4 wonderful solo weeks in South Korea

Jul 5th, 2014, 04:27 PM
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Join Date: Dec 2006
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@ Mara -- I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Korean movie. Recommendations, please!

I had asked for non-smoking rooms when I made my reservations, and although I’m not overly sensitive to smoke, I didn’t have the sense that anyone had smoked in my rooms, or at least I didn’t think anyone had done so recently. (Although there was an ashtray in one room.) Smoking is not allowed in most restaurants (I think it may be OK in some of the little tiny places, like the tents, but I’m not positive) or other public buildings, and it is clearly disallowed in temples and palaces. I did occasionally see people who were smoking outside here and there; I don’t remember exactly where, but I vaguely recall clusters of smokers outside airline terminals and bus and train stations, and every once in a while on a busy street -- probably when people worked someplace nearby where smoking was not allowed and they had come outside to smoke during a break.

BTW, for my first glimpse of the Han River, see the 2nd paragraph of this day’s “installment.”

@ gertie – Sounds like we visited many of the same places, and at about the same time – we probably did pass one another! I didn’t make it to Unhyeongung; I wonder how you thought it compared to Seoul’s other palaces? And kudos for ignoring the advice (no matter how well-intentioned) to skip climbing the steps of Bukchon!

Day 3: Seoul and the Korean Folk Villiage (KFV) in Yongin-si, outside Seoul

This was Children’s Day in Korea, a major holiday when most sites in Seoul were to be closed. The Korean Folk Village is an outdoor museum featuring traditional houses from all over the country, which had been relocated there, along with their typical accoutrements. There are also workshops where one can experiment with (or watch) the making of traditional handicrafts and a set of four folk performance that are performed about twice each day.

To get there, I took a subway and then a bus. (The subway emerges from its tunnel to cross the Han River – Hangang – by bridge. Wow, now THAT is one massive river! I think it was at least a kilometer wide!)

As was to happen often on this trip, English speakers offered their help at just about every turn, so I easily found the correct subway, then the correct bus stop, and then the entrance to the KFV. Given that it was Children’s Day, I was not at all surprised that I was joining throngs of others, and indeed, there were LONG lines for people waiting to buy tickets. There was also a special counter, with no line , for foreigners. Moments later, I was inside the ticket gates – and in a large area devoted to shops and restaurants and other “conveniences.” It didn’t take TOO long to cross this area….

As I mentioned, folk performances are routinely staged at the KFV, and I arrived just moments after the “Acrobatics on a Tightrope” performance began. The tightrope was in the center of a flat area surrounded by a few tiers of seats; I soon found a place from which I could watch. Some of those moves had to HURT! (Imagine jumping up from the tightrope and then landing on the rope with your legs extended out and in front of you. Male or female – this performer was male – I can’t imagine it!) When the performance ended, after about ½ hour, everyone got up and moved across a pathway to a different performance venue. Like the first, it had a set of tiered rings on which people could sit. What a clever way to make sure that those who had poorer seats for one show had a chance to find better seats for the next! I watched the “Equestrian Feats” before moving onto a 3rd venue – a home in which one could watch the re-enactment of a “Traditional [Josean Dynasty] Wedding.” Later in the day, I caught the day’s 2nd showing of “Farmers’ Music and Dance.”

As noted above, I attended quite a few folk performances during this trip. These were not the most polished of the ones I saw, but there were delightful nonetheless! Part of my enjoyment came from watching the many, many children in the audiences – such expressions of delight! And the faces of their parents, watching their children, who were watching the performances – priceless! And the faces of the many adults who take advantage, consciously or not, of the opportunity to be a child again …. And even if the performers were not the most skilled of those I saw, they were a lot of fun to watch. They engaged the audience; they did things that obviously took a great deal of skill and training; and whenever one did miss a trick, he or she was cheered as he or she tried again, even if it took a third attempt. My kudos to them all!

I spent hours walking around and exploring various buildings, learning a bit about some of Korea’s traditions, and being made to feel welcome. (I don’t know how many people came to speak to me, except that it was a LOT!) Lots of children seemed fascinated by my obviously non-Asian appearance, so they would stare and stare…. One poor little thing found it less to his liking: As soon as he saw me, he let out a spine-wrenching scream! He turned away more quickly than he turned off his wail, only to look at me again moments later: SCREAM. Repeat sequence. And again…. Poor kid!

I did not explore every nook and cranny of this vast outdoor museum, but I did see a sizeable portion, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I readily admit that I’m a sucker for these kinds of places – I really like seeing the traditions, and I like being able to see buildings from different places and eras in close enough proximity to discern at least a few of the difference, and I love seeing people (of ALL ages) enjoying themselves.

As I awaited my bus, I captured a glimpse of someone with a pet – something I rarely saw in Korea. The woman in the front seat of a passing car held a small white lapdog, except he wasn’t entirely white – he had intensely purple ears. Seriously? I’m not sure the dying process would have been painful for the dog, but still – seriously? I only saw a few people with dogs while in Korea; many of those I did see were small, white lapdogs; I am pleased to report that none of the others I saw had obvious signs of dye.

***Some notes on Seouls’s subways.
- Subways in Seoul have a single row of seats on either side facing inward; they are curved to define specific seating positions, There is space for two or even three rows of standing people in between. It seemed that almost without exception, people of any age get on, sit if a seat is available, take out their earplugs and cell phone, and type away. If no seats are available, you stand facing the window, pull out your earplugs and cell phone, and type away. OK, so not EVERYONE used earplugs and cell phones, but it did seem that the norm is that one never faces forward or backward or toward the opposite side of the car – I noticed, because I kept turning so I could see the signs that indicated what the next stop would be.
- Every car had seats reserved for the handicapped. No matter how crowded the car, I never saw someone who was not clearly handicapped take one of those seats. Even little old ladies who couldn’t stand straight stood, rather than taking one.
- The boarding platforms for many subways in Seoul and other cities are part of the South Korea’s civil defense system, and so have cabinets that hold gas masks and other emergency supplies. Seeing them made me realize that the vast majority of people I saw would have no personal recollections of living in country that was not technically at war. Wow.

Baru (temple cuisine restaurant). In advance of my trip, I had read that Korean temple cuisine is delicious, and since that had been my experience in Japan, I was on board! After some research, I decided that the option that would suit my needs best while in Seoul would be Baru, aka Baru Gongyang. With the help of my hostel’s staff, I had made a reservation earlier in the week. They had apparently been VERY clear: Reservation or not, they would neither seat nor serve me if I wasn’t there by 7:30 p.m.

This restaurant was not far from my hotel. I returned to my room after visiting the Korean Folk Village and had enough time to shower and change before heading out. I had only walked about 5 minutes when I realized that I didn’t have my camera with me. Growl! I thought I could probably make it back to my room in time, but didn’t want to risk it. On I went.

I found the address (in the building with the TempleStay offices across from Jogyesa) easily, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find the entrance to this 5th story restaurant. I finally took an exterior staircase, and huffed and puffed my way to … a locked door!?! Thre was a bell, so I rang it and knocked. And rang and knocked. As the time to my “drop dead” time approached, I couldn’t help but admire the views over Jogyesa, a temple just across the street that was fully bedecked for the upcoming Buddha’s birthday. It seemed like I was looking out over a sea of multi-colored lanterns, interrupted only by the impressive crown of a huge tree. What an awesome view -- I wished I had a camera!

And how I wished I knew how to honor my reservation at Baru. I was just about to give up when the door opened; a woman graciously escorted me through the non-public regions of the restaurant (storage area, the kitchen) to the seating area. As we approached the table (one with chairs), I could see a row of shoes to my right, so I carefully took mine off and placed them on the ledge. But why did the hostess seem to be signalling, “no, no”!?! Only after I took my seat did I realize that I was in an area for Westerners, where people were supposed to leave their shoes ON. Oops!

