Visiting Seoul in South Korea was an interesting experience to say the least. Its sheer size in both population as well as land mass is baffling. Almost 11 million people live here.
To put that in perspective: Paris has a population of 2.3 million, New York City has a population of 8.5 million, and The Netherlands as a country has a population of 17 million.
Most people in the city live in apartment buildings that are built in clusters of ten to thirty or so, and within these clusters, they literally are all exactly the same. The only way to tell them apart are the numbers written on the sides of them. Many buildings have company logos on the side, as a lot of jobs here come with accommodation. A general policy is: if you leave your job, you also leave your house (on the same day).
South Korea is a democratic, capitalistic country, and all the bases of modern civilization are covered. Most people have a roof over their head, the tap water is drinkable, the trains run on time, crime levels are low, the streets are pretty clean for a city this size, internet is fast, and you can buy pretty much everything everywhere all the time.
That said, the level of stress here is high; higher than any other big city I’ve visited before. A lot of people seem over-strained and not very happy. The behavior in the subway and busy streets is generally rude and egocentric. I generally didn’t consider this city a “happy place”, which, to be fair, is understandable for a place that’s going out of its way got to get ahead.
And they do.
This is the country where most of the memory chips for PCs and phones are made as of writing. Ironically, the memory in Apple iPhones is made by Samsung. Most LCD and OLED panels in TVs, laptops, and phones of all brands are made here.
South Korea is also making a solid effort in the car market. KIAs and Hyundais are still very boring washing machines on wheels, but they’re reliable, and not that disgusting-looking anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wanna get caught dead in one, but at their price point, they make for a solid choice for the average boring guy who just wants a reliable vehicle.
And that’s really the thing with almost everything that gets made in South Korea. It’s all pretty damn good. The products don’t quite have the quality and ultra-precision that Japanese products have to them, but they get pretty close. It’s hard to talk bad about any product that Samsung or LG makes when it comes to quality and functionality these days.
But I digress.
It’s a hardworking city with hardworking people. At a high altitude with a good view, the cityscape of Seoul seems an endless mass of apartments, office buildings, and factories under a thick layer of smog. I have never seen a place like Seoul, and it was mostly the size of it that left an impression. This landscape of concrete and steel is Man-made, and the fact that it only took about half a century to build it all disturbed me on some level. The place has a dystopian, Blade-Runner-type look to it.
While I enjoyed my stay here for all the new impressions and the interesting food and culture, I won’t be looking to visit again soon. I would consider it a good place to spend a couple of days when you happen to have a layover at Incheon Airport. I was pretty much over it in half a week or so, but that’s just me. Some people are completely in love with the place.
Judge for yourself from these pictures.
The N Seoul Tower offers a great vantage point to get some amazing views of the city.
The path up to the tower
View of the south-side of the river from the subway.
View of the north side of Seoul.
You are very welcome at the police station! Japanese cartoony influences are evident here and there.
School buses waiting in Sanbon, a suburb of the city.
Spot the differences.
Every floor has many different businesses.
Sanbon by night
South Korea’s own burger chain.
A keycutter business in Gangnam.
The only reference to Gangnam Style I’ve found.
CNN Cafe. I wonder if they’re affiliated.
Gangnam at night.
The subway system
Rush hour is no joke. The platform has a wall with doors at the edge, to prevent people from spilling into the tracks.
Everyone here loves their smartphone.
Funny ads and signs
Apparently, this is a problem here.
Plastic surgery is a big thing in South Korea.
Believe it or not, this is also an ad for plastic surgery.
A rather unfortunate name for a hamburger joint.
Stop hungry. Stop foolosh.
Cat cafes are coffee-places that have cats wandering around, for people who don’t have time and space for a pet.
The old part of town
Bukchon is an older part of Seoul. Interesting from an architectural point of view.