Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Finding My Way Around

It has been two weeks now since I landed in Seoul, and the wildly unfamiliar here is slowly starting to become familiar. Everyday activities like riding public transit, ordering food in a restaurant, and using my hotel gym are becoming easier. Now that (fingers-crossed) I'm done with my apartment search, I've had a little time to study the Korean character set, which I can almost fully read by now, although at about a two-year-old's pace! Still, it's nice being able to go into a restaurant without an English menu and know the difference between 불고기 (bulgogi) and 김치 (kimchi). I still don't know most of the Korean food names, though.

With my newfound free time, I've tried to take the opportunity to explore Seoul. The August weather here, unfortunately, has decided not to cooperate – rain has fallen almost every day for the last week or so. This was not totally unexpected...over half of Seoul's annual precipitation falls in July and August...but still frustrating. I have been getting a little stir-crazy on days when I'm waiting for the rain to clear, and the umbrella I brought to Korea has already broken from overuse. The umbrella survived two years in Charlottesville, but not two weeks in summertime Seoul!

Lots of old tanks and planes sit outside the War Memorial of Korea
Museums have been a good use of rainy afternoons. The War Memorial of Korea was particularly interesting...I learned about the history of the Korean War on a guided tour from an elderly man who was a refugee during that war and then later fought alongside the US forces in Vietnam. The National Museum of Korea is immense and details the entire history of people on the Korean Peninsula, all the way back to the Stone Age.

Gwanghwamun Square
I also have enjoyed walking around neighborhoods in between rain showers. My favorite areas now are in the older part of Seoul north of the Han River. The Insadong area is a lovely pedestrian mall full of small art galleries, craft shops, and tasty restaurants. Myeongdong is a packed shopping district. The Cheonggyecheon is a neat urban stream reconstructed recently through the center of the city. This leads to Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul's equivalent of DC's national mall, with a magnificent statue of King Sejong the Great leading to the Blue House (Korea's presidential residence) and the grand Gyeongbokgung Palace. And I love the Hongdae nightlife...a university area with outdoor performances from Korean indie bands and good cheap food.

South of the Han River is more modern, less touristy and more glitzy. Apgujeongdong has all the finest luxury brands I probably never will buy (Hermes, Louis Vuitton, etc.) and nice little boutiques off the main strip. The massive COEX mall is all underground and feels like a casino – no windows, no clocks, no clear way out. The Gangnam Station area, where Samsung Electronics headquarters is located, brings to life the frenetic, neon-glow image that many have of East Asia.

I've met some of my new Samsung colleagues thus far but still have many more to see. Next week, I will be taking intense afternoon Korean language classes, which should help to solve some of my difficulties with the basic language and introduce me to more of my new coworkers. I'm ready to get started.


  1. Looks like you're having fun there! When do you start?

    1. Starting at Samsung on September 3rd with two weeks of orientation. The B-school summer break has been great and I'm ready to get working again!