Seoul: South Korea’s Cultural Heart
Seoul is a remarkably fast-paced, high-tech city, but traditional pockets can be found in every neighbourhood. The old city wall that curves through the trees just beyond the shrine seems an apt symbol for this On top of the rugged, weathered stones of various shapes and sizes that were fitted together hundreds of years ago is a new section of tidy rectangular Hocks. The wall is made complete by the snug pining together of old and new.
Inwang was the western most of four mountains that surrounded Seoul in olden times, and after walking downhill, the city centre is just one subway step away. Standing on the corner of Jongno and Sejong avenues, my eyes are drawn to the lefty statue of the naval hero Vi Sun-shin.
Behind Vi, farther down the plaza, is a statue of the scholarly King Sejong on his throne. Beyond that is the gate of Gyeongbok Palace, the most-visited of Seoul’s five royal palaces, and farther still is the presidential Blue House. Mount Bugak, and the majestic peaks of Bukhansan National Park. Before starting co a walk across downtown. I make a side trip down bustling Jong no Avenue.
This was the main street during the Joseon Dynasty and remains so today. But the alleys that run along the lanes of traffic have been transformed. Not long ago, these were full of gritty drinking dens, including one that served roasted sparrow and hot cups of jeongjong (the Korean version of Japan’s sake). The latest of these alleys to be redeveloped is an arcade named Soho, in the Replace complex. It is a testament to Seoul’s internalisation over the past few years, with acai bowls at Sambazon, handmade gelato at Ma Creme, and bubble tea at Chatime. Lunch hour has arrived, so I take the escalators up to the third floor of Replace for a kimchi and braised pork belly burrito at Power Plant, a dining complex with craft beers on tap.
Well-fortified. I now head one block south of Jongno to ‘Spring’, a spiral shell sculpture by Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg that stands 21 metres high. This marks the start of Cheonggye Stream, which was restored and reopened in 200S after having been covered by a highway since 1963. This is by far the coolest strip of downtown, with shade from overhanging branches and breezes rippling off the water. I notice that along with the ducks and carp that have come to live here, several new cafes and restaurants have sprung upon the streets beside the stream. After passing under six bridges. I walk back up to street few l in the Euljiro district, which has kept its character while the areas around it have changed.
The district continues to host all sorts of small shops selling tools, hardware, electronics, and furnishings. I walk past ladders. LED lighting, and rubber bands that are thicker than linguine before reaching Dongdaemun, a shopping haven that attracts busloads of tourists. Much of the browsing is done in a set of towers that have been around for years and stay open until after midnight- Doota Mall, Miglore. HelloapM, and Good Morning City. But I see there’s a new kid on the block named Maxtyle, which opened in August of this year.