After leaving the humid and hot region of South East Asia I’ve moved a lot farther north and am now in ‘proper’ winter. It’s pretty cold here in Seoul, -11 as of writing this, and waters are frozen, fingers and red and without feeling. It’s a lot more christmassy ^^
Not only is the climate a far cry from where I’ve been so far, it’s clearly a much more developed country. Now there are multiple reasons as to why this is I’m sure but I feel a lot of the credit should go towards one of their kings born in the late 14th century. But more about him later.
Seoul is a pretty place but without sounding harsh it’s not too interesting. I would gladly come back but I feel it’s more somewhere you would go for eating and drinking (the kind of things that escape my budget) more so than just ambling around aimlessly. That being said the country itself is interesting and has a good array of museums, many of which are free to enter, which talk about the history of the country through various periods of its life. Speaking of food and drink, there is plenty that is available to the more budget weary, street food still being the main staple of the diet, it is just more expensive than places like Vietnam (god that country was beautifully cheap). I would take photos of the food but don’t really see the point when others with better cameras than mine and macro lenses and the like have done so already. In the cold weather one of the things you see everywhere is the perfect food to fuel the furnace that is your body temperature. “Tteokbokki“, which has various spellings, is a pasta like dish made of thick cylindrical rice pasta cakes in a hot tomatoey, spicy, salty, sweet sauce. It’s fairly cheap and packs quite a punch. I’m not the best with spices and this definitely was towards my limits but I was able to manage it with some water and it really was rather yummy. After that with my sweet tooth I found a place that was frying dough and covering it in cinnamon and sugar. Anything like that always gets my vote so I grabbed one of these “Hotteok“. Watching it sit there in bubbling oil I knew how terribly unhealthy this was but had a look around and noticed that the majority of the people were thin so it can’t be THAT bad. Also it’s cold and I needed the calories and some sugar!
Those are just two of the things I tried there’s plenty more but a quick google search will give you the rest of the national dishes. I did manage to find some time and a few nice routes to just walk around but given the temperature it became less and less appealing the further I got from my hostel. There’s plenty of lovely tall glass buildings, some nice modern architecture going on and plenty people watching to do (there was some political thing going on in the main square).
So I mentioned King Sejong, and here he is in all his golden beauty. This is actually an entrance to a small exhibition including the ‘Story of King Sejong‘, you just need to go to his rear and enter the basement…that sounds naughty. Now obviously it’s all recorded and who knows how accurate it is, whether he really is as great as they say, but if he truly did the things they mention then he sounds like a pretty stand up guy. He was a keen inventor and made many contributions to early technology, astrology and science. All impressive feats but the most interesting thing for me, partly as a teacher, was his desire to increase literacy amongst the nation.
Previously, as with many Eastern Asian languages, Korean used lots of the Chinese characters which are quite complex being made up of ideographic, phonetic and logographic elements. With this in mind King Sejong decided to create a new alphabet for Korean that was entirely phonetic and worked around principle sounds being used and then chunking them together to create more complex syllables. In this regards it’s similar to hiragana or katakana in Japanese and is one reason I think it’s a lot easier to learn. Actually creating a new alphabet is probably a pretty thing to do. Approaching it scientifically and mathematically even more so. Yet the most impressive thing for me is the genuine care he had for his people if this is all true. He created a new alphabet to make it easier to learn to read and write. Basic literacy is such an important skill in learning, developing and progressing, both individually and on a national scale. I don’t know enough about it all to be honest this is only from a cursory glance within a museum. I do plan to read more about him as I think that that was a stellar move on his part.
Leaving Seoul I will be heading to Busan in order to hike some mountains, eat more food, probably get a haircut, and eventually, fly to Japan!