Top right: A sculpture commemorating the World
Cup. Above from top: Locals in the town centre playing Chinese
chess on the sidewalk, unperturbed by tourists. Detail from a palaces
roof. Modernist architecture at the INSA Art Center in Insadong. The main
Insadong shopping street, and the only likely place to find non-Koreans
shopping. Converted schoolhouse, now a tearoom, in Insadong. Right:
Juxtaposition of traditional Korean architecture and modern structures
At two opposite ends of the Eurasian lands,
Seoulone of the cities hosting this years World Cupand
Paristhe only city in which we dont mind looking like
a touristprove to be two enduring destinations this summer
by Jack Yan
Photographed by the author
EXPERTS had predicted that 2002 would be the quiet year for travel,
but don't you believe it. Although most companies scaled down their
expected customer numbers in the first quarter, the travel experts
we've spoken to have been caught off-guard now that people have
decided it's OK to cross oceans once again.
The advice this summer is to get in quick. The
high season has grown to encompass more weeks, so more expensive
airfares are in the offing. But where to go?
Soul to Seoul
One of the host cities for the soccer World Cup in 2002, Korea offers
cultural surprises to the visitor. A cosmopolitan city of 40 million
people, the third largest metropolis in the world, Seoul has a unique
blend of Confucian and post-Korean War blandness, at least at first
glance. But deeper investigation reveals far more.
Many Asian cities seem to suffer from an odd
mixture of Americanism and local tradition. Near the city hall in
Seoul one can find any number of BaskinRobbins, Burger King
and KFC outlets. Even exiting various stops on the subwayone
of the most efficient Lucire has experienced, with air-conditioned
stops and trainsthere are plenty of take-out joints that will
be familiar to the visitor.
But travel to Insadong, the shopping district,
and there is an ironic mixture. Insadong is arguably one of the
very few places one will see non-Korean faces (remember, the locals
make up 99½ per cent of the population here, until you get to the
border and meet some of the 40,000 GIs stationed in South Korea)
yet there are more shops here that are quintessentially Korean,
away from those located inside city high-rises.
The high-rises have an Asian architectural flavoura
mixture of postmodern and ancient in some casesbut there just
seems to be that much more authenticity visiting stores like Pagoda
in Insadong. There are art centres and a delightful former school
classroom-turned-café decorated with prewar school desks
and a blackboard.