The National Museum of Korea

I think I can officially say I am not a fan of museums. Or at least not historic ones. I much prefer art gallery type museums like the Louvre.

The National Museum of Korea is situated at the top of hill, and is quite an impressive piece of modern architecture. The museum in its entirety is huge, consisting of the main building, one for featured exhibitions, numerous restaurants and cafes, as well as a garden. Admission to the main building and garden is free, however you can expect to pay 10,000 to 15,000 won if you want to see the special exhibition.

The National Museum is three floors, each of which focus on a specific period of time or art form within Korean history. The first floor focused on prehistoric and ancient society, while the second focused on calligraphy. The third floor featured Buddhist sculptures and white porcelain.

Most of what I noticed was the vast amount of pottery on each floor. Most of the displays in the prehistoric section featured earthenware, as well a weapons from the Bronze and Iron Ages. The calligraphy section seemed to consist mostly of scrolls, or brush holders and water droppers, and of course the third floor was dedicated to porcelain.

There were a few exhibits I found interesting though. I enjoyed the large Buddhist sculptures, as well as a mural of the four guardians of the four compass directions. For those of you who don’t know what they are: black tortoise, blue dragon, red phoenix, and white tiger. The mural was found in a tomb with the four guardians meant to protect the tomb and its inhabitant.

During my little museum run, I actually ran into one of the girls from the hostel, so we finished the second and third floors together, then went out to grab lunch. The restaurant and cafes in the museum were a bit expensive, but there was another cafe by the gardens that was reasonably priced.

The National Museum

A painting of what an ancient village would have looked like.

A rubbing of the inscription on the sacred bell of King Seongdeok
A painting from the Joseon Dynasty.

Knives

A statue of a lion.

I couldn’t help taking a photo of this due to my slight obsession with tea.

A Buddhist statue

Ganesha

Another Buddhist statue

Figures with paper arms

A sacred bell

Knives

Traditional hair pins

White porcelain

The ten story pagoda

Lunch at one of the museum cafes!

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Deoksugung

The next few days are going to be Korean history days. You’ll see what I mean in the coming posts. My first stop: visit the “gung” (or as some of you are more familiar with, “goong”), or at least one of them. There’s plenty of palaces in Seoul, so my deciding factor in choosing the first I would visit was proximity to the hostel.


It was a quick walk from the hostel (almost everything is), just a bit past City Hall. No more than half an hour. I wanted to take a few photos of City Hall, but there was a very large protest happening at Seoul Plaza blocking my view. According to the news, taxi drivers were gathered in a nationwide strike to protest the rise in fuel prices and asking the government to raise the price of taxi fares. 

The turnout was impressive and reached all the way to the palace. It was nearly impossible to make my way through the crowd and to the palace gates. I think I was lucky to even get in, considering security closed the gates soon after I entered. I was also allowed to enter for free, as many people watching the strike were entering to rest in the shaded areas of the palace. Or at least that’s why I think they just waved me through without taking my 1000 won note. Or perhaps my guidebook is simply outdated.

Despite being one the smaller palaces, the grounds of Deoksugung are still quite large, with many buildings having been restored. After the Japanese invasion of 1592, which left the main palaces destroyed, it was used as a temporary palace, and later became only a residence for the royal family, with the palace’s administrative complex being removed.

Deoksugung is also the only palace to have modern buildings mixed within the traditional architecture. One, Jeonggwanheon, mixes both western and eastern architecture, while Seokjojeon, and entirely western looking stone building, was used as King Gojong’s sleeping quarters and audience halls.

Along with Seokjojeon is the National Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum was free to visit, although I here it depends of the specific exhibition featured. While I was there, “The Centennial Celebration of Lee In-Sung’s Birth) was the main exhibit.

Leaving the palace was a tad confusing. The gates had closed, and I originally thought that no one would be allowed either in or out. At least there were plenty of shaded areas around the grounds. After continuing to wander around aimlessly for a few minutes, I timidly walked up to security by the gate, asking if I would be able to leave. He pointed to the side, which led to a small enclave housing a side door to the plaza. Upon opening the door, I realized why the gates were closed. Protesters were sitting and standing, backs pressed against the gates. It was a pain to try and make my way through them all.