My meal at Baru was phenomenal! I ordered the 12-course meal (about $39). Most courses had multiple dishes, each of which was beautifully presented. (I so wish I had my camera!) The serving staff went out of their way to try to tell me at least a little about each dish, and even if the communication wasn’t always perfect, I sincerely appreciated their efforts. Of the MANY dishes that I was given that evening, there were at most two that weren’t to my liking. Most were outstanding.

When I was finally ready to go, I was discretely steered to the elevator. Elevator? Yes – elevator, which took me to the building’s first floor, from which I could exit through the then-closed TempleStay offices. According to the sign on their doors, they closed before I would have arrived, so I still don’t know of any way I could have reached the restaurant except by it’s back door. If you decide to eat at Baru – and I would go again! – be sure to ask how to get to it when you make your reservation!

Jogyesa – evening visit. Before heading back to my rooms, I stopped at Jogyesa – and I am so glad I did! As I had seen from the stairway to Baru, a nearly continuous ceiling of lanterns covered this temple’s grounds, and they were at least as lovely from beneath as from atop. Too, there were temporary “walls” made of lanterns – metal dividers hung with them. And below each lantern, there was a plastic sheath holding a piece of paper with lettering: Anyone could pay to offer a wish for one person (for about $30) or for an entire family (for about $100 and up). I briefly considered making some kind of homage, but quickly decided that there are other things that would be more consistent with my family’s wishes. As I looked around Jogyesa – and the many other temples I saw during this time – I realized that these temples must reap a substantial portion of their annual income from these lanterns!

Most of the lanterns were small globes in a single color – green, white, magenta…. But there were also some HUGE “lanterns” that looked to me more like balloons that a parade float might use, but which were stationary and lit from within. Some were quite lovely; many struck me as decidedly tacky. To each his/her own!

The temple’s main hall was still open, and I found it very beautiful, with its three large gilded Buddhas, turquoise walls, lattice-like wooden screen doors, and arrays of small, back-lit Buddhas. Even in the midst of the seemingly chaotic preparations for the next day’s rituals, there was a wonderful sense of peace there. Very nice!

It was a quick walk (maybe 15 or 20 minutes) to my room, and no matter how curious I was about what I passed (places to eat? have a drink? buy something?), I was MUCH too tired to return – as I had thought I might – with my camera.
kja is offline  
Jul 6th, 2014, 11:44 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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kja - I have never seen a Korean movie - Korean dramas are a different genre....they are more like soap operas or mini series. They are quite family oriented and have common themes often - it is too long to explain here - if you want to know more please send me an email my screen name plus b1 (one, not el) at hotmail dot com....

Your report has interested me a great deal - I have already found two websites about Korea and Seoul to bookmark for future reference.....looking forward to more - and it's nice to know how helpful the people there are...
Mara is online now  
Jul 6th, 2014, 12:21 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Just catching up with your report. I've never thought about Korea as a destination, which makes your report a real delight.
Kathie is offline  
Jul 6th, 2014, 03:18 PM
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@ Mara – Thanks for clarifying! Korean dramas sound interesting – and addictive! I’ll keep them in mind for retirement (should that day ever arrive). I’m glad you are finding my report interesting, and hope you continue to do so! And BTW, there’s more about the Han River at the end of this installment.

@ Kathie – Thanks your kind words! When I began researching South Korea as a possible destination for myself, I was surprised by how few people seem to have gone there, or at least, how few had stepped outside of Seoul for reasons other than family. (Thanks again to those who did and who kindly provided input as I planned my trip!) I am writing what I know is a ridiculously long TR in the hope that my impressions might be helpful to people who, like you, might not have considered traveling there.

Day 4: Seoul -- Buddha’s Birthday Dharma Ceremonies and more

This is the day on which Buddha's Birthday is celebrated in South Korea. I readily admit that I didn’t know what to expect of a Dharma Ceremony. I had read that Jogyesa would be a good place to see the morning (10 a.m.) event and that Bongeunsa would be a good place for the evening (7 p.m.) event, so I planned my day accordingly.

Jogyesa – Dharma Ceremony. Expecting crowds, I made sure that I reached Jogyesa before 8 a.m., and it was already very crowded. Roped-off seating for invitees filled much of the space, with what I took to be a South Korean version of secret service officers positioned around the relatively small temple grounds. I found a place to stand behind one of them – a very fit and watchful man who was wearing a suit and the telltale coiled earpiece. Perfect! He was directly behind the last row of seats, I could easily see over his shoulder, and no matter HOW much that crowd moved and swayed, he was immovable. (I did wonder what he thought about my presence….)

The many colored lanterns swaying overhead gave the event a festive aura, even as other elements signalled solemnity. For the first hour or so, a choir performed (I assume as a dress rehearsal), and the music was lovely. There were some pieces with, and some without, musical instrumentation, along with some strictly instrumental pieces. And there were a pair of large video screens, so I could often see close-ups of the musicians.

I spent the next couple of hours watching people filter in – monks and dignitaries and children and people in uniform…. Many of the attendees were to have a role in the ceremony, and some women in traditional dress walked them through their dress rehearsals. I especially enjoyed a very young girl and boy, each dressed in gorgous modern-day attire, as they walked through their parts – they couldn’t help showing their hearts as they learned their steps. How sweet!

As the time for the start of the ceremony approached, more and more people pressed into the area, but the crowd was generally very well behaved. There was little pushing or shoving – right up until a few minutes before 10 a.m., when a news cameraman muscled his way to the front, female reporter in tow, causing even my “rock” to waiver ever so briefly. People did not seem pleased.

Once the ceremony began, I concluded that it would be a mix of the various events that I had seen rehearsed, along with Buddhist chants and prayers. By then, I had been standing for nearly two hours and was happy to yield my place to someone for whom the ceremony had religious significance. So I began to make my way to the exit – and to what proved to be a truly frightening experience:

There was a line of people moving slowly toward the main gate, and another line moving in the opposite direction, and because of the crowds, there wasn't much anyone could do except be patient. There seemed to be a bottleneck at a place where the lines rounded a corner. Moving, moving … stuck. And then the crowd behind me surged, and I felt myself lifted off the ground by the forces pressing against me, and I was carried – spinning and out of control, my arms pinned to my sides by the masses of people – and then I touched ground again, only to be forced forward without intention, and I heard someone scream and saw a head slip down out of view and I thought OMG, this is how people die in stampedes! And even as that thought crossed my mind, I heard some men shout and I saw a space – just a small one, but a space nonetheless -- open up and I saw a moaning woman lifted and I was swept around a corner and could see no more.

It was just a few more moments – probably only seconds, but it seemed an eternity – before I could break free of this throng. I was shaking so hard! It took me some time to return to any sense of normalcy. I couldn’t help but realize that I was at least a head taller than many of the people in that crush of mindless movement, so at least I could see. I can’t imagine being trapped in that chaos with no line of sight. And I’m large-boned, so perhaps more able to handle the bruising pressure (and yes, I actually did get bruised). And all for … what? A momentary blockage of the route? Wow.

National Museum of Korea, Seoul. Once I calmed down, I took a subway and walked a short distance to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, where I crossed the expansive grounds to the entry way, took note of the fact that the museum was hosting a special exhibit of works from the Musee d’Orsay (I doubted that I would have time, but liked knowing that the museum had made these works accessible to the people of Seoul), bought a ticket, and was told that I could get an audio guide once inside. Some of you may have just recognized my error; it took me a bit longer to realize that the ticket I had purchased was for the special exhibit – visits to the permanent collection were free. Of course, I only figured that out while speaking to the woman at the desk for the audioguides to the Musee d’Orsay exhibit. She immediately got on the phone and, before I knew what she was doing, arranged for me to turn in my ticket for a full refund. I decided not to take that opportunity because the mistake was mine, not theirs. And maybe I would have time for a quick walk through….

