Starting the year afresh on foreign grounds does seem like an enjoyable feat. ‘Something different for a change’ is what we would convince ourselves while imagining a plethora of fireworks painting the night sky while pieces of chopped up paper littered the grounds.
Granted, that’s how we would do it back home in Malaysia where the New Year’s Eve celebration is just another excuse to stay out till the wee hours of the morning with an ice-cold mug of beer; unless you prefer to celebrate in the comforts of your warm blanket in which case we will not judge. However, the task of planning for the eve of the New Year would prove to be a demanding one; what do we do? Where do we go?
While roaming the streets of Jamsil-dong, we spot a building at a distance rising overhead much of its surrounding. Due to its overbearing size, we knew that it appeared closer than it actually was, in terms of walking distance. In our defense, we had just shared a hot plate of dak-galbi at Yoogane’s which came at a much needed time considering the temperature was hovering at about 2 degrees Celsius.
Considering the fact that the acceptable distance for walking in the city would be approximately 500m, we being in our mid 20s refused to let it deter us. Yes, one could argue their case back in Kuala Lumpur that the weather is too hot and humid in which walking 500m would not be possible. No objections there. But, in this cold and chilly night, why not? Might even burn a few calories while we are at it.
The journey there wasn’t without its sights. From the rows and rows of restaurants and road side vendors, it is clear the eating is as much a pastime here as it is back home. Here, you are poised to find a large number of eateries which serve common Korean fare. Synonymous with the local culture would be multi-plate dinners, bulgogi (meat barbequed over charcoal grills), tteokbokki (rice cakes), pajeon (pancake), japchae (stir-fried glass noodles) with kimchi accompanying most meals. For someone that prefers his meals hot or at least warm, I found the naengmyeon (cold noodles) at a little shack on Samil-daero street to be strangely satisfying. The buckwheat noodles soaked in a radish concoction with a runny egg makes for a simple and quick breakfast.
Those with a stomach for even stranger things would do well with the sundae (blood sausage) and san-nakji (live octopus) which are ubiquitous in Gwangjang market. The latter was palatable but mostly for the experience of chewing something that was still squiggling inside your mouth; it didn’t have much taste to it and mostly tasted of whatever you dipped it in which in this case was sesame soy sauce. Now now, vegans all around try not to get your panties in a bunch; the octopus is really no longer alive and those movements are just electrical impulses. The blood sausage on the other hand, was a pass for me based on its appearance alone. The other half had a go at it but it didn’t make it pass her throat.
One thing to note would be that Korean food back home wouldn’t be of the same quality as what you would find here which could be due to the fresher ingredients. But just like everything in life, do look up on Google for popular places to eat. Or you could use your better judgment and just walk into the most crowded place you see; works most of the time.
Korea Subway App
One mobile app which we found particularly useful would be the Korea Subway App which will not only aid you in terms of using the public transportation but also has a list of restaurants and cafes based on popularity and distance. Do bear in mind that the English language is not very common among locals here so having an app by your side would be of great assistance.
Lotte World Tower
Now, back to the journey towards the tall building which we have come to know as Lotte World Tower. Being the tallest building in Seoul and the fifth tallest in the world, it has the makings of a typical skyscraper; wide at the base with a body that gradually tapers approaching its peak. What makes this one standout would be the two pointed facades that appear to be peeling away from the central core, much like a flower in the midst of blooming. The light show around its glass skin only adds to its grandeur while reflecting the night sky.
A large crowd had already begun to gather at the park which surrounds the entire ground level shopping mall. The mall houses most luxury labels which would make for a great window shopping venue; or shopping if you are at the upper echelon of society. Or even if you are just into interior design, it would make a great place to see how a building is done where budget is of no constraint. Just observing the different brands of apparel trying to outdo one another with different styles of decor is entertainment enough.
But nothing compares to the attraction that is about to emerge outside at the park; apparently Super Junior is making an appearance for a New Year’s eve concert. I’ll admit that I never fully immersed myself in the allure of K-Pop but hey, gotta do what the Romans do when in Rome.
Alternative for New Year’s Eve celebration
(An hour later)
Age must be catching up for this young hearted couple; the line of people proved to be too much to handle that even a cup of accompanying GongCha couldn’t help. We were ready to head back to our hotel to call it a night when Mr.Google so kindly informed us that there was another celebration happening close to our hotel; across the Han River back in the Jongno district.
This countdown was supposed to be more cultural and symbolic in contrast to the elaborate and vibrant one that was to happen at Lotte World. Our inquisitive minds told us to try something different; something that wasn’t common throughout large cities all around the world. That was enough for us to hop onto the green line from Jamsil station back to Jonggak station. The fare was approximately 1,450 KRW or RM5.00 inclusive of one transfer at the dark blue line.
The Bell Tower, Bonsingak
The place we were heading to was a Bell-tower pavilion called Bosingak. The 5-minute walk from Jonggak station wasn’t dull at all. Locals were marching through the streets with drums held in their arms while onlookers cheered on. Watching them weave through the crowds raising the spirits of those who were about to participate in a countdown was a sight to behold.
As the crowd gathered in front of the bell pavilion in preparation for the countdown, senior officials (or what we assume were senior officials) were giving speeches on stage; not that we understood what they were going on about but we could just the same feel the high spirits that everyone was in. With horns (sounded very much like a vuvuzela) blowing above our heads, the countdown happened in the most composed manner without unnecessary shrieks from the crowd. The sounds of the wooden staff pummeling against the bell marked the leap into 2018 in the most subtle way. It was as if everyone understood the symbolism of the ceremony and paid due respect without needing to create a scene out of it which was nice for a change.
Kick Starting 2018 In Bed
Back at Makers hotel, the rest of the night was spent watching celebrations take place on television; and if you read the first part of this article, you would now know why we would not judge if you decided to do the same. With a bowl of instant noodles in hand, it was perfect companion for a cold night snuggled under a warm blanket.
So, who says that South Korea is all about dressing up in traditional costumes at Gyeongbokgung Palace and shopping in the bustling streets of Myeongdong and Hongdae?