Being in a foreign country (for whatever purpose) can be an experience of the senses. The sights, sounds and smell of a place long linger on after departure, etching a permanent memory. The streets of Seoul, if you can pry your attention away from the many bargain attractions and other shopping distractions, is an interesting pot of experience for the senses as we found out.
Walking on the streets of Seoul, one can’t help but notice that most Korean women (when they do that is) prefer to show more legs than cleavage. Perhaps it’s about walking the fine line and not over stepping the boundaries of modesty, as apparently plunging necklines are generally frowned upon.
Or maybe it’s a case of ‘if you’ve got it flaunt it’ but whatever it is, it’s a little bemusing to see Korean women decked out confidently in shorts and miniskirts while totally giving the cleavage department a miss, even with easy access to the wonders of push-up bras.
In a country known for its aesthetic and plastic surgery impressive portfolio, it doesn’t really come as a surprise initially when one walks the street and sees amazing results of the industry on the faces of Koreans.
Yet somehow, the level of vanity seems to be higher than what was thought. From literally being walking advertisements for respective plastic surgeons and clinics to keeping up with the latest fashion trends and even in mannerisms, one can’t help thinking if Korean women (and a majority of men as well) are too concerned with superficial beauty.
Perhaps it’s more apparent with the current generation of Koreans who can be seen decked out in the latest seasonal clothes often spending more time looking at their reflections in the shop windows than on the walkway.
Then again, if you spent all that money on a nip and tuck, you would want to flaunt the ‘new you’ as much as you can as well.
Furthermore, looking good can elevate one’s confidence but still, on the streets of Seoul it’s become more of a beauty pageant.
Another thing when it comes to looking good; majority of the women look the same! Ironic when you consider the fact that in some ways, they seemed wanting to outdo each other but yet in a society where uniformity is more acceptable, they all end up kind of looking the same.
Even with the aesthetic and plastic surgery resources available, personal choices seem to reflect what is apparent -and to a certain extent- common on the streets. Nonetheless, one thing’s for sure they all look good.
Most of South Korea’s topography is mountainous which literally means having to maneuver up and down on steep slopes. So as we soaked up the sights and sounds on the streets of Seoul, our feet and shins were taking a beating from all the climbing.
It’s amazing to see effortless grace of the natives as they go about their daily chores without even a hint of walking stress.
What’s even more amazing is witnessing the ability of the Korean women in their heels, wedges and shopping bags confidently strutting making the steep slopes looking like a fashion runway or catwalk rather than the obstacles they are (to us at least).
Everywhere around the world; owners out with their dogs on a leisure casual walk. When you go up to them with a smile with the intention to pat or have a closer look at their mutts, they’ll reciprocate.
Not in Korea though.
I realized that dog owners here in general are not as friendly. In fact, their actions come across as defensive even as some would shield their dogs or even walk away when you’re about to pay a compliment on their pet’s grooming for example. I was quite perturbed but then again, perhaps it’s about privacy or maybe personal space.
Still it’s a little strange in a society where not too long ago pampering one’s dog was all the rage, to ignore a potential compliment is seemingly unwelcomed.
All the walking can make you thirsty but if you’re thinking of a nice glass of refreshing fruit juice, think again.
Fruits especially fresh fruits in Korea are expensive! They are considered luxury items and when you consider that the price of a watermelon is about $US27, you would agree as well.
With the change in weather and higher rainfall, one can expect the price of fruits to soar even higher.
Kimchi, the famous Korean side dish either everyone has had a taste of or know of. The kimchi in Korea I find is totally different from the ones back home in Singapore. The ones I’ve had before are usually really sour, pungent and extremely tangy which probably constituted to my dislike for the dish.
In Korea however, I could actually stomach and even dare say, enjoyed the kimchi! Maybe it’s the fact that I was in kimchi-land hence it has to naturally be appetizing but I must reiterate that it’s not that bad after all.
Though, it doesn’t mean I’ll be heading to a Korean restaurant in Singapore for my fix anytime soon. For those of you who are not in favour of Korean food, I bet you will change your mind when your lunch is prepared, cooked and served in the mother land.
Drinking in Korea is a culture by itself. For Koreans, drinking is a way of getting to know what someone is really like. You’re allowed to sit in the park, by the river and even on a University campus and have a few drinks and some snacks with friends.
These activities most often accompanied by drinking games are not restricted to the young or hip.
Businesses and deals are generally signed during these drinking sessions. Most companies in Korea have hoesik (literally, dinner with coworkers; figuratively, official eating/drinking fests involving multiple rounds at multiple venues) at least once a month and sometimes even every week.
Drinking is such a big part of Korean’s daily life that reportedly Seoul’s traffic is said to correspond to the city’s drinking culture for example: there are fewer cars on Monday evenings (big night for Hoesik) as most office workers leave them at work so they can go out drinking.
Korea’s traffic can literally be hell. Buses, cars and just about every motorized vehicles honk their horns in a migraine inducing cacophony that can only be a purveyor of what armageddon might sound like.
Though arguably there are some other parts of the world that can come close in terms of comparison but in Korea even with the constant eagerness of waiting to cross a road; when there are no vehicles people still wait and obey the traffic lights.
This augurs well for the mortality rate of the country as it is a very safe practice.
Meeting the people, soaking in the atmosphere of its bustling city, indulging in the gastronomical delights over the duration of our stay and the eye feast of beauty, plastic and aesthetics, I actually grew pretty fond of this country.
It’s true they say that the world is an oyster and though I wouldn’t go that far when it comes to describing my time in Seoul, nonetheless it was a very pleasant experience of the senses.
I did find kimchi that I like afterall and all that slope maneuvering, well… considering our busy schedule it was a welcomed exercise. Especially the Koreans’ inevitable but stressful conquest to find that perfect face and body.
Korea… till we see you again. Signing off.