Seoul Travel Blog› entry 2 of 4 › view all entries
Since we took a Philippine Airlines Swingaround package, we had a free half day city tour which we decided to take that day. Another guide picked us up just before the morning rush hour traffic to bring us to the tour bus. The streets were already filling with commuters, and we quickly realized that we, "Southerners", were wearing the wrong clothes and in the wrong colors. The more stylishly dressed were wearing long coats in neutral beige, black or burgundy. Worse, I realized that I forgot to bring any film, and had only about half a roll left in my camera, and my mom had even less than that in hers. I left about 6 rolls at the hotel!
The tour turned out to be good value, despite the obligatory detour to an amethyst factory and a ginseng factory. At the entrance to the amethyst shop my mom was delighted to see a Lions Club seal on the wall, and she insisted to be photographed next to it to show her Lions Club chapter back home.
We began our tour at the Royal Palace of Gyeongbokgung. Coming from the hotel, we already saw one monument: Dongdaemun Gate which looked less like a gate and more like a small fortress. Seoul turned out to have few historical buildings and not all were truly ancient, because many were reconstructions of originals destroyed at war. The Japanese were especially destructive, and was credited for abolishing the monarchy.
On our way to the palace, the guide pointed out The Blue House, where the embattled Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was under house-arrest.
Gyeongbokgung palace used a lot of tasteful preppie colors: pink and green pastels, and subdued reds. I liked the roof details: the repetitive bamboo-like shapes under the eaves that seemed covered in embroidered silk, the runaway steel monkeys of the Monkey King at the top were a Chinese influence. There were very violent stories: a few centuries ago the Queen was murdered in her sleep by a bunch of Japanese ninjas in that building yonder.
Within the palace grounds was the National Folk Museum. We saw a lot of dolls and mannequins dressed up in hanbok or re-enacting village life.
We left the palace for Jogyesa temple, improbably located behind apartment blocks. Under renovation at that time, its faÃ§ade was mostly covered. Louie, our guide, revealed that he was Buddhist, and began to enumerate the steps to Buddhahood. Unfortunately, I had forgotten half of them before he was through. I rather liked Louie because he reminded me of my friend Leon who has an Om tattoo. The temple was full and the people had spilled over to the entrance steps, so we couldn't go inside. Buddhism was a casualty of Confucianism. Most of the Buddhists had to flee to the mountains, so a temple that old in the middle of the city was rather special.
The street leading up to Ewha Women’s University seemed the most feminine street in all of
Going by foot from Ewha to Yonsei down to Sinchon we realized how hilly
At the end of Yonsei’s main street, which reminded me of UP’s, I felt more keenly than ever the lack of camera film (this was before I’d gone digital) when we spied this seemingly endless colorful mural at the crossing to Sinchon.
Quick detour: Kyobe Bookstore, where we bought original DVDs of Il Mare and Art Museum by the Zoo. Both proved to be enjoyable movies.
We met dreamy Go-san on the tour bus, and Jo had fun practicing her Japanese. Soon after, we were dropped off sans Go at Itaewon, which bordered the Yongsan U.S. Military base. Mom, Jo and I were on our own from that time on. We quickly realized there was nothing to see in Itaewon except Americanized bars and leather-goods shops. We found a shop where Yoda sold fake plastic Birkin bags! We decided we might as well have lunch.