Locked in Everlasting Love

February 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Culture, Feature Highlights, Uniquely Far East

Locks and love aren’t exactly synonymous. Love after all, was supposed to set you free. But at the N Seoul Tower in Namsan Park, South Korea, you’ll find thousands and thousands of locks symbolizing the love between couples. Unearthing Asia takes a peek behind this unusual tradition that has seen tourists both locals and internationals alike flock the site.

A spectacular night view of Seoul from up at the Seoul Tower. Photo credit - ziczic90

A spectacular night view of Seoul from up at the Seoul Tower. Photo credit - ziczic90

With a spectacular night view of Seoul and a wide range of restaurants, the N Seoul Tower (simplified as just Seoul Tower) is emerging as a hot spot for a growing number of romantics, both young and old. Located in central Seoul in the middle of Namsan Park, the tower reaches 480 meters above sea level, allowing a luxurious view of the entire city and the surrounding areas.

During the weekend, the tower is almost always full with visitors, both locals and tourists alike. Most visitors ride the Namsan cable car up the mountain, and then hike up to the tower. As I made my way up towards the base of the tower, I spotted plenty of couples mixed with various groups large and small. Obviously, it was a popular place for lovers, tho I can’t understand why quite yet – I personally prefer peace and quiet for a romantic date, instead of large crowds and boisterous teenagers.

Inside the Seoul Tower. Photo credit - hyku

Inside the Seoul Tower. Photo credit - hyku

The Seoul Tower is actually a communication tower built in 1969, and opened to the public in 1980. At the foot of the tower, there is a plaza with various amenities and facilities. You can find a Food Court, various Multi-Media Show and Media Art installations, as well as a Lobby & Media Zone whose seats were cunningly designed to fit two people just nicely. A great place to relax and enjoy the view.

There is also the Pavilion, a cultural experience space with performances and exhibitions for adults and children. Outside the plaza, the Teddy Bear Museum is always popular with the girls, with cutesy illustrations of Korea’s cultural history.

I eagerly made my way up towards the sky terrace attached to the tower. The air is cool and breezy, with a great open view of Seoul. “This is probably better than the view up at the top, from behind those glass walls,” I thought to myself. The freedom of being out in the open air always excites me, and this was no different.

Because of the large crowd, I had to push my way through to get to the edge of the fences, and thats when I found out why this place was so popular with the romantics.

Thousands of locks adorn the fences on the terrace at Seoul Tower. Photo credit - Jinho.Jung

Thousands of locks adorn the fences on the terrace at Seoul Tower. Photo credit - Jinho.Jung

Thousands of locks adorn the fences, hung by couples both young and old, with the keys thrown away to ensure that the sweethearts’ vows to never separate are kept forever.

Now the idea of a lock as a symbol of love is a double-edged sword. Its a promise and commitment to being together, a vow to never separate. At the same time, it is also the end of freedom, a symbol of being caged in prison for the rest of your life. Fortunately for us, Seoulites has embraced the former much more than the latter.

This idea originated from local tourists a few years ago who saw the same thing at Tokyo Tower. Recently, it’s enjoying a renewal after two stars dated there in a popular reality show. Since then, locals flock the site, and international tourists have similarly embraced this novel idea.

Most of the locks are decorated with writings, drawings and stickers while some cannot even be called locks. Some used chain locks for bikes shaped as hearts, as well as pink and red heart-shaped ribbons on their locks.

The chain fence is in danger of buckling down under the increasing weight. Photo credit - stari4ek

The chain fence is in danger of buckling down under the increasing weight. Photo credit - stari4ek

Unfortunately, the chain link fence was not designed to accommodate this extra weight. As more and more locks are left behind, the weight increases and the fences are starting to bend. With the locks filling the whole area, its almost impossible for children to enjoy the surrounding view. Since the tradition includes throwing away the keys to the lock, there is also a danger that other people under the terrace might be hit.

Romantics from all over the world certainly hope that this beautiful tradition can continue, but what can be done to safe the overburdened chain fences? Simply replacing it with a new one may prove to be an unpopular decision with the various couples whose locks adorn the fence. In the mean time however, Seoul Tower’s locks of Love remains a memorable, must-do event for both local and foreign tourists.

About the Author. Nikolas Tjhin. Freelance graphic artist and travel fanatic. Twiter-addict and social media novice. Adventure budget traveler and stay home weekend worker. Before working on Unearthing Asia, Nik’s journeyman career has seen him do work for various creative studios in Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Singapore and Jakarta. Now that he’s settled down for the time being (till 2010) in Jakarta, he’s focusing his efforts on social media and his location-independent-service-provider career.

