The G-20 guide: How to eat, play and love in SeoulA city’s rise from the ashes of war has to be measured by more than just buildings and lights. For in Seoul, nearly every building and piece of infrastructure has been erected in only the past few decades.
But underneath the shiny veneer are a people that have undergone a transformation just as astonishing. The hunchbacked elderly dotting the megalopolis survived the post-war years on foreign aid, but their grandchildren stop-and-go through city streets in luxury cars and study abroad in the West. The once isolated society now practically begs for global attention.
And what Seoul lacks in traditional aesthetics, it makes up for with the Confucianism that infuses most everyday interactions, resulting in a unique interplay between the old and new. Investment bankers in designer suits turn away from their elders to down their shots of soju. (That’s a traditional form of politeness.) High schoolers in uniforms leap to their feet to give up their subway seats to teetering ajummas. Young couples lock hands, not so much lips, anywhere there’s oxygen.
While the tired, cliched descriptions of Seoul remain true, the single-minded ambition that characterized much of Korea’s second half of the 20th century has started to give way to Koreans enjoying the fruits they have reaped for themselves: eating, playing around and enjoying the love of life.
Korean cuisine is seemingly made for primal enjoyment, their version of play is often an endless marathon, and their romance can sometimes appear to be a flash mob exercise in soap opera theatrics.
The G-20 Summit in Seoul will be largely about business, but that doesn’t mean Koreans will stop doing their thing.
If anything, visitors should join in: hospitality is also a Korean specialty. Seoul emerged from bombed ruins to become a singular 21st century metropolis where you’ll often find yourself at a loss for adjectives. But don’t worry; just have some fun.
By Kim Mi-ju, Cho Jae-eun