My Trip to South Korea and Japan – take 2
Had a slight problem with WiFi yesterday so couldn’t upload yesterday’s post.
That’s the official excuse.. the real reason was that I was too knackered.
Out down as a one liner – I had two fantastic days of exploration and discovery.
Wednesday I didn’t wake up too early – Monday and Tuesday were heavy and I am on holiday after all – so after a shower (still need to get used to the Korean style of space efficiency) and a quick coffee, more on this in the next paragraph, I set out walking the streets, venturing further afar then I dared the previous night. Koreans love coffee, there’s no doubt about that. With coffee shop after coffee shop in nearly every street. Some of these cafe’s are multi-storey affairs all brimming with young and not so old, and the occasional oldie too. They also have an extremely efficient traffic management system. Seoul has a resident population of around 11 million people (which is swelled further should you include the suburbs) yet they have less of a traffic problem the Malta.
Before I go any further and forget about the Korean love of space efficiency let me describe my room. It’s a tiny room with enough space to fit a thin mattress plus about a foot of extra ‘foot space’. Width is about half that. I have a small low table plus a TV. Apart from a small slit-window that is it. Then there’s a door at the foot end which opens onto the shower/toilet. You could call this matchbox size. Toilet at one end, basin with shower head attached at the other end and about 3 feet in between these. If you are wondering, yep you’re correct, there isn’t an actual shower cubicle. The whole room acts as such with the floor tilted towards a drain hole. It takes a bit of getting used to at first but once you get the hang of it you can only appreciate the cunning use of space.
(ok… not the interior but it gives you an idea of the style)
The Koreans strike me as very efficient people. The room I just described above is not at all uncomfortable, especially thanks to the heated floor.
Anyway, back to my wanderings.
While walking around I stumbled on a most fantastic, quite awe inspiring, and truly breath taking Palace. I refer to the Cheandokgeung Palace and its Secret Garden. Spent half a day there and got my scalp sunburnt in the process.
In the evening I prowled the numerous eateries of all shapes and sizes looking for a restaurant that showed pictorial descriptions if not English descriptions. Ended up having what I get the impression is a favourite of South Koreans – fried chicken and beer.
Thursday – up early to start off early and go in search of a KT office (Korea Telecom) to try and sort out data for the phone. The night before I spoke to one of their reps in a smaller outlet who described were I had to go. However I messed up my navigation and walked for about an hour in the wrong direction.
When I realised I said ‘sod this’ and went to have a coffee. It turned out to be a cold and wet day – the rain not heavy but quite relentless, so I bought myself an umbrella. On my way back I stopped of at the Jongmyo Shrine, another fantastic spread of buildings. Jongmyo Shrine is by tour only so I had to wait a while until it was time for the English language tour which was at 4pm (they actually have a number of these daily set at 2 hour intervals – 4pm being the next in line for me).
I browsed the street market in the meantime – fantastic variety of stalls plus non-stop street food stalls. Just have a look at these photos to get an idea of the atmosphere..
That done I was feeling rather peckish and went for a coffee and a snack. As I was walking away I started talking to a couple of students who are studying Traditional Korean Culture and wanted to know where I am from. I looked like Father Christmas according to one, on account of my beard. ☺
We decided to go for another coffee and started talking about culture, Malta and everything in between. When I told them I enjoy experiencing the culture as much as possible they suggested I join them in a ceremony they were doing that evening.
This came up because they showed me a picture of a table set with traditional ceremonial foods that are offered to their elders and ancestors. They were quite impressed that I knew what the table signified.
So off we went, into the Metro, and off to where the ceremony was to be held. They explained what I would need to do and when and got me dressed up in the traditional male Hanbok ceremonial dress.
I won’t describe the ceremony here as I not sure if it would be considered as wrong and do not want to show disrespect. What I will say was that the ceremony was very humbling and deep. A true insight to the respect that Koreans have towards their elders and ancestors – a respect that the world would do well to replicate.