Seoul Searching

The onslaught of beautifully designed modern Seoul peeking behind a rare historical neighborhood.

I came to Seoul for a wedding and just did not know what to expect.  From a rural village wedding in China to what I was told is a fashion show extravaganza in Seoul.  All I knew is that Seoul is a big city.  It has certainly proven to be that.  What I’m surprised by is how well public planning was done or how many buildings and spaces I just stand staring at awe and appreciation of.  Their endless sprawl of buildings is cut by a man made river landscaped with rocks, small waterfalls, well lit waterways and lots of plants.  The river is bordered by interstates, but under those are bike and walking paths with parks, sacred trees, and replanted areas.  The national museum is in a former US park with a gorgeous building and has excellent curation and layout.  It is not until we got to one of the royal palaces that the history of war ravage destruction is more obvious.  Korea has charged forward with  modernization that is certainly more aesthetically appealing and pleasant than anything I experience in China.  There is a dark underside though, as Koreans now work ridiculously long hours and have one of the highest suicide rates in the world (even above Japan’s!)  The hard work turns into some long nights as there is definitely a strong alcohol culture here as well.

The wedding itself was as advertised by my high school friend: fast and like a fashion show.  It was like an American drive thru wedding without a car.  The altar was surrounded by spirals of LED lights, the walkways leading up to it covered in color changing lights and fog machines.  Grooms seem to almost run up he walkway to speed up the process.  At one point, the couple is led to an area where they are in sequence to watch a color changing LED self filling fountain of champagne glasses as they quickly link arms to down a sip of champagne before being handed a knife to cut a slice from a cake a foot away.  It is both impressively and terrifyingly efficient.  The entire ceremony lasted all of 20 minutes as people in the hallway and even in the back talked super loudly.  After the ceremony you are led into a buffet area that may as well be a war zone.  I watched one old Asian lady almost bowl me over carrying two heavily laden plates.  The highlight of this was seeing my lovely friend in a traditional hanbok and watching the next two speed weddings on the televisions spread throughout the eating area.

The view from the hill Seoul Tower is on. The bottom right corner is all the locks that lovers place on the fence before chucking the key over the mountain to hit unsuspecting hikers.

On my last day I tried to go to the Leeum Samsung Museum.  It looked like an interesting mix of modern art and traditional art in a spiffy building.  Alas, I have the worst museum luck and it was closed on Mondays.  Slightly defeated, I dragged my friend up a random path that said “playground” for a kilometer straight up.  We ended up on an large empty road surrounded by police completely confused.  Two seconds later, a giant motorcade of black American cars with American flags drove by.  We can only assume we saw President Obama’s motorcade drive by for the ongoing nuclear summit.  Apparently I will get the closest to the president thousands of miles from either of our homes.  We continued onward and upward, stumbling upon a botanical garden and then the path up to Seoul Tower.  From there, I could see the endless sprawl of the city pocked with random hills of nature.  I came not knowing what to expect but I have ended each day impressed by such a seemingly forward thinking and design-centric city.

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