Soon I found my way to the museum’s permanent collection. Unfortunately, all the English-language audioguides were in use. I confirmed that there would be a tour in English a bit later, got some other information, and began to explore the museum.

***National Museums of Korea: I visited five National Museums of Korea -- those in Seoul, Buyeo, Gongju, Gwangju, and Gyeongju. In each of these locations, I found a large, modern, and well-signed facility with displays spanning from prehistoric through modern times. Each showed a much smaller selection of pieces than would have been feasible given the interior space: The focus seemed to me to be on quality, not quantity. Most (all?) also had at least some interesting pieces (sculptures, temple lanterns, etc.) outside.

I began in the museum’s prehistory section, and proceeded, gallery by gallery, until about a half-hour before the scheduled English tour. After a quick coffee break (the museum’s café actually served decent coffee! ), I met the guide and the one other person who showed up that day for the English tour.

After a very informative tour that lasted about 1.5 hours, I took another coffee break and then finished my exploration of the museum’s permanent collections. When I was ready to leave – I think I’d been there for a bit more than 5 or 5.5 hours – I considered a quick walk through the exhibit of works from the Musee d’Orsay, which is one of my favorite museums in the world. There was a LONG line. No problem! I went to the ticket counter and gave my ticket to the person who was next in line.

Samneung Park, Seoul. If I haven’t already said so, I’m a sucker for UNESCO WHSs, which include the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Several sites are part of the inscription; I think this site was the one closest to the heart of Seoul.

This small park included two large tumuli, one for a king that was fronted by a ceremonial walkway and shrine, and one for a queen. The park also held a another small shrine, the building in which the groundskeeper lived, and lots of lovely forested walkways in which magpies and pheasants and chipmonks were merrily going about their ways. From what I read, the king’s tumulus is sourrounded by 12 outer guardian statues; I was only able to glimpse parts of them. The queen’s tomb had fewer guardians, but I was able to see them easily.

Bongeunsa. As noted above, my advance information suggested that Bongeunsa would be a good place to experience the evening Lantern Lighting ceremony that marks Buddha’s Birthday. With a promise to myself that I would avoid ANY part of the temple that looked like it might have a crowd-flow problem, I decided to go.

I loved my time at Bongeunsa! This temple is spread on several levels over the lower reaches of a hill, and it has multiple shrines -- small and large, enclosed and open-air – that are connected by pathways, some broad and some narrow. There were many people there, but everyone was polite and no one seemed rushed and we moved along the various paths quite comfortably. And the weather was perfect for the event.

As I climbed from the main temple area to some of the hillier parts behind it and as twilight approached, people began lighting the lanterns. And as the lights came on, music began. Beyond that, I can’t tell you what the service entailed – I was completely absorbed by what I was seeing.

Like Jogyesa, Bongeunsa had LOTS of small lanterns forming ceilings and walls, and like Jogyesa it had LOTS of large lanterns in various shapes – but more that I found aesthetically pleasing (pairs of cranes, grazing deer) and fewer that were less pleasing (e.g., cartoon characters). As I walked down to the main gate, with all the lanterns of every size now lit, I kept thinking how very, very glad I was that I had come to Bongeunsa that evening!

Yeouido Hangang Park. My original plan had been to go to a place from which I could watch the Bonpo Bridge Fountain while eating dinner, but I had learned that this fountain would be closed because of the tragic ferry disaster. My back-up plan was to take a cruise along the Yangang, starting from a pier in Yeouido Hangang Park.

With the help of yet another very kind Korean, I found my way to a subway stop within walking distance of the park. The walk to the park was a bit longer than I expected, and then there was a LONG walk through the park to the pier. I knew that the last cruise would depart at 10 p.m., so I moved as quickly as I could and reached the pier with minutes to spare -- except that the last boat left at 8 p.m.!

OK, this was, after all, a back-up plan. As I walked back through the park, I took note of just how broad the Han River is – it is WIDE! There were a few others in this large park, evident primarily through bits of voices I could hear in the distance, and there were lights shimmering across the river, and it was pleasant evening – no complaints! I stopped for another meal of street-food – tempura-like shrimp and vegetables with some tasty sides and a can of beer, and a distant view of the Yangang down and through the park as I savored my selections.
kja is offline  
Jul 6th, 2014, 05:59 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
I'm really enjoying your report Kja. I'm going back to Korea for my 4th visit in October. While I've traveled around an awful lot of the country on the first 2 trips I was mostly concerned with Ceramics - I'm a potter. Last year I spend a month in Yeoju and while I saw a lot of that area, most of my time was spent in the pottery. For anyone interested in Ceramics its the most wonderful place.

So this year I'm heading back to Yeoju but will also travel down south again and to Seoul of course. I plan on stopping in Gwangju for the museum and Damyang for the bamboo so am looking forward to your report on that section as I haven't been there. I'm going down to Gangjin (Celadon ceramics) and Mokpo (Maritime museum) I'm also picking up lots of tips from you for places I've already been but will probably visit again! Thank you.

I love the museums in SK - they are all really good. Some truly wonderful ceramic ones all around the country as well.

As for movies - I watched a few in trying to improve my lousy Korean language but without much success. I did love "Il Mare" and think its worth looking out for. A few years old now but very nice. They later made an American film based on the Korean one called "The Lake House" I thought the Korean one much nicer.

Looking forward to reading more.
MaryW is offline  
Jul 7th, 2014, 12:23 AM
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@ MaryW – OMG, South Korea holds some stunning ceramics! – the shapes and glazes and designs, from the Baekje-era through the Goryeon and on through the Joseon.… I’m no expert, and I still found them awesome! As a potter, you must find it a VERY special place to visit. Your planned visit to the Gwangju museum is, in part, for the Chinese celadons? Well worth it, IMO. (And once you see them, I would love to hear your thoughts, given your expertise with Korean celadon.) Have you been to the Ho-Am, the LEEUM, or the Gansong? I think you would find them worth your time. (My visit to the Ho-Am will be covered in my next installment, my visit to the LEEUM in either that or the subsequent installment, and what I was able to see from the Gansong will be covered near the end of my TR.) And thanks for the movie recommendations – I’ll be sure to watch out for them!
kja is offline  
Jul 7th, 2014, 05:37 PM
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Day 5: Day trip to the Ho-Am Museum of Art and Suwon

Ho-Am Art Museum. The Ho-Am Art Museum, part of the Samsung Foundation, isn’t far from the Korean Folk Village, but it had been closed the day I went there. I took a subway and then express bus to Everland, a huge amusement park, from which one can take a free shuttle bus. People at each step of the way were very helpful.

I got off the shuttle bus just beyond the “peacock crossing” sign – a peacock crossing?!? -- and immediately began hearing the piercing cries of peacocks. Can’t say I expected that!

I thought the Ho-Am a thorough delight! The gardens (called Hee Won) were beautiful and filled with artfully arranged sculptures and stone pieces, some as centerpieces, others half hidden in the trees. The exhibits were also very memorable. As with the National Museums, there were far fewer items on display that the space would have allowed, but the pieces that were displayed were exquisite, and it was a joy to see them as focal points. Too, there were touch-screen images next to many of the actual pieces, allowing one to digitally zoom in on details that one would not otherwise have been able to see.

***Cheap labor. While at Ho-Am, and any number of other places, I saw groups of sun-hatted women crouching as they tended to gardens by hand. And these weren’t young women! I can’t imagine how their backs must hurt at the end of a day. I also saw men and women sweeping the leaves off streets in South Korean parks. I had seen similar things in previous trips to the Orient, but as someone from a country where machinery is “cheap” in comparison to labor, it always surprises me to see these labor-intensive activities. I’m not offering any judgments here – just noting what I saw.