In an attempt to avoid the strike, I decided to risk getting lost and try and make my way around the plaza and the crowds. My trip brought me past the Canadian Embassy, as well as a few others. About a block ahead is Seodaemun District, which I like to call the museum district as there are nearly ten on one street. I also walked by Geobukgung, the main palace as I looked for the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. Turns out the statue is situated right in front of the palace. I believe the university is planning a field trip there sometime. Or at least I hope so, or else I probably won’t get a chance to visit. (I’m just waiting for this supposed field trip as I don’t want to visit twice.)

Look what I found!

Last Stop: Dongdaemun

Dongdaemun was the last shopping district I needed to visit (simply because COEX Mall and the Gangnam area are both wickedly expensive), and who better to spend the day with than my lovely friend from Calgary!
Again, I walked, although only for about 45 minutes this time. It was also ridiculously hot outside today, and there was hardly a breeze.

I also managed to get ever so slightly lost inside the station by Dongdaemun Stadium, one stop before Dongdaemun Station, where I was supposed to be meeting my friend. I was 15 minutes late, but as a result, I think it made our meeting that much sweeter. I mean, we ran to each other from half a block away just to hug! Oh the stares we probably got (although we didn’t notice any, not that we were paying attention).

The first thing we did was grab lunch from a cheap little place by the station. There weren’t any pictures or English on the menu, so thankfully my friend was there. My only requirements were that whatever she ordered for me be cold. I think I got bibimguksu again, but this time made with potato starch noodles, unlike Jenny’s homemade version, which I think used a wheat noodle as they were a lot easier to bite through. The potato starch noodles are very, very chewy, and you actually need to take a pair of scissors to them in order to make them somewhat managable. It was very good, and I don’t know why everyone is telling me they’ll be spicy. Neither the homemade version nor the resaurant’s were very spicy at all, or at least not for me.

After we finished our meal, we were served iced plum green tea, which I thought tasted very similar to the plum sake I’m able to buy at home. It wasn’t as sweet though, and of course it didn’t have the alcohol taste, so needless to say, it was very good. We also ordered a bowl of patbingsu to share between the two of us. Unlike the one I saw for takeout in Ewha the other day, this was a giant bowl filled with shaved ice, red beans, canned fruit, corn flakes, and condensed milk. Normally, patbingsu costs anywhere from 6000 to 12,000 won, but this was only about 5000, and could have probably been a meal in itself.

Next we shopped! Dongdaemun is home to four malls: Lotte, APm, Doota, and Migliore.We only went to Doota and Migliore as APm was closed, and Lotte tends to be out of our price range. There were also plenty of street stalls around the area selling clothes, accessories, and souvenirs. I spent $20 on a pair of mint green jeans since I’ve wanted a pair for awhile, and they were a lot cheaper than those you can find in Calgary. Besides, for $20 I don’t care if they aren’t in season next year.

Dongdaemun only took us a few hours to shop through, so we parted ways around 3:30 and I walked back towards my hostel. As always, I browsed through a bit of Myeongdong as I passed through, and ended up buying a few gifts for friends. I can’t help it, I need to at least look through the SSFW shops to decide if I want a new purse or not. Why am I not rich?

On my way to Dongdaemun.

Heunginjimun, also known as the “Gate of Rising Benevolence,” or Dongdaemun.

Patbingsu!

One of the side streets was lined with pet shops selling anything from cats to frogs to chickens.


Cheap Clothes in Ewha!

I am a really cheap person. Sort of.
I could say that I just like to walk, which I do, but that becomes a lie once it’s 30 degrees out. No, instead I walked for two hours to get to Ewha Womans University, because, simply put, I’d rather have an extra two dollars to spend on clothes than a subway ticket. On a side note, I suppose it is good exercise, minus the whole my calf muscles might end up too big from all the walking that I’ve been doing since I’ve arrived.

