Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Soul of Asia

This was my forth trip to Seoul and its growing on me. I picked up a small booklet produced by lonely planet at the Korean air check in Counter. It’s called ‘Seoul Asia’s hidden treasure’

It is full of tourist hype
‘Way back in the 20th century, Seoul was a bustling Metropolis looking to make its mark on the world stage. With unbridled energy, spirited passion and a sense of identity forged by its own Asian mystique and 21st century dreams of peace and prosperity, Seoul can now claim place as one of the world’s great cities. It’s nothing like you expected and everything you hoped for.’

The booklet tries tackle what it calls 3 myths about Seoul 
(a) Its expensive 
(b) Language is a barrier   
(c) Seoul is just another Asian Mega city
In some way all 3 myths are true, and I have certainly thought them myself. It’s certainly a lot more expensive than many Asian cities, although as the book points out, affordable options are available and good food can be had on a tight budget. I find that like in many other Asian cities, a lot of people do speak some English, but getting around can be very confusing. And there are many places where English is not spoken and yes, that is either an barrier or an opportunity. But if Seoul is really going to make it on the world stage then presumably it needs to embrace the Global Market language. Or is that my prejudice shining through? Seoul is BIG, (some 10 million) it is fast paced and there is a lot of concrete around. The buildings are huge and plentiful. Its also a very useful and vibrant commercial hub in East Asia

And there is so much that breaks out of the urban jungle, like flowers in the cracks -the courtesy and hospitality, the tradition and culture, and a sense of vitality and drive. And the food is so exotic and varied and interesting (except for sea cucumbers - Yuk!) But bulgogi (barbequed beef) and Soju (a sort of rice vodka) - Yummy! And a sense of gentile sophistication and artistic appreciation. Which is why, I suppose, the tourist board posers advertise Seoul as the ‘soul of Asia’.

Not far from the Anglican Cathedral (and the British embassy) where I was staying in a peaceful Convent. is Changdeokgung Palace with it daily changing of the guard. A colourful, musical extravaganza of traditional dress and ceremony. Pomp and circumstance. And within the palace peaceful gardens and traditional wooden buildings and slate roofs. I visited last time I was here and then I also visited the Chong Dong theatre and its cultural show with its astounding synchronized Korean drumming.

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One place I really love to walk is along the Cheonggyecheon Stream.     A revitalization effort by an enlightened city council, 6km of roadway was dismantled and the stream uncovered and then sculptured and developed into an urban ecological park. At one end in Cheonggye Plaza there is a Fountain Waterfall and after dark light show. Gardens, grasses, bridges, stepping stones, even an underground art gallery, the stream winds its way though the city amidst High rise buildings, but for the length of the walk you are transported into an tranquil green wonderland.

I think every city should have one

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