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With hair color ranging from blonde to mermaid and hip-hop echoing through alleys, people in Seoul know they’re too cool for you. After a few nights through Hongdae and Itaewon, the city proved that individualism is strong here. Restaurants display blunt signs like “this shit is good”, an intimate toy shop declared it was “open all night baby”, and witty graphic apparels are a staple here.
Seoul was the kind of cold that requires actual winter clothes, the kind of cold that makes you hate your trendy but impractical Northface jackets for existing. For five days, we wore all our clothes at the same time. Every time I took my gloves off to take a picture of anything, I considered just downloading stock images instead for this post.
The more superficially profound observation thus far has been the major role Instagram plays to unify the global culture. We’re all trying to find our edge, curate the happy part of our lives, and be selfie-ready at all times. The entire world is watching themselves dress up and eat food that defines your city. Fried chicken and Korean BBQ restaurants line narrow alleys. Even if you’re not hungry, you’re caught ogling at the street cart owners prepare food. If you hid all the signage and dropped me in the middle of either Seoul or Brooklyn, I wouldn’t know the difference.
Hot topic: Skincare
The preoccupation with perfect skin would be obvious to a first time visitor who had no idea a prolific obsession such as this could exist. Both Korean men and women have clear, pearly skin that could compete with a new born baby’s butt. We spent the first night at a Korean spa (called Jjimjilbang) and found most women sitting around with escargot face masks. I needed no further convincing. The next day, I went to a few shops dedicated to skin care and facemasks and bought whatever sounded the most witch-crafty to redistribute among friends at home.
Protip #1: Guided tours
Until now, the idea of guided group tours filled me with utter disdain. However, this was the first time I've experienced that unless you knew someone who spoke the language or lived there, it’s a challenge to learn the city. If you come here, tours are worth it. This trip was also saved by old and new friends we met up that are stationed through the Air Force in South Korea.
Protip #2: Be prepared to get lost
Google maps and Apple Maps have to be used in tandem because though one might help you find a place, the other would have to be used to navigate. Locals rely on other apps but no one seemed to know how to put in English mode. The subway system is excellent but if you need to grab a cab, you have to be sure to have the location screenshotted in Korean. These were all very spoiled, American problems I suppose.
Protip #3: Come with time during a not cold season
What I need to research since this visit:
- Korean Hip-Hop Culture: how did this happen and why aren’t we talking about this more than K-Pop?
- Conscription: mandatory two-year military service because crazy North Korea became a thing
- Follow up to #2, Gun Control: despite the imminent threat that looms a few kilometers North, gun regulation in South Korea is tight. People are trained on how to use guns but mostly can’t/don't own guns. For half of America, this is understandably unthinkable.
- Itaewon and Texas: I get the abundance of LA and NYC hats but we saw a lot of Texas signs and references. “Why does Itaeweon like Texas?” provided no results on Google but the little part of us that was homesick appreciated the Texas themed restaurants we visited.
Side note: Korean Spa’s can also be found in America and are worth a visit, see previous post when I made a friend go through this for the first time.
Photos: I had tears forming in my eyes that would eventually freeze on my cheeks when wind would blow through so a lot of these photos are iPhone because nothing was worth taking my gloves. However, some of these photos look amazing and that's because Omair graciously edited them - check out his work here.