by Lynn Kim Do

left my soul in seoul

It’s been days since my last moment in Seoul. Eventually, it will be months, and inevitably years, but what would I think of my time there? What smells or subtle sights will lead me back to this beautiful. I left one city and traveled 20 hours to get to another, all too familiar yet all so different.

Ultimately, I left Seoul with an expanded mind. I left there disengaging any sense of nationalism and realized how other countries can have it done so right. So much better. Perhaps, we’re all wound up so tightly in our own shit that we can’t see that somewhere across the world, there could be a place that knows better, does better, and performs better. The efficiency in Seoul is superior to any country, yes, even Europe, and yes, even America. Their transportation system runs smoothly and with so much thought and intention. Signs are placed and are so direct and informative, getting lost almost becomes impossible. (But, of course, it is possible for someone who is locationally-challenged like myself.) Trains arrive on time, for a change. What more can I expect from the country that gave birth to some innovative giants like Samsung, Hyundai, and Kia. Even their airport is one of the most beautiful, technologically advanced, and modern spaces I’ve ever seen. But then again, I guess JFK is not a good standard to compare to. Universities are built with such architectural sophistication and awe. Beyond actual spaces, culturally, there is no stopping them either. I mean, if we want to be quite literal – people walk faster than the most eager New Yorker. I think that alone says a lot. South Korean knows what they like and knows who they are. Their food scene far exceeded my expectations and any standard expectations I’ve had in place prior. Competitive by nature, each restaurant, food cart, dessert shop, and coffee shop are all on their A-game. Built beautifully, creatively using tiny spaces, and the inventiveness to their own cuisine is fascinating. Food neighborhoods beat any street in Williamsburg or Greenwich. Coffee shops are a serious matter in Seoul. Most are open until midnight and although “soy” and “almond milk” isn’t a concept nor an option, their lattes and originative spirit behind the rest of their menu and space won’t give you enough time to want anything but what they want to give you. Street carts with rice cake in red sauce, fish soup, and a variety of grilled sticks are readily available and all safe to eat. Which really blew my mind because the same cannot be said of New York City Halal carts. I may have suffered food poisoning once or twice from meat and it indefinitely scarred me for life. When you want a real sit-down meal, enter any restaurants and their endless sides will have you at “hello” and their actual dishes will have you at “ooooohh,” “ahhhh,” and “I am so full!” Save some room for dessert though or force it down like I did because Koreans take their pastries and shaved ice very seriously. Like, seriously, good. Bakeries and skin care stores can be found in EVERY subway station. Like, I’m talking it’s underground, beautifully done, and it’s selling. Want to walk off the pounds you’ve consumed? How about we engage in my favorite sport – people watching. Shopping behavior can tell you a lot about someone’s culture. And is a prime location for eye stalking. Interesting enough, knockoffs are quite normal in Seoul and is a thriving and normal part of their culture. Walk down their main shopping district and you’ll see Supreme bags, hoodies, and caps with a crooked “e” in there. Need a strange looking Off White interpretation of their belt, you’ll find it here. In between all the food, the people, the buildings, and street, there lies an immense amount of talent in Seoul. Young performers on the street, all just a few feet from one another, draw large crowds around them. For every single talent or group of talents, there was a group of people who are more than happy to consume it, applaud it, and sway to it. For the less talented aka me, my friends and I found ourselves in a Karaoke room the size of a closet and sang our hearts out to Drake, BOA, and K-Pop.

And just like that 5 days passed in a blink of an eye, and I find myself back in New York City craving their light glistening in foreign characters, the velvety taste of the sweet milk in their shaved ice, and the warmth I found in their fish soup. I miss my friends who are too busy taking in China at the moment. I miss the hills leading streets in waves and circles and heights. I miss South Korea.

Oh, and that's Pedro. I like him.

Images by Lynn Kim Do, Pedro Morales and Kim Geronimo
Thank you to my dear friends Kim and Kait for being the best tour guides anyone can ask for.