22 Aug 2016 19:31 IST

Annyeonghaseyo Seoul!

IIM-B students having a field day in Seoul

With warm people, vibrant nightlife and love for simplicity, Seoul is beginning to win our hearts

After a daunting Term 1 and an excruciating Term 2, the EPGP Class of 2017 at IIM Bangalore headed to South Korea for two weeks for the International Immersion Programme at KAIST Business School to gain a first-hand perspective of a resplendent country in the Asian economy.

The first two terms of the programme push one to the limits of his/her endurance levels, with innumerable group projects, assignments, surprise quizzes, mid- and end-terms. The immersion programme, then, comes as a great respite — an incentive for all the hard work put in over the last few months.

Thus 70 insomniac souls at IIM-B were as eager as beavers to welcome D-Day. It would be the last day of the end-term exams, which had been on since the previous Sunday, and would usher us back to our regular lifestyles.

Take off

‘Emerging’ out of the emerging economies exam hall with lighter heads and a wide grins, we rushed to our apartments, stocked a lot of instant Indian food and packed our bags for the evening flight to Hong Kong. We took DragonAir to Hong Kong and, after a halt of six hours, Cathay Pacific to Seoul.

IIM-B’s immersion team and the Student External Affairs team at KAIST business school meticulously arranged our transportation from the airport and the stay at Seoul. Right from the moment we stepped out of the airport, Seoul held us in her grip. Every bit of the city — the stunning skyline, the impeccable infrastructure and the happening atmosphere — reflected the city’s enterprise and industriousness.

Rajkiran Ravi, our batchmate, had worked in the metropolis for over three years and is quite conversant in Korean. He quickly shared a few interesting facts about Korea and taught us a few words such as ‘hello’ (Annyeonghaseyo) and ‘thanks’ in the local language.

Exhausted and excited, we retired that night.

The next day

Early next day, Raj devised a city tour plan and, after breakfast, we left for the nearest metro station.

The super-fast Korean subway trains connect every nook and corner of the city to other destinations so efficiently that they are a preferred choice for a majority of the people, irrespective of their social status.

Our first destination was the Changdeokgung Palace, considered “the palace of good fortune and prosperity”. It was one of the Five Grand Palaces built by the kings of Joseon dynasty.

The palace was burnt to the ground by Imperial Japan in 1592 and reconstructed in 1609 by King Seonjo and King Gwanghaegun. The palace was burnt back down in 1623 by King Injo in a political revolt against Gwanghaegun. The palace was also attacked by the Manchu Qing but throughout its history of reconstruction and repair, the palace has retained its original design.

The adjoining National Folk Museum extensively narrates the history of its construction, subsequent invasions and the consequent efforts towards its reconstruction. It goes on to depict the culture of ancient Korean societies, their rituals, customs, traditions, lifestyles, and the deep impact of the Confucian education system. One can strongly correlate to the ancient Indian system — societal norms, importance towards education, fascination with arts, music, astronomy, and so on.

Changdeokgung was the seat of power and still remains so, as the President’s office is just over a stone’s throw away from the palace.

 

Bits and bites

We then set out for lunch at an Oriental restaurant, tucked away in a corner in the busy market street. After gesturing and pointing at pictures on the menu, we managed to place our order and then observed the way the locals ate. We too tried our hand at it with reasonable success — similar to the way Indians eat paan, Koreans roll pickled tofu and vegetables in a variety of green leaves and take large bites. Food here is wholesome, delightful and comes in jumbo bowls.

Next was a walking tour in Bukchon Hanok, a traditional village that boasts of beautiful narrow lanes, and small hanoks preserved through centuries. Small cafes, bakeries, ice-cream parlours and shops line up on either side of flower-lined alleys.

A striking feature of the South Korean capital is the way the widely disparate communities co-exist without stepping into each other’s boundaries — the traditional villages and palaces against a backdrop of multinational commercial establishments.

 

However eager we were to explore more of the city, the five-hour walk in the hot sun had exhausted us. We could barely continue towards the nearest subway station! That’s when the best happened. We found the Cheonggyecheon stream, an artificial public recreation system where one can leisurely sit on platforms, soaking one’s feet in the cold flowing water. After relaxing for a while, we took the metro and headed back to the hotel, having relished every bit of the day.

With its warm, hospitable people, a vibrant nightlife and its love for simplicity, Seoul is just beginning to win our hearts.

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