This, I thought to myself, would never happen in Japan.
During my three day trip to Seoul - barely a two hour flight away - I experienced a glorious culture shock whirlwind of language, food, people and culture. It all happened at once. Less than two weeks ago, Ryan, one of our friends and I decided spontaneously to go to Korea. We bought cheap flights on the new budget airline Peach, booked accommodation on Hostelworld.com, and armed ourselves with the Lonely Planet Seoul travel guide and a 'Survival Korean' language book. Then we were off.
Walking through Hongdae, the university district where we were staying, at midnight on the Wednesday night we arrived, I was surprised to see almost everything was still open, and people were everywhere. Neon lights with hangul characters twinkled invitingly, rainbow-coloured pamphlets advertising clubs, restaurants and shows littered the ground. The smell of barbecued meat and kimchi wafted outside through open doors, followed by the sweet scent of squeezed lemons as we walked past one of the many lemonade stands dotted around the nighttime streets.
The people were open, too. Young couples walked around holding hands, making out, not caring who was watching. Crossing busy roads, people weren't afraid to touch you, in order to jostle past. The older men and women working the street vendor stalls gossiped away as they stirred big, bubbling pots of orange topogi, and twirled sticks of vegetables and hot dogs into vats of oil. As we lined up for a hot dog, the woman at the stand used her spoon to nonchalantly fish a hair out of the topogi pot. It didn't seem to matter.
|Night scenes in Hongdae|
|Sipping on homemade lemonade served in a plastic bag.|
|Scenes at the Namdaemun market|
Myeong Dong was Seoul's equivalent of Harajuku, teeming with fashion, and popular chain stores such as Forever 21, H&M, and Uniqlo. All sorts of interesting people could be found here - from young men in full army uniform on dates with their girlfriends, to Korean nuns - there were so many churches in Seoul, neon crosses visible on the skyline in every direction. A guy dressed in a dog costume, advertising a dog cafe. A girl in a Minnie Mouse costume, advertising a cat cafe. There were beauty and skincare shops, which Korea is so famous for, absolutely everywhere. At Skin Food, The Face Shop, Missha and Holika Holika, I bought baskets full of face masks, creams and lotions. These shops smelled amazing - most memorably, Holika Holika smelled like soda, as it had just released a new range of soda-scented beauty products. They also gave out handfuls of free samples and testers with your purchase, which was another incentive to buy things.
|Myeong Dong shopping area|
|Looks a bit like Harajuku, don't you think?|
|Cat cafe this way.|
|Design on the palace|
|Changing of the guards ceremony|
|Playground in Hongdae - home to the Free Market|
|Boy band shooting a music video|
|Hello Kitty Cafe|