What a privilege to be able to see a place like this! As I was leaving, some chipmunks caught my attention and then, finally, a pair of peacocks and a penhen.

Just outside the Ho-Am walls, and apparently still part of the museum, there was a sculpture-lined walkway beside a small lake. As I was returning from my stroll there, I saw a taxi pull into the Ho-Am parking lot. A taxi! I ran and caught it just as it was about to leave. What luck! I had thought I would need to wait for the shuttle bus and return to Everland to get one.

Suwon. Although my taxi driver tried to speak with me, we didn’t have enough shared words in either English or Korean to do more than exchange pleasantries. Still, she was great! I had asked to be taken to a specific Suwon Fortress gate, Paldalmun (the name of which I had with me, spelled in Korean), but she apparently knew that the tourist information office there had recently closed, so she called someone (I have no idea who) and eventually reached an English-speaking woman named Jenni at the palace in Suwon. Jenni agreed to meet us just outside the entrance to the palace. And what a stroke of good fortune for me -- Jenni was awesome! She was there, waiting for me, along with another woman who spoke only a little English. They had a map for me and a brochure or two and the patience to answer a slew of questions. As I prepared to leave, Jenni gave me her phone number (even though I didn’t have a phone) and told me that she would be at the tourist information desk in the palace until 6 p.m. that day.

Suwon Hwaseong (fortress) -- Seojangdae (west command post). To get to the fortress's west command post, I had to climb up an ever steeper and steeper path, and then a very steep set of stairs. I was passed by any number of Koreans who were so fit that they seemed totally unphased. In contrast, I was moving slowly enough that one young man stopped to see if I needed assistance. Bless his heart! The effort was worthwhile: the command post and a surrounding terrace offer magnificent views over Suwon and the surrounding countryside. And there were some gorgeous, ancient trees up there!

Walking partway back down, I came to the place from which I could board a little train for a tour of the fortress. While I waited, I realized that I had misjudged the time: If I took the next train, I would miss a performance that I had wanted to see at the palace; but if I returned to the palace, I would have to climb back up – growl! Down I went.

Suwon – around the town. I had some time to explore the town of Suwon a bit first. Just to the base of the path I had used to access Seojangdae was a sign for “artisans’ street” (or something like that) – a few blocks of galleries and craft shops, some of which seemed to sell high quality work. Many of the buildings in these few blocks had been surfaced in something into which bits of tile had been embedded. It wasn’t uninteresting, but it was, IMO, oddly discordant with the shop fronts and seemed to create a visual cacophony more than anything else. JMO.

The huge and impressive city gate called Paldalmun is now in the center of a busy traffic circle and is surrounded by a market. Paldalmun reminded me of some of the city gates I had seen in China, and I walked around it for a while before turning to the market. Ah – my first Korean market!

***The chaos of Korean markets: Although I don’t like to shop, I love to roam through traditional markets, taking pictures and admiring the produce and seeing how vendors and their clients interact. And traditional Korean markets offered me those opportunities in abundance. But if there is any order to them, I never discerned it! I would pass a produce stand on one side and bins of dried spices or beans on the other, then women on the floor or sidewalk or whatever with plates of herbs or some vegetables in front of them, and then a table overflowing with shoes, and then a fishmonger…. The array of hot food stands and baskets of dried fish and tables heaped with bras and more women on their haunches selling bowls of strawberries and truck beds filled with garlic and lots and lots of things that I didn’t recognize at all seemed to me to be completely random in just about every market I visited while in South Korea. Fascinating!

”MUYE24KI” (a performance of military arts). I reached the palace just after this performance of military arts began. A group of very athletic young men demonstrated their skill with various deadly implements -- spears and swords and bows and arrows -- all with leaps and spins and colorful costumes and beating drums. Wonderful!

There were announcements over a PA system that provided information about what we were seeing, and the gentleman who was standing beside me kindly took it upon himself to translate. He would listen intently to the Korean description, and then tell me what he had heard. I’m sure he never noticed that the announcements switched to English immediately after providing the Korean description – and bless his heart, I hope he never realizes! His English was very good (if not as good as that of the official announcer’s), and honestly, the stuff was pretty easily understood even without translation, but OMG, I sincerely appreciated his efforts on my behalf!

As I was thanking him, the woman who had accompanied Jenni earlier that day spotted me and came to say hello, and then Jenni saw us and came over. I learned that her service at the palace’s tourist information desk is as a volunteer. Awesome! She answered more of my questions (the patterned walls of the artisans’ district are of recent origin, the restaurant she recommends, etc.) and she again said that she would stay at the TI desk until 6. Earlier in the day, I thought that what she meant was that she would be WORKING until 6 -- which seems substantially different to me than a volunteer saying she would STAY until 6. I tried to assure her that she had been extraordinarly helpful already and that she should not stay on my behalf. She repeated that she would be there in case I needed something. I could find no way to dissuade her.

Suwon’s public toilets. Yes, Suwon’s public toilets deserve special mention. As I understand it, a man who was once mayor of Suwon commissioned multiple public toilets in advance of the city’s hosting of the 2002 World Cup. The first of three that I visited while in the city was just outside the palace, and was designed to ensure privacy even though it had a picture window that afforded a view of a lovely garden backed by a high wall. The two others also offered pleasant, private views. VERY nice!

Suwon Hwaseong (fortress). I made my way back uphill and bought my ticket for the Hwaseong Trolley, aka “dragon train.” I was a little early for the next trolley’s departure, and so I looked through the gates of a nearby, but closed, shrine.

The trolley was a great way to explore Suwon’s fortress, in part because it takes its passengers around the key extant features of the walls, in part because there are announcements in several languages (including English) about what it is one sees, and in part because many of the passengers – at least on the day that I was there – were children who were clearly enjoying every moment. The trolley gave me my first glimpse of Suwon’s “water gate,” to which I knew I wanted to return!

I got off the trolley at the end of its route and then started walked back along the wall. Soon I reached a delightful pavillion with lovely views over the water gate, among other things. A number of people were relaxing here, including a group of older men who were playing some kind of game while one played a flute-like instrument. They invited me to join them and share their snacks. I declined, but greatly appreciated their offer!

From there, it was just a short walk to the water gate -- Hwahongmun, an arched city gate that bridges a stream. How pleasant! On the side outside the city, the stream meanders through a field and then disappears behind some woods. To the inner (city) side, the stream drops substantially into a straight channel with walkways to either side. Trees overhang its edges and there were shrubs and flowers and birds and exercise equipment….

***Public exercise equipment: I was to see exercise equipment – bars for chin-ups and bars for leg-lifts and so forth in any number of public spaces in Korea, and I often saw people – usually older men – using it. Cool!

Although I wasn’t ready for dinner yet, I located the restaurant that Jenni had recommended with the help of some passers-by. I then walked beside the lovely, channeled stream until I reached the center of Suwon, where I climbed to street level. It was only a few blocks to the bell tower just outside the palace, where I paused to appreciate the bell’s details and those of its pavillion. The volunteer docent with whom I had toured the National Museum in Seoul had made a point of noting that, unlike Chinese or Japanese bells, Korean bells have a hollow tube at the top. The tube is parallel to the chain from which the bell hangs, and was believed to improve the bell’s acoustical properties. I looked, but couldn’t see such a tube on this bell.

Hwaseong Haenggung (palace). I reached the palace just after 5:30, and the woman at the ticket desk tried to dissuade me because the palace would close at 6. I thanked her, but assured her that I understood. Sure enough, Jenni was at the TI desk, and when she saw me, she exclaimed, “You came!” I was very glad to be able to let her know what I had seen that day and how much her advice had meant to me, and that I had found, and planned to dine at, the restaurant that she recommended.

