As soon as I landed in the UK, I was on the phone to recruiters (serious; I had a phone interview in my taxi from Heathrow to Peckham). I’ve been on a mad hunt looking for the perfect job**, freelancing, travelling up and down between Cornwall, Northern Ireland and London and somehow in all of this, I stopped taking the time to write. As pithy as it can oftentimes be, I find blogging to have some level of therapeutic comfort. I write a hell of a lot outside of blogging (poetry; prose; some cringeworthy soul-searching journaling that really ought to be burned pronto), but blogging feels like more of an ‘accomplishment’. Maybe it’s because it’s the only non-professional writing I do that isn’t kept behind lock and key. Anyway, I’ve been totally out of sorts lately (mainly due to an unhealthy dosage of mid-twenties heartbreak, cue sympathy) and I’ve only just realised it’s because I’ve been trying to distract myself with the wrong things. So New Years’ Resolution number one is coming in a day early: write more, and write for fun.
*Actually, I thought I’d have all the time in the world while travelling, thus blogging erryday. Au contraire, me.
**Things I’ve learned: if a big part of your life isn’t quite what you’d hoped it would be, don’t lock yourself in just because you’d feel too guilty to ditch it.
Anyway, 2004 emo WordPress heart-spilling aside, I’ve had a small handful of questions asked of me a large handful of times over the past month. “How was it?” “Where all did you go?” “What was your favourite place?” “Seoul?! Why?” I always answer them clunkily, particularly that last one; but I’ll try and articulate it a little better here. I was always better at jotting things down than saying them aloud.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I visit a place and while I can’t put my finger on why, I fall in love with it and feel instantly at home. This happened in Seoul (and truthfully, the only other place it’s happened to me thus yet is in San Francisco). It’s a sleepless city steeped in its own moxie – honestly, it makes New York seem positively lethargic – but I’ll try and tangibly explain what I mean. These are the reasons why I love Seoul just a little too much.
Perhaps it’s just me being used to the stand-offish, British stiff upper lip, but I was overwhelmingly charmed by the Korean warmth and openness.
The people I met were emotional and loving without a hint of self-indulgence. Every day, I had new people come up to me in the street and introduce themselves, just to have a chat. Sometimes I’d be looking at Google Maps and they’d check I wasn’t lost; another time a girl just started chatting to me about the camera around my neck. It felt totally normal to exchange numbers and make plans to hang out the following day.
Likewise, I absolutely fell in love with the translator on a walking tour (she’s the most open-hearted girl in the world!) and she took me out for different traditional Korean foods for the last few nights of my stay.
The people of Seoul and their willingness to be vulnerable made me feel like it was a really safe, relaxed place. Basically, it felt like anyone could be your buddy within five minutes. In the case of a particularly elusive character who goes only by the moniker ‘Mr Y,’ I’d end up bumping into him not once, not twice, but three times and he’d end up taking me to an underground darts bar that was accessible only behind a fake street vending machine. Seoulites are just as lovely as they are kooky.
Hear me now: if you go to Seoul, you’ve got to stay in the Lazy Fox hostel. Despite telling myself I really ought to be exploring other corners of this huge, sprawling city, I went back again and again.
I met a few people who were second-or-third-timers as well; and most of the first timers seemed to have come on the recommendation of travellers they’d met in other countries. People love Lazy Fox. Why? Mainly because of Sunny and Kim, the wonder women who run the place. They’re always up for taking you out to the best fried chicken or Korean BBQ place, and on Wednesdays, Sunny makes everyone lunch so we can all experience Korean home cooking. Plus, as per reason #1, they’re typically lovely and will go out of their way to make sure you have the best time! If you’re there in holiday season, Sunny’s 7 yo daughter Ruby will deck the place out in her cuuute little crafts too ^_^ It’s small enough/big enough to be sociable, it’s waaaays cleaner than most other hostels and best of all, it’s right in the middle of Hongdae. Which brings me onto the fact that…
Ok, so if I actually lived in Seoul, I might say to others what others said to me: “are you 21 or something?!” Hongdae is a portmanteau of Hongik University, the premier creative university in Korea, which has its campus spread out over these ends. Pretty much everyone here is 21 or younger; apart from the relatively few tourists hyped up on street food sugar. I fell into the latter group for the entire duration of my time in Seoul, so I had a frickin blast. As I understand it, proclaiming one’s love for Hongdae is akin to someone coming to London for the first time and falling hard for Shoreditch (Londoners will snub you as you revel in this sarcophagus of bygone unbridled creativity) but hey; I’m abroad and apparently I’m less pretentious when I’m away from home. Go to Hongik University station, leave via exit 9, turn left past all the street food stalls and take a right. You’ll be on a street filled with performers from 4-10pm. Invariably, there will be singers, rappers and, my favourite, the dancers who blare out the latest K Pop bangers and do a mixture of dance covers and their own routines. And they are so much fun.
Little joke in there for fans of K pop behemoths, Big Bang *teehee*
Believe it or not, this ex-lush hardly drank a drop on her travels until she set foot in Seoul. Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the rest of Korea were all spent dry; and I only had one night immemorially – and wholly accidentally – on the sauce in Japan. If you go to Seoul and stay with Sunny and Kim at the Lazy Fox hostel, they’ll teach you all about the social nuances that distinguish the respectful from the cretins. Go unarmed with this knowledge and you’ll undoubtedly fall into column B.
Military it may seem but hey, I like rules and it makes boozing SO much more fun. Because drinking is such a big part of Korean culture and starts far later in the evening than in the UK, everywhere is open until 5am or thereabouts (and the noraebangs, karaoke rooms, are open 24 hours. YES). I only actually went to a small handful of clubs, but they are totally wild and there’s no holding back. I think I even moshed in one. Good God. I moshed. MOSHED.
Sweet wifi, I’ll never take you for granted again. After a 12 day jaunt across the waters to Japan, where there is NO WIFI TO BE FOUND ANYWHERE, I have never felt so indebted to a public service as I did to the kind folk in Seoul who pump out literally hundreds of thousands of connections across the city. It’s one of the more practical reasons why I love Seoul. You’ll be hard-pushed to find a place without free WiFi; even the average street – regardless of footfall – and the metro stations. For the Instagram-obsessed, or even just Google Maps-reliant, this is the city to be in.
I’ve been getting more and more into drinking good coffee, particularly since I went on a FunZings coffee-tasting experience a few months ago. I’m going to do a separate post on the coffee culture in Seoul, but know this: it’s the coffee capital of the world.
This turned into a way longer post than I was expecting and honestly, I could keep going. I love Seoul. It’s my second home and there’s no WAY I’m shuffling off this mortal coil without squeezing in another 100 visits.