Traveling back to Seoul from Tokyo was uneventful. As we were going IN the country there seemed to be no need for tighter security. A bit strange, if you think about it: When getting OUT of Korea, you and your luggage will be checked severely because of the Asian Games, but when you are entering and be an even more potential security risk, no ones cares. But I never had that much of a logical mind to understand such reasonings.
What did I do the remaining seven days I spent in Seoul? Quite a lot actually: We were roaming around the city, which, I say it again, is one of the most beautiful capitals in the world. Talking a walk by the Hangang, exploring downtown with its castles, shopping areas and restaurants and having hiking hills in city area gives you a lot of different opportunities to spend your time.
As Seoul also has a Natural History Museum we took a look at that. As it is far from any subway station, it also gave us the chance to use the bus for the first time – which we managed only after running around for 20 minutes, trying to find the right bus stop. The drive itself was okay, though I had the impression that bus halts were much to close to each other. The moment the bus accelerated its speed it already had to break for the next stop. For example we missed the right halt and had to get out on the next which was just only a few hundred meters away. Either Seoulites are foot-lazy or I am just too used to walking around as me living in a small town with no comparable public transportation service. The museum was up a steep slope hill. So much for hiking already! The museum itself turned out – lame: It was completely directed at kids, providing hardly any scientific information, or maybe it did, but most boards weren’t translated. The exhibited specimens however were interesting, like a big Carcharodontosaurus right at the entrance, a Triceratops or the replica of the famous fossil from the fight between Velociraptor and Protoceratops, frozen in time. Other eras of Earth’s history were covered as well, but in general it was too less to really enjoy the experience.
Hiking up Bugaksan was completely different: You had to provide your passport when reaching a specific part of the trail. I presume as it is the most susceptible entrance gate for North Korean spies. At least there was evidence of gunshots of an infiltrating event in 1968. Anyway, most of the path was walking along the presence of military personnel. This may sound unpleasant, but it wasn’t actually. They basically were only around to avoid tourists taking photographs of the area, otherwise not concerning themselves with anyone. I would never had approached them anyway as they looked scary with there smile-and-you-die attitude. I was taking this trail in 2007 for the first time, but it must have been another part, as I didn’t find any places that resembled my memories. Also the path wasn’t secured back than. Have to check out the next time I am there for a hiking trip. My sister by the way didn’t like the experience as although the trail was mostly paved and with stairs, it got pretty enduring with time. Next time I probably have to hike alone. It was our luck, that we took enough drinks with us.
What was curious and funny at the same time is the way Korean people like to dress for hiking, running or any sport in general. Most of them wearing a complete sport dress for outdoor activities: A matching pair of sport trousers and shirt/jacket. Also as expected, from expensive brands. This resulted in hard-not-to-laugh situations, for example a group of elderly women, apparently only out for a walk, therefore adopting a more lingering speed, but all dressed as if they take part in a marathon. This was only surpassed by a middle-aged couple, who as well wore the sport ‘uniform’, but he wearing freshly polished business shoes and she walking on high heels. And yes, here again I fail to see the logic. But it was funny to see anyway.
In the city itself we often stuck in City Hall area. I like this place for its wide street, the beautiful skyscrapers and the nearby little stream, providing great resting and observation alternatives. It is also close by to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. But honestly I am not very interested in those. They kind of bore me as everything looks the same. Medieval castles or for example the palace of Versailles with its beautiful garden right next to it are more my type of cultural enjoyment.
When it came to shopping we tried Dongdaemun, of course. This IS a good place for getting the latest fashion and such BUT not if you are a man: While my sister was left relatively unattended while strolling the diverse fashion stalls at Migliori, which made her buy several different items, I was immediately approached by EVERY sales person in the men’s fashion area. And not only a simple hello, but constant talking, asking from where I am from and begging for looking at each stand, recommending me clothes unasked for. It was terrible. Here it turned out bad that in women’s area the shop assistant were mostly female and in men’s area mostly male: While the female shop attendants engaged themselves in never-ending chats with each other they didn’t care that much for customers, only reacting when being called upon (or the conversational partner had to visit the toilet), the male attendants were bored and quite, only breaking out of their hibernation when a new arriving potential customers came near their way. I was reminded of the nurses in the Silent Hill game, who only react to outside stimuli
Myeongdong is difficult to evaluate: Here you find a lot of youthful and casual fashion, but shops are mostly very small and get repetitive. Really there are streets that are only consisting of shops selling shoes, and not different ones like casual – business – boots – women’s – men’s. No, most of then offering the exactly same selection, even being located right next to each other. Again my logic fails me to understand such a business model. while the ‘outside’ of Myeongdong has a lot of average American or European fashion stores, the underground is where I found, finally, clothes for myself. The underground shopping arcade is HUGE, reminding my of Whitey’s in Osaka. Although the shops here basically repeat the same interior as well, you could find a lot of Korean brands for a very cheap price: I bought six items, from shirts to T-Shirts, and only paid around 100,000 Won. The clothes didn’t dissolve after I first washed them later on, so there should be some quality involved as well.
