Seoul, April 8, 2007 - Sunday

Trip Start Apr 07, 2007
Trip End Apr 14, 2007

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I woke up on Easter and cast a look through the window, seeing Su Yeon look for the entrance of my yeogwana building. If she, as a Korean, could not with certainty say where it was, then I can only guess what we foreigners may say about it. Fortunately, I could read something.
She was soon up on the fifth floor and knocked on my door.
"Already?" - I asked.
"Yes. Why not?"
"You usually stay longer in church."
"I can also go earlier if I want. All else are just various activities."
"Even today on Easter?"
"It doesn't matter. Anyway, I brought you something."
She produced a hard boiled egg from her bag. And then she suggested that today we go to Seoul and visit so-called Korea House and Traditional Folk Village. As I had never been there before, I did not mind. Without further ado and debating, we soon found ourselves at the Junggang station, boarded a train and started our ride to Seoul. It was Sunday, so the train was not overcrowded as it often is. So we had seats almost all the way to the Chungmuro Station which always pleased Su Yeon.
The day was sunny, at times cool and crisp, and at other times warm, depending to a large extent on whether we were in the sun or in the shadow. At one point I discovered that my right shoesole gets unstuck. I suggested Su Yeon that we try to find a street cobbler who could patch it up for me. I had seen them from time to time, but I guess on Sunday afternoon they had a day off, too. So I simply decided to take care how I walk for now and we went towards Korea House.
Korea House is a place that offers, for example, traditional meals followed by various folk performances. Visitors can also explore the garden, view handicraft items, and watch traditional wedding ceremonies. It is a very popular introduction to Korean performing arts for foreign visitors due to its location and high level of promotion. The lobby in the main building houses a small selection of cultural items and a gift shop sells souvenirs and postcards. The site was once used as the private home of Bak Paeng-nyeon, a famous scholar-politician of the Chosun Dynasty, the longest lasting dynasty in Korean history. The site was used for some time as a state guesthouse by the newly established government of the Republic of Korea.
Built in traditional Chosun architectural style, Korea House consists of several buildings. Those are among others Soseul Daemun (Lofty Main Gate in translation), Anchae (Women's Quarters), Aarangchae (Men's Quarters), Haengnangchae (Servants' Quarters) and Byeol-dang (Annex Building). There is also a back garden where marriage ceremonies are held. And there Su Yeon and I came right on time for one. What may have been even more interesting is the fact that in reality it was an international wedding. On a table right by the Korea House entrance we saw a notice that it was a marriage of a local bride and Swiss groom, most likely the son of a diplomat or business representative. The marriage ceremony was preceded by some practicing of ceremonial choreography as the groom and his best man - I take it that Korean marriages have something that resembles our best people - seemed not to be "on speaking terms" with every step. There were some coaches, too, helping along with the choreography and everything was closely watched by the relatives from both sides, some dressed in traditional Korean way, including even the Swiss, and some in modern, western fashion. As Su had never attended a traditional Korean wedding, it was all exceptionally interesting to her. I felt uncomfortable about joining a ceremony where nobody either knew me or invited me, but Su Yeon in typical Asian way had no problems with that. So we found a compromise that we didn't quite mingle with those really invited, but climbed a slope towards the garden, some twenty meters away from there, where we could still see everything and I didn't have a feeling I was an intruder.
Of course, as we were in Korea, people behaved the way it was natural to Su Yeon, so some other random visitors unabashedly joined the ceremony.
When everything finally drew to its close and stopped being so interesting, we went towards the Namsangol Traditional Folk Village. It is situated very close to Korean House and all together is in P'il-dongu. The Seoul government recreated a small village there that resembles the architecture and gardens of the area during the Chosun Dynasty. The area contains five restored traditional houses, all decorated with authentic furniture and decorations from the period. Originally poetically called Cheonghak-dong, or "fairyland area for the blue cranes" in translation, it was allegedly one of the five most beautiful areas of Seoul and a famous summer resort.
There is a large pavilion overlooking a pond and an outdoor stage where dances and dramas are performed on weekends. Su Yeon and I happened to chance upon one of such dancing performances. When it finished, we went to an exhibition hall which exhibits traditional handicraft products by local artists. Some of those handicraft products, as well as souvenirs are on sale, too.
Further off, to celebrate 600th anniversary of Seoul, a time capsule was buried within the village premises on November 29, 1994. It contains 600 items representing the life and culture of contemporary Seoul citizens. The capsule is scheduled for reopening in 2394. We circled around it, read the names of all the cities and countries engraved on its surface, and then gradually started towards the exit. A group of young Koreans intercepted us on our way, obviously members of one of numerous protestant communities Korea is teeming with, wished us happy Easter, gave us another hard boiled egg as a present and then we got out.
We went to the neighbouring Myeongdong quarter where I had already been once and seen Catholic cathedral and stumbled upon Chinese Embassy. But until now I had no idea it was one of Seoul's fancy shopping areas. Compared to Namdaemun and Dongdaemun Markets which sell products at low prices, most shops in Myeongdong deal with mid-level to high-priced items. The main street in Myeongdong is lined with quality brand name shops, while mid-class brand name shops and no brand name shops are located in the side alleys. Moreover, large shopping malls like Avatar or Migliore and department stores are present there as well. It also houses many western and traditional restaurants, headquarters of various banks and so on. Su Yeon even told me that groups of Japanese tourists in organised tours tend to come precisely to Myeongdong. Particularly if they travel in that typical Asian way, trying to see five cities in three days or so, and have only few hours in Seoul. Then someone who organises it deems Myeongdong worthiest of a visit. An interesting angle, in any case.
I can only say that in contrast to Korea House and Namsangol Traditional Folk Village Myeongdong was so crowded that it would be difficult to drop a needle on the ground. People went up and down, mostly youngsters, stopped by snack stands, by stands with cheap souvenirs on handicraft products, did window shopping or just took a stroll. Su Yeon and I bought hodtok, and she some grilled meat on a stick to boot, then I purchased her a pair of 1000 won earrings and we finally ended our afternoon in Seoulu with a pizza in Pizza Hut.
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