Got to explore the area around Samgakji (삼각지) subway station yesterday and was not expecting to find the most interesting back alleys, just minutes away from the Ministry of Defence and the US Embassy American Center in Korea. Walking along the narrow and uneven paths strewn with all kinds of belongings from sofas and armchairs to cabbages growing in large pots, these back alleys seemed to have slowly accumulated their distinct character through decades of having served as paths (and storage space) for the people who live in the houses that line them. Some of the houses themselves seem so old and cobbled together that it is hard to believe that this is Seoul in 2013.
Went to Seolleung (선릉) yesterday to visit the royal tombs of two kings and a queen. There are over 40 tombs of the royal family from the Joseon (조선) kingdom around Korea, and three of these are in Gangnam, in a park surrounded by the gleaming glass buildings and wide boulevards that seem to define this part of Seoul.
Around each tomb are statues of civilians and military officials and their horses, and, in front, there is a shrine where the ancestral rites are held, at the end of a long walkway (one side of which is designated for spirits and not to be trod upon by mere mortals). While the shrines and steles can be seen up close, disappointingly, the tombs are not accessible to the general public except for a small standing area next to one of the three. For my 1,000 won entrance fee, I was expecting to have better access. On the upside, the guides that work in the park were more than happy to give Korean history lessons to anyone willing to have a listen.
Going to the Seoul Lantern Festival on a weekend night meant having to squeeze through a crowd of lantern admirers, all seemingly oblivious to the discomfort of having no personal space and taking selfies with enthusiasm. The more wise took to admiring the lanterns from the bridges above Cheongye stream (청계천) rather than along it.
At night, the lanterns were both interesting and lit, but in the day is when their colours could be fully appreciated. This year, wedged between the more traditional lanterns depicting Korean history (more specifically, life in the Baekjae (백제) kingdom), there was also a Christmas tree and a Casper the Friendly Ghost lantern.
A friend who teaches in school here was recounting how he had asked his 11-year olds to name desserts, and all they could come up with were ice-cream, cake and bread (yes, you read right, bread. Living in Korea, bread can be dessert). Unfortunately, this reflects the sometimes sad state of the variety of desserts in Seoul. What I would do for a good tiramisu.
Prior to living in Korea, would never have considered consuming condensed milk flavoured shaved ice with fruit (this is the traditional version). Perhaps partly due to the lack of options, eventually came around to patbingsu (탙빙수).
With winter fast approaching, the best patbingsu establishment north of the Han river will soon close for the season. Despite the single digit temperatures, one last visit seemed necessary.
Went to the the eastern end of line 6 of the subway system for a shoot for Seoul Sub→urban yesterday. There lies Bonghwa mountain (봉화산) and the neighbourhood that fronts the mountain. This seems like a typical neighbourhood in Seoul, with the obligatory nearby stream (or river), restaurants, shops, apartments and schools. But everything here seems quieter, and just about five minutes from the station, the stream stops abruptly and the countryside begins, where lines of cabbages and chilies can be found.