(My Georgetown friends will appreciate the title of this post).
Seoul is huge. I’ve been here for five days, feel like I’ve been going non-stop, and I’m still so aware of the fact that I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of this immense city.
As many of you (hopefully) know, Seoul is the capital of South Korea and is a bustling metropolitan area. What some of you may not know is that Seoul is the second largest metropolitan area in the world (as a frame of reference, Toyko is number one and New York City is number four) and is home to 10 million people. Now that number is not including the huge influx of tourists that you frequently find yourself surrounded by (yes, yes, I know I’m also a tourist, but just humor me here, okay?). Seoul is an incredibly popular destination for Chinese tourists who pour in by the bus-load so when you add these two factors together, it means that it’s crowded almost everywhere you go.
This crowding intensifies another characteristic of Seoul summers: the humidity. It is not necessarily hot here, but the humidity can occasionally be stifling for those of us who are not completely used to it. It’s always just humid enough to push things past their tipping points: the humidity can make you frustrated a little more quickly, can upset your stomach if you’ve eaten too much when you’d otherwise be just fine, can push you to the edge of sleepiness with its blanket-like qualities, and can change a typical, 20-minute, crowded bus ride into your own personal hell.
This humidity, mixed with the air pollution, also creates a hazy effect over the city. When you look into the the near distance, there is a sort of fog or veil over the buildings that you just can’t shake. You can clearly see it in the pictures based on the fuzzy quality of the background. That’s no trick of the camera, that’s just how the city perpetually looks:
But do you know what a great part about being an American tourist here is? The exchange rate and cost of living are immensely favorable. The conversion is currently $1 to ~1,150 South Korean Won and things are typically priced on the cheap side. The exception? Coffee. Coffee from a coffee shop is incredibly expensive in comparison to the states: a small iced coffee is somewhere between 4,000-5,500 won ($4-$5), which is why most people opt for the 1,000 Won (< $1) convenience store brand. But there is no tax on food or clothing, and, get this, you don’t tip (side note: if you have time you should listen to the Freakonomics podcast on tipping).
You know what else is super cheap? Taxis. A taxi ride that would cost about $15-$17 in D.C. is only about $5-$6 here (and, again, no tip). Basically, I’m really loving this (people who know me know that I’m an econ nerd who is a sucker for a good deal).
But enough general information, I know you’re all on this blog just to hear what I’m thinking because I’m so prolific and all that (hah, jokes).
I was having a conversation with my mom in a cab the other day about how we feel like we’re just not in reality anymore.
The typical Lee Family vacation abroad lasts about 10 days, and my awesome, trip-planning father always gets the most out of every single day by making sure we see everything, try everything, and eat everything there is to see, try, and eat in whatever city we happen to be in. We usually end up like this:
This trip is a little different for two reasons (the latter being the most prevalent):
1. My dad is sadly back at home in Albany and neither my mom nor I are as adept at planning days like a trained professional (MISS YOU, POPPA LEE).
2. My mom is here for a month, and I’m here for two.
We simultaneously feel like tourists and locals here (I obviously feel more like a tourist than my mother since…you know…she was born here and actually speaks Korean fluently) and that’s a feeling I’ve never had before. It is surreal and magnificent and I feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to spend this much time here in South Korea (or, as my friends keep calling it, “THE MOTHERLAND!”)
More to come, and all that. Check out the rest of my photos here! (For those in my audience who are technologically less advanced and consequently confused, click the word “here” or the “Photos” tab under the header).