Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Seoul....is everybody's playground

My name is Alphonse, and I am a Seoulite.

What is a Seoulite, you say? Well, let me explain. A Seoulite is a citizen of Seoul, someone who lives and breathes Seoul, someone who appreciates the experience of daily life in this City, and most of all, someone who enjoys the pleasures and the convenience Seoul has to offer - be it a simple bus ride, a short hike up Namsan, a day of shopping in Myeongdong, an evening stroll along Cheonggyecheon or the banks of the Han River, or even a quick stop for a bite of kimbap in a food stall on a Seoul street.

I have been a Seoulite for a couple of years now, although I am from another country. And even though I am not well-versed with the Korean language, I am happy the City has helped me adapt to its character. All this time, I have enjoyed living in this City, making it into my playground to experience and enjoy life, and I have been telling friends back home about it. One of those friends was so impressed with my stories that she decided to come and visit Seoul. Her name is Maria.

So Maria came to town, as they say. But in this case, she came to the City, bringing along her husband, Angel.

When they arrived, I met Maria and Angel at their hotel near the Seoul City Hall, and I told them that their hotel’s location is quite convenient and near to the business district and tourist spots like the Deoksugung Palace. And as I promised them before they flew in, I introduced them to the city and city life.

Here are the fun places we went to:

City Hall Plaza
Beside the City Hall is a huge mosaic made up of hundreds of individual photographs which, after pasting them together, looked like the ASEM Tower, juxtaposed with Seoul highways. Maria and Angel thought this whole mosaic was very unique and interesting, and excitedly posed in front of the mosaic.

I explained to Maria and Angel that decades ago, there was a stream on this same place but was buried under highway structures. The city government then planned to revive that stream in 2003. So after a couple of years and about US$400 million, the restoration is complete and is considered a huge triumph in terms of environmental impact and urban planning. So that day, Maria and her husband, enjoyed a cool stroll, like any other Seoulite would, along the Cheonggyecheon, where the temperatures around the stream have been proven to be cooler.

The Korea Tourism Organization Center
I also brought them to the Korea Tourism Organization center, whose building is alongside Cheonggyecheon. This center is a one-stop shop for tourists where they can get information and maps of places in Korea, watch Korean movies with English subtitles, buy some gift items at its souvenir shop, pose for pictures wearing the Korean traditional costumes, and ogle at the life-sized photos of Korean actors and actress. So, being a fan of Korean dramas, Maria was ecstatic to see photos of her favorite celebrities. She even posed with the poster for the movie, The King and the Clown, playfully replacing one of the characters’ faces with her own.

The first thing Maria did when we got to Myeongdong was, of course, shop! And like grasshoppers on a garden, we jumped from one store to another, where brand names abound and cheap bargains are everywhere. And when we got hungry, we visited a restaurant famous for their spicy chicken cooked in soy sauce, garnished with sliced potatoes and angel-hair noodles. This delicacy was a lot of joy that we finished the whole platter!
And before leaving Myeongdong, Maria, Angel and I walked up to the Myeongdong Cathedral, where a short prayer for their safe and enjoyable stay in Seoul was said. The three of us, by the way, are Roman Catholics.

Namdaemun Market, Sungnyemun or South Gate, and Namsan
A visit in Seoul is not complete without shopping for cheap buys at Namdaemun Market. There, Maria and her husband bought souvenirs and toys to bring home. After Namdaemun, we hopped over to Sungnyemun or South Gate, which is just nearby. I told the couple that this monument is Korea’s National Treasure No. 1.

From Sunyemun, Namsan or Mount Nam is a good and healthy hike. It took us a half-hour lazy walk to reach the Namsan Park, where a beautiful fountain’s backdrop is the NTower, that pine-needle structure at its peak, which can be seen from almost anywhere in Seoul and in most Seoul postcards. With children playing, birds flying over, and couples strolling around, the Namsan Park was like a world away from the busy life downtown. Maria and her husband both loved the atmosphere of the park as well as the aura of Namsan, abound with nature, cool breezes and great view of Seoul. And Maria and Angel would have wanted to ride the Namsan cable car going up its peak, but we could hardly believe our eyes when we saw the long lines for the cable ride! The couple then realized just how popular Namsan is.
During their stay, while I brought Maria and Angel to places around Seoul, riding taxi cabs, Seoul buses and even subway trains, I think I have successfully turned them into Seoulites. They too have walked the streets of Seoul, savored Korean food, experienced the Korean culture, mingled with local Koreans, shopped around the city, and most of all, realized what a fun city it is, a playground of sorts for both young and old, Korean or foreigner, local or tourist, where there is always something for everyone: shopping, sightseeing, dining, hiking, watching cultural shows, or attending festivals.

Maria and Angel already left the city, but having so much fun and great memories of their stay in Seoul, they promise to be back, this time with their kids.

And wherever they may be now, Maria and Angel, like me and countless others who have lived, enjoyed, savored and experienced Seoul, will always be Seoulites, and Seoul will always be their playground.

As it is easy to love and easy to enjoy, Seoul is and will always be everybody’s playground.

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