“There are only couples in South Korea,” affirmed Sue, the manager of the Grape Garden Guesthouse where we stayed. This, after my sister and I pointed out the glaring obvious after roaming around Seoul all day. We had spent much of our first day in the area surrounding City Hall, and a few hours into our aimless wandering, we both came to the same conclusion: in South Korea, coupling seemed to be the norm.
There were couples in the subway…couples strolling along the Secret Garden behind Changdeokgung Palace…having coffee dates in Ssamziegil in Insadong or in one of those chicken-and-beer places in Hongik…and there were literally hordes of them in Nami Island, where I was told a number of koreanovelas (Korean romantic TV series) were shot. While we were on the ferry to Nami Island, there was a couple in front of me, behind me, and to my right and left.
Unlike the Japanese who are not too keen on public displays of affection, I was pleasantly surprised to find Koreans are the exact opposite. I was standing in front of two college kids in the train to Hongik, and the way the guy was caressing the girl’s face like he was memorizing every contour of it, you’d think they were star-crossed lovers. The expression on the girl’s face was melancholic as she gazed into her boyfriend’s adoring eyes. At one point, I felt both like an intruder in their lovestruck bubble and that I had stumbled into the set of a romance/drama.
Having been living in Seoul for half a year, Sue shared that at one point, she actually pondered the idea of getting a boyfriend. “Just so I have somebody to eat dinner with,” she joked. “People tend to look at you when you’re eating in a restaurant by yourself.”
My sister and I were trying to figure out this whole coupling culture, and as we were walking by the Deoksugung Palace walls where a culture festival was happening, we saw that one of the main reasons is really just Seoul itself.
It is, without doubt, one of the most vibrant cities. I don’t know if it was just because a full on art and culture festival greeted us on our first afternoon there—the streets brimming with creativity of the artistic and musical kind—and we were somehow enveloped by this bubbly energy of joy and celebration.
It could also be because we were there in the height of autumn, with the trees in dramatic shades of red, yellow and orange.
With every corner of the city looking smack right out of a rom-com, one can’t help but feel ready for that spine-tingling, toe-curling interlude of the romantic kind. I never really got the whole koreanovela craze in the Philippines—had no idea what the whole fuss was about—but after spending a week in Seoul, I think I finally do. There is definitely something about the place that brings out one’s inner romantic.
When I found myself with the opportunity to go to South Korea this year, I had formed no expectations of the place. All I knew of it was from my encounters with Koreans living in the Philippines, which didn’t really amount to much. My friend Tracey, who lived in Korea for a time, kept selling the country to me (she deserves a key to the city, Mayor Park) and I would only listen half-heartedly. I honestly didn’t spend as much time researching about it as I did my first time in Japan; the only reason I wanted to go was because I’ve never really been to a country in autumn.
When I finally got to experience South Korea, I just fell in love with it. Quite like how I feel whenever I would visit a country for the first time, a lot of factors just fall perfectly into place and I find myself enchanted.