Monday, February 8, 2010

Seoul Adventures (Hongdae Night; Jongmyo)

I briefly mentioned that the last weekend of January Min Gi and I traveled to Seoul. We had two main goals: 1) File the first round of immigration papers for Min Gi's becoming a U.S. Permanent Resident and 2) Go skiing for the first (and only) time this season, the second time in Min Gi's life (the first was my Christmas present to him last year). However, I'm not going to blog about either of those here. I'm going to blog about the extra adventures we took while we had a chance to visit Seoul again, sans the whole family clan.

Hongdae Night

We arrived in Seoul on a Friday evening, hungry and excited. We decided to look around the Hongik University area (or "Hongdae" as it is more popularly known). Although it was very cold and we had our backpacks on, we wandered all over the area that I've come to know secondhand through the lovely bloggers of Doing It Korean Style and I lost my mind in Seoul. I even saw the infamous TinPan, advertisements for something called "The Donkey Show" which looks absolutely terrifying, and a bar called Boobi Boobi (you can see photographic evidence of these things in the photo album above). It was club night, but we were there around 7 p.m. so the action hadn't started yet. We would have loved to actually hang out for the party scene, but waking up to go skiing at 7 a.m. is not conducive to a late night.

A night view of the second-floor restaurant.

We found a beautiful little Spanish restaurant called La Paella (guess what it serves?). The chefs were Spanish and the food deliciously spiced and savory (and since we ordered the vegetarian paella, also rather healthy). We devoured it quite fast. I continue to maintain that if I lived in Seoul I would be broke and fat, but my tummy would be very, very happy.

Min Gi, trying to look "cool," with our amazing cafe desserts!

After dinner, we were looking for a coffee shop to rest and talk and discovered a little gem a bit off the main Hongdae strip called Cafe Atre (I believe... it may have been Arte, but it was next to a "Piano Cafe" if that helps you find it). The menu was amazing. Min Gi ordered an iced coffee drink and a scone, while I got a tea called "Snow White's Apple" (complete with apple slice in the cup) and a piece of chocolate "cake" that was more like a brownie. The atmosphere was very comfortable and although cutsey (like all of Korea), the wooden beams made it feel like a converted barn and was kind of rustic for Seoul.

We found a nice motel in nearby Sinchon and met our tour bus to Phoenix Park the next morning. We returned to Seoul late on Sunday, ready to file the paperwork at the U.S. embassy on Monday morning.

Jongmyo, Royal Ancestral Shrine

After filing the paperwork, we headed to one of the few remaining UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Korea that I have not yet visited, the Royal Ancestral Shrine of the Joseon Dynasty, Jongmyo.

A rare finding in a Joseon monument--a memorial shrine honoring a king from Goryeo.

A small bit of historical information: Most of the ancient sites and palaces around Seoul and Gyeonggido are relics of the Joseon dynasty, which was the last Korean dynasty lasting from 1392 until the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1910, or from the dynasty before that, Goryeo. However, the area surrounding Daegu is Kyungsang-do, which contained the Silla kingdom from the period of the three kingdoms before Goryeo dominated. I must say that, in general, I find Silla art and architecture to be far more compelling and emotional than the more severe and sombre Confucian designs of Joseon. I believe, although I have not done nearly enough research on the matter, that this preference comes from Silla's stronger connection to Buddhism and religion. I admire Joseon's attention to geometric unities and impressive structures, but I am not stirred by them in the same way I have been at temples throughout the Kyungsang provinces.

Min Gi stands on the immense stone platform, upon which the Royal Ancestral Rites and ceremonies were observed, in front of the main shrine building.

However, at Jongmyo, I did feel a bit moved. Perhaps the gray sky and remaining snow and ice enhanced the impressiveness of the architecture. Or perhaps I was just relieved of the burden of filing those immigration papers, but either way, I was quite speechless in the face of the main shrine area.

Said to be the longest traditional building in Asia, the perfect symmetry of the shrine lends an eerie feeling to the place--like the entrance to the Labyrinth.

After passing through Jongmyo itself, a small foot bridge over a busy Seoul street leads you to one of the less important of the five main Seoul Palaces, Changgyeonggung. Although we were tired from carrying around our backpacks all this time, we explored the grounds a bit.

In front of Changgyeonggung.

All in all, I'm glad I got to see a bit more of Seoul. I'm finally starting to feel a bit more comfortable in that city. Enough so that I think I might be able to live there if I get a job there in the distant future. That's a good thing to know.


  1. La Paella is indeed a wonderful restaurant and somewhere that I would love to visit again. Cafe Atre also sounds quite nice!

    As odd as it might sound, I've never been to Jongmyo. However, your photos are definitely making me regret that decision! Guess I need to make that a priority for one of my next trips into Seoul ...

    What Silla-era sites in Gyeongsang-do would you recommend an outsider visit?

  2. Thanks, Paul.

    I'd start in Gyeongju (seriously, you could spend 3-4 days there) and go from there (other cool temples/sites in the area include Haeinsa, Haedong Yonggungsa, and the Andong folk village).

    But generally, there's just a stronger tendency to work WITH nature when building temples and such, creating really interesting effects, like a temple in the cliff, or a whole mountain littered with worship sites. It's really cool.

  3. I'm so sorry! I missed the boat on passing on my congrats. I've been really lax about checking on my blogs lately, and kept thinking, 'I wonder when she's getting married. She said a hasn't been a month yet.' Not sure what I was thinking, because I clearly was off on my dates. Anyway, many congrats! I think you two will have an amazing rest of life together.^^



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