WHAT I'VE SEEN IN SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA THIS WEEK
I was 6 years old the first time I flew to Korea. I remember the heaviness in the air - part unrelenting humidity, part struggling economy. Seoul was far from cool, barely holding its head above American trends. The nation was still emerging from war, still closing the door on third-world status. Today, Korea leads the world - and this is why:
- 1.An indelible connection with tradition.You can’t go a day of your life here without encountering raw Korean heritage. We’re talking thousands of years of history in the social rituals, extraordinary cuisine, and landscape. There are cultural monuments, statues, and the King’s palaces, strewn about the city - the constant reminder of how far Korea has come, honoring the past, while barreling into the future.
- 2.The best food - and restaurants - on the planet.If Japan has crafted the highest retail experience, then Korea holds down the dining category. Eating Korean is an art, an adventure. Meals are where relationships are forged, business is conducted, and life is understood, so the curators go all out, and the patrons dive right in. With so many different genres of Korean fare presented through a prism of colorful means, so much of understanding the people's history boils down to the eats.
- 3.For example, the nnaengmyun here.You can get nnaengmyun (cold noodles) in most cities with a Koreatown, but in the homeland, the selection is vast, nuanced, and a food category of its own. This restaurant (in trendy Apkujeong), specializes in a North Korean interpretation of nnaengmyun, which is gaining popularity in the city. It’s milder than the more flavorful bowls that Koreans are used to, but the younger generations are drawn ot it because it’s more refreshing and cleaner.
- 4.The fashion.I staunchly believe Koreans are some of the most creative people on the planet, and nowhere does that come better across than in fashion. From Paris Fashion Week to the Streetwear underground, Korea is carrying the flag right now, out of a quiet artistic upwelling that’s been simmering for generations. Apkujeong is one of the trendy shopping districts in Gangnam (that’s right, Gangnam Style), the hub for a lot of relevant new brands and designers.
- 5.White people.For decades, it was rare to find a non-Korean in Seoul, outside of the military base. I think I saw more white people in one day than the three decades I’ve been coming here, combined. The face of the city is changing rapidly. As the Korean economy swells, riding off the momentum of once-scorned homeland brands like Samsung, LG, and Hyundai, Seoul is becoming a more attractive destination for those looking to turn the world a little faster.
- 6.Cool people.Korean cinema and K-pop changed everything. Now that all eyes (and ears) are on South Korea, they aren’t just defining the Asian mainstream, but popular culture worldwide. These are some of the kids who are responsible for the revolution, from the YG camp (label behind Big Bang and G-Dragon) in the Boon the Shop penthouse office of XIN, its director. The blonde kid to the left, ZION T, has the #1 song on the radio right now.
- 7.International relations.For centuries, Korea and Japan were at odds, but this is a new time, a new mindset. BAJOWOO is a punk rock Korean fashion designer whose label, 99%is, is based - and celebrated - in Japan.
- 8.Strong, powerful, and beautiful women.My friend was telling me how he only dates Korean women because they’re feminine on the outside, “and gangster as fuck on the inside.” That pretty much sums up my mom and most every Korean woman I know. You’d think in such a macho society, where plastic surgery is a national pasttime (seriously, girls shave their jaw on a lunchbreak), that the ladies would take a backseat. No way - they’re leading the new school (like the MISCHIEF girls here). I mean, the Korean president is a woman.
- 9.Koreans are point-provers.It’s illegal to get tattoos here. Yet, you'll see kids dipped head to toe in ink (like my friend Heerak). Smoking weed is tantamount to rape. But still, of course, everyone gets high. Even as far as I'm disconnected with my own heritage, there are elements in our bloodline that I'll never escape. Koreans are an emotional and passionate people. They have this crazy, innate fighting spirit that is responsible for centuries of survival. Outspoken. Defiant. And wear their hearts on their sleeves.
- 10.You gotta see this for yourself.Come to Korea! (Just not during monsoon season 😰)