Finding my Seoul

Victoria Herrera
What's winter in Korea like? Victoria Herrera tells us.

SISTER, SISTER. Rappler writer Victoria Herrera (right) with sister and Status magazine editor in chief Rosario Herrera. All photos by Victoria Herrera

MANILA, Philippines – “I wonder how snow feels?”

That was the only thing I could think of as our plane landed in Seoul, South Korea. It was January 4 at 5am, and the weather forecast was brutal. 

I could see traces of fresh snow pushed to the sides of the runway. It must have fallen a day or two before because it was “heavenly white” and looked as soft as cotton. 

As we exited Incheon International Airport, a cold gush of wind slapped my face, and I already knew what the answer to my question would be. 

Warning instructions rang in my head: Layer. Zip your jacket tight. Don’t lose your mittens. It’s going to be a long week

My sister Rosario, my boyfriend, and I decided to take a “cool hunting” trip at the start of the year to look for inspiration. We chose Seoul because we love Asia and wanted to explore more cities in it. 

I wanted the trip to be personal. I wanted to learn the details. I wanted to discover our own treasures along the way. I wanted to find MY Seoul, not a distant, tourist version of it.

Here are some of the great memories that made this trip great:

1. Culture taught by student volunteers

The architecture of Gyeongbokgung Palace

I’m putting culture first on this list because I’m a big fan of stories – and usually the best stories are based on truth. Enter, history. 

We headed to Gyeongbokgung Palace, a traditional display that is tucked within the modern city. This palace was where the Emperor lived and is one of the biggest of the 5 Grand Palaces in Seoul.

As we were approaching Gyeongbokgung Palace, we passed by a bunch of student volunteer tour guides. A 14-year-old student named Bryan offered to be our guide. He was volunteering for his winter break. These teens were confident to converse with anyone. (I remembered when I was that age; I was so shy to speak up! That was inspiring.)

2. Learning design by experiencing it

Some of the cool stores at Garuso-gil

A friend referred us to Garuso-gil for shopping. 

Garuso-gil, often referenced as “the Soho of Seoul,” is lined with fantastic retail stores, coffee shops, and restaurants left and right. I loved seeing new ideas mixed with traditional ones. 

My favorite store on that road was called A Land, a 5-storey building filled with well-curated clothing (for women and men), accessories, and books.

What really stuck with me was that there was huge support for local brands, many of which were at par with international brands. 

3. Daring to try new cuisine

Our favorite lunch dishes

I loved eating the local dishes. Cuisine is an important facet when learning about a new culture. The food, from its flavor to presentation, is always the heart of a dining experience.

My favorite dish was Bibimbap — which means mixed rice — in a hot stone bowl. I also loved how the main dish would always come with 4 or 5 side dishes.

When we met up with some friends, they took us to their favorite dining spots. They dared us to try eating a live octopus (a chopped small octopus with its tentacles still moving on the plate.) 

I reminded myself that there are people who also squeal at the thought of eating balut, so why not give this a try? I picked up a piece with my chopsticks, dipped it in sesame oil, and chewed it down. Our friends looked over approvingly and said, “Thank you for being open. Some people don’t even want to try anything new.”

4. Bumping into travelling exhibits

A beautiful Anish Kapoor sculpture outside the Seoul Museum of Art

We weren’t the only travellers in South Korea that time. Exhibits, too, made their way from museum to museum, city to city. During our trip, we discovered that the Tim Burton exhibit had just arrived at the Seoul Museum of Art. 

The Tim Burton exhibit, launched in the MoMA in New York, featured works from the artist and moviemaker’s career timeline, from his sketches as a child (that took a peek into his young imagination) to the progress and evolution of his style and characters. We witnessed how his ideas became sketches, and these sketches became characters, and these characters became movies. 

The second exhibit we saw was at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art. It was the exhibit by renowned sculptor Anish Kapoor. I appreciated how great it was to be seeing an artist’s work in a country that neither of us belonged to. I just fell back and simply appreciated the beauty. 

5. ‘Swimming’ in snow

Hi, Winter!

I hadn’t seen snow since I was 5 years old, when our family moved to the Philippines and exchanged the white, Christmas mountaintops in California with hot Christmas beach trips. 

I was so excited to see and feel snow. “I can’t feel my feet!” I would say several times as we walked around in the snow. We would take breaks and go into several stores to “warm-up.”

The weather proved quite challenging. But we later realized that without the slippery roads, my pink nose, or my freezing fingers, this trip wouldn’t have been the same. Even our routine of getting ready for each day with 4 to 5 layers of clothing was a new experience.

We wouldn’t have enjoyed the hot Bibimbap, the warm smell of coffee, or the hot pastries that melted on the first bite so much if it wasn’t for the weather. Sometimes the one factor that doesn’t work in your favor makes everything else seem much better.

Just don’t let that stop you from having your own adventures. Appreciate what is. –

Victoria HerreraVictoria Herrera is a TV and event host, model, and writer. In 2011, she released her first book, “Unscripted,” based on inspiring conversations on her previous radio show. In 2012, she hosted Runway TV Asia where she interviewed international fashion designers and celebrities. Currently based between Manila and Singapore, she continues to explore the world of creativity, design, and fashion as a contributor for several magazines and newspapers.

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