Me, Scott, Andrew, Katie, and Peter were in Seoul this past weekend. These are just a few things that captured my notice (though the more specific chain of events are covered on Scott's blog, since it was his birthday weekend).
Foreigners are everywhere in Seoul. At least in the areas with the most nightlife and shopping. As a result, it's not necessary to speak Korean. We tried a few times at restaurants, but with us trying to speak Korean and them responding in English, it started to feel a little bit silly. You would be hard pressed to find difficulty in getting around, as there is English everywhere.
The restaurant options are also more diverse, and many bars are Western styled with most of the space for standing or dancing. Where we went in Shincheon, it was very strange to see that most of the people in the bars we went to were not Korean. And the Koreans I did encounter at these bars were very outgoing and spoke at a high level of English.
Another interesting thing I found was that the foreigners in Seoul act very differently to each other than they do in Andong. In Andong, if we see another foreigner we usually are very neighborly, because A) they probably also live here, or B) they are a tourist and might be disoriented in a more traditional town. In Seoul, foreigners are more like strangers on the street. the anonymity is almost unsettling after two months in my smaller city.
2. The Chair District
Apparently Seoul has large districts devoted to single items. Not knowing this at first, I was starting to grow suspicious after five blocks of chairs. As if that weren't strange enough, almost none of the thousands of chairs seemed to have a matching mate. There wasn't a single era, function, or style of chair missing representation. They were stacked and pushed together, sprawling from the inside of small shops to the street. It was almost impossible to tell where one shop stops and another starts; it all blends together.
There are so many different angles poking out amidst this giant mass of chairs. It would be impossible to choose one among the number of them, and almost a little wrong; like taking a distinct color or shape out of a cubist painting.
3. Dongdaemun's Clothing Market
While the guys (Scott, Andrew, and Peter) were at sauna, Katie and I took off for some shopping. We did actually find a popular shopping district near a women's college, but on a tip from Katie's co-teacher we set off for the Dongdaemun subway stop to find some sort of amazing shopping building. It took about an hour and a half to find the place, where we got lost in the sea of chairs and found a gigantic food market that almost turned me full blood vegetarian, but we finally found the place. It was right across from the old Dongdaemun gate, which is striking against its modern day backdrop.
What we discovered was the longest building possibly ever constructed. Standing at one end, it's impossible to see the end of it, as it runs parallel to a small section of river. Inside, what we found what was probably the wholesale shopping heaven for older women in Korea (pictured below is the one place I found a gap in people to take a picture, which was the most youthful of the sections). The clothes were mostly a little too petite and outside of our age group, but the place itself was remarkable.
It was divided into small booths in one endlessly long, windowless, hallway that stretched the entire length of the building. After 40 minutes of walking without getting a glimpse of an end, we did finally bail out. To walk the whole thing would end only in fatigue for those not fortified with an iron will for shopping. Perhaps with time and practice, I will be ready to try again.