Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Some Soul in Seoul

OK, I know this blog is about Hong Kong, but since I have just returned from a wonderful holiday in South Korea and my heart is warm from all the great things I have seen and experienced, I can't skip mentioning it here. So I'm thinking of this post as part of the experience of living in Hong Kong - in less than 4 hours you can visit many unique places in Asia.

So what is so great about South Korea, or Seoul in particular? Isn't it just like Hong Kong, another busy Asian city? Well short answer - No! It is very different and offers unique experiences for visitors. Of course there are many similarities but let me try capture a few of my impressions:

- Seoul is a Trendy place.

The fashion worn by locals around town look like they put effort in, often MEN more so than women. The jeans are the latest colours and styles, not just navy the blue kind, and I am sure their hair salon budget for the week is more than mine for the year. People blend in with the pin up adverts behind them. And yes, the people are also all beautiful. I know this might sound strange, but statistically there are often a few striking people that stand out, whereas here while walking around everyone has a picture perfect face. Unfortunately from the number of plastic surgery adverts around I'm guessing it may not all be natural. And then no need to mention the skinny look, which is standard in Asia. So in summary a country filled with beautiful, well-dressed people.

The thing I found quite liberating is that the cutesy girly style is all over and accepted by guys and girls alike, but not in a pansy way but in a fun, innocent way. So think Hello Kitty and spread it wider and further than what you have seen before, but also with the happy smiling attitude that goes with it. And then turn it up a notch with Koren Pop - or K-Pop -  music style of Hip Hop dance that is playing in most stores and on the streets.
In case you are not familiar with K-Pop it is a mixture of trendy Western music and high-energy Japanese pop and many K-pop music videos have colourful visuals and a catchy beat. Dance is an integral part of K-pop.
Now personally I don't like Hello Kitty and overly sugary music, but I do like wearing pretty dresses, putting a flower in my hair, carrying a flower Cath-Kidston-type bag around and dancing when the music is right, which is most of the time in South Korea. Even the subways had this little jingle to indicate when the train was arriving that made me wiggle and smile.

In Seoul there is a balance of East meets West - The number of cafes and coffee shops selling copious amounts of coffee Starbucks style, including Starbucks itself, together with US ice-cream & food chain outlets on every street gives the impression that the US has (had?) a large influence in the country. There are of course the local eateries too but the US brands are almost never out of eye shot. Though I'm not sure which has the biggest influence - the US or France - since there were just as many French named bakeries and restaurants, though not French chains, just with French names and deco style.

The buildings and architecture offer interesting contrasts - there are many uniquely designed buildings from those that have a glass bubble popping off the side, to UFO-style bagel-shaped structure floating above it, to the traditional temple design and hanok style houses (houses are still being built like that today). The city felt modern and fresh but also hadn't lost the feel of its heritage.

That's it for today.. watch this space for further comments and pictures coming soon.

Photo Impressions added 5th October:

You too can learn K-Pop!

Street shot:  a guy in his Capri Jeans waiting outside a coffee shop and a couple under an umbrella showcase the fashion

One of the funky buildings

Missing some Dutch coffee anyone?

Shopping street shot  - people posing for a picture

Apparently the world's best coffee?

Even Koreans can be blonde now

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