I just woke up. It’s a little past 2pm, and I went to sleep at 7am; that’s because our plane back to Tokyo from Seoul, South Korea arrived today at 1am. If you knew how expensive taxis were in Tokyo, you’d wait 4 hours for the first train of the day too – and so, here I am, my body clock completely messed up, two days before I set off – AGAIN – to the West of Japan. I’m slightly exhausted, but I’d much rather be a jet-setter than doing next to nothing back in Tokyo when most people have left. I’ve been excited to go to Kyoto ever since I visited the Kyoto Gardens more than 7 months ago, and being here in Japan I’ve learnt so much more about myself – relevant example here is that I absolutely love sightseeing. The sights I’ll be seeing in the west of Japan should hopefully quell me for the week I’ll have to be back in Tokyo to write my 3,000 word piece of UEA. But that’s me looking forward to the future; let’s talk about the week passed in Seoul.
Because so much went on during the week, I posted pictures on twitter every day – so check that out if you want more detail of the day to day. This blog post is more about observations or certain things that stood out to me.
Plastic Surgery Culture
One thing often discussed and pretty noticeable was that plastic surgery has a pretty solid foundation in Seoul. I know that I did some research on the whole thing myself, and I was struck by one particular article (which I can’t for the life of me find anymore) in which a girl from Seoul was quoted in saying, “plastic surgery is totally normal here – if you haven’t had it, you’re considered strange.” I was told several things; that plastic surgery is often a gift for girls growing up (often nose jobs to make it pointier and/or double-eyelid surgery), and that botox costs around a fiver.
I was struck by the amount of plastic surgery clinics I saw. They were everywhere, and not even hidden away – one in particular that I saw in Gangnam was the size of a hotel and even had golden arches. We saw several women walking down the street with their noses patched up and puffy, blackened eyes. One woman even felt the need to do her eye makeup while her nosed was bandaged up. I saw many, many women with clearly unnaturally pointy noses. In a way I’d never seen before, plastic surgery was incredibly noticeable here.
It’s cheap – apparently, people often come to Seoul just to get plastic surgery, spend a few days recovering in a hotel room, then fly back to wherever they came from. And doing that pays off, rather than getting the surgery done at home. I’m so trouble by this culture, especially that it’s seen as such a part of a woman’s life. The western world has a beautiful movement that urges women to understand that our beauty comes in our uniqueness, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case in South Korean culture. It’s bizarre, and frankly pretty upsetting to me – what goes through your mind when you get this surgery? To be perceived as prettier, or more attractive, or more “traditional” at the cost of looking in the mirror and not recognising the face that you grew up with? The face of your family?
It’s better not to judge things that you don’t entirely understand, so I’ll stop at that. But the question as to why, and the utter sadness of it, hung over me like a stench during my week my Seoul.
Bar chain in Seoul where you grab beer from the fridge and pay per bottle at the end
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you know how insane the politeness culture is in public services. ie. having いらっしゃいませ, irasshaimase screamed at you whenever you enter a shop, or being told to humbly be careful getting out of the metro, ご注意ください. Or being told “sorry to make you wait”, お待たせしました, when you weren’t being made to wait at all.
Essentially, the way politeness works in Japan in that you modify your grammar to not only degrade yourself, but bestow respect upon the person you’re talking to. There’s a very strong system of hierarchy, in schools, in companies – It’s difficult, especially for someone who considers themselves equal to everyone else they meet, and one of my gripes with Japanese culture.
So coming to Seoul, where all of that was thrown out of the window, was actually a nice change. There are no screams of SUMIMASEN when you bump into people – just shove past them. The amount of times I entered a shop or a restaurant and was totally ignored, or even better, the workers were all on their phones watching Korean soap operas (or in one strange case, a British documentary about life in the countryside…?)
This might sound weird, but it was nice to just be ignored for once.
Non existent. Practically. But that
might be is probably because I can’t understand the language. While in Japan, being able to read the language, I can decipher what I can and can’t eat (with the occasional mistake), and there’s some kind of a growing vegan culture (though perhaps not for all the right reasons)… of course, I knew this about South Korea before I arrived, and though we managed to find some absolutely gorgeous places (shout out in particular to March Rabbit and yummyyomil) the big lack of options led to me becoming vegetarian for the week. And when I say vegetarian, I mean I had like 4 pizzas. And an extremely cute cupcake. And a waffle shaped like a piece of poop at a poo-themed cafe. Not good for my stomach, but I managed.
The pizzas I had were absolutely delicious though – while in Japan it’s French culture that’s seen as fancy and beautiful, in South Korea, it’s Italian. So all the Italian food is incredibly delicious… and I’ll be honest, those pizzas I had were angelic.
I’d also like to gush a little about yummyyomil. It’s a vegan, non-gmo, mostly gluten free bakery/cafe that’s a 15 minute walk from the hostel we stayed at in Hongdae (Kimchee Guesthouse). It’s just insane. So many breads, cakes, pastries, drinks and burgers that were insanely delicious. It was genuinely a miracle, and I wish I lived so close to such a place in Tokyo, or even in England. Because of that beautiful place, I was able to try my first ‘curry pan’; an interesting Japanese invention of bread filled with curry. I wish I could have another one. It’s a popular little place, and I wish it all the success it deserves.
But in any case, to wrap up; if you’re vegan and going to South Korea without speaking a single word of the language, prepare yourself to either walk long distances, prepare your own meals, or take liberties. Maybe all three.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking. There are 4 palaces in Seoul – beautiful, traditional buildings. Families and couples dressed in traditional wear (as you get in for free doing so). We also paid £7 for access to all four on the 14th February, and then found out that you get in for free during the Chinese New Year holidays (15th-18th). This is why it’s a good idea you properly prepare an itinerary during holidays instead of going with the flow.
Going to Seoul park as well gave us the experience of feeding deer, something I’ll be reliving very soon when I go to Nara.
Hongdae and Gangnam were reminiscent of London more so than Tokyo in terms of structure. Going to city centres might not necessarily count as sight-seeing, but I love doing so anyway. Like I’ve said before, that’s why I love Tokyo. So much of the old blended in with the new.
An end note…
It was COLD. Incredibly cold. Minus temperatures. I will never complain about the mildness of England ever again. (I probably will, just not so much…)
Seoul was also able to pull me in with the cuteness of the LINE characters. LINE is a messaging app that launched in Japan but is owned by a Korean company, so the cute characters have more of a presence in Seoul. I’m not ashamed to say I even went to a LINE cafe… if you want to get me interested, just make something adorable.
So, until next time, which will be early March – after my first solo trip!