HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Into the Freezer

Late this Thursday night I'm flying up to Seoul, South Korea for four nights before visiting home for three weeks. When I first decided to go home for the holidays a few months ago I debated between having an extended layover in Seoul or Tokyo. Then, a friend who lives in Seoul (pronounced 'soul') offered their couch up, so that made the decision an easy one.

Despite the fact that it is among the most developed countries in the world, many people seem to know very little about South Korea. I've told a number of people that it's going to be extremely cold when I visit, which has surprised some. Seoul is at roughly the same longitude as Denver. I'm actually worried about the cold, as I haven't felt true winter temperatures since 2009. Just to give you an idea of how extreme the transition from Saigon to Seoul will be, here are some numbers: 91/73, 91/75. Those are the highs and lows for Wednesday and Thursday here in Saigon. The forecasts for my first two days in Seoul, Friday and Saturday, are: 35/18 and 25/12 (!) with a chance of snow showers. We're talking temperature differences of up to 70 degrees over 24 hours. My body is going to hate me. Today I went to the Russian Market and bought a big, bulky North Face jacket for the trip, I hope it works.
As for Seoul, it is possibly the globe's most underrated megacity. It has a metro population of over 25 million, second in the world after Tokyo; has the fourth-largest urban economy after Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles; is home to the sixth-most Fortune 500 companies; and has been rated by Forbes as the world's sixth-most economically powerful city. It also has the second-most used, as well as one of the most extensive, subway systems on earth, and the fastest internet speeds of any city.

I've heard a lot about Seoul here in Vietnam, since a number of my friends taught there before moving here, and also because Vietnamese are obsessed with Korean movies and music. One thing everyone mentions is that, despite South Korea's modernity, it is still a very conservative, traditional country. While I don't doubt this, two statistics I've come across prove that there must be plenty of Koreans who enjoy their vices.

1) Jinro soju is the world's best-selling liquor. Soju is one of Korea's most well-known native alcoholic drinks. In 2011 Jinro sold 61.38 million 9-liter cases of soju, largely in its home country. The runner-up was Smirnoff, with 23.9 million cases. This is amazing. With a population of 50 million South Korea destroyed liquor brands from much more populous countries, and I bet you've never even heard of Jinro. These numbers confirm what I've heard about South Koreans being heavy drinkers. The pressure placed on employees at companies there is extreme, and the only way for people to blow off steam after a long day at the office is to get blasted. Hence the hilarious website Black Out Korea.

2) In terms of money spent on pornography per capita, South Korea blows away every other country. In 2006 Korea contributed 27% of the world's pornography revenue, just behind China, which has an exponentially larger population. That means Korea spent $526 per capita on porn. The next-closest country was Japan, at $156. Watch out for carpal tunnel syndrome!

Suffice to say, then, that I'm really looking forward to seeing what Seoul is like (except for the ferocious cold). The food is supposed to be amazing, and it sounds like there is a much more diverse nightlife scene than here in Saigon. Plus there is a lot of history mixed in with the modernity, some of which I hope to explore. I'm going to be quite busy until I leave so this will be my last post until I'm home in New Orleans. I'll surely have plenty to share. Stay tuned!

(I'm currently taking bets on how many times I hear 'Gangnam Style' while in Seoul. I should add that I'm going to a wedding IN GANGNAM ITSELF. Over/under currently at 2752.)


  1. Happy Holidays Michael!
    My name is Julien. I live in tokyo, japan right now but am very seriously considering a move to HCMC. I'm a U.S. citizen and have been teaching and translating in tokyo for the past 16 years. Any leads on "good" English schools or teaching outfits in HCMC? Thanks for your time. Have fun back home.

    1. Thanks! There are a ton of schools here in HCMC, and separating the wheat from the chaff can be tricky sometimes. However, a few of the most highly-regarded centers include ILA, VUS, Apollo and VAS. If you are more qualified (teaching degree, etc.) you could look into the international schools - there are several but the two best are BIS (British International School) and ISHCMC (International School of HCMC). Those all have websites with contact info, etc.