Goyeongbokgung subway station
Today I got a taste of what Seoul is really like. I met BJ & Colin and together we wandered the northern end of downtown. Our first stop was Gyeongbokgung Palace, where we watched some sort of ceremony involving drums and guards in colorful garb walking in circles waving flags and holding impressive-looking (yet fake) antique weapons. It wasn't a full-blown changing of the guard; as far as we could tell it was just an excuse for them to stretch their legs. Neat to watch. Gyeongbokgung sports some pretty extensive grounds, and was very enjoyable to walk around.
We grabbed a late lunch (seafood bibimbap) en route to a small part of town that has preserved old homes constructed in the traditional style, and is a mini modern day "folk village" of sorts.
Colin's blueberry smoothie and my fresh kiwi juice -- YUM.
We wandered up and down several windy, hilly roads, admiring the juxtaposition of old and new (as both are scattered throughout). By this time it was nearing sundown, so we said our goodbyes and I headed across town. I walked south and west, covering almost twice as much ground as we did all day, racing the sunset as I went. I made it to Namdaemun Market just as darkness fell (was worried I'd have difficulty finding it in the dark). Namdaemun is a traditional Korean market, sprawled out across dozens of city streets, literally stretching on for blocks upon blocks. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the reality. I guess I was expecting a cross between my vision of "traditional Korean," involving both raw (produce, rice, common market items) and prepared foods, and more modern or tourist-oriented items, similar to the stalls and shops populating the student area.
There were a very small handful of produce vendors scattered throughout; I think I counted fewer than five altogether. The vast majority of the goods were knock-off designer crap, the kind of kitchy junk you'd find in Manhattan's Chinatown. Come to think of it, Manhattan's Chinatown looks pretty swank and luxury in comparison to Namdaemun. Fake purses, big oversized sweatshirts, thousands of men's boxers with Gucci or Louis Vuitton or whatever written all over the. Big let down. The only thing I saw that interested me was a heap of great big giant figs, some of the biggest I've ever seen, but they wanted 10,000 Won for figs, and I was so scandalized I shrieked "10,000 Won!" in incredulous outrage and stormed away.
I snagged a delicious pancake for dessert, which was hot off the griddle and had some sort of gooey goodness inside it, before retracing my steps and high-tailing it out of there.
And on a note unrelated to any instance in particular yet consistent throughout my ENTIRE day, I was bumped into, stepped on, pushed aside, cut in line, elbowed, shoved, and outright bodychecked more times than I think I EVER have been in my entire life. Yes, bodychecked. Maybe a dozen times? I'm going to be sporting an assortment of bruises and spinal injuries tomorrow. At first I did what I usually do, blink a few times in shock and give scathing looks to the perpetrator. By the sixth time I was swearing under my breath. By the sixteenth time I was swearing outright.
By the thirtieth time hands were up in the air and I was all "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?" for all the world to hear. I know I have China in a few days and I know it's going to make Korea seem like a picnic, but the being bumped and pushed and constantly cutting in line and deliberately shoved and the shoulder-to-shoulder assault from a charging linebacker is a bit more than I can handle. I'm someone who values personal space. Big time. And while I'm prepared to relinquish my personal space throughout these Asian travels of mine, I'm not sure I'm ok with the physical contact. A girl can only take so much. DON'T TOUCH ME.
I stopped by the grocery store on my way home, and wow was that the most depressing experience ever.
The produce was rancid and putrid looking, and I'd estimate a good two-thirds of the store's shelves were utterly bare. And not bare in the "we just had a massive sale of state-of-the-art uber trendy stuff you never knew you always wanted and it flew off the shelves in a blink" way, bare in the "we're giving Cuba a run for its money in the embargo sufferers department" way. I think I visibly flinched.
Had a very late dinner in the student area tonight. MORE bibimbap. Which, while still delicious, is getting a bit tired after approximately the fourth meal in a row. My aim was to find noodles, but everything looked so big and heavy and fried, and I was trying to keep it somewhat healthy and light, especially since it was bedtime and not feedingtime.
Grabbed a few more persimmons for breakfast. I do love me some persimmons. I don't think I've ever had them before coming to Korea, but they're great. Bright orange, crisp like an Asian pear, and the closest thing I can think of to liken them to is pumpkin. They taste nothing like pumpkin, but to me they smell faintly like pumpkin. Their taste is very subtle, lightly sweet, and delicate. Delicious. Makes for a tasty breakfast, even if they are a pain to peel and quarter (which is required for consuming, because there are certain parts in the middle you have to cut out lest you eat them, as they can hinder one's internal plumbing, if you will).
And, ever the glutton, this fatty bought another ice cream sandwich thingamabob, this one with coffee flavored ice cream inside. YUM. I think I just heard my sister licking her chops from here.