Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Simple Pleasures

In the 2006 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Seoul ranked 2nd as the world’s most expensive city next to Moscow. It bumped off Japan to 3rd place followed by Hong Kong at 4th position and London at 5th. The survey covered 144 cities across 6 continents and measured the comparative costs of housing, transportation, food, household goods, clothing and entertainment.

It’s no wonder why more often than not, when I meet a fellow foreigner here in Seoul, our initial conversation would be about how expensive it is to live in Seoul (followed by “so do you like kimchi?” then we move on to complain about the lack of personal space in the subway). In my case, I do find everything very expensive compared to Manila standards. Here, I buy fruits and vegetables only by gram whereas in Manila it’s so cheap that you can buy everything by kilo! But comparison aside, even with a modest budget, one can still have an enjoyable time here in Seoul. With an open-mind and proper walking shoes, you can easily entertain yourself without burning a whole in your pocket.

Here are some of our favorite weekend activities that don’t cost much:

People watching at City Hall park – we just find our spot on the grass and bask in the afternoon sun. Since P is into photography, he takes photos of families and groups of friends who are hanging out and having their own little picnics in the park. It’s a welcome change to see the laid-back side of Koreans, not “pali pali”. Oh, but before you go to the park, make sure you stop by Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks for takeaway snacks and drinks.

Hiking –the most popular weekend activity in Korea. You will find hikers as young as 10 yrs to as old as 75 yrs trekking up the forest-covered mountains around Seoul. But just because you see grandmothers hiking up doesn’t mean it’s easy. Most of the trails are intermediate to advanced levels so you have to be relatively fit to climb. We also found that it's best to go after lunch to avoid the foot traffic going up since the trails can get quite crowded on weekends.

Kite flying in Hanggan Park – along the river park is the best area to fly a kite because you get a lot of wind action. You can buy a kite in any of the stalls along the park for only W5,000.00.

Visiting Palaces – there are 3 different palaces that are walking distance from where we live: Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung. Entrance fees to the palaces range from W1,000 to W5,000 only.

Browsing books in Kyobo Bookstore – I think only in Korea will you find a bookstore as crowded as SM on a weekend! And they actually go to the bookstore to buy books…not school and office supplies..haha

Walking along Cheonggyecheon stream – a 5.8km man-made stream that flows through downtown Seoul all the way to the Han river. It’s such a convenient respite from the hustle a bustle of the city. To take full advantage of this haven in the middle of the city, take off your shoes and wade your feet in the water just as the Seoulites do.

If there is one thing I've learned whilst living in Korea, it's learning to appreciate the simple pleasures in life. I realized there are a lot of other ways to enjoy the weekend apart from shopping and going to the spa.

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