Living in Seoul – ‘Soul of Asia’
Seoul calls itself the Soul of Asia on the many tourist map and flyers distributed around the 12 million inhabitant city. Given the opportunity to spend almost 7 weeks in the city, the plan was to put this assertion to the test.
The first weekend was quite ‘slow’ mainly due to the jet lag which is supposed to be worse when traveling eastward. The first ‘night-out’ was the dinner with the Global Business division junior staff and the vice-president. The Koreans have interesting habits which lead them to going out on weekdays and showing up to work after a heavy night both in terms of food and drink (alcohol) consumption. According to different rankings, Korea is the Top5 or Top10 countries by alcohol consumption per capita. I believe this comes as a result from the fact that it is quite usual to drink on working days with dinner or food in general.
The Junior dinner was an interesting night out – we’ve changed three venues, having started in a traditional Korean beef restaurant and then moved to a bar, we’ve ended up in a karaoke spot. In Korea, the Karaoke concept is a bit different from the Japanese one – unless you’re really good at singing, you only make a fool of yourself within a group of people as everyone books their own private rooms rather than the whole venue altogether in the Japanese case. Once was more than enough.
As I am living in the central ‘Gangnam’ district of the city, the offices as well as clubs and bars are just a 15 minute walk away. The central Gangnam ‘strip’ is surrounded by two smaller lanes of bars, cafés and restaurants which are packed with groups of young people during most weekday nights and especially the weekends. Even though the place is not as popular with tourists as Itaewon (an area around an old US Army Base which is the tourist hub in Seoul), there are quite a few non-locals around as well. I was lucky enough to have the chance to watch the Olympic football match between Great Britain and South Korea in one the bars in Gangnam – packed with young people, drinks, fruit salads and electro music – this was the first time a was watching football in such a ‘clubby’ venue and I enjoyed it quite a lot.
Apart from the bars in Gangnam, I was lucky enough to have had one of the most epic birthdays of my entire life during the time here in South Korea last week. I was congratulated by my colleagues on Friday and left for Cheongpyeong (an area 40 miles outside of Seoul) at 7.15 in the morning to go wakeboarding/waterskiing. It was the first time I was wakeboarding on a river being pulled by a boat and not a wakeboarding cable – great fun. As I have gone with the Samsung SDS ‘Wakeboarding Community’ it was also a great time to meet people from other departments, service lines or even companies and to network. My advice to anyone reading this would be to make the most use of these kind of opportunities, either in SDS or any other company and to ask HR colleagues to get introduced to any ‘communities’ or ‘activities’ as such (I’ve also been playing basketball with the Basketball Community twice a week and meet quite a few interesting people during the experience).
However, the birthday was not over after Cheongpyeong – I had tickets to the Ultra Music Festival held in the Seoul Olympic Stadium built for the 1988 Summer Olympics that evening. Having met a colleague from Samsung SDS in Cheongpyeong – we both wandered off toward the entry gate after grabbing a shower and dinner in a nearby baseball stadium (number one sport in South Korea). It was a great event with a lot of people, both locals and visitors dancing their legs off to DJ Tiesto, John Digweed, Carl Cox and other well known electronic music DJs/Producers (Skrillex and Steve Aoki performed in the festival a day earlier). In general, the festival culture did not seem to be in any way different than anywhere else in world, only that there were quite a few drink/food stands around the Olympic Complex and one could easily pay using the T-Money card (a card used to pay for public transport and taxis in Seoul and other places around Korea) – Samsung SDS has worked with this solution an again, it’s a good illustration of how technologically advanced South Korea is.
Apart from sports, and nights out I have also been around on a Seoul City Bus tour and went to a local theme park called Lotte World. Usually, Leena and myself (although Leena mostly) would get a lot of attention being tourists and standing out in these places which would make the experience somehow different. If not for that, Seoul is just any other developed metropolis – buzzing and never stopping cards, busy people, neon-lights and advertisements… And the ‘barber’ shops, but I won’t elaborate on these –you’ll have to go Seoul yourself and see what they really are.
As for now, I am looking forward to finishing up the last week of work and go the Demilitarized Zone towards North Korea. We’re also supposed to go to another theme park owned by Samsung Group – Everland. More about those in the next blog entry but as for now the main takeaway is: plan and use your time as effectively as possible, because the weeks just blow by and opportunities like these are very rare and unique, you never know how the extra effort or an extra smile will pay off in the future.
Regards from Seoul,