The first thing I did once I left the hostel was get lost. I knew I would need to head north from Seoul Station, and I made it there perfectly fine. Unfortunately, with all the weird diagonal streets Seoul seems to consist of, I managed to head northeast, and found myself back in Namdaemun, about halfway back from where I originally came from. I changed route and decided to head towards City Hall, as there were signs everywhere pointing towards it, and from there, I could just follow one road towards Sinchon Rotary, which again had signs everywhere pointing in the direction.

After my lovely hike (I didn’t get lost again, thankfully), I finally made it to the university, and thusly the shopping district. Ewha, or Edae, is geared towards young women, selling many trendy clothes and accessories for reasonable prices. For less than $25 I managed to buy a new dress, a pair of flats, and a shirt. Ewha is also the place to go for a new haircut it seems, as there was at least one hair salon on every street.

The Ewha and Sinchon areas also happen to be a haven for both privaately owned cafes, as well as those run by larger businesses. If you’re ever thirsty, you’ll have plenty to choose from here. Not to mention these cafes were selling some of the cheapest desserts I’ve seen so far. If you were to order “patbingsu” as takeout, it would only cost 2500 won for about a Starbucks’ tall sized cup filled with shaved ice, sweet red beans, and ice cream. Yumm. (Disclaimer: This is assuming I managed to read everything correctly, so if you’re in the area and don’t find it, it’s not my fault!)

Finding my way back to the hostel was much easier. There was only one corner where I didn’t know exactly which way to turn, but again, following the road signs helped. I also managed to take the route I originally planned to use to get to Ewha (via Seoul Station), which helped shave some time off the walk and let me explore a little. And, waiting for me at the hostel when I got back was a very late lunch, made by Jenny! Such lovely hosts I have. =]

Ewha Womans University

Shopping!

There are a ton of cafes in Ewha and Sinchon.

On the way to and from Ewha, you pass by a street lined with wedding shops.

Mixed in with the wedding dresses are hanbok.

A few blocks after the wedding shops is a street lined with furniture shops. 

The French Embassy

Seoul Station

Seoul Station’s underground mall

Lunch! Bibimguksu made by Jenny. Delicious!

And look what I saw when I was trying to decide to go back via City Hall or Seoul Station. Sorry for my lack of paparazzi skills and the subsequent slightly blurry picture. Just trust me when I say he had a cute smile.
Oh my, guess which other pretty boys I found on my way back…

Namdaemun Picture Diary

Namdaemun Market is across the street from my hostel, so I go there to grab food a lot, or sometimes just to kill time. Walking through it is a lot cooler since the walkways are close together and the numerous stalls provide plenty of shade.

You can see Seoul Tower from Namdaemun Market

Mandu of all sorts! I come here way too often since the wang mandu is only 1000 won.

In the evening, the streets are lined not only with stalls selling anything from clothes to ginseng, but also plenty of food. 

This is the easiest way to get fruit in Seoul. You can usually find a vendor selling slices of pineapple or  melon on a stick for 1000 won.

There’s also plenty of vendors selling bulgogi. Just choose what you want them to barbecue for you!

You can find souvenirs of all sorts in Namdaemun, including traditional goods, or random k-pop paraphernalia. 

The infamous padded underwear. I wonder if anyone actually wears these?

Namdaemun Market has an entire section dedicated to selling ginseng.

Displayed at a restaurant. I immediately though of “Spirited Away” when I saw it. Remind me not to eat here.

Dinner was mukguksu, or noodles made from buckwheat and acorn starch served in an icy broth. After walking around in 30 degree weather, it was very refreshing.

My hostel is right across the street from Namdaemun Market, and up a giant hill. 

And here’s looking down from the top of the first hill.

The view from about halfway up.

Second hill. The hostel is past those buildings.

Myeongdong Picture Diary

Myeongdong was far busier Sunday than any of the previous days I walked through. With the crowds also came plenty of food stalls and more street vendors selling clothes and accessories.

Bean Pole is a famous fashion brand which G-Dragon endorses.
I saw them setting up and thought the display was actually a set of chairs for B2ST to do a signing. Unfortunately, not the case, nor was I staying in the area to see!
MyeongDong Cathedral
Dried squid is a common snack you can find in any of the outdoor shopping areas.
Spiraled potatoes wrapped around sausage and fried. This just reminds of Stampede food.

