Korean Vacation Days 7-9: Seoul

Phew, Seoul is really sweltering these days. Last year was hot, but for the last couple of weeks we’ve been operating at the kind of stifling temperature that would make a camel sweat.

I returned from Busan energized, and feeling as good as I have in Korea for some time, having recovered some of my serious Berlitz-related sleep debt and managed to evade any level of sunburn that verges on the cancerous. Whilst I did nothing special with my Friday – hanging around with a few ‘long lost’ friends (that’s right, I’ve now been in Seoul long enough to consider friends long lost! – just don’t have time to fit everyone I want to into my schedule anymore) and eaten some great Mexican. Not a bad way to kill a day.

Saturday meant back to work. I had the chance to take it as a holiday, but frankly I’ve got used to the idea of working Saturdays, the weekend students are far more chilled out, I get to work in Jeans and a T-Shirt and it saves me having to work another day later.

On Sunday I ventured down to Hi Seoul Festival. The festival is basically an exercise in tourism: a way to promote the various different aspects of life in Korea to its residents, particularly those of non-Korean origin. It’s recently been expanded from a yearly to quarterly event, which is great, as it seems to improve every time as well. The sweltering heat around the riverside parks made Hi Seoul almost unbearable at times, but it was worth it for some of the events.

The day started with Birdman – the ludicrous concept of strapping on wings and attempting to fly from a platform set at a fairly hefty height. I had intended to take part in this – and actually went as far as submitting an application and starting to build my wings, but time restrictions and a lack of people prepared to brave morning hangovers to join in stopped me from going through with it, which might well end up being something I regret. Anyway, the collection of hardy fools hid participate in the 8m leap included a large collection of gliders (some with an extremely impressive wingspan), and people dressed as anything from the obvious (a bird) to the ridiculous (a pack of cigarettes, and an impressive replica of a national monument. Of all the participants, a good 50% had a political statement about the East Sea Island of Dokdo printed somewhere on them, showing just what a big political issue the ludicrous Japanese claim to sovereignty is becoming over here. Of all the participants, few managed to do anything that even approached flying, and unsurprisingly no-one got anywhere closing to claiming the 1 million dollar prize on offer for making it right across the Han (around 1km). Great entertainment, though, especially the screamers!

Next up was canoeing. In the tiny sports canoes laid on by Hi Seoul in the choppy water of the Han, it’s a small miracle I didn’t end up going for an unwanted swim. The view from water level on the river is truly stunning, especially in the current bout of clear weather (massively reduced pollution heading over from China after the Olympic crackdown). Views stretched as far as the craggy mountains that form a wall around Seoul, past a range of beautiful riverside buildings. I spent more time looking at the view than paddling.

There was plenty of other stuff going on, including river Zorbing (whoever thought of using these large inflatable balls to walk across the river is a genius!), dragon boating and lots of live Jazz in the sun. A Great day out. The festival goes on all week, so I’m hoping to check out some good Korean rock tomorrow night, and then go again to cover it for the Seoul Government Tourism website on Saturday. I’m sure I’ll be sick of it by then!

Rumor has it the repressive heat is on its way out by the end of the week. If not I may die a slow and painful death from severe dehydration, despite my consumption being at least 2 liters a day. Here’s hoping!

James x

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