With one last question – which of the palace buildings was the one (and there was only one) that was original? (the rest were reconstructions) – I began a brief exploration of the Hwaseong Haenggung. I was glad to see that one original building, and to get a bit of a sense of what the rest was like, and to see what remains of an ancient tree that was once viewed as a protector of the palace. (I love the care accorded venerable old trees in parts of the Orient!)

Yeonpo Galbi (barbecued ribs). Suwon is known for it’s barbecued ribs – galbi -- and the restaurant Jenni recommended, which was also mentioned in several of my guidebooks, was Yeonpo Galbi, located just steps from the water gate. I had been warned by my guidebooks that galbi would not be inexpensive here; it was about $39 ($35 for the galbi, $4 for a large beer).

There was an electric charcoal burner in the middle of my table, which the server lit as soon as I ordered. Soon, she served a plethora of side dishes (“banchan”). And then, once the grill was hot, she served two ribs, which had been cut to a length of (perhaps) 5” and were wrapped with the attached strip of meat and fat. She unrolled them and placed them on the grill, along with a cluster of mushrooms. She came to the table with some frequency, first flipping the meat and then using a set of tongs and shears (which remained at the table) to cut the meat from the ribs and, later, to cut the meat into bite-size pieces. It was fun to watch, and the meat and mushrooms and banchan were delicious!

As I was paying, a small boy came over to me and said, very clearly, “My name is Leo. I am 6 years old.” I told him my name, to which he responded, “I am missing two teeth. See?” And he proceeded to show me. How cute!

Before leaving, I showed the man at the desk the Korean name of the bus stop I needed to reach. He consulted his smartphone, and then insisted on walking about a block with me to an intersection from which he could point me in the correct direction. Have I mentioned that I found Koreans to be extraordinarily helpful!?!

Seoul – Hwanggudon, aka Wongudan. Seoul’s “Temple of Heaven” is a small structure, similar in style to Beijing’s spectacular Temple of Heaven, tucked into a space beside the Westin Chosun Hotel. I had read that it was open 24/7; not! But I could see part of it, from not too far away, by walking along a wall. It certainly is NOT the Temple of Heaven, but it had some similar features; I didn’t feel that I had wasted my time to come catch a glimpse of it.

I took the subway back to the area in which I was staying and then took some time to roam the back alleys nearby. I had reserved a room in a nearby hanok (a traditional Korean house) for a few nights at the end of my trip, and wanted to find it. Wow, that wasn’t easy, but it was fascinating! Just a few steps from any of the major streets in the area took me to narrow alleys where tiny shop fronts alternated with gated doors and low stairs on which a few neighbors might be sitting, quietly chatting; an occasional high rise (office or hotel) took up space, and far less frequently, a small garden plot…. I don’t think the zoning regulations were similar to those where I live.
kja is offline  
Jul 7th, 2014, 07:42 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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South Korean ceramics are fantastic - so many potters too and everyone buys nice handmade tableware including the restaurants. The area I stayed last year to work with a master potter is in Yeoju/Icheon not far from Seoul and has over 600 studios and unlike studios in my home where we tend to work alone, they all have a number of staff. That area is just one of many major centres. My first 2 visits came from invitations to attend the Gangjin Celadon Festival - Gangjin is the home of Goryeo celadons and considered "first under heaven" with good reason. There is a great centre/museum there. Its a very small town (by Korean standards) but interesting and near to Mokpo (great maritime museum) Boseong tea fields etc. -about 1 hour south of Gwangju.

Other wonderful museums/galleries are the Clayarch Gimhae for architectural clay with the most wonderful cladding on the whole building. Its made from glazed kiln shelves by Shin Sang Ho who is described as the Korean Picasso. I had the good fortune to meet him and see his studio and workshop on one trip. Next door to the Clayarch is another ceramics museum.

The Onggi village (food storage pots) near Ulsan is good and the Living Ware Museum in Yeoju is probably my favorite for its contemporary studio ceramics and really wonderful display.

Loved the Leeum, Gyeongju and National Museum. The last two both have some duck shaped vessels that I always visit as a priority.

I haven't been to Suwon yet but I'm looking at it for this trip if I can get the time. Your report is making it go up the list.

People really are so helpful aren't they. I have had much the same experiences as you with folk going well out of their way to make sure I'm okay.

I'm just loving your report and wait impatiently for more
MaryW is offline  
Jul 8th, 2014, 03:16 PM
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So impressed with how good your research was! You saw much more than I did.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jul 8th, 2014, 05:47 PM
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@ MaryW – Sounds like you have been to a number of places in South Korea that proved quite inspirational to you and that have provided you with priceless opportunities to pursue your craft. How wonderful! And you must be quite skilled to have twice earned the honor of an invitation to the Gangjin Celadon Festival -- congrats!

I, too, saw the duck-shaped vessels at several museums and developed a real fondness for them. And I just googled the Clayarch Gimhae – awesome! It's now firmly on my list for "next time." Thank you for bringing it to my attention, and for your kind words about my TR.

@ thursdaysd – It helped that I was visiting just one country for an entire month, rather than trying to plan an around-the-world trip. The planning THAT would take boggles my mind!

Day 6: Seoul to Daejeon

Itaewon. I walked through a small part of Itaewon briefly; there were interesting shops and lots of restaurants and it looked like a lively area.

LEEUM Samsung Museun of Art. The LEEUM, like the Ho-Am, is part of the Samsung Foundation, and there were decided similarities – the pieces on display were of exceptional quality, often with adjacent digital touch-screen technology.

Unlike the other museums I visited in Korea, the LEEUM had a building devoted to contemporary art that included both Korean and Western pieces. (There are, of course, other contemporary art museums in Seoul and other parts of South Korea; this is the only one that I visited.) I readily admit that I don’t know enough about contemporary art to fully appreciate it, and indeed, I find it hard to appreciate some of it at all! ;-) But some pieces do speak to me, and this museum had several that I found quite compelling.

Too, the LEEUM is positioned within several interconnected buildings that are notable for their architecture. The main stairway is reminiscent of the Guggenheim in NYC. The winding corridor isn’t quite so broad and the inside of that corridor is walled, with long narrow windows that entice one to look into the central core. The building that houses the contemporary collection makes great use of a limited number of carefully positioned picture windows to bring leafy exteriors inside.

Very enjoyable!

Dongdaemun Yangnueong (medicine/herbs market). This market area is massive – block after block of shops and covered markets and street-side stalls. And even if there was an area that was MOSTLY herbs and medicines, the “usual” chaos seemed to apply.

I have NO idea what much of this stuff was! Bags and baskets and bins of various herbs and seeds and small pieces of branches (for their bark, I believe) and roots and dried fruits and creepy-looking bottled ginseng and ground stuff in various colors and why do so many vendors have two different adjacent containers that seem to display the SAME reddish thing? And (of course) intermixed with these herbs and traditional medicine ingredients were vendors selling just about everything that one might eat and a lot that one might wear.

I love taking pictures in markets – but I try to be careful to do so only with permission. I learned the Korean word for “OK” in advance of the trip, and made a decided effort to ask “OK?” while pointing to the goods for sale, trying to be clear that I wasn’t asking to take pictures of the vendors themselves. Almost all the vendors smiled and said, OK! So many laughed that I often thought they were more surprised that I asked than anything else. I even thought that some of the vendors thought that they were agreeing to let me take a picture of them, and oh my, I was tempted! – but I preferred to let them be “disappointed” if they thought I would take a picture of them and didn’t, than to have them be upset if they thought I'd said I would not take a picture of them and then did.

As I recall, only two vendors refused to let me take a picture. One man leapt from the back of his dried fish shop to say, “No, no!” even before I asked. What was that about!?! And one woman said, and gestured, “NO” very clearly, and she immediately stepped in front of my camera. Oh -- the meat she was selling was from a dog's hind leg. I'm willing to guess that her experience of Westerners had not been entirely positive. I moved on.

