This week has been a busy one, and a big time of reflection. Yesterday we finished our contracts at school and had the last night with all of us foreign teachers together. Sob! It is a sad/happy time full of nostalgia, so I thought a bit of a look back on the year was appropriate. Plus, it will prove to everyone that I actually have seen some of Seoul, instead of just sitting around shooting the breeze with my chums both online and offline!
When expats come to Seoul (or Korea in general), they often find themselves exploring the touristy parts of the city, without chipping away to discover the bubbling underbelly sitting just below the surface. Sometimes, even this faux-travelling halts, with ‘foreigners’ retiring to their comfortable, English-only expat bubbles (guilty), or worse, isolating themselves from all civilisation. Neither of these situations are ideal; however, after living here for a year and having a fairly good grasp of things (minus the language – a small oversight), I am starting to get the itch to discover a little bit more of the city from a traveller’s perspective. Although it doesn’t necessarily give you a taste of the real Korea, it is fun to see some pretty sights and get out and about in such a bustling city. Plus, Gav is leaving on Wednesday to go home for a month, so I will be needing to keep myself busy!
Throughout my year in Guri, I have done a few touristy things, but certainly fewer than you would think. Let’s start with the first: my visit to the National Museum of Korea! I went here randomly one night, when Gav was away actually, and I was feeling a bit down. It was a weekend, and I thought, that’s it, I’m sick of sitting around, I’m going to go to a museum. Makes sense, right? It was actually really rainy but a nice journey nonetheless. My pictures of the outside of the museum were a bit foggy and glarey, so instead I will serve you one of the beautiful ceiling inside the building:
Sa artsy! Although I am not a big ‘museums’ girl, this one is really pretty to walk around. It is huge and there are so many rooms and wings and sections, it’s hard to discover it all at once. When I went, it was about 7pm and some of the exhibitions were closed, so I went to see the main section with a lot of ancient artefacts and paintings. They had lots of traditional Korean paintings, whose beauty I couldn’t capture in pictures. So pretty, I don’t know how people paint like that but I’m glad they do. There were also lots of ancient hair pins, statues and tools used long ago in Korea. My favourite room was one with lots of stone buddha statues just hanging out together. The lighting was dim, they were giant and it was just cool. Take a look:
After this random, cultured visit (but possibly chronologically before), comes our visit to Yeouido Park. I spoke about this in a previous post, when we went to see the cherry blossoms and were sorely disappointed, except for the saving grace of the fairy floss. From the riverside, we could see Building 63, which is a fairly famous building in Seoul and which also touts an impressive view of the city. Although that could be difficult with all of the toxic dust particles from China floating in the air right now… but still it’s meant to be really pretty:
I still want to actually go inside this building, but its shiny gold exterior is oh-so-beautiful, no?!
Next on the list isn’t something you can see every day (which makes it even more special!), but it is uber-Korean. Early on in our stay here, we found out none other than PSY was playing in Seoul! This was fairly early last year and this concert was actually streamed on Youtube for the worldwide premiere of ‘Gentleman’. Kind of a big deal! After this song was released the kids wouldn’t stop singing it at school for weeks, months… even now it sometimes gets brought up, although they have recently moved onto ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen in a BIG way. This concert was so exciting and so much fun! Everyone was so hyped up and Psy even dressed up as Beyonce at one point to sing ‘Single Ladies’, which can only ever be a good thing.
Being Korea and being a Psy concert, there was naturally lots of glitter, glow sticks and confetti! Everyone got given a glowstick and/or flashing white ribbon headbands (think the Hello Kitty ones) and basically just went nuts. This was our first experience of a concert in Korea, and what an experience to have! Oh, this was also our first introduction to G-Dragon too, who is a super-gangsta and super-pretty, somehow at the same time. Although Psy went on for a bit long and brought out the dramatics (and the encores! So many encores…) toward the end, overall he was a great performer and had so much energy, and humility too.
Last but not least, when my brother came to visit, he, Gav and I went on a day trip to the DMZ. This was actually a bit anticlimactic and not as dangerous as it sounds. For those unfamiliar with the Demilitarised Zone, it is the area of land that divides North and South Korea and despite its name, it is actually the most heavily militarised area in the world. Eep! There are a lot of packages you can choose to go here, and to be honest it was super touristy and it all sort of looks the same (because it is the same country and the divisions are solely political). Our tour guide on this trip was a kind but slightly loony lady that would combine information about the North Korean way of life with inappropriate comments about her mom’s opinions of her love life. An odd mix, that’s for sure!
Apart from the harrowing stories that occasionally slip out about North Korean citizens trying to escape, the half-finished building, the railway line that abruptly stops (because they ran out of money) and bizarre tales of restaurants with tables prepared to look as if they are anticipating a packed house (although no one is coming), we don’t hear too much about North Korea, although the South seems to be very open to refugees which is very heartening. South Korea is already a powerful country, and I believe that both Koreas will only become stronger upon unification. The Dorasan train line which used to connect the North and South, has been restored, and it will be an exciting time when they re-open it. And it really is a matter of when, not if.
Although this wasn’t the most exciting trip, it was cool to learn a bit more about their different culture – plus we got the Dorasan Train Station stamp in our passport which was a little bit naughty (not really)! 😉
A few other things that I would recommend doing in Seoul and Korea? Going to the beautiful Bukchon Village and Samcheong-dong and a visit to Namsan Tower, and Busan is great for a weekend getaway. This year, I really want to go to Lotte World which Gav, Sehar and Thomas went to when I was in Tokyo (sigh), and I’m sure a few other things will spring to mind, too. I find Seoul a very liveable country, in that it is less international than Tokyo, Beijing et al., with fewer noticeably unique attractions, but with a fantastic way of life. It reminds me of Melbourne in that way – although with a lot more people and a lot more convenience!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this small wrap-up of a handful of touristy things in Seoul. As I have been writing it, I keep thinking of more things and places I want to mention, but I will save these for a later post. Information overload! My brain is a bit fried this weekend so hopefully this all made sense. I will be back tomorrow with Sample Sundays… Looking forward to writing about the Etude House Wonder Pore Corrector! ^^
Until next time,