I’ve been back here in Seoul for 3 weeks now, after a month-long trip back in the states. A friend recently asked me whether I noticed a difference in the air after my return. My hometown in the states, Vermont, is a small state with little industry and no large metropolitan city. The air is on an average day very crisp and the sky clear. Anyone who knows Seoul knows that’s not often the case here. When I first arrived in Seoul in 2013 the air bothered me. This time around, that wasn’t the case. I didn’t notice a thing. Maybe I’ve lived here long enough I’ve adjusted. Whether this is true or not, it’s also true the air’s been unusually clear for the past few weeks, during this change in seasons from summer to fall. The temperature too has cooled down and walking to and from school and around the city, I look up to a deep blue sky. For anyone whose seen Seoul in it’s rough stretches of pollution, these periods are something you really appreciate.
The weather was so nice I decided to meet my friend in Chungmuro, central Seoul, an area just north of Mount Namsan for a mid-day lunch. It’s a surprisingly quiet area of the city, considering it’s central location, squeezed right between Myeongdong and Dongdaemun, two of Seoul’s largest shopping districts, and near to City hall and Seoul’s main train station. Being located near Dongguk University, there’s plenty of suljib’s (bars), fried chicken and barbecue meat restaurants. Yet, there’s also a lot of history in this area, as evident by the historic apartments, shops and homes that are still standing. In Seoul, day by day, old neighborhoods and homes are being demolished and transformed into modern spaces at an incredible rate. An area like Chungmuro, where you can really see and feel the older Korea is a special thing in 2015. Walking around with my friend, we strolled through a printing street, past warehouses and shops full of workers printing papers in lines of old-style print-presses. Next we wandered through the back street twisting, narrow allies, packed with small restaurants selling soups, meat and traditional korean foods, dodging motorcyclist’s along the way as they sped through these tight “alternate streets”. Finally, we settled down at a restaurant in an area nearing Myeongdong. The area’s interesting because it feels caught between the old and new Seoul, showing signs of gentrification but not there yet. This image really is microcosm of Seoul, sitting right in between the old and new. We talked over kimchi soup and sweet/spicy pork before making our way back to the train station to continue on our ways.