Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Korea Day 5: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Ordinary Folks, and Can We Get Some More Shopping, Please?

Our vacation has fallen into a bit of a pattern:  Let's start the morning with something cultural or historical or educational, break for lunch, and then go shopping.

We began at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, originally built in the 1400s, destroyed by the Japanese a hundred years later, rebuilt in the nineteenth century.

David stands in front of the King's office.

We arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard.

We wandered on our own for a little bit, then met at 11am for the English speaking tour and had an adorable tour guide.  She ended most sentences with "Right?  Mm-hmm."  For example:  "There are no toilets in the king's living quarters, right?  Mm-hmm.  So what did the king do when he had to go to the bathroom?  They brought the toilet to him!  Right?  Mm-hmm.  And then the doctor would inspect what the king did.  Number one or number two, right?  Mm-hmm.  The doctor had to inspect for the king's health."

The king's throne room.  The small tables toward the center of the room were desks for scribes.  The king did not like the scribes because they were like paparazzi--relentlessly snooping and documenting every little thing the king did.

So after learning all about the importance of the king's healthy poops and pees and the total lack of privacy that the king experienced, we moved on through the rest of the palace--the queen's rooms, the king's offices, and the king's pavilion (or "party place," as the tour guide said).

The king's sleeping quarters--sparsely furnished for his protection so that assassins could not hide behind furniture.  The mat was for sitting, not sleeping.

 You had to take off your shoes to go in the king's rooms.

The party pavilion and the mountains in the background--beautiful.

In the gardens.  Doesn't this look like Asia? 

People were evidently a bit shorter than my dad.  Or ducked through every doorway...

Just outside the palace grounds was the Korean Folk Museum.

Most of the signage in museums is in Korean, Japanese, English, and Chinese.

They had displays of artifacts and materials from the lives of ordinary people--baskets, shoes, clothing, etc. and other cultural objects.

Please sanitize your hands on your way in.  David loves this idea.

Year of the monkey.

Year of the snake.
There was a placenta pot that wealthy families would purchase (including the king) and when a son was born, the umbilical cord would be washed a hundred times and then the cord and the placenta would be put in a pot and buried in the yard to bring the baby longevity and good health.

Of course we bought one for Baby Duck.

Except not really because, ew.

They had displays with little dolls in a model school room and they had mannequins acting out a fancy Korean wedding.

Mr. and Mrs. So and So request the honor of your presence...

I thought the clothing was pretty ingenious--linen-like hemp was worn in the summer because it was cool and breathable, and clothes were quilted and padded to keep people warm in the winter.  Korea gets four dramatically different seasons (kind of like Missouri) so these people were good at adapting.  There were also kimchi pots into which people used to put their vegetables, and then bury them into the ground to ferment.  Kimchi got them through cold and hungry winters, I realize, but it still amazes me how ubiquitous it is.  You get kimchi with every single meal here.  It's like the free basket of bread that we take for granted at restaurants.  I have a theory that spicy food is more filling than bland food, so I think kimchi makes people feel less hungry.

Also, as Brandon keeps reminding us (somewhat sarcastically?) it's good for the health.

After wandering through the museum and buying an "I Love Korea" children's book at the museum store, we were all getting pretty hungry.  Our guide book recommended a nearby area with lots of restaurants and shopping.  David found a place called "Buccellos" that had sandwiches and when I saw "Vegetarian Sandwich" on their menu, that decided it.

We sat down and were each given menus, but it seems that the Korean custom is that one person will order for everyone.  So I ordered my sandwich and the waiter said, "One?" and I said, "Yes," thinking it a little odd that he thought I would want to eat more than one sandwich.  But then he started to leave and we had to say, "Oh, wait, wait," so that everyone else could order.  The sandwiches were good (served on ciabatta bread with salads and forks--very authentic Korean cuisine here) and we felt quite refreshed as we headed back to Insadong for a little souvenir shopping.

It rained while we were in the first store, but we browsed long enough that by the time we came out the street was wet but there was no more rain.  We looked at celedon ceramics, which is a huge local and traditional product (we saw lots of celedon at the art museum the day before).  I liked the trays made of paper, and they had jewelry boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl, like the one Brandon gave me for Christmas last year.  Very beautiful.  They also had the cheesy stuff--magnets, bookmarks, picture frames, pencil cases.  It was fun to look and to do a little buying...

Then we headed down the street where we saw more of the same and some variety--pottery, art galleries, cheap fans, socks, scarves, t-shirts.  One thousand won is the equivalent of one dollar, which of course makes for easy conversion but also makes me laugh every time I say something like, "This scarf costs four thousand won!  I have to have it!"

We had a great time watching these guys make a kind of candy. They had some sort of song they sang as they made it that reminded me of the fudge makers at Union Station.  They started with a hard piece of honey, speared a hole in the middle of it, then stretched it and pulled it and folded it over and over again until it was long, sugary strings that looked like angle hair.  They fold all of this around chopped peanuts and it tastes heavenly.  It's best when it's frozen.  I've never had anything like it and I don't know what it is called.  The box just says, "Sweet treat of Korea."  The guys singing were hilarious.  They asked where we were from and we said the U.S. and one said, "I love America!"  They definitely sold us on the candy.

I would not say that most people speak English, as Brandon had suggested, although it seems like most people understand it.  It was easy enough to communicate prices and ordering from a menu, but there is still a lot of "Um...  wtf is going on here?" in most of our encounters with people.  I'm amazed by how good Brandon's Korean is, and Koreans also appear to be amazed that a Westerner can speak their language.  But even without Brandon, we managed to speak the international language of capitalism and after shopping for a couple of hours, we headed for the subway and for Brandon's apartment, carrying lots of bags.

Brandon was working late that night so he could take off the next couple of days so when we got back to his apartment around 5, we decided that we'd rest for a little bit and then eat dinner somewhere nearby.

Two hours later, David and Dad were still napping and Brandon called to say he was leaving work.  So we ended up meeting him for dinner after all.  At a Canadian brewery called Big Rock Brewery.  Burgers and beer (or fish and chips and water) made for a tasty dinner and no one had trouble falling asleep that night in spite of the extended nap time.

On the way home, we walked underground through the subway station, and I continued to marvel at all of the shops which seem to be open all hours.

Let's just say it's a good thing I have no idea what my shoe size is in Korean. Because then I'd probably be in the market for another suitcase as well.
And I don't think Korea has a large selection of maternity clothes that would fit me.  But I love the idea of combining shopping for clothes with the morning commute.  Brilliant!
David and Brandon bought waffles from the waffle girl.

No one looks happy in this picture, but I assure a fresh waffle, folded with cream cheese and cinnamon in the middle, is delicious, and they were both very happy.

 Then we went home to bed.  Seoul is an exciting city but it is also exhausting.

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