One of the most popular things to do in spring in South Korea is to look at cherry blossoms.
There is an island called Yeouido in the middle of the Han River (which runs through Seoul) and it is the best spot to see the cherry blossoms because the trees ring the outside the island.
The walking trials under the blossoms allow you to go all around and see the trees from lots of different angles.
Vendors set up stands to sell snacks and drinks in case you need refreshment, too.
Of course it is crowded. That’s what most Americans notice in my pictures of South Korea. But I guess in Asia you sort of get used to sharing all the pubic spaces with other people.
Crowds are just as much a part of life as the air or the trees themselves. It’s not as daunting as it seems, either. Koreans keep to themselves.
I think one of the things that can make crowds in the US seem so overwhelming is that people talk to each other, and so you are forced into social interaction just by virtue of others being around.
In Korea, people don’t talk to you unless they know you, so as odd as it sounds, you can have a peaceful day free of any unwanted social interaction even when there are millions of people around you.
Yeouido is a wonderful place to see the blossoms and it’s right on one of the main subway lines so it’s easy to get to. I went to a few other cherry blossom festivals in Jinhae and some of the more remote cities, but this was the best!
The biggest holiday in South Korea is Buddha’a Birthday.
It was very hard for me to adjust to different holidays. Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Easter passed without note. The 4th of July was just another day.
Living in a new culture means adjusting to new holidays.
As it turned out, Buddha’s birthday was my favorite.
All the temples put up these beautiful lanterns, which are multi-colored. Of course the temples are beautiful on their own, but the addition of the lanterns adds a festive and colorful touch to already impressive surroundings.
I went to Bonamsa Temple because they had a lantern-making class. Anyone could show up and make a set of lanterns to celebrate the occasion.
I put my lanterns together with some friends. This is me (below) with my friend Coleen Monroe, another teacher at Avalon.
We only meant to put together some lanterns and celebrate, but the Koreans pushed us into a line of people.
We soon learned that the cluster of people we were moved towards were park of the parade through Seoul.
Although it wasn’t the plan, we ended up marching in the parade. And because Koreans love to see foreigners doing Korean things, the TV cameras followed us as we marched.
So, without intending to, I was in a surprise parade.
If you’re looking for counter-culture in Korea, check out Club Spot!
There are a lot of amazing places to go in Seoul, South Korea. There’s the art district in Insadong. There’s the foreigner district called Itaewon. But my favorite place of all is Hongdae, and my favorite place in Hingdae is The Spot.
The Spot is right across the street from Hongik University. If you walk out of exit 12 from the Hongdae subway station, you pass the KFC was hang a left at the first street. It’s on the right, just before you reach the university. Across the street is a really cool park where they often have musicians, street performers, and tents set of with all kinds of cool vendors.
Club Spot is a venue, but their alcohol supply seems to increase every time I go in there, so I think it would be fair to call it a bar too. Some of the coolest bands I’ve seen in Korea, I have seen there.
I’ve had some good times at The Spot. I’ve seen a lot of the counter-culture in Korea, which is hard to see. When you first arrive in Korea, it’s easy to see nothing but trendy stores and K-pop. However, when you take some time to delve into the various sub-cultures, you’ll find a lot more cool stuff than the surface club scene might lead you to expect.
I sincerely recommend Club Spot as a killer party place when you’re staying up late in Seoul.
Korean sumo match- Seoul South Korea. Off the beaten path.
I had read about sumo wrestling. I had heard it was an ancient Asian art form. But to be honest, it all sounded kind of boring, until I actually saw it.
The position the fighters have to be in is precarious, to say the least. They have to hold each other in specific places, and then try to push or flip their opponent. Of course, because they are stuck holding each other, they have no leverage, and so it is based almost entirely on strength. It’s really impressive to watch.
I looked up Sumo wrestling on Wikipedia, and I was horrified to find the entry stating that Sumo is only practiced professionally in Japan. The match I went to was in Seoul, Korea! Clearly the Wiki page is wrong.
However, Sumo did start in Japan. I suppose the Japanese occupation of Korea during WWII influenced their culture more than they want to admit.
My friends and I were the only non-Korean audience members, with the exception of two other guys. I guess it’s not something tourists generally participate in. However, that does not mean tourists are unwelcome. When our group walked in, we got a very warm welcome from the Koreans, who helped us find our way to our seats and gave us balloon sticks to clap with.
The matches were exciting, but there was a lot more than that. Traditional Korean dancers and even cheerleaders added to the event to make it far more than just a wrestling match. It was a cultural experience.
I would highly recommend attending a sumo match if you travel to Korea. It is a unique experience that most tourists don’t see, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
Best moment ever: I was amazed at how big the wrestlers were (after all- I’m a big westerner and Koreans seem kind of small to me.) Suddenly it occurred to me that the wrestlers aren’t huge at all. They are just the average size of Americans! That made me laugh.