Regarding idol events I went to two. The first was a concert (one-man-live) of the all-male group 2PM, who gave a show in Seoul as part of their ‘Go Crazy’ Tour. To my defense my sisters wanted to go there and I joined them as I wouldn’t want to spend the evening alone. The venue was the former bicycle arena of the 1988 Olympics and was surrounded by hordes of fans hours before the start of the show, completely different to idol shows in Japan. Of course groups like PASSPO can’t compare in popularity to most Korean idol groups and the venue here had approximately 5,000 seats, far superior to 800 in Shinjuku Blaze. It will be interesting to see, if the New Years Show of PASSPO will be more close to what I experienced here. And the other major difference: Male fans are a total minority, for male and female idol groups alike, completely opposite to Japanese idol followers. Here you can see that Korean groups are more similar to ‘western’ boy and girl groups whereas the Japanese idol business has a different approach. Anyway, a good portion of the fans, as it turned out, weren’t even Korean. I spotted several caucasian fans, but the majority belonging to Eastern countries, especially China and Japan. A rarity in Japan as well, as foreigners are hardly seen, at least not in that quantity. I didn’t mind all the fans though, then as I have said, most were young females, looking quite good. It also made me find out one similarity between the countries fan groups: English isn’t their forte.
Queueing up for merchandize, which was sold before the venue, was useless. Three hours before the show the first articles were sold out already. Still the queue was long and stayed this way even after entry began. And here no events were bound to merchandize purchases so people just bought it for pleasure. (Hah, another difference spotted!) Our concert seats turned out to be on the balcony. This made me face an terrible high angle, of which I was constantly fearing to lose my balance and roll downstairs. A bad place for someone with vertigo. But the view was good, having the whole stage and the LCD screens in sight. It may have been far away, but I wasn’t really curious for watching half-naked dancing guys from close up. Not sure about my sisters though. The female supporting dancers looked cute but only appeared sparsely, so nothing missed here. Apart from that it was a nice concert, after a long time something reminding me of the ones I was used to in the past: light shows, screaming female voices and no wotagei.
The second idol event we went to was the K-Festival, held in Incheon again. Although it was like a mix event, having smaller indie bands performing at day and idol groups in the evening and a lot of activities celebrating the Korean culture, the attendance was more than poor. Despite being a sunny sunday there were only a few hundreds of people, very slowly rising to a few thousands, when idol fans came later on. But still it was far inadequate for the wide spacey area. We still enjoyed our stay there, lying in the sun, watching the performance from far and trying out the different food stalls. On the small stage a real gem (No, not this GEM) was performing, which actually made me participate during the whole show: The Korean band Monni. And ‘No’ again. It wasn’t because of them having a female bassist.
The idols who performed that evening were the male groups B.A.P. and BEAST. The females were represented by G.NA and 4minute. My sisters obviously enjoyed the former the most but also 4minute, as we all went to their show in Stockholm in May this year. But although we were standing first row (stage was wide and attendance was low) neither of the group recognised us. Come on, girls. You can do better than that. Anyway I was able to see them close up (by Korean standards) and also take a picture of Hyuna and SoHyun. Each performance was lasting around 30 to 40 minutes, so it was a lot better than with the usual festivals, where the groups are only able to perform one, at the utmost, two songs.
Getting back turned out more difficult as expected: The show ended (scheduled) 22:40, the last train was leaving 22:56 from a station 15 minutes away by foot. We catched it and arrived safely at Hongik University Station, but my other sister needed to go further, the other side of town. She was stopping three taxis to take her there – all refused. Why we didn’t know. Language barrier wasn’t an issue as she is studying Korean. Probably some different kind of logic at work again. Anyway we kindly took her in and my sisters shared a bed together. It worked out somehow.
Flying back home was uneventful again. The queues for security at the airport were again longer than general, as the Asian Games only ended shortly before, but didn’t reach anything near the length they had two weeks ago. So I left Korea (and Japan) – sad to leave – but in the knowledge of an already scheduled and booked trip back, only a few months later. This made parting a lot easier.