Saw these big bold letters (ala Hollywood’s) at the Seoul Plaza when I was in Seoul last October 2018. I googled to understand what the text is, and have learned that this is Seoul’s slogan.
But what is meant by the slogan “I.SEOUL.U”?
According to an article in The Korea Times, the slogan is deliberately vague, so that people can interpret it in many different ways.
I.SEOUL.U. I have initially guessed this means “I love you, Seoul” as is written in most souvenir shirts in touristy countries:
I ❤️ (name of the country or city).
Having spent several days in Seoul, I.SEOUL.U means to me as “I got Seouled”.
Okay, my interpretations probably sound senseless. Or is it even more vague if not as vague as the text “I.SEOUL.U”?
I’ll take the chance to explain… 🙂
(1) Impromptu Taekwondo Training at Namsangol Hanok Village
I decided to go on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour after 3 days of commuting like a local. I had a plan of which stops to specifically take, but when the bus reached the drop-off point for the Namsangol Hanok Village, I suddenly felt the need to go down, that is, without any idea of what the place is (except that it is a village as the name implies) and what to expect.
After about 10 minutes of walking, I reached the village entrance by asking around, and was happy that I decided to go as there were not much tourists when I arrived. And then a man wearing a dobok (the taekwondo uniform) approached me and asked if I was interested to learn taekwondo for free. Oh, amazing! I was looking for a short-term taekwondo class package over the internet and I’d be getting it for free! In a traditional Korean village! I have learned taekwondo in its birthplace! Some may call it luck or coincidence – I call it a blessing!
After the lessons, I checked out the village and was delighted to see a taekwondo “classmate” walking around. My Vietnamese friend and I tagged along and went around the place together (and took blogger poses haha).
I got Seouled! What a wonderful coincidence to have been at the beautiful Namsangol Hanok Village at the exact time they were providing a free training for something I was really hoping to do (they do it from 10:30 to 11:30am only, 2 days a week). To cap off the experience, I have a met a new friend. 🙂
For more information about taekwondo for foreigners, please see the links below:
(2) Jimjilbang (Spa) in my Birthday Suit
Albeit imagining the feeling of awkwardness for walking around naked at an all-women sauna house, I wanted to try the Korean spa. They call this the “jimjilbang”, and is a common recreation activity by the locals. The most famous place to enjoy one is at the Dragon Hill Spa. Unfortunately, they were closed for the duration that I was in Seoul. Lucky eh? Asking around, I have learned about a place called. Silloam Sauna. As I was all set to go on a specific day, I had my period! Luckily, the spa was open just before I left Seoul (just on time as my body cooperated) so I had a chance to experience jimjilbang at the last minute.
I left all my clothes at a locker room and proceeded downstairs for the sauna experience. Now in my birthday suit, the first naked women I saw were curvaceous, young and pretty Westerners. How inferior my body looked compared to theirs! I had to continue, heads up. “Show some confidence, Anna, it is okay.” – I’ve muttered to myself. And then I blended in the crowd, minding our own businesses. I wondered if they thought what I was thinking.
I got Seouled! For me, it was a humbling experience to be there, mingling and seeing different women from different countries, mostly Koreans, without inhibitions – enjoying the therapeutic warm baths and saunas. I have realized how women are much different physically but alike in many other ways; how much a woman’s body can change with age, especially from giving birth; how fragile women are but strong enough to build a community! The experience taught me confidence and self-love.
For more information about jimjilbang, please see this link: Jimjilbang
(3) Goosebumps at DMZ
DMZ is an acronym for the Demilitarized Zone – the boundary between the North and South Korea. In the strictest sense, this is outside of Seoul. But hey, the trip was from Seoul! (Okay, give me this one. 😃)
I have had several (fickle-minded) thoughts about joining a group tour to this place as I was concerned about safety. Learning more about the DMZ tour while I was in Seoul, I have decided to take the tour the day before my flight back to Doha.
I learned that at the time that the North and South Korea were having peace talks, North Korea began digging underground tunnels to infiltrate South Korea. The tunnels did not get completed, but were discovered in 1984. The 3rd tunnel is the closest to Seoul (only 44km away) and could move about 30,000 troops and artillery per hour! As part of the tour, I was able to walk at one of the tunnels, which runs through bedrock. It was an exercise as the tunnel is long and steeply inclined!
