Rainy days can feel like postponements of sunny days—like days pending clear skies. In the mass movement of life within a city, we tend to trudge through the rain in frustration, waiting for the city to reappear in full color and motion. Perhaps, though, a city is just as radiant in rain as in shine, or else the temperamental showers in Seoul lately have forced me to proclaim as much. Seoulites have reason to feel the same.
Arriving in late June, I knew I had a short summer to spend in Seoul. Despite the rain, I held tight to my umbrella and to a daily prayer: Don’t rain on my promenade. My mantra summoned a kind of rebellious attitude with which I would tough out the showers in order to fully enjoy the city.
Venturing outside every day, I soon discovered what Seoul has to offer when it rains. Exploring Seoul on wet days becomes a multisensory experience, from sound to taste to sight.
Music and the sound of rain make a fine pair. Travel through Seoul with headphones on a rainy day. The rain particularly complements older Korean voices, such as Lee Mun-Sae in “When I Stand Under the Shade of a Roadside Tree” and Sung Si-Kyung in “On the Street.” When in doubt over choice of music, turn on the radio. Good DJs, I’m sure, are secret telepaths who know just what you need to hear alongside the sound of rain.
Wet feet, sticky arms and damp hair traditionally call for a bowl of kalguksu, knife-cut noodles in mild or spicy broth found everywhere from small restaurants to big food markets. Journeying into the humid atmosphere of a food market such as the Gwangjang Market in Jongno has other rewards, too. Janchi guksu, a thin, white noodle dish steeped in anchovy broth and topped with strips of seaweed, is about as bare and basic as Korean noodles get. When humid days make for sluggish minds, it’s the perfect dish with which to clear the fog. On the flip side, if you’re looking for a crispy snack, eating pajeon is a beloved Korean pastime to fight the blues on a sodden day (pajeon sales increase over the rainy season each year). Koreans say the sound of sizzling pajeon is reminiscent of falling rain. Groups of friends tear apart these hot, savory pancakes with chopsticks the instant the plate arrives at the table.
Between traveling, listening and eating as it rains, Seoul invites you to reimagine its indoor spaces. Busy subway shopping areas like the back corners of Express Bus Terminal Station and the crowded stalls at Gangnam Station lure people in for moments of shopping and respite from the rain. I often find that subway stations in Seoul are destinations in themselves, and I sometimes feel the urge to go underground and stay underground. On rainy days, trains are naturally more packed with office workers trying to avoid ground level traffic. Stations act as destinations for drying off and for browsing accessories, blankets and incredibly comfortable house slippers.
The design library at the Green Factory, Naver headquarters, is near Jeongja Station and well worth the journey beyond city limits. The small library has high ceilings and glass windows, and is a happy compromise between experiencing the rain and staying dry. Its clean architectural design and shelves of design books make for a calm atmosphere in which to be inspired.
And when the rain begins to settle and the sky begins to clear, climbing to the peak of one of Seoul’s many mountains serves as a fitting send-off ritual for the rain and welcome ritual for the sun. Recently, I climbed the gentle slopes in Naksan Park, feeling grateful for the light drops of rain that settled on my skin and cooled me throughout the hike. At the top, I took in the magnificent views of Seoul—a city that can’t be stopped, come rain, come shine.
Janchi guksu photo by Young Sun Park.