I spent more than an hour roaming the streets and alleys and corridors of this fascinating market, got incredibly (but happily) disoriented, and was (of course) kindly helped to a subway station when I was ready to go.

As I was boarding my subway, a woman smiled and said something like, “Did you enjoy [xxx]? I saw you there!” She looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her and hadn’t heard what the “xxx” was -- but I immediately concluded that she couldn't possibly be referring to the chaos at Jogyesa, so I could honestly answer: “Oh yes! I enjoyed it VERY much! Thank you so much for asking and for remembering me!” I had time to compliment her city and its residents before she reached her station and wished me a good trip. When I later reflected on this brief interchange, I realized that if someone in my home city in the U.S. approached me as this woman did, I would have found it decidedly creepy. Instead, although disconcerting, I experienced it as a genuinely warm and welcoming moment.

I returned to my hotel, retrieved my suitcase, made my way to the nearest elevator access to the subway system, and on to Seoul Station. [I returned to Seoul at the end of my trip, so if you are interested, look for more information later in this report.]

DAEJEON. The bullet train (KTX) from Seoul to Daejeon was nearly empty when I claimed my seat 10 minutes before it was to leave. It filled up completely just minutes before its scheduled departure. The comfortably ride took about an hour; I reached Daejeon at about 6:30 p.m. and soon found my way to the subway.

Unfortunately, the Daejeon subway system is not handicapped-accessible, so the only way to take my wheeled suitcase to the subway level was by stairs. At this point in my life, my rule is that if I can’t carry it, it doesn’t go, so I knew I could carry my luggage. What was difficult was declining all the offers from those who wanted to help! I finally decided that it would be best for all involved if I accepted assistance, and I did so at both ends of my subway ride. So -- my sincere thanks to the men who carried my suitcase.

One other note about the Daejeon subway system: Once you use your token or card to access a turnstyle, a bird-call signals that you are free to move forward, and from what I could tell, each turnstyle was a different “bird.” Very nice!

Benikea Hotel Daelim. My TA review:

“I spent 2 nights in a deluxe double for single use at the Daelim Hotel. 

"While there, I greatly appreciated the efforts of the staff, who spoke English well enough to help answer my questions. As one example, I wanted to taste samgyetang, for which Daejeon is known, but which is often only served for 2 or more people. A woman at the Dealim’s desk helped find a restaurant that would serve it for one person and printed out the directions for me to get there. Perfect! (And OMG, it was tasty!)

"The Daelim Hotel is near a subway station and is near an area with restaurants and other places that were lively in the evening. It was not particularly convenient to the bus or train stations I used to move to / around / from the area, but Daejeon is large enough that it might not be possible to select a single, convenient location. 

"My room easily met my minimal needs. I would have appreciated a few more hangers and a bit more rack space on which to hang things to dry, but I believe these limitations are common to Korean hotel rooms. 

"One small criticism: I found the breakfast buffet disappointing: Seriously overcooked ‘scrambled’ eggs; heated cocktail sausages; white bread you could toast and top with packaged jam.”

Dinner (samgyetang) at Daejeon Dong-Sung Samgyetang. As that hotel review indicates, a woman at the Dealim’s desk helped me identify a nearby restaurant that would serve samgyetang – a chicken and ginseng soup – for one. Daejeon Dong-Sung Samgyetang was a just a few blocks away, blocks that included some lively shops and restaurants and nightspots.

When I thought I was in the right block, I showed the name of the restaurant to an attendant at a parking lot, and he confirmed that I was heading in the correct direction. Walking, walking … tap on shoulder. I had inadvertently passed the restaurant, the man from the parking lot noticed that I had done so, and came to let me know. Once again: How kind!

The restaurant was just a small, local eatery that did a brisk business selling samgyetang, and OMG, that was good! The owner and his staff were very welcoming, too. The chicken in this flavorful soup is not in bite-sized pieces—it is whole, , so I tried to take a discrete peek at a group of people seated nearby so I could learn how they ate it -- only to find all four of them looking at me with varied expressions of curiosity and puzzlement. We laughed, and then they used gestures to show me what to do. Worked for me!

Footbath – 1st attempt. Daejeon is home to one of Korea’s oldest known hot springs. There is a huge spa complex, but I wasn’t looking for a spa treatment. I had, however, read about an outdoor area where one can go and soak one’s feet in thermal waters. I could go for that!

I boarded the subway for a longer-than-expected ride – more than ½ hour, as I recall – to the area near the spa. I didn’t have precise directions; just that it was next to the Yongin Hotel. That was fairly easy to find: although I hadn't expected to find that it is currently closed, it still had visible signs. I circled it – no footbath!?! So I went I went into another hotel and asked the woman if she spoke English -- no. I knew how to say “where is” and I knew the word for “water,” but perhaps you will understand that the words for “footbath” and “toe-dip” had not made my must-learn vocabulary list! So I pointed to my feet and the woman literally burst into laughter and pointed me in the right direction. It was a block away – and it had just closed for the night. Sigh. At least I now knew how to get there.
kja is offline  
Jul 8th, 2014, 11:37 PM
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@ MaryF -- "I haven't been to Suwon yet but I'm looking at it for this trip if I can get the time." -- Suwon in easy day trip from Seoul -- perhaps as little as 1.5 hours or so each way depending on your starting point....
kja is offline  
Jul 9th, 2014, 05:29 PM
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Day 7: Day trip to Buyeo from Daejeon

It took me a few moments to find the right bus stop – I started on the wrong side of the street – but I was soon on board for a trip that took about 1.5 hours, during which I caught enticing glimpses of dragon-backed ridges in the distance and farmland and rice paddies in the foreground.

Buyeo National Museum. Although the collection at this museum is quite small, I thought the gilt-bronze Baekje incense burner absolutely exquisite. If it had been the ONLY thing I saw in Buyeo, I would have been a bit disappointed – but only a bit. IMO, it easily merited the effort it took to see it.

Gungnamji Pond. This ancient park has a set of lotus ponds separated by narrow, raised, iris-lined strips of land that serve as walkways. My first thought was that it must be lovely once the lotus bloom – and then I noticed that some ponds did have blooming lotus! I roamed from pond to pond, some filled with white or pink or deep rose blooms and some where lotus were just beginning to bloom and others where lotus were just beginning to spread their leaves, and I listened to the sounds of frogs jumping into the water and hovering insects (was that huge red thing a dragonfly?) and magpies and admired cranes cooling their feet in the ponds, and I saw one crane swoop into the air just after I noticed him.

At the far end of the park, there is a very pleasant pavillion on a small “island” in a tiny lake, reached by an ever-so-gently arched walk. Perfect! Several people were enjoying the shade and the views, including a very old woman who was accompanied by two middle-aged women. They took a few moments to greet me and we mimed our shared appreciation for the place.

Busosan. This “mountain” has various shrines and pavillions (some with wonderful views over the river that skirts its base) and shaded walking paths, and it was a very pleasant place to spend some time. For reasons unknown, Busosan was free that day – bonus!

A fair number of other people were there, generally in groups, and it seemed that someone in just about every group took a moment to greet me, usually in English, and if I responded, then every member of the group took his/her turn in greeting me. If someone in a group spoke English, s/he often stopped to ask me where I was from or ask how long I would be in Korea or in some other way engage me, however briefly, in conversation. I felt genuinely welcomed. So nice!

Baegmagang, aka Geumgang. After making my way up part of Busosan, I headed down toward the river in the hope that there would be a boat. I had read that they exist, but that they only make the trip if enough people show up. I did NOT want to have to climb back up again!!! So when I saw a boat pull out when I was very near the base of the hill, and near the end of the hours during which I believe the boats operate, I prepared myself for the worst. I reached the ticket desk, and the woman signaled “no!” I was SO tired that I almost cried. And then she explained that I didn’t need to pay – the park was free that day. Of course! I had reached an entrance to the park, not the ticket desk for the boats. Thankfully, the boats were still running; I bought a ticket and soon boarded. I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing ride.

