Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Refuse to Make a Pun on "Seoul", OKAY!?

The first and most shocking thing about Seoul, coming from a one-말 town like Taebaek, was the incredible number of foreigners there. All the clubs I visited, with the exception of one (and honestly, it was so dark and I was so drunk that who's really to say what I saw inside) were at least 70% full of English-speaking foreigners. This is partly, I'm given to understand, a function of the areas we were staying in and partly due to our age and the activities we pursued which totalled three in number: drinking, shopping, and clubbing. (Okay, maybe that's just two activities.)

Korea does employ a large number of English teachers, particularly Seoul, and those teachers tend to be young for all sorts of reasons that are obvious and not worth enumerating here. Young people tend to enjoy partying and even more significantly, teachers in Korea have the disposable income to afford it. I certainly could not afford three nights of clubbing at multiple venues a night in New York--which in retrospect was probably for the best since the physical toll of that much fun... well. It was substantial.

Having that many foreigners around was a mixed bag though. On the one hand, it was nice to see some new faces but mostly it felt unsettling and wrong. As I walked around with fellow EPIK teacher and ex-New Yorker Sue we often would say things like, "This reminds me of the East Village" or "This is exactly like the Meat Packing District". If I had come straight to Seoul from the US it might have seemed exotic and alien but after four weeks in a small provincial city it was all too familiar. Perhaps it's some sort of bizarre reverse snobbery but I have trouble seeing how anyone could get a deep sense of Korean Culture or even the language in a city that's so infested with Foreign influences and accommodating to English speakers.

The other part of it I found unpleasant was that because of the sheer number of foreigners there's not the same sense of community. In Taebaek all the foreigners know each other and make an effort to be inclusive and friendly. Meeting someone on the street, I'll always stop to say hi or even divert my path for some company. Seoul, on the other hand, was a total meat market. I was only approached by boys and only for the one predictable purpose. As soon as the word "boyfriend" came out of my mouth they were gone. The only new acquaintances I made at all were other people staying at my hostel, which I'd totally recommend for anyone travelling on their own or even with friends to Seoul.

On the other hand, Seoul is a pretty exciting place. I bought way too many clothes, drank way too many drinks, and walked the soles off my shoes. I also visited some incredibly beautiful coffee shops and bars that would be remarkable in any city. One bar had the most fantastic (in the original sense of the word) interior design. We described it as Dr. Seuss meets underground cavern meets a Clockwork Orange Milk Bar (pictures to come).

There's so much to see and do in Seoul that I imagine It'll be any number of trips before I can say I've "been there, done that".

I think though, on the whole, that I made the right choice in coming to Taebaek. It's been difficult and at times lonely but I've had more exposure to the language and the people then I think is possible in Seoul. It wasn't totally intentional on my part, but sometimes things just work out the best way.

Pictures to come soon. Thanks for reading.

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