Monday, April 20, 2015

South Korea Day 3

South Korea Day 3

            Day three was just as much of a monster touring day, despite being all by lonesome with no tours for the day, my favorite way to explore a city.  It was interesting wandering through several different Seoul markets, and despite all that I still couldn't find what I was looking for.  I did not have any tours scheduled for today, so I went to my tried and true method of exploring a new city, find stuff that looks cool on the map and go see what it is all about.

            There is a large green blob located near Insa-dong on the map, labeled Jongmyo Shrine, now in other parts of Asia large shrines are either very important, interesting or both.  Thus my mind made up, I started on my way to the shrine.  While on the way I saw a small Tteok Museum labeled on the map.  Well I had no idea what Tteok was, so I went over to check it out.  As it turns out, Tteok are rice cakes, of which there are many varieties in Korea depending on the region and time of year.  This particular Korean cuisine dates back to the early Bronze Age so it has been around for quite some time.  Rice cakes are classified based on how they are made, steaming, pounding, frying, and boiling.  There are also a variety of fillings that can be placed inside the cakes as well.  The cakes are eaten on New Year’s Day and during other celebrations.

            The museum also contained an exhibit on kimchi which was pretty interesting as well.  Sorry for the lack of pictures here, but the museum does not allow pictures.  It did offer several different cooking classes some of which looked interesting, however you needed to have a group of at least 5 people and call in advance.  Either way it was a nice way to start day even if it had the side effect of making me hungry.

            As I cut through the narrow streets towards the Jongmyo shrine I hit my first surprise of the day.

            Mahabodhi Temple was built by Zen Master Yon Shung a Buddhist monk in 1911 and dedicated it to the Korean Independence movement.  He was a key figure in the Korean independence movement until his death in 1940.

The Temple

Bell Tower thingy

Nice Lady

There be dragons

            Its little hidden gems like this, that make me love traveling to a new city even more.  Just wandering around with the map, you never know what you are going to get.

Jongmyo Shrine (Well kinda sorta maybe)

            I arrived to what seemed like a long line of tourists waiting to get in and figured it wasn't open yet.  Well not exactly, it seems that the only way to get in is to take a tour of the place.  Well just my luck that the next English tour was leaving in about 25 minutes, so I bought a ticket for the exorbitant price of 1000…… won, which is a little less than 1 USD.  You guys really didn't think I would pay 1000 dollars to get inside did you.  A stroll through a nearby park to kill time and I was ready to go.

More Churches or the Seoul Version of Christ the Redeemer

Jongmyo Shrine (For real this time I swear)

            First off let me say the guide was great, and she was very knowledgeable about the site.  Don’t worry I refrained from asking any stupid questions this time.  Now for the Shrine, it was built east of the palace in 1395 according to Feng Shui, to house the memorial tablets of the royal family.  The current buildings date from 1601 after they were rebuilt due to being burned down in a Japanese invasion of Korea.  In Confucianism the bodies are buried somewhere else, but the tablets are said to contain their souls, when they called back to Earth to honor them are certain times during the year.  During the Josen Dynasty the ceremonies were performed five times a year at night.  Currently though the ceremonies are only held once a year on May 1st.  The ceremonies involve a lot of rituals, dancing, music, and food.  Now if you’re thinking what I am thinking, woohoo part time baby, and well you would be wrong, very wrong.  It is a very serious and solemn affair, attended only by the royal family, and high ranking government officials to honor their ancestors.  As it is the only site of its type left in Asia that still performs the ceremonies, it was designated as a UNESCO site in 1995.

            What you are looking at here is a path called the kings way.  The king walks on the center platform while the government officials walk on the left and right platforms, with everyone else walks on the ground.  Here at the shrine it takes on a higher significance due to the relationship with the royal ancestors.  We were told multiple times not to step on the king’s way and I felt kind of bad when a tourist from Hong Kong kept stepping on it.   I don’t understand all the importance of it, but it’s important to the Koreans so I’ll follow along.

Kings bathroom for ceremonial preparations

Kings ceremonial robes

Entrance to the main ceremonial area

Spirit Chambers- where the tablets are stored

Yeah it is huge, I am standing in the far back corner.

Spirit chamber close up

Entrance for us peons

Other highlights from the shrine

            This copper pot would normally contain water, which was thought to protect the building against fire.  The rational was that the water would scare off the fire spirits that normal would light buildings on fire.  They are placed at the four corners of the building being protected.

