Today my family and I drove up Namsan to visit a newly renovated Seoul Tower. It’s my third trip to Seoul’s major landmark and my first since it reopened to the public. The first two times, I climbed up from to the tower only to find it still under construction. Not this time. Today I knew it was open because the local media played up its grand reopening late last year with considerable fanfare. The tower has officially been renamed the "N Seoul Tower," with the "N" standing for Namsan (in English, South Mountain). I think it’s a bit silly, but apparently the refurbished tower had to have a new name. If the name really needed to be changed, then I think the name "Namsan Tower" would have been a much better choice.
We drove up Namsan and parked not far from the tower. We then walked the short, inclined distance to the tower’s base. Along the way, we bought cotton candy for my son. He ate it with a vengeance. I also surveyed the lone remaining section of the old city wall. Originally built in 1395, the section was mercifully spared by the Japanese, who dismantled Seoul’s walls during the Japanese Colonial Period (1910-45). The wall runs along a public pathway that winds its way up to N Seoul Tower from the east. The area on top of Namsan is fairly large and paved with flat cobblestones. The area near the tower is covered with wood decking built during the tower’s renovation. I thought it was very tastefully done. The base of the tower has a fast casual restaurant and a spartan gift shop with very few trinkets. Surrounding the tower are a few shops, including an ice cream and coffee shop, kitschy photo studio, convenience store, and a ticket shop. I paid much too much for a tiny cup of espresso while waiting for my wife and son.
Reading the N Seoul Tower coffee shop’s menu board reminded me just how much one company can influence the Korean language. Although Starbucks Coffee borrowed many words from the Italian language, gourmet coffee terms in Korean such as "tall caffe mocha" very much follow Starbucks’ convention. Virtually every gourmet coffee shop in Korea uses the same coffee terms as Starbucks does. Even the Korean terms follow the Italian pronunciation very closely, right down to doubling up consonents such as "machiaTTo." The attached photo shows some coffee selections and their Korean equivalents. The Korean translation written in hangeul is virtually the same as it is in Starbucks’ Italian-English. Koreans are crazy about gourmet coffee, and there are many competing chains. None have had quite the same impact Starbucks has had. It’s amazing that Starbucks has had such an impact in Korea that it introduced a new set of vocabulary into Korean.
We decided to forego visiting the tower observatory today because visibility was too poor. When we were home the day did not seem so hazy, but the sunny blue skies were a bit deceptive. The residual smog that blankets Seoul was very apparent when looking down from atop Namsan. We decided to save time and money and view the city from the base of the tower instead. The view from all four sides is rather nice. The view of Seoul to the north looking towards downtown and Bukhansan National Park offers the best view. The southern view along the Han River and Yeoido Island is also nice. Today however, visibility was too poor to view Seoul in great detail in any direction.
Blog Note: I couldn’t resist posting a photo of my son taken a couple weeks ago. Proof positive that my son can walk on water. And, he’s wearing mismatched blue and green socks, his favorite combination.
For the Shutterbugs: I posted four new photos taken at the Seoul Millennium Hilton as well as photos of our visit to N Seoul Tower taken earlier today. Enjoy!