There are nearly 10 million people in Seoul

There are nearly 10 million people in Seoul. Sometimes you walk into a quiet temple and they just dissolve around you, and other times, every single one of them seems to be trying to squeeze into the Line Two subway car to Gangnam.

Caught in this situation last week, I looked over the shoulder of a boy pressed in front of me to find him sending off a series of little penguin emoticons designed for communicating peoples feelings about crowds. In them, one cartoon penguin was caught in the middle of a flock. The bird was turning red with distress, and couldn't even lift it's wings. The boy looked calm enough, though.

Korean people are experts at staying cool in crowds. There are organic solutions to a lot of problems for example, when going up an escalator, people who want to ride standing still line up on the right hand side, while those who like to climb it like a moving staircase go past them on the left.

These kinds of strategies, plus the wonderful subway, makes Seoul really easy to get around. Most tourist-type areas tend to be far apart last week I thought it would be nice to walk along Cheonggyecheon stream to get from the goblin market to the heritage area in Insa-dong, but this turned out to be a bit ambitious for a Sunday afternoon.

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Still, the stream is very impressive. Older than Seoul itself, Cheonggyecheon or Clean Stream was covered over following the Korean War as it had become grubby, smelly and full of rubbish. An elevated highway was built on top of it, and within a few decades, the area became Seouls commercial hub.

In 2003, the government decided to dig Cheonggyecheon up again. The Lonely Planet cites the projects cost as US$384 million, adding that the water is pumped in at great expense from elsewhere, but the end result is nearly six kilometres of landscaped river flowing through the centre of the city. Theres even fish!

The Han River also runs through Seoul. It cuts the city in half the older, more central parts of Seoul lie to the north, and south are the suburbs. Old in Korea tends to mean very old indeed.

Jogyesa Temple is my favourite of the historical attractions so far. The ceiling of this Buddhist temple is covered in hundreds of colourful paper lanterns that light up at night, and in the centre of the courtyard grows an ancient locust tree you can only see the trunk, because the bulk of it's foliage is hidden by lanterns. In the central hall of worship, three enormous gold statues of the Buddha watch over people praying on the polished floor.

Of the newer destinations, Seoul Grand Park zoo was probably my most memorable visit. A recent news article praised it's focus on rehabilitation and creating appropriate habitats I thought it was a nice place for humans to walk around in, but as for the animals, it was a bit hit and miss. The giraffes, the peacocks and a few other creatures had spacious, appropriate environments, and I smiled to see a keeper standing in the middle of a field, oblivious to his surroundings as he focused on scratching a water buffalos back.

However, the big-eyed fluffballs kept in the nocturnal animal house didn't look like they'd committed any crime worthy of life imprisonment in tiny concrete cells, and the wolves well, the wolves just killed me. I've never seen wolves in the flesh before, but the romantic image that comes to mind involves a pack of several animals and space to run.

The brown wolf and the grey wolf at Seoul Grand Park zoo did not evoke that image. Kept side by side but in separate cages, each wolf paced feverishly in front of the crowd, just circling and watching us.

I imagine the zoo is doing the best it can on an entry fee of just NZ$3 per person, and overall, I did enjoy the outing. Every time I'm jammed in somewhere, though, I can't help thinking back to those wolves and remembering how lucky I am to be able to roam.

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Posted in Outdoor Activities Post Date 11/05/2015


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