Nov 222008

Shamanist Rituals

During my stay in Seoul – particularly after Peder left and while Eli was off at class – I often spent the days working, researching backpacks, planning for China, or taking care of random personal business. Evenings were then spent socializing, exploring our surrounding areas, eating, or on nightlife. It was a drastically different experience from my last visit to Korea, during which I was either attending tourist destinations or spending time with my ex-girlfriend and her family.

There were, however, three particularly memorable touristic outings during this visit. The first was to Dongdaemun, mentioned in the previous post. The next was to a holy Shamanist mountain called Inwangsan.

After staying up a bit too late chatting amongst ourselves at Eli’s place, Peder and I got a late start for the day. This turned out to be a very good thing.

We boarded the metro to DongMinimum… Dongmingnumnmn… Dongnimmum station and started off on foot, following the instructions in the Lonely Planet precisely.

We got lost. We ended up on the wrong side of the Seoul fortress wall. But do you think a little fortress wall stopped us?

Think again!

We scaled that baby and were soon back on course, backtracking for just long enough to arrive at the base of the mountain right at sunset…and right at the start of the first of many Shamanist rituals we’d witness that evening.

I’m not at all religious, but I have to say…there was definitely something spiritual about that mountain. I’m so glad we got there at night, to witness those chants and ceremonies, rather than during the day when it would’ve presumably been overrun by tourists.

I won’t even try to describe it, because it’s not the type of experience you can describe. An evening of Shaman ceremonies on a mountain overlooking the whole of Seoul. I just thought it should be mentioned.


The other tourist attraction Peder and I attended was Seodaemun Prison. This historical prison was first built by the Japanese to house, torture, and execute Korean freedom fighters who challenged the occupation between 1910 and 1945. It was quite a horror to see, and frighteningly reminiscent of the concentration camp I visited in Germany 4 years prior. Walking down those long lines of cells where prisoners were held…it just gives you the shivers.

My only one complaint was that it did feel a little too heavy on the propaganda. I absolutely agree that what happened there was horrible, and am impressed that the Koreans displayed such conviction in the face of the Japanese aggressors over all those years. But I think the argument was slightly weakened by the fact that every single time – without exception – a sign, plaque, or pamphlet mentioned a Korean, their name or role had to be modified by “patriotic,” “brave,” etc.

As I’m typing it a couple weeks later, it doesn’t really sound so strange. Perhaps you just had to be there. But take my word for it: it was kinda over the top.


Remember how I said there were no foreigners non-Asians in Busan?

Well, that could not be farther than the truth for Seoul.

Itaewon, a district housing a major American military base, literally feels like a different country from the rest of Korea. It reminds me a bit of Roppongi in Tokyo – except that the foreign population is much, much higher. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were well over 50%. Every restaurant seems to be owned by someone from a different part of the world – from Turkish Kebaps to Indian Curry.



Eli has been converted. He’s now a believer.

It only took him one day.

A few months back, my mom mentioned that she felt the photos of myself and Peder going around in pink bunny ears and top hats sometimes make us appear immature or foolish. “We’re just having fun,” I told her. “It makes people smile, and gives those who are shy an excuse to be friendly and say hello!”

While I do see her point, let me just say this: wearing something interesting, especially in a foreign country, truly works magic. I’ve seen even the most stern-faced employees offer a huge grin and a thumbs up, I’ve made little old ladies in a fish markets scurry out of their booths to give a high-five, and witnessed scores of young folk come up just to say “Cute! What’s with the bunny ears?” (I’ve found the best response to be “What’s with the lack of bunny ears?”) And isn’t it great to both brighten someone else’s day, while at the same time meeting loads of interesting people yourself? In clubs, Bling makes you stand out as the most memorable person there: a sea of blue jeans and button-down black shirts…and two silly foreigners in plastic red top hats.

After going out on the town for just one night with Bling, Eli told me “I can’t believe I never got it before. I used to be on the other side. I used to think it was stupid. But now I get it. I’ve crossed over. I can’t imagine ever going out Blingless again.”

He has been converted πŸ˜†

The Weekends

Busan maybe a city with 3.8 million people and several bustling population centers, but somehow it still felt to me like a bit of a small town. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Seoul, on the other hand, was a beast of an entirely different nature.

Seoul is your typical Asian megalopolis. It’s much more energetic, much more fashionable, and the nightlife is just fantastic. I loved every minute of it.

Admittedly, this probably had a lot to do with the fact that I had Eli there to help me with the language barrier. But whatever the reasons, my last last week and a half in Seoul were truly spectacular. I was sad to leave.

Both of our two weekends out ended up surprisingly similar:

On Friday, we started off by socializing in a park in Hongdae just a few minutes’ walk from Eli’s – where we listened to live music, met a group of airline hostesses living in Dubai, chowed down on booth food (intestines – mmm!), and took countless photos with the locals. Then we headed to a club a few minutes down the road – foreigners free – which was “just alright.”

The real gem of both weekends were the Saturdays.

As per a friend’s recommendation, we headed to Itaewon to try out a club called Volume. I was a bit skeptical at first – Itaewon did have a decidedly shady sort of feel – but figured “what the hell, let’s give it a shot.”

