Experience South Korea's Magical Winter

Lonely Planet Magazine India|November 2018

Experience South Korea's Magical Winter

Winters in South Korea are magical, and, if it’s your maiden voyage to the bite-sized nation, expect plenty of surprises – a dancing Pikachu on the streets of Seoul, sub-zero temperatures on Gangmun Beach and other experiences of the unusual kind

Amrita Lall

IT’S 3.30pm and I’m shivering. Under my oversized parka and four other layers of woollens, I’m still shivering. For somebody who has lived all her life in cities where winter temperatures don’t dip below 170C, Seoul at a chilly -3 seems highly capable of freezing people alive. A bemused passerby notices as I furiously rub my mitten-covered hands together and place them against my face, offers a warm smile, and (after rightly assuming that I’m a person in slight distress) asks if I need help. I’ve been warned that English isn’t widely-spoken in South Korea, so I respond with the best smile my partly- frozen face can muster and ask “Myeongdong – which way?” Turns out, he speaks the language fluently and tells me how to get there. A 15-minute walk later, I’ve arrived. Myeondong, widely believed to be South Korea’s premier shopping district, at first sight, lives up to all that I’ve read, heard and imagined. Loudspeakers busting upbeat K-pop tunes, hawkers carting in their food stalls and prepping for the evening, and hundreds of stores selling the latest trends in fashion, beauty products of every kind imaginable, and the promise of successful cosmetic surgeries at bizarrely low prices – I’m delighted that the market more than just lives up to all the clichés. I decide to loiter around till sundown.

From what I’ve heard, night is when the market truly comes alive. Since I have some time to kill before night falls, I head to a little pub I’d noticed earlier in the day. Like diners at every other table, I call for chimaek (“chi” for chicken and “maek” for maekju, Korean for beer), the combo that took Korea by storm five years ago and has shown no signs of dying ever since. As I wait for my order, I notice how well-dressed everybody around me is. Both men and women are dressed to the nines with flawless skin, impeccably-styled hair and with solid proof of top-notch make-up skills. Kitted out in almost my entire winter wardrobe, my face just peeking out under my parka, I feel like quite the alien; an alien waiting to dig into some crunchy, juicy chicken. When I finally do try the chicken with the dark beer, I’m surprised at how well they go together. A few swigs later, I’m out the door – all warmed up (thanks to the beer) and ready to take on the wonders the night has to offer.

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November 2018