All of these cosmetic stores are right beside each other on both sides of the street. There’s plenty more throughout Myeongdong as well.
The Myeongdong Theatre

Insadong Picture Diary

On the way to Insadong, about a block away from the entrance, there’s a reconstructed temple, as well as a statue of a traditional calligraphy brush.


It’s not busy yet, but it will be by the time I leave!

 An open air mall full of custom jewelry and cute accessories.

Love wishes

Koreans just made Mozart look pretty… gothic?

Walnut Pastries

Lunch was kimchi jiggae. So good!

Insadong not only has older shops lining the streets, but also some beautiful modern architecture.

Jogyesa Temple

~Homo Sapiens ~ The Brilliant Evolution, created by Kap Yeul Lee, presented interesting art made of plastic spoons and fibre optic lights. It on display at one of the many galleries between Insadong and Anguk

Honey String Candy

Considerably less shopping was done today; unfortunately more money was spent compared to my previous expenditures. I’m definitely going to have to start living off those wang mandu.

On another note, I walked to Insadong with another girl staying at the hostel. Since Insadong is farther than Myeongdong or Namdaemun, I actually remembered to bring my camera with me, in case I didn’t get a chance to go back.
Insadong specializes in traditional cultural goods, making it a lovely place for souvenirs. Surprisingly, there were still many more young Koreans frequenting the area rather than foreigners.
I’ll go into more detail tomorrow, but the highlight of Insadong was seeing how traditional “honey string candy” was made. Basically, the confectioner stretches honey into 16,000 strings, and then wraps it around a nut and sugar filling. Delicious? Yes, yes it is.
The guys here were very friendly, demonstrating and explaining how they made the candy (in fluent English no less!). I wish I had taken a video, but alas, pictures will have to do.

Oh, and did I mention Insadong was just full of cute boys?

English Speakers!!! And as a consequence, more snail slime.

More money was spent today. I need to stop this, but I swear it’s almost at an end. Just a few more things to buy and then I should be good (except for the fact that I’ll need to buy more to bring home).


Besides, I couldn’t help myself. Jiyeon was nice enough to recommend a new moisturizer for me as I had just run out and was talking about my skin woes. It’s amazing how many of us are raving maniacs about skincare here at the hostel. Including the guys. I came back home with the Nature Republic Aqua Max cream, which one a beauty award apparently. The saleswoman spoke English, and was able to recommend a new foam cleanser for me as well (again, I’m nearly finished what brought with me). So, just to let you know, snail and aloe are both very good for “trouble skin” and she let me decide which I wanted. The aloe was cheaper, but she told me the snail actually works a bit better, so I went with that. Snail cleanser cost me more than my award winning cream, but less so than the usual cleanser I buy. I think if Laneige were to have a snail line, my bank account would be screwed. Thankfully they don’t.

My next stop was to Namdaemun Market. Yay, I didn’t spend money there! Namdaemun is considered to be a traditional market, and basically consists of street stalls selling a variety of goods including clothes, souvenirs, and kitchenware. The streets wind all over the place, and in circles so it’s a bit easy to get lost. I actually didn’t have this problem – I was always able to find my way back to the entrance I originally came through. However, I originally didn’t manage to visit about half of it since I kept going around in circles without realizing. Eventually I made it to the other side though.

Namdaemun is very cheap, especially the clothes. Mind you, these are mostly made of very thin fabrics, which I suppose are good considering the heat here. Not only that, but food prices are ridiculously priced. I bought a “wang mandu” for 1000 won! Wang mandu are like some sort of cross between Chinese baozi and regular Korean mandu, a type of dumpling. They’re about the size of a baseball, albeit flatter, and mine came with a pork and onion filling. Either way, it makes for a great light dinner for less than a dollar. I should just eat a few of these everyday (assuming they’re that cheap everywhere)! Tomorrow, the plan is to try traditional mandu filled with kimchi. And this time I’ll actually take pictures! (I haven’t been since I’ve just been too busy shopping, and I figured I can walk the five to fifteen minutes to take pictures without struggling with bags in my hands.)

