cool hotel, the L7 in Hongdae.

It had a boss level lounge and bar, a well equipped gym, and it sits on the edge of a groovy part of town, next to Hongik University. The uni used to be the old Defence Headquarters (I think) but it’s now an art/design centre. The streets around it are full of student bars and cafes and there’s this sort of winding mall where would-be K-Pop stars perform every night.

It was a carnival space, really. You could have your fill of cheap beer and fried chicken, check out half a dozen acts in the space of five minutes, and just hang with the crowds.

I thought the Korean kids were awesome. Seoul is a 24 hour city, but everything accelrates after dark. Most places don’t seem to fire up before lunch time, but when night falls ... boom!

I’d get up most mornings and go hunt out a coffee. It’s true what they say about cafe’s in Seoul. They’re everywhere. These guys are obsessed with the bean. I’d walk up to a 24hr place where the old boy working the espresso machine baked fresh madelines every morning.

It meant walking through a night club district just as the doors were opening and the revellers spilled onto the streets. You know what a shit show that can be.

Except it wasn’t. I don’t know that getting blotto is a big part of their culture. The kids would appear blinking in the dawn, but also smiling and tired. No aggro. Not once. The whole city had a really chilled vibe like that.

Maybe it’s because all the young blokes have to do two years in the army and they all know taekwondo or something. Or maybe K-Pop is just cooler than bogan culture.

Either way I walked that club district every day for ten days and saw nothing but good vibes.
Pics and stories to come.

6 Responses to ‘I heart Seoul’

AuntyLou is gonna tell you...

Posted December 6
Seriously? You got drinkable coffee in Seoul? Hubby & I spent a couple of nights stopover in central Seoul a few years ago & could not believe how bad the coffee was everywhere we went. Burnt dirt over & over. Apart from that...fabulous place. Would happily return. Travel tips gratefully received. Glad your boy has turned into such a sensible young man. Congratulations.

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Murphy_of_Missouri ducks in to say...

Posted December 7
There literally is not enough money on the planet to get me to visit that part of the planet again. Eleven months was plenty.

As for Seoul, well, a night at the symphony was nice while trussed up in a civilian double breasted number, but I did not enjoy my time there. The best moment was getting on the plane and leaving.

No fault to the Koreans, to be fair. I didn't really deal with them much.

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 7
That matches with what I heard from a couple of colleagues that did post docs in Seoul, they said similar stuff. Sounds like a good place to go especially since I wouldn't need to give up my coffee. Where did the other half of the family choose if you don't mind me asking?

Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted December 7
It must not smell like shit anymore.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted December 8
Ha. No. It smells like waffles. There was a waffle cart directly out front of our hotel. When I think of the smell of Seoul, that's what I remember. Despite all of the beer and fried chicken.

Barnes: Italy and HKG.

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Dave W swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 8
When Mrs W and I spent a stopover (in mid-fucking-winter) in Seoul a few years ago, we visited the local war-memorial/museum. It was also frequented by the US service-people stationed nearby.

With my number-zero haircut I got a few weird doubletakes from the those guys when they saw that I was with a *gasp* lady.

We also had some inexplicable trouble with the local ATMs, so spent a day absolutely cash-less until we found one that would accept one of our cards. And as for coffee...no...just no, awful, instant, nestle shit. But this was in the mid-2000s.

And did I mention that it was mid-winter. It was -15c most of the time.

But you paint a much more attractive word-picture, JB, and pretty much could entice me to go back. So my perceptions of Seoul and Korea aren't as bad as Mr Murphy's.

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