Gudeurae Park. The boat landed at one end of Gudeurae Park, an outdoor, river-side sculpture park with what I thought a surprising number and variety of public works of art. There were many people strolling around, or enjoying picnics or barbecues, or even camping on the pleasant grounds. And it seemed that every time I decided to go to the exit, I saw something else that enticed me to explore just a bit further.

***Public sculpture. I was impressed by how much public art I encountered in South Korea. I found sculptures not just in sculpture gardens, like this one, but also along many busy streets in various cities I visited. I sometimes found it hard to appreciate the works, because there was so much else going on visually for me – shops and signs and traffic and people and sometimes I didn’t even realize there WAS a work of art in front of me until I nearly walked into it --- but it was there and much of it was quite interesting!

Dinner at Kudarae, aka Goodarea, Dal Ssambap. I wanted to try dal ssambap – a local specialty – before leaving Buyeo and had written down the name of this recommended restaurant, but wasn’t sure how to find it. I decided that I would just keep my eyes open after leaving the sculpture park and either select a restaurant or find a place where I could ask about options. LOL, the 2nd or 3rd building to my right was the place I had flagged! I was seated immediately and soon given a ridiculously extensive array of small plates – the banchan. Honestly, I could have made a very filling and satisfying – and delicious! – meal just from these “side dishes.”

If you order dal ssambap, you are given a plate of greens – a wide array of lettuces and fresh herbs – along with some seasonings (such as red sauce and sesame sauce, garlic, spring onions, etc.) and rice (in this case, cooked with black beans) and, if you ordered it, meat. (I ordered pork dal ssambap). You place a piece of lettuce and some of the fresh herbs on your hand, put some rice and meat and whatever seasonings you want on top; roll the lettuce up and tuck in the ends; and then eat it. Once again – OMG, that was tasty! It cost about $13, plus $3 for a large beer.

Return to Daejeon. It wasn’t far to the bus terminal from this restaurant. As I looked at my map to confirm the directions while crossing a street, I realized why one should never do that: I tripped, and only by the greatest of good fortune did I avoid falling on my face or serously injuring an ankle. I immediately thought of thursdaysd, who had to deal with a sprained ankle on her trip that included South Korea. I was VERY lucky – I recovered my balance without falling, without getting hit by a car, and without injuring my ankle, although it appreciated a bit of pampering for the next day or so. Lesson learned!

I reached the bus station without further incident and didn’t have to wait too long for my return to Daejeon. There are several bus terminals in Daejeon, and I wasn’t sure which was the final destination of my particular bus. So I hailed a taxi….

***Taxi metering and charges. I didn’t think to check the metering system everywhere I went, but in many places, the minimal fare covers a certain amount time, with additional charges thereafter also based on time. Many of the taxis in which I rode had a “countdown” clock that allowed one to see how much more time one had before the fare would increase. Cool! And with only one exception, the driver of every metered taxi I took immediately gave me change, no matter how little, and even sometimes rounded in my favor. So, for example, if the fare was 9,600 won, I got at least 400 won back, if not 500 won. There was NO expectation of a tip.

Footbath – 2nd attempt. Not knowing exactly where I was when i reached Daejeon, I thought a taxi the best option. Unfortunately, I still did not know the words for “footbath” or “toe dip.” But I did remember that the place I wanted to go was by the Yongin Hotel. Unfortunately, the driver knew that it was closed. I showed him my map, on which I had placed an X to mark the spot. I said “Yongin Hotel” once again, he said “You want hotel?” – what the heck! I said yes, and off we went. The drive – through traffic – took more than a half hour. I just hoped we were going in more or less the right direction. (I kept telling myself, with mantra-like repitition, “it's an adventure… it's an adventure….”)

As I began to see signs for the spa complex, the driver said the name of a hotel. I responded, “Yongin Hotel.” He tried another hotel name; I said, “Yongin Hotel.” He gave yet a third name – Oh, I think that’s the hotel where I spoke with the woman who knew what I meant when I pointed to my feet! So I said yes. He looked stunned. And then there we were, right in front of the defunct Yongin Hotel, and I asked him to let me off right there. Poor guy – I’m sure he thought I was crazy, but he got me to where I wanted to go!

It was only a short block to the still-open footbath. I took a moment to observe the rituals and then joined in. There is an area where one washes one’s feet and calves as assiduously as possible, so – like a Japanese bath -- everyone knows that you are clean. And then you step in and carry your belongings to a place where you can sit on the edge.

The water was nicely warm as it circulated through this tree-shrouded pool. The floor of the pool was made of rounded cobbles that proved perfect for massaging one’s feet. There were people of all ages enjoying this space, including a little boy who (of course) loved splashing his parents and older couples who leaned against one another.... I remember one elegantly dressed woman who arrived in spike heels that she kicked off before preparing to enter, as though she didn’t care if she ever saw those shoes again!

It was hard to leave this comforting place, but at least I did so with happy feet!
kja is offline  
Jul 9th, 2014, 05:57 PM
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 23
We will have a 1 day stop at Jeju Island while cruising this coming October. Would you have any recommendations for that day? We'd like to DIY it if possible.
whitecloudorillia is offline  
Jul 9th, 2014, 06:11 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 5,309
I am really enjoying your TR! You are a very good writer! I am looking forward to the Gwangju and Jeju portions of your report as I have been to Gwangju and will be on Jeju in September. I read your post when you were planning and I mentioned Gwangju and the tea plantation. I wondered about your trip and where you decided to go. Keep it coming!
SeeHag is offline  
Jul 9th, 2014, 07:17 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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Those big lotus ponds around the country are just wonderful. They have been a major inspiration for my work the last few years.

Did you come across lotus tea. Served in a large (and usually beautiful handmade) bowl The whole lotus flower opens up from the dried one. Looks beautiful and is meant to be good for your health. Didn't have much flavour though.

I love dal ssambap. Was told you are meant to put the whole parcel in your mouth for one bite. People did but I could never assemble a decent parcel that I could get in in one. Two bites meant a great danger of dropping bits everywhere
MaryW is offline  
Jul 9th, 2014, 07:44 PM
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Love your footbath story!
Kathie is offline  
Jul 9th, 2014, 08:13 PM
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@ whitecloudorillia – I don’t think you should have any problem visiting Jeju Island on your own – it is a major international tourist destination, with a well-developed tourism infrastructure, lots of signage and announcements in English (and other languages), lots of English-speaking people, and both buses and taxis for getting around. While I can’t make any recommendations for your day – that would really depend on YOUR interests, I can and will tell you what I did while on the island. (That section of my trip report has yet to be written, but is coming up!) There were a number of things that many tourists to Jeju-Do that I did NOT do, either because they were not of sufficient interest to me (e.g., climbing Mt. Halla, going to Udo, or visiting the Teddy Bear Musuem) or because of when I went (many of the gardens would not have been at their best when I was there) – so DO think through your priorities a bit regardless of what I write. I hope my comments prove useful to you, and do let me know!

@ SeeHag – Thanks so much for your compliments! I remember your helpful remarks about Gwangju and Boseong as I was planning this trip. As you noted, the food in/around Gwangju was wonderful – among the best I had on this trip, and that says a LOT! And the first time I saw those long strips of fabric by at the entrance to a love hotel’s parking garage, I laughed out loud and thought of your description of them. Wasn’t your son to get married in South Korea? I hope all went well.