I’ve also found out that there really is internet EVERYWHERE here. I actually thought that you’d have to be in a store in order to access the free wifi, but nope, you can just be in the middle of the street. It’s quite amazing really. So although I can’t text, at least I can still chat on google or or kakao talk (an app one of the guys at the hostel told me about). Kind of made my day today.

Shopping Spree!

Yesterday was my first day here in Seoul, and needless to say, it was spent shopping. There’s a reason why I picked a hostel 15 minutes away from Myeondong.






Myeondong is one of the main shopping districts here, and is known for being the home to many cosmetic brands. However, I think this is a bit misleading, as most of the shops are actually the same. There’s something like six Etude House stores, four Missha’s, two Holika Holikas, etc. On a side note, if you count the many drugstores specializing in cosmetics that sell lesser known brands, then yes, you could easily say Myeondong is home to an astounding number of skincare and makeup brands.

The area is actually quite large, and took me about five hours to walk though it all. That doesn’t count me getting lost trying to find my way out either. Myeondong, or probably just Seoul in general, is full of smaller side streets, making the area a tad bit confusing to navigate without a map. Not only that, but the fact that there are so many repeated store fronts, means I can’t navigate well by landmarks. How many times did I pass by Etude House again?

Many of the cosmetic shops also offer an array of samples simply for walking in, mostly in the form of sheet masks or cotton pads. If you actually buy something, you can usually look forward to better goodies, including samples of the brand’s newest BB cream, their best selling products, cleansers, or makeup. Needless to say, I have an armful of cotton pads. And here I made my mother go to Costco so that I could bring some here with me. Sorry. As for purchases, I tried to only buy what I actually needed. It didn’t work out so well. I came back to the hostel with a new eye liner, eye primer (I did need those, just to let you know), as well as a snail eye mask and a pack brush.

So, for those of you unfamiliar with those last two products, I’ll give a brief explanation. The snail eye pack is basically two gel sheets in the shape of a crescent moon, soaked in, you guessed it, snail mucus. Adding snail mucus to skincare (as well as BB creams), is very popular here. The mucus is said to help whiten and repair skin structure. I’m just hoping it helps with the dark circles under my eyes leftover from last week’s severe lack of sleep. The pack brush is basically a paint brush used to apply face masks (or packs) here. Korean skincare is very hygienic, so the brush is meant to help prevent cross contamination when you scoop out the mask to apply on your face (this way you don’t need to use your fingers). Most creams that come in a jar also include a little spoon to scoop everything out for hygienic purposes.

Myeondong not only has a large selection of cosmetics to choose from, but also many clothing stores with varying prices and styles. Most were quite trendy and I found a bag I adore (although I’m gonna hold off on buying it until I shop around a bit more). I did, however, buy an asymmetrical skirt. One of those ones you can find at Zara for some ungodly amount of money. They seem to be quite popular here, and you can find them for a range of prices. The more expensive ones are obviously better quality and often feature pleats and more layering. I decided to be cheap and found a very simple one for 12,000 won, a little less than $12 Canadian. It’s not fancy and the quality isn’t couture, but it was cheap and I wanted one. Besides, I can’t usually be bothered to spend money on trendier items I may only wear for a short amount of time. I might shell out for a nicer one later, but this will work for now.

Moving on to the hostel. Warning: this won’t be nearly as interesting compared to reading about snails. The hostel is situated between Myeondong and Namdaemun Market, Seoul’s largest traditional market. It’s also located about halfway up a hill, which is nearly as steep as Calgary’s Home Road at some points. Trying to locate it was also a bit difficult, as there’s a fork in the road, one of which leads to flatter ground and one that continues uphill. I chose to take the flatter route at first, as continuing uphill with a 40 pound suitcase wasn’t an appealing thought. The hostel is actually on the uphill part of the fork, so my attempt at taking a more leisurely walk was futile. I had to back track and continue on up. Ugh. At least now I don’t have luggage to carry up. And when I leave, it shall all be downhill!

The residents here are very friendly, including the owners. We usually go off on our own for the day, and when everyone gets back, we all talk about what we did until one in the morning, so I’m quite enjoying my stay here. =]