Day 3: Seoul 4 Real

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Gyeongbokgung Palace.

IMG_0011 I woke up early and the weather was nice, so I hopped on the subway to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s the largest palace in Korea, originally built in the 14th century. It’s also home to the National Folk Museum of Korea, which I opted to skip. I arrived just after it had opened so most groups were still assembling for tours. Most of the tour groups were Japanese, though there were a couple of English speaking tours around. It would have been pretty obvious if I were to follow an English speaking group to mooch on their tour, but I figured I’d be pretty safe following around a Japanese tour. I did this for a while until ultimately realizing that I didn’t really care about the history, as it was sort of boring, so I left my (their) tour and wandered off on my own. This proved to be a much better way to see the palace, as it was still early in the morning. I managed to get ahead of the tour groups as they stopped at each building to learn the historical significance of each one, and the back of the palace was almost deserted.

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IMG_0105The palace is pretty big. I kept thinking I was done until I’d turn another corner and stumble on another 3 courtyards. It was impressive, but I would have been satisfied with a quick glance at a couple buildings and a brief overview of the history. Something kept me there, maybe it was some kind of cultural guilt, or maybe it was because I really had nothing better to do. A lot of sites in Korea are closed on Mondays. As I was leaving there was a changing of the guard type ceremony going on. A line of guards in red suits (and glued on beards) were lined up along the entrance. I planned to stay and watch anyways, but it looks like you aren’t allowed to leave during the ceremony. The changing of the guard was pretty interesting to watch, though it could have used some tae kwon do or maybe a battle reenactment. It would have been out of place, and completely pandering to the lowest common denominator…but I’m all about that.

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Afterward I headed down the street towards Insadong-gil. On the way I decided to grab some lunch. I found a place that had Dolsot bibimbap, a meat and rice dish in a clay pot. This particular place also had its menu items written in Japanese outside. This just screams tourist spot, which screams overpriced. Though I’ve been paying Japanese prices for bibimbap for a long time, so even the most expensive Korean restaraunt would probably seem cheap to me, and this one sure did.

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IMG_0151After eating I walked down towards Insadong. Insadong is an area featuring many art stores, antique shops, and tea houses. It’s also home to Jogyesa, the largest Buddhist temple in Korea. I’ve seen a hundred temples over the years in Japan, but figured maybe a Korea one would be different. And different it was. In Korea, buddhists are like…actually buddhist. It’s hard to explain, but in Japan, most people will admit they are Buddhist, and will go to temple on certain occasions, but it feels like the Christian family that goes to church on Christmas and Easter. It’s more of a social responsibility than any real faith or belief. In Korea though, for whatever reason, the Buddhists feel really…Buddhist. There weren’t even any crappy souvenir shops selling offensive T-shirts or bootleg merchandise or any of the good stuff they hock around the temples in Japan. They did, however, have a lot of literature about buddhism.

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After that, I headed to Insadong-gil, the main street in Insadong. It’s also where half the antique shops in Korea are located.

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IMG_0201On my way out, I ran into an Irish girl named Ruth trying to buy a subway card. She spoke as much Korean as me (none) and we were both going to the same place, so we hung out for a while. She had spent a month teaching English in a small Korean village somewhere, and was spending a week in Seoul before going home. It was nice to have someone to talk to, even if her accent was so strong I had trouble understanding her. I got plenty lost on my own, and two heads are better than one, so you can just imagine how lost we got together. We eventually made it to Dongdaemun and we walked around the market area, then to the stadium where a flea market is held.

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IMG_0172After finishing up with Dongdaemun market, Ruth and I headed back to Insadong-gil. She had the Lonely Planet Seoul book, which was hopefully more up to date than the Korea book. It’s maps were just as confusing, though we managed to make it to a tea shop. In Insadong-gil, the tea shops tend to have their own theme. One might be patterened after a school house, another has birds flying around in the tea shop. A common theme seems to be junk-shop, which a bunch of random crap on the wall like an American family restaraunt. The one we chose had sort of an antique shop feel with a few birds and a rabbit. There were 20 different kinds of teas. I opted for the cold pear tea. It came with two kinds of sweet candies and wasn’t a bad way to escape the heat on a hot summers day. I really want to go back. Only so I could try a few of the other teas, and not just so I could play with the bunny.

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After this it was getting dark, so I headed back to my hotel to get some dinner. I asked the guy running the desk where and what he recommended. He spent 20 minutes giving me a rundown of the history of korean cuisine, but I had made up my mind on what to order 3 minutes into his lesson. He mentioned spicy, and beef, and thats what I’m all about.

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It was indeed beefy and quite spicy. And the kimchi kept coming.

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~ by foomfoom on August 21, 2006.

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