Monday, September 19, 2005

I've got Seoul, but I'm not a Seoul-dier.

This is the Seoul we were first greeted with: grey, smoggy and almost completely shut down for Chuseok. We walked along the stretch of this canal looking for Dongdaemun market, which, along with most restaurants in the city, was closed. To our delight, however, a street devoted entirely to pet stores was open. The roommate fancies acquiring a chipmunk.

I think an opossum would look nice on our foyer table.

Not long after, a torrential downpour sent us back to the hostel in Insidong, where we sat around for a few hours slapping mosquitos, and talking with other travellers. The tone was sombre, and we were informed that the city would completely shut down the next day due to Chuseok, and that we should stock up on food while some stores were open. Mild panic began to set in: how on earth would we entertain ourselves this weekend? Luckily, I had made previous contact with another English teacher in Seoul who, like myself, is an SFU grad who has been in Korea for 3 weeks. We headed down to meet her and her coworkers at the Micro Brew Restaurant, which is in the Hyehwa subway station / University district. As soon as we surfaced to ground level, vibrant city life lifted our soggy spirits.

Compare this to the first photo. Ahh, this is the Seoul we were looking for.

Happily satiated on dark beer, sausage, Szechuan noodles, and some new friends, we made our way back to the hostel. I slept the whole night with a blanket over my head. The mosquitos were vicious. In the morning, I woke up and found a door next to my head. I opened it and walked out to a balcony, where three smallish golden retrievers went ballistic barking at me. I teetered tauntingly on the edge of the balcony railing, and the dogs, frustrated I was out of reach, started attacking each other. I went back inside, and out the front entrance to Hyehwa again, where we scavenged for food. As predicted, 99% of the restaurants were closed. However, art, in the form of large installations,





Modern art was traded in for old architecture as we made our way back to our hostel to tour Changdeok Palace across the street. This palace was built by King Taejong of the Josseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It was burnt to the ground during the Japanese Invasion of 1592, and rebuilt in 1607, where it was used until 1868 (No I did not pay that close attention to the tourguide; I typed that off the back of my ticket stub ;)

The palace and forested estate were gorgeous, needless to say.

More photos of the palace can be found on my Flickr. Next, we hopped over to the Chuseok festival in front of city hall and watched a beautiful, goosebump-inspiring fan dance. Many traditional games were laid out around the grounds, and children dressed in traditional costume tried to emulate their ancestors' hobbies.

I stood behind an old Korean man and watched through his eyes as he watched people spin tops with leather whips, throw sticks in canisters, jump on primitive seesaws and thresh wheat by hand. I thought about civilization and how it is such a reliable constant. Wheat takes forever to thresh by hand now, but back then a wood bowl and stick were as cutting edge as an Intel Pentium 4 (Or Mac G5) today. Still, our goals are the exact same as they were back then. Nothing has really changed, except that we cover the earth in greater number. In the end, there is something awe-inspiring about a proud nation gathering to pay homage to its past and celebrate the present.

Daydreaming aside, we jumped in a cab that transported us to the Nanta theatre, and caught a very interesting performance called 'Cookin.' The plot was knit around four chefs in a cooking competition, and brought together Hapkido, suberb drumming skills, sharp-knife drumming skills, food chopping skills, extreme dinnerplate throwing skills, comedic talent, magic, and audience participation into one nicely packaged ball of entertainment. I bow to the ground in honor of the energy those actors possess.

One more mosquito-infested sleep at the hostel, and we were rewarded with a perfectly timed dash to the KTX (the highspeed train), cheered on by space crickets (I can't think of any other way to describe this intriguing noise) on the subway intercom.

Humble Daegu does pale in comparison to big city Seoul, and I have already been entertaining the thought of quitting my current job and moving up to Seoul. However, this may not be overly cost-efficient, so I may just remain here and appreciate Seoul in a similar fashion during future long weekends.

PS: For a good interpretation of a Seoul subway sign, click here.


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