Tuesday, June 26, 2018

And that's all from Seoul

Sungnyemun, Seoul's historic south gate, was built in the 14th century C.E. It's one of the city's landmarks. 

This is my last blog entry from Seoul. It seems that Seoul doesn't get mentioned very often as a travel destination. Not as charming as Bangkok or as metropolitan as Tokyo or as historic as Kyoto, and located on the Korean peninsula, so not as accessible as Hong Kong or Singapore. But don't overlook Seoul.
Seoul's city hall building stands behind a large public space. 

It's a huge city, the population of the "special city" (a South Korean term for main administrative area of a city) is 9.5 million. The population of the metropolitan area is more than 25 million. Seoul is a megacity, home to South Korea's leading financial institutions many of South Korea's largest manufacturing conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.

Despite Seoul's massive scale it's a pretty easy city to navigate. Seoul was essentially destroyed during the Korean War and then rebuilt following the armistice. So the city was razed in 1950-51 and then rebuilt on a blank slate starting in 1953. Then, when the South Korean economic tiger was unleashed in the mid 1960s, money poured into Seoul and was directed into huge infrastructure projects like the subways and highways. 

The subway system is a thing of wonder. There are 21 subway and light rail lines, with more than 900 km of track (more than 540 miles) that run to every part of the city and into neighboring cities and provinces, like Incheon and even the DMZ (North Korean border). Most of the subway stations double as bomb shelters because North Korea has hundreds of pieces of artillery just north of Seoul and could rain hundreds of thousands of artillery shells into Seoul in an hour if hostilities broke out again. All of this means you can get around Seoul almost entirely by subway. 
A couple relaxes in the "O" in Seoul. 

I wasn't sure to expect of Seoul. I found it huge, a little bewildering and ultimately very satisfying. It feels more authentic (for lack of a better word) than Singapore, which sometimes feels like a Potemkin village.
Part of Namdaemun market, near the South Gate and the beating heart of South Korea's retail trade.
A woman sells traditional Korean treats, made out of glutinous rice, in Namdaemun. 
Dolls for sale in the market. There's been a market on the site since the late 1400s CE.

Don't let Seoul's hypermodernity put you off if you're not a fan of that. There's still plenty to see and do.  
A prayer grotto at the Meyongdong Catholic Cathedral. 
A street preacher on a Seoul shopping street. Christianity is the second largest religion in South Korea. Although technically more South Koreans are Buddhist, so many are non practicing that there are more practicing Christians in South Korea than practicing Buddhists. (56% of South Koreans don't practice a religion. 27.6% are Christian and 15.5% Buddhist.) 

I hope to get back to Seoul in the near future and explore the city more as a tourist.

There are more photos of Seoul in my archive

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