Inside My Seoul
by Tati Zimenko - 4 years ago
‘Hi Seoul, Soul of Asia!’, - they say. It has been more than five years since I said “Hi!” to Asia and engaged myself with Oriental studies, precisely the Two Koreas studies and Korean language. Since then I have had a whole lot of unforgettable experience, regarding people, culture, mountain hiking, spiiiicy food, Buddhism, and so much more. Seoul is the concentration of all the major excitement in Korea and a place to discover Korea’s spirit, dynamic and unique in great many respects. It’s indeed the Soul of Asia. I eager to the opportunity to explain, why.
Let the journey begin…with the history, which traces back to the BC era, WOW! Having survived through ages of old falling and new growing kingdoms, numerous wars and aggression, Seoul is now a fantastic site of the historic and the modern blended together. It was once said that architecture is music still in stone. Well, then Seoul is the orchestra playing traditional, classical and techno jazz music with an intermission for yummy snacks during the intermissions. The Hopeless Wanderer like myself likes to slip through fashionable and cold-looking jungles of skyscrapers to find a moment of piece in one of Seoul’s old palaces, with even the air containing fragrance of the past. This is one of the many reasons why I like Seoul. It never gets you boring with its style. Lakes, parks, towers, old markets, memorable houses of distinguished citizens serving as a symbol of success of Korean people – everything is imbued with the spirit of authenticity seasoned with the clearly tangible touch of modernity. I miss this contrast (a harmonious contrast, I must mention), when I’m away. Part of me always belongs here. Seoul is wise in its philosophy and dynamic in spirit. Young people in suits rushing to work, students get up at 5 am and rush to hagwons, private institutes and schools offering variety of subjects and courses. Even on vacations, there is no time to rest. Both school and college students attend English classes in crazy early or late hours as their life-long-learn-English plan. People are keen on learning this language here! They know, Korea is ahead of its time, and they want to keep the Miracle on the Han River alive. Arrived to Seoul with an early train and dropped by a 24 hrs coffee shop for a green mint mocha (which is just amazing at Gurunaru’s, Korean neat coffee place, in velvet colors, with a somewhat Indian motive)? Don’t be surprised to see people with their heads buried in textbooks .They would even be happy to practice language and talk to your, if they were not so shy.
What’s next? I am absolutely positive: you can’t actually grasp the TASTE of your journey without TASTING the local food! As in any other Asian country, food in Korea has much more meaning to it rather than just satisfying one’s hunger. Every Lunar calendar holiday prescribes to serve certain food, and each has a special meaning to it. For example. Seollal, Lunar New Year’s Day, is a time for paying respect to ancestors, and many Koreans believe that the taste and appearance of ritual foods determines their ancestors' level of satisfaction. That’s why Koreans prepare it with great care: tteokguk (rice cake soup), galbijjim (braised short ribs), japchae (glass noodles with sautéed vegetables – see pic 6), and many others.
Another distinctive feature of Korean food habits is STREET FOOD, running into great variety of all forms and kind. Like-pancake hotteok with a nuts and cinnamon feeling or japchae noodles inside, different ways smoked squids and octopuses, sweet egg bread,- all of these smells, tempts your gustatory receptors and calls you to dive into this parade of street food allure.
Surprising as it is, there is always left a whole lot more to explore!
Finally, soul of every city is its people. And as much as I love this city, I love its people, so different from myself, so alien sometimes, but always sensitive and curious about you. To understand the place you need to get to know those who live there and understand what they think, what makes their living worth, and what they dream about.
So here I am, exploring far and hidden sidewalks, talking to old men playing baduk, a Korean variation of Japanese “Go” game, sharing my thoughts on Korea and Korean people with a person sitting next to me on the train. I know that every second stranger passing by is as potential friend. People altogether, those old men in the park, adzhummas (a woman of middle age, usually referring to the married) selling socks in subway, young ambitious men in a hurry for work, and me – we all make up a soul of Seoul.
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I breathe it, taste it, and touch it… and then I tell you how it feels like, and I bet you, it feels just awesome!