November 4, 2008

Seoul Trip - Day Two

Our Friday morning started off a bit drizzly, but the rains faded away pretty quickly. We kicked off our morning by walking across the street and wandering the grounds of Deoksugung Palace, a walled compound in the middle of center-city Seoul. While compared to other palace we visited on Saturday, Deoksugung was small, it was a fun place to wander around.

It has an interesting history as the original home of a royal Prince, but was burned down in the Japanese invasion of 1592. After it was rebuilt it served as the royal palace of a number of different rulers.

Unlike the Japanese shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, the wood beams of the Korean palaces are painted in brilliant colors:

One of the highlights of Deoksugong was an art exhibit at the Art Museum on the ground by the Korean Cultural Properties Craftsman Association. The exhibit included an awesome array of woodworking restoration style relics. We liked these buddha babies, carved from ginko, who were among the many prize winners on display:

Another highlight was the changing of the guard ceremony, at the front gate. Just as in ancient times, beginning in the 14th century, the traditionally garbed royal guards march past the neighboring Dunkin Donuts to relieve the prior shift. There is much pageantry and music, including the ceremonial banging of a really great drum. After that, you get to take pictures (see above) with the captain of the guard!

After the Palace, we walked to Namdaemun Market, an old-school market set in a maze of little alleys. Tons of food, clothes, food, and ginseng. Oh, and Halloween costumes. Of course. Its the kind of place that you can bargain for anything. Unfortunately, we didn't get much shopping done, because our 4 and 6 year olds were actings and 6 year olds. Our big purchases were a bag of chocolates that look like little colored pebbles and some socks. Oh well!

Later that afternoon, we were lucky enough to catch some really cool music concerts right near our hotel. The first was a traditional Korean music orchestra. But the far more eye-catching show was what we now refer to as the Korean Sirens of Music, sexy women playing the electric violin, flute, and piano-guitar-thing, who were supplemented by a really great break-dancing group. Jacob pronounced them to be "better [musicians] than mom, because they danced while they played" and was aghast when Lauren said she liked the break-dance group better. We could not tear them away!

When we finally headed out for dinner, we cabbed it to another market area called Damdaemun. We found ourselves a little off the beaten path in the midst of a very blue collar area that was shutting down for the day. There were acres of textiles, buttons, belt buckles, and other bizarre items, but no restaurants or other gaijin to speak of. So we corrected and traced our path back to the more modern mall area, where we scored some delicious street-food rice dumplings before having a casual dinner at the food court of mega-mall Doota!.

Naturally there were more dancing girls on a mini-stage in front of Doota! (And in front of every other mall in the area). So it took a while to get to dinner...

As for dinner, the food court had the brilliant concept of having one centralized ordering and paying place for all of the different restaurants on the floor. You get receipts from each of the restaurants that you ordered from, and then pick up your food from the various counters when your number flashes. So simple and easy. Especially for the family that wants different things for dinner. Jacob and Lauren were not so into the kimchi and bibimbop. No idea why we don't do it this way in the U.S.

To underscore our total inability to communicate in Korean (bad us!), we used the "Please take me to the Seoul Plaza Hotel" card to get our cab driver to get us back home. It's like the Easy Button; the front desk gave it to us. It has the above sentence and the address of the hotel written in English and Korean with a little map. Fairly pathetic, but effective.

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