The Cool Docks, Shanghai

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Attractions, Culture, Uniquely Far East

Despite the fact that most of the world is tightening its financial belt, young expat Shanghai, feeling insulated from the crisis “back home”, continues the hunt for new hangouts where the cocktails are sweet and pricey and the music hot and loud. Eager to join the fray, I headed to where I hoped the trendy throngs would be gathered – The Cool Docks.

Ladies, if you are waiting for the perfect occasion to unveil your little black dress and killer heels: a visit to The Cool Docks might just be it. With its sleek bars and haute cuisine restaurants, it is easy to mistake this chic sliver of eastern China with the Upper East Side of New York or the West End of London.

A view of the Cool Docks. Photo credit - dixsonlv

A view of the Cool Docks. Photo credit - dixsonlv

Exploring The Cool Docks, Shanghai
We went on a Thursday night and, while the place was surprisingly empty, we were grateful for the opportunity to do that very rare thing in Shanghai: stroll. Without the usual heaving mass of jostling crowds around to dictate our pace, my companion and I were able to amble around the docks (they aren’t really docks, that’s just the name) and take in the crisp, wintry air at a leisurely pace.

Stylish new constructions throughout the Cool Docks. Photo credit - Dennis Deng

Stylish new constructions throughout the Cool Docks. Photo credit - Dennis Deng

The Cool Docks, just a few months old, are gorgeous, sparkly, cool, spacious, classy, elegant – just a few choice words my companion came up with as I prodded for details of her first impression.

Continental Influences
As you walk around the red brick courtyard, taking in the brightly lit fountains, the opera music blaring out of invisible speakers and the glittering shop fronts with fanciful names like Pure (Wine Bar), Spring Sunrise (Sports Bar), Banni (desserts), Mythos (Mediterranean restaurant) and Caffein (café), you are struck by how very un-Chinese it all seems.

We started off in Spring Sunrise, a sports-themed bar where you can catch live action from the various wide-screens as you enjoy a hearty western meal and a jug of beer. As we made our way out to move on to the next establishment, the smiling waitress came and thrust a few fliers into our hands. Open bar for ladies on Christmas day. As we found out throughout the evening, friendly staff and mouthwatering promotions are par for the course at The Cool Docks as it tries to lure revelers from the more established entertainment hubs of Xintiandi and the Bund.

The view of river Bund, Shanghai. Photo credit - china guccio

The view of river Bund, Shanghai. Photo credit - china guccio

Our next stop was Pure, my newly crowned “Favorite Wine Bar”. The prices are as fantastic as is the décor. Plush leather sofas, polished antique furniture, an authentic-looking gramophone and gleaming crystal cases packed with 500RMB Cigars. Pure’s host, Jackson, was keen to assure me that, in six months, The Cool Docks would be the thriving entertainment hub that their location deserved.

The Cool Docks can be found at 505 Zhongshan Nan Lu, a stone throw from Shanghai’s world-renowned Bund with its idyllic views of the moonlit Huangpu River and sleepily drifting boats. It may be quiet around these parts now but that won’t remain the case for long. Make this your very first stop for a luxuriant taste of Shanghai’s soft, romantic side.

Another spot to check out is Shanghai’s “new heaven and earth”, hip modern Xintiandi, a hotspot of entertainment, shopping and nightlife that really lives up to it’s name.

Iris Jumbe. A roving writer, devoted blogger and ardent cake lover, Iris lives in China and splits her work time between feeding her blog and working as a freelance copywriter/editor. In Shanghai for just over 3 years, her playtime is spent exploring the schizophrenic city. She has a tempestuous love-hate relationship with China but usually only writes about it when they’re firmly in love. Which is often. Phew.

Riyadh – Three Side Trips Not to be Missed

February 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Attractions, Crossroad of Asia, Feature Highlights, Nature

The land of a thousand and one fables and fantasies, impenetrable Saudi Arabia has long intrigued the world. As the country begins to relax its visa rules to welcome visitors, Unearthing Asia shares with you here three tastings of the middle east. Each of these side trip journeys are easily reachable from Riyadh, its capital city, and are a definite travel destinations for adventurous traveler.

The Asir Mountains. Photo credit - rassam.abha

The Asir Mountains. Photo credit - rassam.abha

The Asir Mountains
This hilly region is near the country’s border with Yemen. The local capital, Abha, a small town ringed by misty mountains, felt chilly as I strolled through its souk and chatted with stall holders selling incense of frankincense and myrrh, beads, gowns and brightly colored baskets.

The key attraction here is the restored village of Rijal Alma. Its tall, tower-like houses were built nearly 300 years ago, acting as watchtowers. One house is now a museum with rooms and displaying jewellery, farm tools and even a bridal carriage designed to go on a camel’s back.

Madain Saleh
Madain Saleh is the country’s key tourist attraction. Located in the north-west, the 2,000-year-old Nabataean tombs, set in the stark desert, are a stunning sight. Imagine visiting the rock-cut architecture of Petra, in Jordan, but without the crowds. This was the second city of the Nabataeans, who created their 131 rock-cut tombs soon after they had finished work on Petra.

