There is a truly terrifying thought running through my head right now.
I have four days left in Korea.
After two years of living in Seoul, the adventure here is ending. While I know, with 110% certainty, that it has to end, that it’s absolutely the right thing and time for a new phase in my life, it doesn’t take away from the fact that leaving is breaking my heart.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to love it here. I’d heard a million and one horror stories. But somehow, despite my original misgivings, Seoul and Korea completely enraptured me. I discovered a country and a culture that I’d had barely any understanding of, that knocked me over and made me fall head over heels.
Leaving has become one serious emotional rollercoaster.
Here is just a short look at why I love this place, and what I’ll miss the most.
(I’ll try not to cry as I write it.)
1. The energy
People say New York is the city that never sleeps, but that’s a joke compared to Seoul. At any hour of the day or night, you can find people out eating, drinking, partying, socialising, and living it up. Once darkness falls, neon covers every surface and LED lights call out the presence of booze, movies, games, art, and debauchery. When my father visited, one of the first things he commented on was the energy – ‘Seoul is definitely a young person’s city.’ As someone who likes to go hard when out with buddies, this place suits me just fine ;)
2. The food
Though being a vegetarian in Korea is definitely a challenge, one of the things I love the most about this country is the food. Spicy tofu stews, savoury vegetable pancakes, sushi style kimbap rolls, fresh salad bibimbap, sweet shaved ice patbingsu and even the takes on Western food like dessert waffles all made sure we’ve been well fed over here. Korean cuisine is definitely my new comfort food.
3. The Konglish
One thing that steals my heart about Korea is spotting all the awesome, confusing, hilarious and sometimes baffling use of English. No wonder it’s called an international language – so many countries have their own takes on it. Although I have to say, even though I’ve been here for two years I only just purchased my first piece of Konglishy clothing: a loose summer top with ‘STICK LOVE U’ printed across the front. Any ideas what the designers were really trying to say?
4. The cafe culture
Though Seoulites love brand names and chain coffee shops are ubiquitous, Seoul is also rife with one of the best cafe cultures I’ve come across. In every neighborhood you’ll find small, independent cafes with the biggest personalities. We’ve been to dog cafes, cat cafes, book cafes, maid cafes, cafes built in abandoned factories, cafes with VW vans as their counterspaces, cafes in traditional hanok buildings, even cafes with pet sheep to play with. There’s really no excuse to ever patronise Starbucks in this town.
5. The adorable neighborhoods
Seoul is pretty pedestrian friendly, and one of the most interesting things to do on the weekend is walk around its neighborhoods. From the crowds of the art university district in Hongdae, the foreign hipster enclave of Noksapyeong, the quiet mountain roads of Buam-dong, and the hidden galleries in Samcheong-dong, I never, ever felt bored on a day off to explore.
6. The nature
Ok, I’ll admit it – Seoul is not exactly known for its greenery. Being one of the biggest cities in the world, it’s understandable that you sometimes feel entrenched in a concrete jungle with nary a shrub in sight. However, when you do find them, Seoul does have some pretty amazing green spaces. Olympic Park down south, the hiking trails in Bukhansan Mountain in the north, and the reclaimed stream Cheonggyecheon running through downtown (with water shows, walking paths, and shady hide-aways galore) are just a few. Personally, I think it’s the contrast of going from grey, industrial cityscape to verdant summertime paradises that makes them so striking.
7. The art scene
While the expat art scene tends to be fairly small and easily accesible, it took a while to get into the local art scene in Seoul because of the language barrier. However, once you can finally poke your head into it, you’ll find street art groups who take over abandoned neighborhoods, performance artists who invite the public to monthly jam sessions, and a growing culture of creatives moving away from traditional conformist tendencies to individual expression. There are big things in the works in this city.
8. The men
Yep. Yes. ;)
9. The culture
I knew next to nothing about Korean culture before I moved here (outside of the information in a few culture shock books), so when I first arrived I was pretty floored by the incredibly rich, long-standing culture that I found. From traditional hanbok clothing, wood-and-tile hanok architecture, loud percussive pansori music, and even the newer B-boy culture (see #8), I still feel like I learn something new every day that I’m here.
10. The people
Seoul itself is astounding. Korea itself is amazing. But, I have to admit that a large part of my experience here is because of the people. By some unbelievable stroke of luck, I found one of the tightest groups of friends in this city. Most of us have been together since day 1, and over the past two years we’ve become a close as a family. I love these people unconditionally, and Seoul would never have been the same without them.
Four days. Just four days and my entire life will change, again. It’s bittersweet that this phase of life is ending, and though I know I’m onto another great adventure, I feel so thankful every day that I made the leap to move here, and found the lifestyle that I did. Thinking back on the past two years has made me feel like the luckiest gal on the planet.
So kamsahamnida, Seoul. Saranghe ♥
(photos with yours truly in them have been pilfered from the amazing Ferj, Dan, Cait, Eunsuk, and Jess. 내가 여러분도 사랑해!! ^^~)