Seoul weathermen know their weather. For the first time in my life, I have come across an accurate weather forecast. They said it would rain today. And it is raining since morning.
As I sit outside Cafe Pascucci, on the streets of Gangnam, sipping my cappuccino, Seoul walks under umbrellas. Black, checkered, blue, pink ; Seoul is a garden of umbrellas today. Me, I am a bit drenched. I take a puff, my blue-grey raincoat on the chair across me. It wasn't much of a help,more of a hassle rather, taking it off every time I enter a building or go into the subway (metro, if you will), and then putting it back on for going outside. But the rain or the inconvenience of the raincoat has not been able to stop me our my colleagues to look around the city on this weekend.
It's been four days that I've been in Seoul, most of it obviously, has been and will be spent, inside the office and the hotel room. Much as I wish, that I had come here without an agenda, as a traveller, the fact remains that I'm here on official business.
However, on a personal level, I am attempting to "travel" as much as I can. Evenings have been spent in long walks in neighbouring areas. Mostly I have gone out alone so far, walking down unknown alleys, trying to understand what the city is about. Sometimes, my colleagues accompany me. Last night Bali was with me as we covered about 5 km before heading back to the hotel.
Seoul, on first glance, looks to me like a suburb of Tokyo. Or maybe it is just my love for most things Japanese, that colours my view of her. The same busy mornings, the same bacchanal nights. Nights are whiled away in bars of all types. Hard working men and women drowning their days in bottles of Soju; kawai women ( I do not know how to translate the concept of kawai to any other language, it is quintessentially Japanese) beckon you into the bars. Sharp dressed men in clean cut suits, fashionably dressed women in their stilettos, cruising down the streets of thirst, gliding in and out of various watering holes. So Tokyo. But not quite.
Tokyo has its punks, its otaku, its gothic lolitas - shades of bright crimson hair or dark clothed mascara eyes that impregnate the orderly power-dressed crowd with a tinge of chaos every now and then. Haven't seen that so much here yet.
Each night, I go out into the streets, sampling the city - its people, its sounds, its smells, its tastes. I have been on a strictly local food diet, barring the coffee of course. It is strange how many of us fail to see this opportunity to try out local food. Many end up looking for their safe choice in food, their own cuisine. Some even resort to cooking their native food. Ironically, when these people return, they would pay a king's ransom to try the same ( the local food) at an up-class restaurant or hotel which serves exotic cuisines.
As I expected, I am enjoying the variety of food here. So far, I've had sunde khukh phaph - a light pork and Korean blood sausage soup, served with rice and kimchi for dinner on two occasions. Lunch today was nakji, small octopus in a spicy base, consumed with a generous dose of soju. The other night, while walking down yet another newly discovered alley, I had stopped by a Japanese joint. Sushi and miso soup made for a sumptuous dinner.
I also had the chance to taste Vietnamese food. Rice paper and sea food soup ( squid, octopus, oyster, with noodle thrown in). Having rice paper with chopsticks was difficult. The flat metallic Korean chopsticks, which are more difficult to handle than the square section Chinese counterpart, made it near impossible.
In the days to come, I am looking forward to more exploration. Tomorrow I go to Itaewon..