Something Cultural: Gyeongbokgung Palace

I’m no history buff.  I can really only handle it in small amounts, so here’s my incredibly short run down of the history of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeongbokgung roughly translates to Palace of Shining Happiness in English. It was built by the Joseon Dynasty in 1395 and then was burned down by the Japanese for the first time in 1592. After being rebuilt in the 1800s, it was destroyed by the Japanese a second time during their occupation of Korea. Only ten structures survived in the compound. It’s kind of understandable why there is an underlying dislike for Japan in Korea. Much of the Gyeongbokgung compound has been restored and it’s quite a pleasant place to walk around.

Hyangwon-jeong aka Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance

Side note: I highly recommend wearing a pair of sunglasses if you go on a sunny day. I know this may seem obvious, but Dave and I thought it would be overcast so we didn’t bring our sunglasses. After emerging from the subway we were happy to find that it was turning into a blue sky day, but quickly realized that the glare from the light gray stones was going to be a problem. We jumped at every opportunity to stand in the shade and give our eyes a break.

My favorite part of the traditional Korean structures are the eaves and beams. They are beautifully painted. I love how much thought was put into a part of the building that we often ignore in western architecture.

Directions:

Take either subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station Exit 5 or take Line 5 to Gwanghwamun Station Exit 2.

A Walk in the Park

Seonyudo Park

I don’t seek out parks back home. Maybe that’s because we lived in Boulder and we had access to stunning mountains within walking distance. For what ever reason though, I’ve discovered and fallen in love with parks this spring.

Seonyudo Park
Even the trash cans look nice.

The first park we went to was Seonyudo Park, to see the cherry blossoms. Seonyudo Park is a small island in the middle of the Han River here in Seoul. The island was formerly home to a sewage treatment plant from 1978-1998 after which it was converted into a stunning park which incorporates the structures left behind from the treatment plant. It’s a peaceful place for a quiet picnic and a lovely walk. Every time I go there I am so inspired by what an amazing job they did turning a place that must have looked so industrial and devoid of nature into a calm and inviting atmosphere for people to escape the city. It’s a place that gives me hope; it’s possible to turn all of this concrete into something beautiful again. Read more

Trick of the Eye

I first discovered the Trick Eye Museum (aka Trompe-l’oeil) online a few months ago. Dave and I have been wanting to go, but it didn’t seem to be a great place for only two people to visit because it is an interactive optical illusion museum. What that means is that you get to pose with the paintings and become part of the art yourself. I imagine it’s quite popular here since everyone seems to have a fancy camera and vanity isn’t exactly frowned upon as much as it is at home.

Dave and I waited until we could round up a few other people to visit the museum to make the experience a little more fun. If it had been just the two of us we wouldn’t have been able to pose in pictures together and it would have been us just alternating who posed and who took the pictures. We finally went this past weekend and it was certainly worth the wait.

Here’s a sample of what the museum has to offer. Read more

A Few Pictures from the Lovely 2011 Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival

Yesterday, Dave and I spent the entire day in Insadong. We took a cooking class (more details to come on that), learned how to make lotus lanterns (more to come on that as well), and watched the Lotus Lantern Parade. Because we were there all day, we were able nab front row seats for the festivities. It was the longest parade either of us had ever sat through, but being that it was our first lantern parade we sat through the entire thing and enjoyed every moment. The parade was in honor of Buddha’s birthday and was full of smiling monks and nuns, women in gorgeous hanbok (traditional Korean dresses), and many, many lanterns both big and small. Read more

Couples in Korea

A week and a half ago, Korea celebrated the Lunar New Year, so we had a five day weekend. Yay! Dave’s supervisor asked me what we were planning on doing and I replied that we weren’t sure since we had been told that most things would be closed for the holiday. After asking me what Dave and I liked to do in our spare time, to which I replied, rock climbing, yoga, reading, writing, art, and cooking, she came up with an ingenious idea. Why don’t we go to a couples spa?!

It's hard to find examples of couples dressing the same in the winter, but here is couple who are both wearing the same red scarves and he is carrying her red purse for her. Dave will tell you I ran down the street after them to get this picture, I like to say I speed walked.

I immediately said YES! because I didn’t even know couples spas existed. It probably shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did because Korea is filled with goods and services directed solely at couples. For example, if you are in need of showing the world, (while you are sitting on the subway playing games on your cell phone), that the man sitting next to you playing games on his phone is your boyfriend, then pick up some his and her cell phone charms. If you want to make an even louder statement, wear matching outfits or his and her t-shirts. Yes, it’s true, couples have been known to walk around in matching outfits in Korea. On a side note, Korean boyfriends also carry their girlfriends’ purses around for them! A fabulous trend that I really wish would take off in the US.

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Funny Picture Booths

Dave and I were walking around Insadong a couple weeks ago and stopped into a place where you can take silly pictures. We had never done it before, but it had been on my must do list for a while. For 6,000 won (about $5) you can put on some wigs, traditional korean dresses, or hats and take eight pictures in a green booth.

We were clueless as to how it all worked so the woman working there helped us quite a bit. First she handed me a headband with a big sparkly red bow on it and gave Dave huge orange glasses. She then explained that we had to choose the backdrops we wanted to take pictures with quickly because we were on a timer. After we selected eight backdrops, we took our pictures.

At the end, they make you quickly decide which four pictures you like best, which we weren’t completely aware of until we had fifteen seconds left on the clock and started choosing our pictures in a panic. Once we chose four pictures, we went out of the booth to the touch-screen computer kiosks and each added images, drawings, and frames to our pictures. We then got to decide what size pictures we wanted and the machine printed it out on sticker paper. Here’s what we ended up with:

Love Star
This is the final picture we chose in our mad rush to pick the four pictures we wanted to print. We wished we had chosen the winter themed one we had taken, but alas it was too late.
When we saw that you could take a picture with a rainbow poo background we had to do it. I mean how often are you presented that opportunity?

I’m officially obsessed. I want to do this a million times before I leave Korea! I dragged Dave into a different funny picture booth in Hongdae, but the choice of backgrounds and print quality wasn’t as good as the place in Insadong.

This is one of the pictures we took in Hongdae. Notice the poo Dave placed on one of the teddy bears. We are very mature and can't get over the poo obsession in Korea.
Can you spot the poo?
Dave and me on a rainbow. I think the white mustache really suits dave.

For more pictures visit Dave’s blog!

Charlie Brown Cafe

Upon hearing that Dave and I went to the Hello Kitty Cafe, one of our friends suggested that we go to the Charlie Brown Cafe as well. So yesterday, Dave and I looked up the directions to the cafe and got on a bus headed to Hongdae. The directions we had said to get out of exit 5 of the Hongik University subway station. We usually take the bus to exit 9, so we went down into the subway to find exit 5.

Outside of the Charlie Brown Cafe.

Unfortunately for us, the directions we had were a little outdated. In our defense, I looked at multiple websites to confirm we had the correct directions and none of them mentioned an exit different from exit 5. The Airport Railroad also stops at the Hongik University Station and appears to be a convenient new addition, unless you are looking for exit five which has moved in the exact opposite direction of the old exit 5.

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