Happy New Year, everyone. Wherever you may be, I hope that the upcoming year will be kind to you and that it will be a year that you will cease for all its opportunities and make your own fortune.
Being in a foreign country, my roommate and I decided to do something special for New Years, even if the solar New Year isn't quite as big a deal here.
We decided that the best way to spend the end of this year and the beginning of next year would be to play like little kids, so our evening began at the local bowling alley.
Wearing our shining bowling shoes, we embarked on a quest to discover our lack of bowling talents.
The last time I went bowling, was when I was last in South Korea, so it was a long time ago and it was fun to be back in a shining bowl alley again.
After bowling, we headed out for pizza and met up with our Spanish friend.
Together the three of us had planned to go to watch the special New Year Bosingak bell-ringing ceremony.
During the Joseon Dynasty (more precisely since 1468) the bell was rung daily to announce the opening and closing of the city gates. These days, thousands of people gather in the streets in Jonggak by the bell for the New Year countdown to listen to the bell ringing announce the new year and enjoy the performances.
There were so many people in the streets. We arrived early, signed our names on the balloons to be sent off later in the night, and then we stood in line. The Bell is located right by a huge and busy crossroad.
Just before the event began, the road was closed off orderly by thousands of policemen, and people were allowed to run onto the streets to watch the ceremony.
In the rush of it all I got separated from my friends and got pushed far ahead. It was so tight of people that I couldn't move by my own will, but I got pushed all the way up to the front, by the two announcers who were leading the event.
It was a nice an cultural event. It highlighted the Korean spirit with stories from citizen and the values of South Korea and the city of Seoul with the selection of people from various professions and backgrounds who were selected to ring the bell.
There were no fireworks, which is what usually defines New Year's Eve in the west, but the New Year here is an event that feels warm and full of love and compassion.
At midnight the bell rang beautifully out over the crowd. Stories from citizens were shared and then there were the performances.
And there I stood, squished between a Japanese and three Koreans, and realised that the data on my phone had run out and I still hadn't recharged it, and that there was no wifi here. One of few places in Seoul, so I stood in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people with no way to contact my friends.
I set out to find them. I went back to where we had been standing in line last I saw them, but they weren't there. I decided that maybe in the subway I would be able to get wifi, but I couldn't get inside because there were so many people lining up all the way down the stairs to the subway in hope to get home or to another part of town.
Naturally there was a demonstration near the bell that night too. Demonstrators here are quite passionate, but they are also mostly pretty shy. Besides, there were also thousands and tens of thousands of police officers who were both there for the demonstration but also (mainly) to keep the large crowd of people by the bell safe.
I felt very safe.
So I went back to where we had been, found a place a little high up and stood there and watched the road like a hawk. There I stood and just as I considered approaching a large crowd of police officers and explain my issue and ask for assistance, I saw my roommate from the back.
Happily reuinted, we began to make our way back. We walked to the next subway station to be able to get on without problems.
As we were heading off, about ten minutes minutes after the last performance, people had left the crossroads and gone back to the pavement. Cleaning wagons were already driving around to clean the streets and it wasn't long before the roads were opened again and it seemed like nothing had happened. Dozen and dozen of police busses filled up with officers and drove off in long rows, and then Seoul was just Seoul again. Unchanged , clean and ready for the new year.
Our Spanish friend headed home, but it was only 1am and my roommate and I were only just getting started, so we rode the Subway until Shinchon (the next subway stop from our home), and there we headed straight to the arcade.
We played all sorts of games. We tried to the toy grabbing cranes (or rather my roommate did) but failed time after time.
We headed from one arcade to another.
We did two games of basketball. Spent 500 won on three songs of Dance Dance Revolution. We tried two different shooting games. Played Air Hockey and... Oh shooting range, where I got a high score.
Two hours we spent Arcade hopping. I don't even think we spent 20 euros but we really played hard and for a long time.
At a little past 3am, we were heading home. Our alarms were set for early the following day. In good Asian spirit and tradition we were going to head out to watch the new year's first sunset.
We had picked probably the most beautiful spot in Seoul.
At the top of the Ewha hill, by the Hanwoori hall, the undergrad dormitory building, there is a beautiful view of Seoul and Namsan (the mountain in the middle with the tower).
It just so happens to be the perfect location for a beautiful sunrise.
We were the first to arrive, but shortly after us a student headed out of the dormitory, and then one more, and two more.
There was even a car that came just to watch the sunrise from this location that only Ewha students know about.
It was a stunning sight and a good beginning to the year.
The rest of the day was spent catching up on sleep and relaxing, and for my part, doing a mock exam as homework for class. Our midterms are next week. I think I did okay, but I will find out in class for certain.
Naturally we also caught the sunset, but this one from our room balcony. Every day, we try to catch it because it's stunning and somehow it looks slightly different and new every day. And every year.
Happy New Year.