I’m on the very efficient airport shuttle bus taking me back to Incheon airport from the Plaza hotel in Seoul, South Korea after 5 days of work following on from Malaysia. Knackered as always.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Seoul which grows each time I come. Unlike a lot of the fleeting visits I have to various cities around the world, Seoul is more inclusive and the people allow you into their lives. It’s an incredibly forward thinking country, embracing technology in every part of life, investing in education and valuing family life.
As part of my new policy to say yes to anything sounding vaguely different I found myself agreeing to a morning run (on a Saturday of all days) up a large hill with the N Tower on the top. I was invited at breakfast, looked out the window at the crisp, clear view and decided I had to, even though I haven’t been on a run for months. It is autumn at the moment and the colours are fantastic – reds and bright yellows against sharp blue skies. The perfect temperature too. We started in the city and soon found ourselves at the bottom of the peak, which seems to be a popular spot on a weekend for a walk/run/cycle. The leaves had been swept into patterns like hearts and shamrocks; the kind of detail in public service that simply doesn’t happen in the west. There was a great atmosphere, lots of laughing and smiles as we jogged on through the groups of middle-aged Korean hikers.
At one point we slowed and a trail runner started giving one of our group a push up the hill, shouting “faster, faster” with a big grin before taking our photos. The last section was particularly steep and painful, but worth it for the views at the top and the craziness that greeted us.
Those that make it to the summit are rewarded with various activities to keep you busy: there are traditional Korean costumes you can borrow for photos, some guards on a battlement complete with long beards and lances, some young martial artists demonstrating samurai sword skills and the campest karate exercise class in the world. I darted around taking photos of all of these and then started to join in with the karate just as they decided to stop. Mildly offensive I thought.
The run down was easy and glorious and I felt so good afterwards I went to the gym for another half an hour. Nobody likes a show off.
After work had finished later that day I headed out with some colleagues for a beer and a traditional Korean BBQ, the pinnacle of social eating. Any meal where you get to play with your food is good with me. I went on to to a bar in Shinchon where you order small, medium or large glasses, the largest of which is about a metre tall, and sit them in a frozen hole in the table to keep them cool. Two of the girls we were with were gay and wanted to show us “homo hill”, a few streets in Itaewon where the gay bars are. With my new yes policy I decided why not and jumped in a cab.
There were several moments of discomfort during the night (a guy trying to give me a massage, getting my arse pinched several times, one guy trying to full on gyrate against me) but it was an incredibly fun night overall. Most Koreans would be shocked that such places exist in their country I think – certainly the Korean we took with us was. It was different and the group I was with were fun and I needed a night out after a week and a half of non-stop work.
I’m so happy to be coming home, with no travel planned and a long Christmas break coming up. You’ll be 22 months old and it will be fun to see you tearing open presents and getting excited.