The trip turned out to be something I will always remember as the tour allowed me to learn much more depth on a humanitarian crisis that many of us does not know enough. It was an undescrible feeling to have been able to see the highly-guarded place. The tour gave me goosebumps. I got Seouled!
For more information about the DMZ, please see this link: Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
4) Seoul food and Soju
I fell in love with Korean food. Bulgogi. Samgyetang. The one-of-a kind Calamares. Fried chicken. The super juicy grilled pork. Ice cream they sell in the stalls. The food at a restaurant near the Anguk Station. Street food. Sparkling yoghurt. The hotel oatmeal. The hefty appetizers. Kimchi.
And oh Soju mixed with beer! I have initially thought this is a crazy combination by the locals. Was surprisingly good! Gave warmth on a cold night. 🙂
Ok, the rice wine is worthy of a mention, too.
They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Oh yup, this is true. If given the chance, I’ll keep coming back to Seoul for the food! Georgia used to top my list of countries to go back for food; Seoul is now my new number one!
Seoul food got me Seouled!
(5) A Walk Along Cheonggyecheon Stream
Ok, this one. Cheonggyecheon Stream is my most favorite place and experience in Seoul.
From the band that played this Tamia song:
“…I thought that from this heartache, I could escape
But I’ve fronted long enough to know
There ain’t no way
And today, I’m officially missing you
Ooh… can’t nobody do it like you
Said every little thing you do, hey, baby
Said it stays on my mind
And I’m officially…”
To an old musician who played a melancholic song using his harmonica.
From crossing the stream à la Takeshi’s Castle.
To meeting fellow foreigners enjoying the ambiance.
There’s something about this place that lingers in my wanderlust mind – could be the eye candy lighted decorations that are located in the right places along the stream, or the memory of traversing the stream on a nice, cool weather (without the fear of being pickpocketed), the stream itself, the really sumptuous food I ate in a restaurant near the stream (plus a first taste of soju mixed with beer 😜). Or probably all of the above! 😊
I can stay here for hours just people watching!
I got Seouled!
(6) Lost in Anguk
This was my last day in Seoul, and for some reason, I rode the wrong train in Anguk from the Gyeongbokgung Palace (even if I have been riding trains for days!). I was also unfortunate to have not found the place suggested in an internet article for good autumn feels (was difficult to use Google Maps as the app is only applicable for navigating by car, and the people I asked did not understand where I wanted to go).
Albeit being “lost”, this day was one for the books. Found a good restaurant near the Anguk Station, ate yummy ice cream from a stall, had beautiful pictures in Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Bukchon Hanok Village (a combined effort from my tripod and fellow strangers who exchanged deals for taking pictures), and felt a real good sense of adventure! This was my last day in Seoul, and what a memorable way to end my stay.
I got Seouled!
(7) Autumn in Gangnam
The night I arrived in Seoul, the path walks of Gangnam were spick and span, with no trace of fallen leaves. The environs seemed unfriendly. I felt alone, a stranger in a foreign land. With the leaves of the trees still in monochromatic greenish hues, there was no sign of autumn. (Autumn by the way is my favorite season.)
On my last night in the city, after a good time dressing up in a Hanbok at a palace and being lost in Anguk, I have had the chance to do a long, nice, last walk on my way back to the hotel. The leaves of the trees have turned from green to hues of yellow, orange and red, fallen leaves were on the path walks, there was crispness in the air and Gangnam seemed to be basking in the city lights. Right there and then, I knew I’ll miss soulful Seoul.
Though I have seen more vibrant autumn colors in Nami Island, Mt. Seoraksan and at the Namsan Tower (I will have a separate blog on these places), Gangnam tops my autumn experience. Each day I spent here unfolded a new adventure. Each day here showed a different hue of autumn. A sweet autumn surrender.
I got Seouled!
Oh Seoul, I.SEOUL.U.
Because you’re a combination of modern and traditional, of fun and sentimental, of color and monochromatic, of daytime vibrance and evening charm, of ordinary things mixed with surprises. I have barely scratched your surface, and I do not know if there is ever a chance we meet again. I hope we do. There’s a lot more of exploring to do!