Ok, cheesy title but we couldn't resist it. Johnathan Last is a time served English teacher who has settled down in Seoul, capital city of South Korea and major destination for a new generation of TEFL teachers. Read his thoughts and observations on life in Seoul.
Seoul is the capital of South Korea, and is located in the middle of the Korean peninsula, near the border with North Korea (separated by the DMZ, demilitarised zone).
Well served by nearby Incheon airport, Seoul is positively teeming with opportunities for the TEFL teacher, but more than that it offers a rich, distinctive culture to explore. The countryside offers many mountains to hike (a popular Korean pastime), Buddhist temples to visit and, being a peninsular, there is a long coastline. You can also visit North Korea, but access is rather restricted and you will need a different VISA.
Seoul, a big city in a small country
Because South Korea is a small country (around the same size as the British Isles), it is possible to see much of it during even only a year-long stay, and nowhere takes too long to reach (buses run, as do trains for longer journeys). The main cities are Busan in the south and Seoul in the north, which are both very densely populated.
Seoul itself has a population of nearly eleven million and is one of the largest cities in the world. Anyone visiting or living there can see how it manages this huge number: by building upwards. Single-storey buildings are virtually unheard of; residences, business and public buildings are all stacked up and arranged as skyscrapers, often reaching twenty-plus floors.
The effect of this huge number of people packed into a relatively small space is that there is little land that has not been built on. Green spaces are harder to find than in other large cities such as London or New York – although they do exist. One notable such example is Seoul Grand Park, just to the south of Seoul and connected to the city’s super-fast subway network (which is also notable for retaining mobile phone reception – useful). The area has a vast lake, hills and hiking trails, a zoo, colourful flower gardens, the Seoul Museum of Modern Art, and Seoul Land. The last is one of three major amusement parks in or around Seoul, alongside Ever Land and the indoor Lotte World.
Mega city shopping
Korea is a great place to pick up electronic products at a fraction of Western prices, and the technology tends to be three to five years ahead as well.
Keen shoppers can visit Dongdaemun, in north Seoul, home to the country’s largest shopping centre, with a range of stores both over and underground.
For those who must have the latest gadgets, Yongsan Electronics Market is the place to go, its 5,000 stores selling hardware and software for the office and home.
Nightlife - It's South East Asia, so bring on the Karaoke
Karaoke is as big in Korea as it is in Japan, and there are almost as many places for groups to sing as there are for people to drink.
At an hourly rate, rooms (norae bangs) of various sizes can be hired out and come with a big screen, remote controls, song book of Korean and English-language songs, various props to liven things up (wigs, hats, sunglasses) and, of course, multiple cordless microphones. With drinks usually available from the front desk, the norae bang is the classic Korean way to keep a night out going into the early hours.
Evenings in Seoul offer plenty for night owls. Eating out is a big part of Korean culture – as well as the traditional galbi restaurants where customers cook their meat on a grill in the middle of the table, mentioned in part two, there are a range of other Korean delicacies on offer (including the infamous dog), as well as dishes from all over Asia – sushi is especially popular, as well as its Korean variant, kimbap. Restaurants that offer worldwide dining do exist (including Italian, Mexican and American diners) but are more costly. There is also a selection of outdoor food vendors, selling what is colloquially known as ‘street meat’.
The major bars and clubs tend to be close to Seoul’s universities, where the city’s many students come out to unwind. Chief amongst these regions is Hongdae, near a campus of Hongik university, which also boasts several norae bangs to round the evening off in.