I was impressed with Korea - a bit quirky and odd, yet clean and fashionable.

With one foot in the past and one foot in the future,  Korea offers endless possibility for something interesting to do.

Seoul is the capital and largest city in South Korea. Its population is over ten million people, making it the second (to Tokyo) most populated city in the world. Nearly half of the South Korea's entire population lives in the Seoul.

Immaculate and efficient, the train stations host well-behaved citizens. - whom of which are most commonly focused on their phones. Transport is inexpensive in Seoul because it is essential.

The country is known for its shopping - and the colourful streets do everything that they can to entice you.

Particular streets sell particular items - if you want an air conditioner you walk down one road and if you want fur, you walk down another...

Narrow arcades fill with vendors

Boxes line the roads ready to be exported around the world.

But even in the freezing cold, locals queue up to buy ice cream. Evidently Koreans are known for the sweet tooth - but a sweet tooth is certainly not the only thing sweet about them.

Where would Korea be with out shopping?

Cheonggyecheon (a typical appearing Korean name) is a 11km creek that runs through downtown Seoul.

After the Korean War, more people migrated into Seoul to make their living. They settled along the stream in shabby makeshift houses. The accompanying trash, sand, and waste, and deteriorating conditions resulted in an eyesore - so the stream was covered up with concrete for over a 20 year period starting in 1958. The area became an example of successful industrialization and modernization for South Korea.

The city of Seoul then changed minds and spent 349 billion dollars to restore the stream. Initiated in 2003 and completed in 2005, the restoration of Cheonggyecheon was deemed important as it fit in with the movement to re-introduce nature to the city and to promote a more eco-friendly urban design. Today it is a place where people exercise, go for a stroll, get away from the traffic... and it is a place where random artworks adorn.

The entrance  near Town Hall.

Along the banks, clever artists take advantage of the freezing cold weather

5 kilometers and an hour later, I finally reach the Wall of Hope - More than 20,000 people wrote and painted their hopes and desires on ceramic tiles to create Cheonggyecheon’s unique monumental wishing-wall which runs on both sides of the creek.

My impression of the South Koreans is that they are peaceful people who genuinely maintain faith that some day the North and South will again unite.

Interestingly, North Korea’s 69-year old communist dictator, Kim Jong-il, was announced dead the day before I arrived. On the train from the airport into Seoul, news headlines read:


“South Koreans stunned by Kim-Jong’s abrupt death”

“Kim’s death brings questions over his successor”

“South Koreans to keep calm”

“Finances have dropped 3.43%”

“Obama vows efforts of stability”

Korea is a country where I would some day like to return.

Underneath the DMZ, South Koreans have discovered 4 tunnels (with the possibility of many more existing) leading from North Korean and targeted at Seoul. Once they were discovered, North Korea quickly cemented access so that South Korean trespassing could not occur. As a tourist, and with proper identification, we were able to crawl through the third tunnel to this cemented wall. This was a very steep, and shallow trek - but worth the effort to go and see.


As with most areas near the DMZ, cameras were not allowed.


Below is a monument that North Korea has built to symbolise hope that the two countries may someday again unite.

A snowy day hinders our view any further.

 


The only plan that I made for my Korean journey was to go to the border... Due to the division of the nation and the proximity of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) with North Korea just an hour’s drive away, some might think Seoul to be a somewhat risky place to visit.

Below is my cheeky photo that I took of the DMZ. Those hills across the border are evidently equipped with massive amounts of artillery. And in between, animals are known to accidentally set off land mine traps triggered by the North Koreans. South Koreans fear that the north will attack again. Our tour guide states that North Koreans may “appear with good face, but behind the scenes all their money is directed towards the military.” They can not be trusted. Even footage of North Koreans crying after hearing the news of Kim-Jong’s death caused speculation of whether or not it was authentic. 

Below is a train track already built and ready to go once the day that unification arrives.