Thursday, April 21, 2011

A couple days on my own in Korea

Sunday was a little less hectic than my Saturday. I was able to go to Alyssa and Brooke's church, Onnuri, in Seoul for the English service at 4pm. I also got to hang out with my friend who was an exchange student at WWU. 




We went to a fabulous vegetarian restaurant in Itaewon (a tourist trap, basically). I bought a few gifts at the shops and we had fun chatting and window shopping. It was so great to see a friend that I never thought I'd see again! And I found out that she may do graduate work in the states! So hopefully she can visit me next time. 


That Monday, I had an epic plan for my day. I was going to stay on one subway line (I hate dealing with transfers) and hit up four places. The plan was to get off at Jongno 3(sam)-ga station and go to the Jongmyo Royal Shrine, then walk to Changgyeonggung Palace, then to Nobujip (a traditional restaurant where you sit on the floor without a table and they bring the table to you with all the food prepared on it, and they have traditional musical and dancing performances), then finish at a shopping area at Marronier Park and Daehangno. 


Only one part of my plan worked out. I found Jongmyo Royal Shrine after some mix of Korean and hand signal communication with a kind Korean woman. I also got there one hour before the English tour began. They don't allow anyone in without a tour guide. So I suppose it was lucky that I made it before the only English tour of the day started. 


The picture below is the outside of all of the shrines. I believe there are nine spirits of kings and queens in this particular building. They expanded the building as the years went on and this represents three generations of kings and queens. 



This pathway is split into three separate areas. The center path is for the spirits, so no one walks on them. The one on the right is for the king. And the one on the left is for the prince. This was familiar but unusual. At the palace, the center path was for the king and the side paths for the officers of lower rank. All the pathways in the palaces and shrines are made up of granite that is purposefully uneven. It doesn't get slippery in the rain, but the unevenness is to make the people walk at a sedate and graceful pace. 


This was a beautiful pond at the entrance of the Jongmyo shrine. The Koreans believed that the spirit world was round and the earth square. It's hard to see here, but the edges of the pond were square and the center with the plants and trees is round. The azaleas are a sign of Spring for the Koreans.  



After the tour, I asked the tour guide about the Changgyeonggung Palace, only to find out that it was closed on Mondays. So I moved on with my plan. The next step was to find Nolbujip. I walked around, generally confused because I was supposed to find a certain road with a Pizza Hut somewhere on it. In the basement of Pizza Hut, this amazing restaurant was supposed to exist. 


While on the hunt I found these strange poop-like sculptures outside a high school:




After pausing and staring for a bit, I continued on the hunt. I found the street after stopping for help three times and it occurred to me that the website I had looked at said "Prices are from 2005." When I couldn't find the Pizza Hut after being on the search for a good hour, I decided to give up and went to an Irish pub called the Red Lion:







I decided to get nachos and a jack and coke. To be clear, I didn't get much beyond a couple sips of the jack and coke. Either Korea has a higher proof for alcohol or that had more than a single shot of jack. It felt like drinking nail polish remover straight up. I stuck to my water bottle and suffered through the guilt of having spent 14,000 won on a drink I didn't enjoy. Also, that price is really high. I'm not sure if alcohol in Korea is generally really expensive, or if it was just an overpriced restaurant. 



I really enjoyed my day, actually, even with all the directional confounding. And I finally feel able to navigate the subway system on my own. Although the bus system is probably the worst thing about travelling outside of Gimpo. Every day that I've gone into Seoul, I'm tempted to pay 9,200 for a taxi ride into the city. Not a very good investment at all, considering the bus is only 1,000 won per ride. And if I swipe my card at the subway station within 30 minutes of getting off the bus, I'm not charged again for the subway. That's a pretty neat system. 

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