Friday, October 8: This evening, I catch the 7:51 p.m. train to Seoul. I am going to visit Mithad, an Egyptian friend of mine. I arrive in Seoul at 11:46 p.m. After I arrive, we go to a bar, where we have a few drinks and end up talking until 4 in the morning.
Saturday, October 9: Today we go out to explore Itaewon, a part of the greater Seoul area that is often described as a foreign country within Korea. Originally formed by U.S. soldiers who remained in Korea after the Korean War (1950-1953), the district was mainly populated by Americans until local and international tourists hit the area following the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Since then, Itaewon has become a multicultural district and is characterized by stores selling clothing and accessories of varying styles as well as international restaurants and bars, according to the Official Site of Korea Tourism.
One of the reasons Mithad and his Muslim friends live here is because Itaewon is home to the Seoul Central Mosque, which oversees all ten Islamic mosques in Korea, and ‘Islamic Street,’ an area of Itaewon that is becoming established as a special region catering towards those of the Islamic faith. Together with the 100,000 or so Muslim worshipers living in Korea, the number of visitors to the mosque continues to rise every year. The mosque was opened in 1976 to promote friendly ties between Korea and Muslim countries and to introduce Islamic culture to Korea. The mosque has on average 20 to 30 worshipers during the weekdays, but the number shoots to hundreds on Fridays and the weekends when there is a joint service.
The Seoul Central Mosque is also responsible for the Halal certification of Korean products for export to Islamic countries. Malaysia and other Muslim countries only allow imports of meat slaughtered according to Islamic regulations, designated as ‘Halal’ products. To export to these countries, exporters are required to obtain Halal certification from an authorized organization. The Seoul Central Mosque is the only official institution of Halal certification in Korea that is recognized by Islamic countries. Since the early 1990s, it has certified 174 types of goods for export, including Korean dairy products, ramyeon noodles, kimchi, and tea. Some products are marked with an official Halal logo produced by the Korean Islamic Foundation. (Official Site of Korea Tourism: Islamic Cultural Spots in Itaewon)
We go to a Pakistani restaurant for dinner and then we walk around Itaewon just checking out the district. It’s really quite a tacky place, in my eyes.
Since Mithad has lived here for quite some time, he meets a number of his Muslim friends on the streets.
One of Mithad’s friends, Ayman, meets up with us, and we take a taxi to Seoul Tower. Seoul Tower opened to the public on October 15, 1980 and has since become a major tourist attraction. The 236.7m Seoul Tower sits atop Namsan Mountain (243m) and offers panoramic views of Seoul and the surrounding areas.
Thirty years and countless visitors later, the structure was renamed ‘N Seoul Tower.’ The letter ‘N’ stands for the tower’s ‘new’ look, which resulted from a 15 billion won remodeling in Dec 2005. With the new lighting system and changes to the tower’s overall color scheme, event coordinators can now decorate the tower for each new season or event. Currently, an ongoing lighting theme titled ‘Flower of Seoul,’ uses searchlights to light up the tower each night from 7pm to midnight (Official Site of Korea Tourism: N Seoul Tower).
Sunday, October 10: Today we just hang out for a while at a PC bang, have coffee and talk. I take the KTX home at 5:10.