After a day of touring Seoul, my conclusion is that this is not a city for tourists. It’s neither beautiful nor charming. It’s modern, clean, very livable, and very wealthy but nothing here catches an eye even with a very tepid “wow”.
The royal palace was one of the most boring palaces I’ve ever seen; the houses in the reconstructed village were almost identical and not remarkable; the folk museum would be perfectly suited for a small provincial town, but pathetic for a capital of a first world country. The Buddhist Temple was a pitiful complex of traditional Korean pagodas. The modern buildings were rather uniform – no attempt of avant guard architecture. The pedestrian shopping street was lined with sad little shops selling mass-produced souvenirs and trinkets. The street market – was a flee market of cheap clothes and shoes made in China.
The only place that made a deep impression was Shinsegae department store adjacent to the hotel. Take Galleries Lafayette and Bon Marche combined, multiply by two, and you will get Shinsegae. 10 floors (+ 11th of restaurants, ad the food basement) featuring all major and medium-level designers I heard of and those I never heard of. Enormous amounts of merchandize was displayed in style and curated by hordes of salespeople. They stood guard by their sections and if you as much as slowed down your pace to look at an item, would rush toward you ready to offer their assistance.
Beside the merchandize, the shoppers were a sight to behold. Mostly young, beautiful, well-dressed, and well-heeled, they toted around, toddlers in tow, grasping their Chanel bags and sporting the latest and newest fashions.
I was an odd bird there – older than most, a single Caucasian, and simply being single – all of them came in groups.
The food basement dazzled! I couldn’t decide which one of the stupendous-looking desserts to select for my dining pleasure.
And then, I saw a line. The line led to the shop selling one single product that looked like a small lemon tart but was called “cheese tart”. The sign said the origin of the tart was Hokkaido, and that they would only sell 7 pieces a person. The line drew me in, the limited quantity allotted per person sealed the deal.
The little tart was perfect: the shell, crispy, crumbly, with just enough sweetness complemented the semi-liquid eggy cream filling.
The wonder basement also housed a supermarket selling $40 watermelons, $400 boxes of fresh porcini mushrooms, and other slightly less expensive but still picture-perfect fruits, so perfect indeed, they didn’t look real. I want to know what the store does with these prize-winning fruits at the end of the day if no one buys it?
Another luxury food item that made a lasting impression was a case of dry fish, looking a lot like the lowly Russian vobla and guarded my a man in a white apron. The price of one modest package of several voblas was a whooping $1,275!!!
Seeing this cornucopia, all I could think was that bordering this wealthy country, there was one of the poorest countries in the world, populated by the same people but governed by a different party. And how some years ago, the sadistic government of that second Korea told its impoverished citizens that their brethren in the evil capitalist hell next door are exploited and just about dying of starvation, and that the comrades in the socialist heaven should do all they could to help. So the semi-starved paupers tightened their belts, and gave what they could to the government to send to their hungry neighbors. Right.


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