Pleasent/Amusing Surprises, Seoul
If you happen to be a non-Asian in Seoul (a Caucasian, as shown in photo), do not feel alarmed if some students approach you with a notebook, a camera, and/or a tape recorder. A lot of the kids there have school assignments which is to talk to a foreigner in English.
Being that you, non-Asian person you, will stick out like a sore thumb, you will most likely be approached by shy students who will ask you a bunch of questions, possibly tape your answers, take a picture of you as proof, and ask you to sign their notebook. Don't worry, you will not get a beatdown when you return to your hotel room -- it is purely for educational purposes. :)
I don't know if some of these places are imported from elsewhere or if Koreans just came up with these names. Stores like Teenie-Weenie (kids' clothing store), Prowstar (sounds like Starbucks?...the sign uses the Starbucks font also) and Old Rock (University Bar I reviewed in the Nightlife area; sounds and looks like Hard Rock logo) are but a few...but there are hundreds of funny names here.
They also have interesting designer knock-off names: Channel, A6 (which is an actual brand here, sounds like Asics) and that Prada bag you bought may say "Original" on the chrome plate instead of Prada (it's an original original bag, not an original Prada).
Fondest memory: My "piece de la resistance" is a little Hof in Insa-Dong (as you come out of one of the exits from Jungno-sam(3)-ga Station, Line 5). The place is called "Born to be Chicken"!
A couple more here: http://hometownyeouido.blogspot.com/2004/10/interesting-signs-and-yushengs-first.html
The people of Seoul are unfailingly friendly and polite. You will be amazed at how well you are treated by everyone, everwhere in Seoul. I am always impressed with how welcoming the Korean people are -- among the best anywhere in the world.
While this is usually good, it can be problematic at times. Since Koreans are so eager for you to enjoy your visit, they may overextend themselves to offer their help at all times. This is most notable whenever you refer to a map in public. You may not be lost, but are just checking directions, but usually an open map will be an invitation for a Korean to help. Sometimes, due to the language barrier, you may even get bad advice that contradicts the map! Since I'm a good map-reader, i always sneak to a hidden corner when I need to check on directions.
Fondest memory: Amazingly, there are 22 Outback Restaurants in Seoul. I was looking to meet some friends at one, but the only information they supplied me was "The Outback in Myongdong". Well, it turned out that there were two outbacks within 10-0 meters of each other -- and my friends were in neither. The helpful hostess called a third Myongdong Outback, ascertained that my friends were there, then led me to the main street, flagged down a cab and explained my dilemma to the driver. I was reunited with my friends in no time. What great service!
The Koreans and their own particular way of doing things!
This blue-clad Santa Claus has nothing to do with delivering Christmas presents to Korean children. Instead, she works on behalf of American Express, handing out small bars of chocolate to passers by to advertise their 'Blue' credit card.
So I was rollerblading (or inline skating, as they call it here) in Yeouido Park last night and I heard this girl yelling "Ajeoshi ! Ajeoshi !" It means "Hey mister!" so I figured...maybe it's me. I turned around and this 20-something gal was running up with 5,000 won in her hand. The same 5,000 won that had been in my pocket a few seconds ago.
Now, there are good people and there are bad people, but I think that when it comes to things like money lying on the ground and the guy is rollerblading away at Mach 3 you can count on a Korean to give chase. Well, that's what she did at least. I know she put in an effort because she works the coffee stand in the park (did I mention that she left her business untended to give a foreigner his dropped money?).
On my way back that way what could I do? I got a strawberry juice. Quite good.
Most buildings in Seoul are pretty modern (more or less). Out in the country things get a little wonky as it seems that some homes were added onto as the owners moved up in the world (with a new room every year).
Take a look at this door. On the way up to the Namsan gondola there are these places built into the mountain. Looks like this door is for a kiddie-playhouse, but it's actually a side entrance. Like I said, you see a lot more of this in rural Korea, but interesting to see here.
(My cousin, pictured, is about 6 feet tall.)
The best comes now: I looked for the right exit to Namdaemun Market (you have to get off at the "City Hall" subway station) but I couldn´t find it. This subway station is huge and has 15 (!) exits and you can imagine that I became more and more worried and nervous.
I went into a little cafe which was situated in the subway station. The owner (a very kind lady) saw that I looked very worried and depressed. So she said that I should sit down, gave me glass of water and explained it to me. After that she invited me to a beer ....
After this wonderful experience I know that the words "You are welcome" are not only a phrase in Korea, no, it´s celebrated hospitality!
.... and then plenty of children came ... They collected around me and until then I was not able to take further pictures. They all greeted me saying "Hello" or "Hi" and I greeted back. They were very proud to get a greeting from me .... :-)) ... and they wanted to know where I come from and asked me some questions in poor english.
% cb The teacher had to fight to get their attention but he was not able to .... :-)) So I had to wait with taking pictures of the great architecture at Gyeongbokgung Palace, but it was a nice experience to see such happy children like on the picture on your left ....
The people!! They are so friendly and helpful. In most cases I didn´t have to ask. Also when I was standing in front of the subway plan always friendly koreans came and ask me if they can help me.
Children will always watching you, like this group did ... I was standing in front of a building and built my camera on a tripod to make photographs of the buildings and me in front of the buildings. Suddenly a korean teacher came and asked me if he can come with a group of young girls and boys, because he wanted to explain them about the history of the palace ....
At least some special tips, made on my own experience: Make exact plans what to do each day. Seoul is a HUGE city and the distances are long. If you visit a special sight , look out if there further sights next to the sight you want to visit .... because it can take a lot of time to reach them.
An example: One day I wanted to visit the Olympic Park. This park is located in the east of Seoul. But I stayed in the west of Seoul, in the Yangcheon district.
It take me more than 2 hours to reach it! I went with subway line No.5 and the train passed around 40 stations. So I decided to visit the Kimchi museum, the COEX Aquarium (they are all in the COEX-Mall) and Lotte World too. You can save much time when planning what to do each day.
Fondest memory: I've been to Seoul 5 times since 1985. In '85, I was in Korea for 2 weeks with my family. It was culture shock for our family, especially for my sister and me who'd been raised in the States. 10 years later, I returned for 2 months to attend a summer Korean language session at Yonsei University in Seoul. I later realized that this was a summer party for Korean-Americans. It didn't matter, as those 2 months broke any stereotypes I had of Seoul after my visit in '85. Then, in Summer '95 I came to Korea for a year--a volunteer stint at an orphange/social welfare center in NW Seoul. It was a memorable year, I met and still maintain contact with many special caring individuals. It was also a time to enjoy and relish life, escapism really. 2 years later, in '99, I visited my sister who was attending the same summer session I had 4 years before her. I stayed in Korea for 2 weeks--during which we visited Hong Kong and Macao. Late last year, I was in Seoul for 10 days on business. I draw whatever opinions and suggestions based on these stays.
My favourite thing in Seoul is defintely the kindness of people. We received a lot of help and assistance on the street and in establishments that seemed to me as 'going out of your way' without asking for it.
So even if Koreans are supposed to be rude, they certainly was not as I experienced them.
Favorite thing: I´ve been there just for a few hours. I was travelling to NZ with KOREAN AIRLINES. I´ve found out that the KOREAN people are very friendly and try to help where ever they can. I think the next time I´ll make a stop for a few days to discover this land and it´s people.
Fondest memory: Everyone in Seoul is so nice and helpful. The people here went out of their way to help when I was having a hard time with directions or trying to figure out where to go on the subway.