I suppose that it should have come to no one's surprise that my earlier post,, a description of a walk along the Han River containing actual content and photographs (as opposed to my usual whining and navel-gazing) got good reviews from my readers. While sticking to the facts is not actually a strong point of mine, I do have a weakness for positive reviews, so, having succumbed to popular opinion, I'm back with another little tour of my world in Seoul. In today's episode, I would like to take you along with me back to our apartment building and show you a little bit of the area around our high-rise apartment complex in Seoul. For my big-city readers, this may not be of much interest, but the differences from our previous lifestyle in the suburban American Southwest - as well as the obvious cultural differences - are part of what has made this move so compelling for our family, and it's those that I'm interested in sharing.
Since I already documented my walk down to the Han River, I won't do the whole thing in reverse, but I will remind you that I use the subway tunnel to cross underneath the busy street in front of our apartment complex, exiting via escalator and its helpful 'way out' sign. It's a little bizarre, rising out of the underground into the sunlight, especially since there's a giant plexiglass dome over the escalator. It's a little bit like being that 3-eyed alien in Toy Story who gets chosen by The Claw ("Nirvana is coming! The mystic portal awaits!")
Our apartment building is one of a group of 6 high-rise buildings within our complex. Each building has 35 or so floors, which, with an average of 4 people per family, multiplied by 6 apartments per floor, divided by 1.3 teacup-sized poodles per family, equals roughly a gazillion human beings and their pets, which has no bearing whatsoever on my description except to illustrate that there are a lot of people living here. The buildings within the complex are connected by a series of subterranean basement parking garages below ground, and a series of paths and sidewalks above ground. The buildings in the complex that face the area by the subway entrance all have their ground floors dedicated to various businesses: restaurants, a few banks, realtors, hairdressers, a spa, and even a small grocery store; but mostly, restaurants. In fact, a restaurant is just about the first thing you see when you emerge from our station exit, and the more enterprising proprietors prop their menus up pretty much right at the subway exit to catch your attention:
If that doesn't make you hungry, you can test your resolve as you walk past one eatery after the other:
There are also - unfortunately- a couple of bakeries, which is probably why - despite the fact that I now walk miles every day - I have not lost an ounce since moving here.
Paris Baguette is the most ubiquitious of bakeries in Seoul. You see one on practically every street corner, sort of like Dunkin' Donuts in New England or Starbucks in the rest of the world (and yes, they have Starbucks in Seoul as well. There is no escaping it.) Fresh-baked bread and pastries are displayed seductively in the windows, making it very difficult to stick to all those noble diet resolutions, especially when you've just hiked several miles along the river and would be well within your rights to rationalize a
Of course, even if you do manage to make it past Paris Baguette without weakening, temptation still lurks around the corner in the form of Doughnut Plant:
I have no idea if Doughnut Plant is actually based in New York City (readers?), but it is decorated inside with giant black-and-white photos of youthful American-looking folks ( I base this assumption on the fact that some are wearing baseball caps) looking carefree and hip in grainy photos in warehouse-type city settings, which I can only assume is a legitimate representation of the NYC doughnut subculture. They make an excellent latte, have comfy bench-type chairs both inside and on the patio, and (curse them) display a giant photo menu of their wares right on the sidewalk, so even the most virtuous pedestrian cannot help but be lured in by its siren song:
This one always catches my eye, mostly because I rarely associate 'green' with 'doughnut':
And, yes, that's 2400 Korean Won for one espresso cake flavored doughnut, which translates to roughly $2.40 for one doughnut. Having not tried the espresso cake doughnut, I cannot vouch for its quality, but I can say that for that price, it had better be pretty damn good.
If you're not interested in generic coffee-and-doughnuts, you can opt for a typical Korean summer favorite, the Red Bean Triple Berry Sherbet. While I have not tried this yet (I still cling to close-minded Western notions that red beans should interface primarily with rice and andouille sausage, and not items in the sherbet family, but I'm working on this) I have heard it's outstanding. Frankly, I see no need to add any more foods to my list of Things That Taste Great That I Shouldn't Eat, so for the time being, Red Bean Sherbet is still not a temptation.
If you're looking for more of a meal, you can take your pick of a wine bistro, a Chinese Restaurant, or this traditional Korean gimbap place, which is a favorite with Son #1:
Gimbap looks a lot like some kinds of sushi. It's basically sheets of seaweed filled with rice, seafood, vegetables, or meat, wrapped up to form a cylinder and served in slices. It is probably the closest thing to fast food we have right near us, although there are both Domino's and Papa John's further down the street.
Once you pass the gimbap restaurant, you leave the business sector behind and pass the parking garage entrance. Like just about everywhere in Korea, it is staffed by a sharply-dressed worker who performs his/her job with extreme pride, courtesy, and attention to detail. The guy in the intersection is in charge of directing automobile and pedestrian traffic. He does this with smart, almost military gestures:
...and always greets everyone with a courteous bow:
Once you leave the intersection, you will find yourself on a series of walking paths the meander between the buildings in the complex. I have to say, when I envisioned living in a high-rise, I pictured a bleak grey building and not much else. However, our complex is surrounded with trees, plants, walking paths, greenspace, picnic areas, and several playgrounds. Since I dearly loved my garden and plants back home, this access to nature has gone a long way towards reconciling me to the loss of my own backyard. Here's the steep-ish hill leading up to our building:
You'll notice the little terraced waterfalls on the right: on hot days, it's all I can do to keep from flinging myself in there, and I have seen little kids attempting it more than once.
All along the various pathways, you'll find benches, shade structures, picnic areas. Also included is a map of the grounds which I cannot read, but, since I'm sharp, I get the gist of it:
One of the strangest things for me, as a suburbanite, is to see a beautiful swath of plantings, like this:
...and then remember that we're actually in the middle of an enormous metropolis:
Watching the dragonflies hover over the pond, it's easy to forget...
....where you are.
I don't know if this sort of thing is typical in large apartment complexes in big cities in other parts of the world, but it's certainly not what I'd envisioned when I imagined myself living in a high-rise. When you're wandering down a path that looks like this:
It's easy to forget that you're really here:
And I think, in some ways, that is probably a very good thing.