Seoul now holds special place

It has been two weeks since I wrote my last column. In the meantime, Marnie and I travelled to our son Adam’s wedding to Meesun Shin in Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul proper is a city of 10 million people and the region has some 25 million people all within 100 km of the North Korean border.
In our weeklong visit to Seoul, we did not give even a single thought to the world tensions that have developed between North Korea and Washington. Instead, we had the opportunity to be tourists in a fabulous, modern, clean city.
Friday was “Family Day,” a national holiday in South Korea
Many of the young ladies were dressed in the traditional hanbok, and some of those young ladies even persuaded their embarrassed young men to dress in traditional Korean regalia. The hanboks are made of colourful silk, often with elabourate gold embroidery stitching. Wearing the hanboks on that weekend provided free admission to the Emperor’s palaces in Seoul.
With my son, Brendan, and his fiancée, Eleni, we toured the Changdeokgung Palace. The ancient architecture with its vivid colours is breathtaking. The palace grounds are huge and it would take more than a full day to see all the buildings, gardens and ponds. We only spent a few hours touring the first set of structures.
We were on foot from our hotel almost in the centre of the Myeongdong area, and through the course of the day visiting parks and the Jogyesa Buddhist temple, we logged over 17,000 steps.
Korea is spotless. You might be in a crowded night market with thousands of people and the streets is filled with carts selling goods and food venders preparing everything from mung bean pancakes to deep fried shrimp and raw octopus in a hot sauce to savoury steam buns and wonder how long the market goes.
But the next morning you go to the Myeongdong market and it is deserted. The food and merchandise carts are gone and the whole area is totally washed down. The street market is empty.
By around 4 p.m., the carts start reappearing. During the day, the major stores–which remain open during the night market–are busy selling their merchandise.
In the Insadong Market, morning foot traffic is very minor, but around noon, the lunch crowd starts filling the street and nearby schools break for the day; the street becomes a noisy, bustling centre.
You enter a subway station from the street and find it too has been totally cleansed with water and cleaning solution in preparation for the day.
One doesn’t see any trash strewn about the city. Trash collection systems with recycling instructions are found on most corners.
In 1988 for the Summer Olympics, Seoul re-established the Cheonggyecheon-ro Street by uncovering a stream that flowed through the centre of the city.
The stream sits 15-20 feet below street level and is a quiet haven from the street sounds. Carp swim in the rippling rapids. Walkways parallel the stream and walkers can enjoy this park-like atmosphere.
Seoul will always hold a special place in our minds. Not only is it rich in history and colour, but the citizens of the city reached out to us when we became confused by maps–even though they did not understand our language.
We felt welcomed and safe in the city.

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