It turned out to be one of the best clubs I’d ever visited. And that is no exaggeration. I know, I may have a tendency to overuse superlatives in some of my descriptions: the tastiest food, the biggest street market, the best party. Maybe I do get caught up in the moment. But as I write these articles, the reactions are always genuine. And after leaving Club Volume that first Saturday night, all 3 of us were floored.

Posh, massive, incredible sound, extravagant lights, great DJs, sofas, several VIP sections, a massive dance floor, and droves and droves of beautiful people, all of whom were both friendly and receptive. Whereas in general I’ve found Korean fashion to be a bit bland and homogeneous, Volume had the most stylish crowd one could ask for. I don’t know how it happened, but it was as if they scooped up all the coolest people in the city and stuck them into the coolest venue available. That’s Volume.

I’m so glad we found that place.

The three of us remained at Volume until it started clearing out at 5am, at which point the owner ran over to us, introduced himself, gave us his business card, invited us into the VIP section, and started showering us with free drinks.

I love life.

The Lost Hooka

During our second Saturday at Volume – the Quantum of Solace release party shown above – we left Eli’s bag at the coat check. Eli’s bag which contained my jacket and hookah.

The next morning, no hookah and no jacket. And I was scheduled to catch a boat to China just two days later.

We called the club’s phone number – but no answer. We went there in person – but the doors were locked. We asked at the hotel next door – and they said it wouldn’t open until Friday.


…Wait a minute. Good thing the owner gave us those business cards! On it was the address of the club’s office, located in a building right next door. We popped over and one of the head DJ’s, “DJ An,” was there. We explained the situation, he came downstairs, let us into the back door (with his thumb print – awesome!), walked us through the massive shut-down dance floor, and opened up the coat check.

No bag. Someone must have moved it to the back office where they apparently keep items that have been abandoned. The back office that was locked with a padlock to which DJ An didn’t have a key.

So what did he do?

He got a screwdriver and unscrewed the hinges.

I LOVE Club Volume! <3

Travel By Boat

…And the next morning, I was on my way to Incheon harbor to catch the boat to China.

I really enjoy travel by boat. Somehow it just feels so much more…personal…than flying. Or maybe the word I’m looking for is “authentic.” Like riding a bicycle instead of taking a bus or a taxi.

On the boat from Shimonoseki to Busan, there were exactly two foreigners onboard: Peder and myself. For a the price tag of about $100US, we got two futons in a typical Asian-style dorm room. It wasn’t luxurious by any means, but it was comfortable enough – and the boat had all the amenities one could ask for: a convenience store, a selection of restaurants, a few lounges, a karaoke bar, and even a small video game arcade.

This time, when traveling from Korea to China, there was exactly one foreigner on the entire boat: Me.

Despite the relatively farther distance the price was a mere $58, for which I got a bunk in a room that housed about 20. The boat was a small step up from the previous, sporting its own movie theater and even an outdoors sundeck – which wasn’t all that useful considering the temperature had dropped by ten degrees that very morning, officially crossing the boundary into “deathly.”

Looks like I picked the perfect day to push onwards πŸ™‚

  11 Responses to “I’m A Seoul Man”

  1. bunny ears magic πŸ˜‰

    i love the photo of the shaman ritual…that backdrop is unreal! were they okay with you and peder being there during the ceremonies?

  2. Well, we were very quiet and respectful, sitting off in the background. It’s a public place, and there were people set up with campfires all over the place. Some of the Koreans sitting around were even typing on their cellphones…so it wasn’t really like a “closed off religious area” as a “public mountain where Shamanists go to prey” (I think)…

  3. oooh, i think i skimmed too quickly and read about a scaling of a wall, so i thought it was off limits 😳

    preying Shamanists…kind of an ironic thought. praying shamanists, i can buy into a little more πŸ˜‰

  4. LOL! Oops πŸ˜›

  5. I almost forgot to mention: I saw something quite touching while roaming around Itaewon with Eli:

    From afar, it seemed to be a crowd of college students with picket signs, no doubt protesting something or another. But then we got closer.

    Their signs all held photos of Barack Obama, peppered with phrases like “An era of hope!” or “Finally, the world is free!” They were smiling, greeting, hugging, and hi-fiving anyone who happened by.

    It was quite a touching display. For the first time in many years, while in a foreign country I was made to feel proud to be an American – instead of ashamed. After the dozens and dozens and dozens of Anti-American signs and graffiti that’ve covered this planet over the past two presidential terms, to have someone from another culture actually hug me for being an American…really just felt wonderful.

    The climate has changed, a new era is on its way πŸ™‚

  6. Hmm. I wonder if you still agree with your last comment statement here.

  7. Yes, I’d definitely still take Obama over Bush any day of the week πŸ˜›

  8. I guess what I was asking is if you are still “made to feel proud to be an American” by internationals?

    Also upon viewing this photo I became curious to know whether you experienced the strange “eastern wedgie” of Dong Chim in Korea or kanchō as it is apparently called in Japan?

  9. I don’t know if I’d really say “proud.” Maybe “less shame?” (seek to 8:20 :D)

    Hahahaha kancho, I totally forgot about that! Didn’t even know they do the same thing in Korea – yes, Japanese guys love to do the kancho for some strange and inexplicable reason… πŸ˜›

  10. Lol. Classic reference.

    Bart: “What’s the opposite of shame?”
    Marge: “Pride?”
    Bart: “no, not that far from shame”
    Homer: “Less shame?”
    Bart: “Yeaahhh”

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