For China’s National Day holiday — the week-long holiday that witnesses 1/5 of humanity all taking their well-deserved vacations to the same places at the same time (worth clicking!) — we decided to make like all the other Chinese of means and just get the heck out. It’s not that we didn’t want to stick around to celebrate the New China’s 1949 liberation from feudalism, superstition and capitalist imperialism. No, it’s just that we coincidentally discovered some really cheap flights to Japan!
Between the Middle Kingdom and the Land of the Sun’s Origin (my own, less-poetic translation of 日本), however, lies another realm: 朝鮮, Land of the Fresh Bright Dawn.
Okay, I know: that translation actually refers to North Korea in common Chinese usage. But irony aside, what we’re talking about here is South Korea. Specifically, Seoul.
Here are a few facts about Seoul: (1) With a population of almost 25 million, about one out of every two South Koreans live in the Seoul National Capital Area; (2) the food is really good; and (3) more ‘facts’ than I have can be found on Wikipedia.
We spent four days in this mega-city before continuing to Japan. Mostly, we marveled at how empty, how low-rise, how slow-paced it all seemed to us. In China, the powerhouse economy is tangible: you dodge it in the packed streets and jumbled sidewalks, breathe it in the dirty air, and see it overhead in the new buildings being torn down to make room for newer, taller ones. In Seoul, a more advanced economy means you see a lot less. The subways fill up at morning and evening rush hours. But in between, everyone clears off the streets and disappears into glass office buildings. And while it seems like everybody speaks good English, they — unlike the ever-chatty Chinese — just see no obvious reason to strike up conversations with foreign strangers, and ask them what their salary is.
Which isn’t to say, of course, that Koreans aren’t fun.
But with nobody to argue with about the number of layers on Owen, and with plenty of obstacle-free sidewalks in front of us, we mostly just walked, and explored, and enjoyed all the peace and quiet in this secluded little mega-city corner of Asia.