Everyone has that one friend they love to hate.
She always wants to go out, keep busy, meet new people; she encourages you to spend all your money, depletes your energy and sometimes makes you want to scream with frustration. Yet- she is the subject of many memories, appears in all your photos, is full of secrets and always has something fun going on. She tempts you constantly, exhausts you in all ways, juggles many things at once and never seems to sleep or calm down. As much as you want to stay away, keep your distance from and ignore her, in the end you know her too well to give her up- her loves and hates, the way she smells, how to handle her and the way she can always draw you in.
Seoul is my friend that I love to hate. As much as I loathe the dirty pavements and subway stations that are choked with people, the traffic and that polluted air, I always find myself drawn back to the city with the pulsating energy that you can feel as soon as you arrive in it.
Now despite what Faraaz may write, Seoul (or any other Asian capital city) bears no similarity to Johannesburg. And this is coming from someone who has been to a few Asian capitals, ridden the Gautrain in Joburg and looks for bits and pieces of South Africa wherever I go. No African city has the massive number of people that Seoul has; that sophisticated infrastructure and the breath-taking public transport system. Faraaz was overwhelmed (I could tell) and I don’t blame him. Seoul still overwhelms me despite spending most of last year in the city.
Moving on, after our serene visit to the pretty Bogeunsa temple, we jumped on the subway again and went to Gangnam (a nearby suburb in Seoul). Gang-nam means ‘south of the river’ and is on the East side of Seoul. Famous for being one of the two wealthiest areas in Seoul, we set about looking for a place to dine and meet our friend Shardale. With the help of my iPhone, we stumbled upon the Indian Curry House. After we sat inside, we noticed the dingy and dark exterior of the place and prayed that our food would be decent. The menu required some translating but eventually we all ordered a spicy prawn curry with garlic nan. I was initially sceptical about this restaurants version of Indian style curry, but after I started digging into my food, I was pleasantly surprised at its authentic flavours. I am not true connoisseur of Indian food (ok yes I am), but there was a unique flavour from this place that led me to conclude that this restaurant serves out some awesome deliciousness. The food was extremely reasonably priced with perfect sized portions. All curries come with a plate of rice at no extra cost. (For directions to this restaurant, please scroll to the bottom of this post).
We continued our adventure in across Seoul and headed north to Jongno to watch the Lotus Lantern Parade. We arrived in the middle of the parade but miraculously managed to get a decent spot to watch the proceedings. The Seoul Lantern Parade is where endless Buddhist organizations and temple patrons come together to hold a parade in honor of the Buddha. I was honestly amazed at how many people were participating and at how many lanterns there were. Anyway the pics are much better than my words so take a look at my happy snaps:
After the parade we said goodbye to Kerissa and ended off the weekend in Seoul Station where we had some dessert and awaited our train home.
For almost anyone who travels, there’s a certain romance associated with rail travel that other modes of transportation can’t quite match. Flight had its moment of glam in the post-war years, but few still find anything romantic about the process of contemporary air travel with its steadily decreasing comforts and increasing security indignities. Boat travel within developed countries all but doesn’t exist, and cruises aren’t so much travel as the holiday itself. Trains, however (and their whiff of outdatedness for long distance travel may in part explain this), still evoke a certain charm, a sense that wonderful things might happen not only at your destination, but on your way there. The names of the great routes – the Orient Express, the Trans-Siberian, the Blue Train – and the great stations – Grand Central, Union, Gare du Nord, St. Pancras – reflect that. It’s no coincidence that the Hogwarts Express was a steam train and not a jetliner. Magical people take the train.
Seoul Station (서울역) is bright and airy, and it handles its bustle well. Lined with fast food places and shops, it also has floor exhibits where the likes of Chevrolet show off their latest products, but the tall, high windows create the feeling of space, and people move through the station efficiently. A department store is attached to both the first and second floors of the station, and on the upper concourse, in addition to a food court, you’ll also find space for photo exhibits and the Open Concert Hall, where two pianos and a keyboard sat at the ready.
After indulging, we walked toward the train platform and were briskly making our way there when a line of yellow tape that I spotted on the ground caused me to stop in my tracks and point it out to Faraaz. On the tape was text that read, in English, ‘We Trust You: (Only paid customers can cross this line.)’ That was the security check. All of it. Of course, tickets are (sometimes) checked on the train, but there were no guards, no metal detectors, no baggage inspection. It was remarkable, and even though we had no intention of sneaking onto a train it seemed so good-natured, so trusting, so esteeming of our integrities that the yellow line actually made us pause and consider for a moment whether or not we should cross it. It was one of those moments where I realise why I love Korea.
After an exhausting weekend, we collapsed when we reached my apartment and spent the rest of the weekend being lazy! This weekend Faraaz becomes a millionaire, heads to a DJ Festival and I celebrate Kerissa’s birthday before I travel to a pretty little island down South with my girlfriends. Until next week, readers!
(To get to the Indian Curry House Vin 103, use exit 9 of Gangnam Station. Walk towards the Gangnam CGV cinema, once you get there turn right and take the road between the 7-11 and the Co-Co Curry House. Indian Curry House Vin 103 is a little further up on the right hand side opposite the C’Etait Bien European Tea House. You can visit their cyworld page or call them on 02 508 8717.)