Seoul is a very big city. Some ten million people live there, and you can tell. The traffic doesn`t stop, ever. You can get in a traffic jam on a random weekday night at 3am, and Sundays are no exception. And so it proved as we arrived. Kris Vile, Sean Smith and Ross Mc Gouran were the skaters. With the youngest 17 years of age and the eldest being 19, I didn´t know what to expect, but these lads made the best out of the trip and conducted themselves in a respectful and responsible manner. Ed Leigh was going to be our guardian angel throughout the whole expedition. Fortunately Ed had the marvellous idea of getting a Korean phrase book that ended up being vital for us. Not that many people speak English in Seoul and moving your way around can be a nightmare without the help of some phrases.
The city is full of contrasts. Even though it keeps a strong link to it's Asian culture you can live a perfectly westernized life, buy the same products as in any European city or eat the same food. Wisely, they have pride for their ancient traditions and they take good care of them. Most people eat Asian food in Seoul and you get to see loads of restaurants from Korea, China, Vietnam and Japan. Their culinary customs are a whole issue in itself if you are a tourist. Every single kind of Korean food you may try is spicy: very spicy. They even have spicy breakfast so you better be ready to sweat some. Fish is a big part of their diet and it`s very interesting to walk by the restaurants and see at the marquee a huge fish pond with many different kinds of live sea food. From baby octopus, eaten alive, to fish you have probably never seen before waiting for you to make your pick. But what really kept us on guard was dog. We had found out that people eat dog there. Not just a random dog (though we didn´t get to see any stray dogs at all!) they eat a special breed of dog, raised in farms specifically to be consumed by humans. It is supposed to be a delicacy and it isn´t an easy thing to find a restaurant where they serve it. Ed and I were ready to try it but it never came across our path.
The skate spots in Seoul are frankly amazing, it`s a paradise of marble-granite ledges. The construction there never seems to stop and they keep building huge glass skyscrapers with all kinds of ledges and different skateable things at the foot of them. It also helped in having all of these great spots that South Korea hosted the Olympics and the football World Cup in the last ten years and these kind of events always have the city fixed and cleaned up.
We had a couple of contacts from local skaters to show us around. Kim, a skater-photographer took us to some of the most known skate spots and to some very good restaurants. But he was working so we couldn´t meet up with him on a daily basis. We also couldn´t rent a car because you need an international driving license to do so in South Korea, so we ended up lurking around the city looking for spots. We found some very good ones indeed, we even found some spots that had never been skated before and Kris, Ross and Sean got a piece of them. We were skating every day since our skateboards and the metro were our only means of transportation. And we were also skating every night because the security guards got more laid back and the streets weren´t too crowded.
Politically, Korea is divided into two different countries, comunist North Korea and capitalist South Korea. The tensions have been high in this country for many years now since they are also neighbours to China and Japan and both of them like to mess around with their smaller neighbour. In a troublesome area like this it is only normal to have people going to the military for two years after they turn eighteen and many talented skaters are lost after this non-skating hiatus. Having the communists so close only made having the Americans even closer. Their presence is very strong, with their big military bases and their own TV channels. They even have a Marine Corps TV channel where you can get an anti communist message at any time of the day.
Travelling in Seoul was like being in two different places at the same time. At times it made you feel like you were in the heart of Asia and in some other times you would feel as in any Western city, at times it looked like a poor place but in some others it looked like one of the wealthiest places, at times the communists were a hazard and at other times the Americans were the hazard.
Seoul was to me a bit like that place between Heaven and Hell, and that`s always a good place to be.