The Nabataeans, whose empire lasted from around 600 BC to AD 300, sited both cities on the same trade route and Madain Saleh would once have been a bustling city, though as in Dir’aiyah, the houses have long disappeared. The tombs are astonishing – many are cut so high in the rock that you have to climb a rickety ladder to enter them to see the burial niches cut into the sandstone. Many tombs have inscriptions in the Aramaic language over their doors and these are translated into English, explaining who owned the tomb.

Madain Saleh. Photo credit - der_boese_basti

Madain Saleh. Photo credit - der_boese_basti

One of the most striking is the beautiful row of tombs called Qasr Al-Bint. You can also head across the dunes to the tomb of Qasr Farid, when it turns a glowing pink at sunset.

Jeddah
Souq Al-Alawi is the star attraction here, a warren of narrow streets in the old town where I spent a happy morning shopping for leather slippers and beautiful wool shawls. The prices are fixed, so haggling is not welcome, but generally, the atmosphere in Jeddah is far more relaxed than in conservative Riyadh.

Jeddah. Photo credit - Perez 183A

Jeddah. Photo credit - Perez 183A

Here, I spotted women going out without men accompanying them, and sometimes without wearing their headscarves.

We finished our trip with a superb supper of prawn and hamour, a fish caught locally, at the Al-Nakhil restaurant on the Corniche. After supper, we all enjoyed smoking the apple-flavored shisha water pipes and soaking up the atmosphere of this buzzy restaurant, where families dine and chat until 3am in the morning.

About the Author. Nikolas Tjhin. Freelance graphic artist and travel fanatic. Twiter-addict and social media novice. Adventure budget traveler and stay home weekend worker. Before working on Unearthing Asia, Nik’s journeyman career has seen him do work for various creative studios in Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Singapore and Jakarta. Now that he’s settled down for the time being (till 2010) in Jakarta, he’s focusing his efforts on social media and his location-independent-service-provider career.

Bargains to Unearth at Seminyak Fashion Street

February 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Exotic South East

Los Angeles has the Rodeo Drive, New York has Madison Avenue and Milan has Via Montenopoleone. When it comes to shopping in Bali however, there is only one place for fashionable trendsetting locals who knows not to judge a book by its cover – Seminyak.

If you can get past the gaping holes in the sidewalk, and there really is no alternative, you can unearth some fashionable treasures along this street.

Many of the designers sell their wares for much higher prices in fashionable cities around the world. In between, along the disabled footpaths, you may also find some rough diamonds that may just be the perfect gift you’ve been looking for that special someone. All part of the fun and games here in Seminyak.


Here are but a taste of the few highlights you can find along Seminyak:

Biasa
Across is Biasa, a chapel of cool in floaty Indian cottons, the emporium sells classics for grown ups and a few flirty styles for the younger crowd too. A beautiful collection of sarongs and carefully chosen accessories complete the picture.

Bageera
Switching from Indian to Italian styling, this little retailer has some of the best Italian shoes on the island – Bruno Magli, Bally, Marc Jacobs and more. Limited sizes but if you can find something you like, expect to pay a fraction of the recommended retail price.

Innuendo
Keep going and you will find Innuendo, their beautifully crafted designs are among the best you will find in Bali. The locally-based French designer uses the best fabrics and impeccable tailoring to create designs that are wearable and hang perfectly.

The Best of the Rest
Papillion – this designer has been making shoes in Bali for over ten years and has some great styles. In this strip you will also find Kerry Grima and Funky Princess who stock their own labels as well as some of the leading Australian designers like Bettina Liano and lots more. Beware not to overspend on those plastics!

Flamingo
Flamingo in this strip is very popular with the young and hip things who shop here. Expect to find designer t-shirts, flirty dresses and pants and shirts for the boys. It’s a little bit surf mixed with a little rock and roll. They have another shop further up the strip just past Dhyanna Pura.

Body and Soul Boutique
One of the biggest retailers on this strip,, fashionable with girls and women, from three months old to whatever, provided you don’t need more than about size ten. The skinny jeans here are a must have and the girl’s fashion from tots to teens is fashionable and fun. Body and Soul outlet, across the street, is a good place to search for bargains.

Paul Ropp
A little further after Bintang Supermarket you will come across the Paul Ropp shop beside the Biasa 50% store. Paul is one of Bali’s most flamboyant designers, and boys, don’t let the loud colours put you off. Plenty of fashionable men are wearing Paul.

About the Author. Nikolas Tjhin. Nikolas Tjhin is the editor for Unearthing Asia, a travel zine focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. Check out our latest offering, a travel magazine that visitors can browse online and even download.