Cool artwork

City Gates of Seoul

            After leaving the shrine, I continued on my self-guided walking tour of Seoul heading for the east gate of the city (Heunginjimun).  Before I made it to the gate I meandered through the Pyounghwa Market in search of a zoom lens for my camera.  Yes the durable point and shoot Olympus TG-3 comes with an attachable zoom lens.  My thoughts at the time, I’m gonna get my lens, I’m gonna get my lens, this is going to be awesome, I’m gonna get my lens…… Dang it!  So yeah the entire place was one giant clothing market.  Not exactly my cup of tea.  Despite being housed in a large building resembling a giant department store it is more like a long cluster of individual stalls selling just about everything you could want.

Heunginjimun Gate

            There is a small park next to the gate that contains part of the old city wall.  It was turned into a park and it is a favorite spot for denizens of Seoul to relax, as long as your knees can handle the hill.  Walking through the park led to discovery number 2 of the day, the Seoul City wall museum, which is a nice little exhibit explaining the history of the different city gates, and the city wall over the years.

The wall

Amazing stone work- each of those stones are cute square which I found to be very interesting as most Asian castles that I have seen use brick or uncut stone.

OK break time

Warning Asian Architecture time

            You’ll notice how the roof in the pavilion pictured above has a slight upward curve towards the edges of the roof.  This is unique to Korean architecture, and I didn’t see anything like it in Mongolia, Thailand, or Japan.

Mongolia- Winter Palace of Bohd Khan

            You will notice here that yes it does indeed tilt upward at the corners it is more of an inclined plane and not a gentle curve.  No doubt this is a Korean influence from the days of the Mongol Empire.

Thailand- High pointed roofs

Senoji Temple gate (Buddhist)- slight upward line but not a full curve

Shinto Shrine- Ueno Park- Straight Roof line

End Asian Architecture time

Warning Korean Mythology Time

            The northern gate of the city was almost never opened, and if it was, the gate was not left open very long.  The reason was the northern winds carried, various spirits and other beings with it that would make the women of the city extremely promiscuous.  Yes, the north wind made the women of Seoul get their freak on.  Notice they do not mention which city gate had to stay closed to prevent the men from getting their freak on.

Korean Mythology Time over

Nadaemun Market

            Undeterred from my shopping failure I made my way down to the Nadaemun market one of the bigger markets in the city in hopes of finding my camera lens.

            Yup it’s big and it’s crazy and I got lost so I had lunch.  Just for the record it wasn't a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  It was a wrong turn out of the number five subway exit.

            Yes, it looks more appetizing than it actually is.  I’d rather have Mongolian pizza and they don’t even know what proper pepperoni is.  Anyway I eventually found my way, and camera stores, lots and lots of camera stores.  I must have went through over more than two dozen stores and not a one had Olympus cameras, let alone what I was looking for.  Yeah, one of my big goals for the trip turned out to be a totally bust.  I had to order the lens online and ship them to my parents’ house before having them shipped out to Mongolia.

This is for Kelvin- Look Seafood

Hhmmmmm doesn’t that look tasty.

            There is more than just markets in Nadaemun.  The Sungnyemun, or South gate is located by Nadaemun.  Not much to see here besides the gate, and I wouldn't got out of the way to see it, but if you are in the area it is worth a shot.

            The final stop of the day was Namsan park, which I thought would be a small little thing, and boy was I wrong.  The park is called the heart of Seoul and it is huge.  It is loaded with all kinds of different attractions, statues, monuments, museums, and lots of other stuff.  Now most of it was closed on the day I was there, but I still had a nice time.  Oh and one last thing it is very hilly, so I don’t recommend making the last stop of the day like I did.

First President of Korea

First Vice president- Don’t ask me why he gets the bigger monument

Tea shop- sadly it was closed

Hey look mom I think I just got on a Korean K drama

View from the top

Bonus- Dinner

            So with all the walking I did I was plenty hungry by the end of the day and Korean barbeque sounded perfect.  Well the meal was listed for two people.
            Waitress- Is for 2
            Me- Don’t care hungry
            Waitress- Is for 2
            We- Don’t care hungry
            Waitress- …….OK

            I have long discovered that two person meals in Asia are really meant for just one American.  FYI- it was also very tasty.