I just returned from a trip to Seoul and was reminded of an Internet forum post I had read some years ago when I began researching where to live in Korea. A seeker had asked about where to live and someone had responded that Korea was a beautiful country with many cities, but it really is Seoul, and the rest of Korea. I didn’t quite understand what the forum member meant, but after having travelled there several times I have come to interpret this as a comment on Seoul’s international feel, as compared to all other cities in Korea. Now every city certainly has its unique flavor, with my favorite being Busan. The city of mountains, beaches, great Korean cuisine, and easily traversable streets, along with so many other perks. However, where Busan has its older, natural advantages, Seoul has its more modern, international advantages. As Korea’s main representative to the world, its not hard to see the characteristics of an international city come through very quickly, the food and the people are just two of so many
First off, as with all international cities, the variety of ethnic foods explodes. From Nepalese to Nigerian, Mexican to French, Turkish to Arabic, etc to etc., the array of international cuisine stretches far across the international spectrum of countries. Furthermore, in several districts there are international markets where you can buy the various spices, herbs, beans, and sauces with which to prepare the same dishes. I also noticed ads for various cooking courses you can attend where presumably some expat from these countries might teach the skills of preparing a tasty Tabouli (Lebanese) salad, or how to whip up a tasty Curry. Another dimension of the international food scene is the Korean-Western fusion restaurants that speckle the city. Although I didn’t eat at one, I did notice various signs for Kimchi burgers floating around Seoul.
Second, all the colorful people. In the short time I was there, I must’ve heard at least 4-5 languages being spoken by pedestrians. French, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, etc., were all represented in the city, remarkably in a short time. Furthermore, English language seemed far more easily accessible in Seoul. I was taken back by meeting several professors who spoke better English than myself. However, it didn’t stop at the learned. I had little problems communicating with any Korean and to them a Westerner is no new sight. The various colors, languages, walks, talks, and Englishes make Seoul undoubtedly international.
However, it doesn’t come without a price, and it’s pretty hefty in Seoul. Renting an apartment seems to be at least double the price of what it is in Busan. Food, transportation, and entertainment are all a bit more expensive as well. Another price to pay is that in most international cities, you tend to feel like a small fish in a large pond. I don’t mind the feeling, but being back in the ever-welcoming bosom of Busan is always nice.