@ MaryW – I can easily understand why you would find lotus ponds inspirational! They can be SO very lovely!!! I don’t think I’ve ever had lotus tea -- I have had tea in which a dried flower is placed and opens up, but I don’t think they were lotus. On the other hand, I love lotus root and was glad that it was among the banchan at many restaurants. As for dal ssambap, I definitely know what you mean about that danger! But there’s no way I could have wrapped one of those little parcels tightly enough to eat in a single bite – 3 or 4 bites was more my “style” (or lack thereof). ;-) I have another ssambab story from Gyeongju, so you might watch for that….

@ Kathie -- thanks! Sometimes the unexpected moments are among the best, aren’t they?
kja is offline  
Jul 10th, 2014, 04:59 PM
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Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 21,802
Day 8: Start in Daejeon; visit Gongju and Magoksa; move on to Gwangju

With an ankle that was only a little sore (thank goodness!), I checked out of my hotel and left my luggage at the desk. I took the subway to the applicable bus station; and then a bus to Gongju (about ½ hour away). Gongju's bus station was some distance from the heart of city, and although there are local buses I could have used, I chose to take a taxi to make the most of my time. As I recall, the drive to the museum took 10 or 15 minutes.

Gongju National Museum. The Gongju National Museum was another modern museum with a very select array of spatiously-arrayed exhibits and an English-speaking staff member (Kim) who ensured that I made the most of my visit. Highlights of this museum include artifacts from the Baekje-era tomb of King Muryeong and his queen, circa early 6th century. Once again, I was awed by the craftsmanship of the artisans of that day! The museum also has a collection of other works from the area, spanning prehistory forward, with good English signage.

I met Kim again before leaving the museum, and was glad to be able to assure him that I appreciated seeing the treasures it holds. He gave me his number in case I needed help later in the day, made sure I had the names of places I would need written out in Korean, called a taxi to take me to Magoksa, and then walked me out. Once again (I think it worth repeating): How nice!

Magoksa. My taxi driver didn’t speak English, but clearly communicated his love of driving as he swept past the ticket gate for Magoksa and navigated the winding turns up the hill toward the temple. He didn’t speed, and he didn’t take unnecessary risks, but he certainly seemed to enjoy taking advantage of each and every opportunity the pavement provided! BTW, this was the ONLY taxi driver I encountered in South Korea who did not give me change – the meter showed 21,900 won, I gave him 22,000 won, he looked at me with a question in his eyes; I smiled, nodded, and got out. Basically, it was my choice.

From there, it was just a short walk to an arbor-like tunnel covered in lanterns, and then another, and another! Beautiful clusters of little lotus-shaped decorations made of deep rose silk with green “leaves” hung from various trees around the grounds. The main temple gate is by a very pleasant curve in a stream, and the arched bridge and gate were also decorated for dharma – even the statues of turtles sunning in the creek were festively adorned.

The things I remember most about Magoksa, other than that wonderful entryway, were the gorgeous stream-side pavillion that housed its bell, gong, drum, and fish; the intimacy of the main courtyard; the venerable and ancient stupa that held sway there; and the stunning and enormous painting to the rear of one of the temple’s altars (thanks to the Moon Guide for advising me to take a peek!). And the hospitable young English-speaking monk (Ilya) who introduced himself to me and chatted with me and who kept offering me various treats until I finally accepted a small lotus-shaped bun filled with red bean paste, and OMG, that was delicious!

There were a fair number of people around and everyone seemed to be enjoying it – understandably so! Finally ready to go – and very glad I had decided to stop here, even if it meant arriving at my next destination later than I would normally prefer – I began the long, winding, wooded walk into the town below the temple. There were a few vendors here and there, but not many. Once I exited the temple (I stopped to pay the entry fee – it seemed only fair!), I entered an area with lots of souvenier shops and restaurants and people who were very helpful when I asked for directions to the bus. And then, OMG, I bet that’s it!!! I began running and thought maybe the driver saw me and then it pulled out and I waved again, and bless that driver’s heart, he stopped.

Transit to Gwangju. An older gentleman on the bus at Magoksa first very politely corrected my pronunciation of “Gongju” and then made sure I knew where to get off. Once at the main Gongju bus station, I bought a ticket for the next bus to Daejeon. Only as the bus was boarding did I realize that I had forgotten to say WHICH Daejeon bus station I wanted – hadn’t I learned that lesson the night before?!? I ran back to the desk, where the very nice clerk quickly changed my ticket.

I reached Daejeon, took a subway to my hotel, retrieved my suitcase, took a taxi to the bus station that I needed for this leg of my trip, and was soon waiting, ticket in hand, for my bus to Gwangju (which took close to 2 hours). Once there, I hailed a taxi to...

Gwangju -- Geumsoojang Tourist Hotel. My TA review:

“I spent 4 nights in a Western standard double for single use at the Geumsoojang Tourist Hotel. It met my needs, but was less convenient than I had hoped. 

• The location was not particularly good in my opinion. It was 10 or 15 minutes walk to the train station and, unless all my walks took me in the wrong directions, it wasn’t particularly near any restaurants except the one within the hotel, which was fine, but a bit pricier than other restaurants I saw in Gwangju. There was also a café within the hotel that served what seemed to me an overpriced “continental” breakfast (coffee, juice, and toast for 8,000 KRW). 

• Although the bedroom and bathroom seemed clean, the room’s entry area was definitely in need of vacuuming and remained so throughout my stay. 

• The room had some quirks – the ondal floor was very pleasant; the lack of a bedside table or lamp was not. The bathroom had sufficient counter space, but no hook for a robe and very little space to hang one’s towels or anything else. There was a fixture above the toilet that prevented the toilet lid from remaining up, even when one was seated, and the toilet paper was not positioned conveniently for anyone in a seated position. 

• Although I had exchanged a few e-mails with the hotel in advance of my stay in English, the only English that was spoken by anyone at the desk while I was there was the bare minimum needed to check in. English was not critical, but it would have been nice to be able to ask a few questions about Gwangju and to confirm some directions, and the lack of a shared language (which I recognize is a shared responsibility!) prevented me from communicating the problems I encountered with the room, and so prevented them from offering a solution.”

It was on the late side when I reached the hotel, a bit too late for the hotel’s restaurant and, as just noted, if there were other local options, I didn’t find them. There was a 24/7 store just a block or so away, so I was able to buy some snacks and a beer, which I brought back to my room. I have often found that the first few hours in a new location are among the most stressful of my travel moments, and I needed that insight on this particular evening! Still, all things considered, I have no regrets about how I spent my time that day: I would have easily given up a dinner for EITHER the Gongju National Museum OR Magoksa; that I got to see both of them was more than recompense for a quick meal of convenience-store items and a few moments of frustration!
kja is offline  
Jul 10th, 2014, 05:36 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 5,309
kja, My son did the legal wedding in December and we were originally going to go in May or June but they couldn't decide what they wanted to do and having a reception in Seoul obligated them to invite lots of family and friends and they didn't want to spend the money and that wasn't what they wanted. We are going in September to meet her family. We are all going to Jeju island where they have rented a beautiful looking large home on airbnb. I hope it turns out better than the Love Motel! Had I known you had decided on Gwangju I would have asked my son for some recommendations but it sounds like you are a great researcher! Looking forward to more Gwangju & Jeju! I have been looking at pictures of Jeju on Pinterest and it looks beautiful.
SeeHag is offline  
Jul 10th, 2014, 05:55 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
SeeHag -If I might interrupt, could I ask for a recommendation for a cheap hotel in Gwangju. I heard the Ballad which is a love motel near the bus station is okay. I'd be very interested in your son's opinions. Its for a older couple and we may well have a young korean man with us - so 2 rooms needed - probably just one or two nights so not critical. We will be coming or going to Gangjin where we will spend a few nights and going out to Damyang probably only on a day trip.

I'd been waiting to see where Kja stayed but obviously not one of the more convenient ones unfortunately
MaryW is offline  

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