Diversifying entertainment in Seoul
Economic success of South Korea rests upon many things, and most notably – devastating working culture of Koreans. According to OECD statistical extracts from 2008, Korean people work the longest hours among all the other member countires.
This of course affected a lot how people tend to relax here. For instance, Hankuk University students are famous for their weekly eating+drinking rounds across several restaurants per evening, which always include shared food and liters of soju. And who doesn’t know such clubs as Octagon in gangnam or Coccoon in hongdae, which are welcoming hundreds of people daily, resulting into lots of alcohol consumed (again). Nonetheless, there are some people who cannot relieve stress by attending loud places, or don’t enjoy drinking so much, or just don’t want to spend money on that, or at least would like to diversify their spendings on different types of entertainment. So, how do people relax here, except for clubs, bars and restaurants and how can people reassess their free time activities?
Most expected answer is, of course, hiking. I think that Koreans are famous for kimchi, soju, and hiking. Seriously, you can see so many small (but exceptionally strong), old (but painfully shoving) ladies taking buses and subway almost every day in the direction to Kwanak (Seouldae). There’s no wonder: you can find over 1700 trails in Korea, and for the overwhelming majority of them you’re not charged for anything (in case of exceptions, the fee is usually less than 1000 won), you don’t need much of equipment or prior-training for hiking (“learning by doing”) and this activity also totally fits the urge of Korean culture to be community based, because hiking is much more fun if done in a group (and it is also more safe to do hiking with someone else in undesired emergency cases). Just read about trails in Seoul before departing, choose your mountain, call friends, take some nice sandwiches and go!
Tips: it is preferable to avoid organizing a hiking trip on weekends, if you have a chance to do it during weekdays, because it is much more crowded on Saturdays and Sundays.
Watching a baseball game live and watching the same game in reality makes a difference (for some people, not for me though). For those, however, who just want to spend good time shouting out whatever is on one’s mind, or support a team of favorite Korean chaeboll, like Samsung, LG, Lotte, Doosan, or Nexon, or drink beer with hotdogs or kentucky fried chicken on the olympic stadium, surrounded by the happy shouting and jumping friends in cheering atmosphere created by weird 80s music in Korean (seemed to be taken from old-school arcade game rooms) and accompanied with attractive cheerleaders dancing on the two stages on both sides of the grandstands — then watching baseball game is just perfect for you. The price for ticket ranges between W 7 000 and 40 000 for a regular seat (students pay less: W5,000 on weekdays, and a thousand more on weekends; the price for children ranges from 0 to 4 000 won).You can find more detailed information on seats, prices and shedules online in Korean.
Korean Karaoke is called “Norebang”. The literal translations reads as “song room” or room for singing. However, singing is not a required skill: basically, norebangs are the places where people go because they are really bad singers, but they want to sing. I really think that everybody likes singing, but not in public, because it will hurt others ears and we are social animals, who don’t want to lose social ties with people. So we sing in the showers or when we’re totally alone. But norebang is the place where there is no social pressure and bad singing is not just justified, it is encouraged. In fact, the worse – the better (and funnier). This is also a great compromise of attending something different from just bar or restaurant in Korea, and afford such night out for less than 5 000 won (the bigger the group is, the less you pay for a room). It is also a cool entertainment option, because you can get warm meal, soju (of course) or other beverages and get really drunk if you want, or you can stay sober but still have lots of fun with friends, who will be singing their favourite songs from 1990s.
Students try to organize their travelling routes and accommodations as good as they can. However, you should definetely try to spend one night with the group of friends in Korean style sauna called Chimjilbang which really appeals when you forget to book a hotel or you’re running out of money and have nowhere to sleep. It is, perhaps, the cheapest and the easiest way to get a shelter under its roof: you don’t need to make prior-reservations, and it is always warm enough there :) It might, however, be a bit peculiar for western people to witness old ladies and gentlemen being naked showering together in a shared room, but no one actually requieres you to shower with anyone, unless you want it. Usually, you can rest on the second floor of the bathhouse, without catching too much of attention: there are always many late-comers from clubs or travelling students, who are very much welcomed in these places.
Did you know, that South Korea is leading in cummulative MMORPG market share according to revenues? One of the most contributing factors is the Korean online-gaming culture of creating guilds and perceiving the online games like League of Legends a type of social clay, which binds youngsters together. This culture was nurtured during almost 20 years by the so called PC-Bangs – the internet or LAN rooms for playing online games. It seems to me, that Koreans start this kind of group activity of strengthening community feeling since early childhood, and then continue the same in work places (culture of eating out and drinking with the boss and collegues): every boy here since 1990s will share the experience of rushing directly to pc-bangs right after classes to play a couple of hours with the school fellows. This social norm is continuing today with even larger scales. Koreans became exceptionally good at e-sports and have an ability to earn a whole lot of money for being the stars of online games. An hour in PC-bang is really cheap, because of the high competition (there are hundreds of PC-Bangs in Seoul, you can see them literally everywhere), and they serve snacks and drinks there. If you just want to have fun with a couple of friends and play coutner-strike online or Dota or League of Legends – try it in Korea at least once, because it is an awesome experience you’ll probably never get in your home country.
Of course, the mid-April in Korea means white and pink explosion of cherry-blossom all around the city. What a beauty, seriously, the smell of cherry flowers and the beauty of those thousands of pastel pink and creamy white petals, swept by the wind and covering wet streets after the rain – this is something you will adore for only several days. You can go to Seoul forest, Seoul national cemetery at Dongjak and, of course, the dominant cherry-blossom spot is Yeoido where the annual cherry-blossom festivals are held. It is of course free of charge and is usully full of couples holding hands, kissing, making selfies… So be ready to be flooded (and flood yourself) the facebook newsfeed.
What can be better than a bike ride along the river on Sunday morning? You might answer differently, but having a ride alone or with friends, especially along the Han River, which is covered by multitude of breathtakingly beautiful bridges and you won’t spend a penny on that after all – this is the best way to free your mind and relax and at the same time bring some healthy physical activity. The only spot I personally know with bikes given out for a couple of hours free of charge is in Heukseok station (line 9, station #919). You can check out one of the videos of the bycicle ride with my student fellows on my youtube channel.
To conclude, Seoul is the city, where you can feel the atmosphere of persistent action of night life created by numerous clubs, pubs, bars, restaurants. And this is awesome, because you gain invaluable experience, which you might not get in any other city of the world. But when you try to do too much, the feeling of being very free and happy is substituted with tiredness and exhaustion,because this city might also stress you out. So, try to balance out your free time activity in a way that you can regain your energy and enthusiasm through entertainment diversification.