Thursday was exciting: Seoul tour day!! (Also there’s too many pictures to incorporate so they’re basically all under a cut at the end.)
I mentioned previously that I had signed up for something called the Buddy Program (read about that here), and one of the things offered by the program was your choice of three tours of Seoul, each focusing on two destinations. I chose the second tour, which visited Gyeongbokgung, a palace first built in the late 14th century, and the Bucheon Hanok Village. This actually allowed me to tick a destination off my list as well as see some specific things I had hoped to see.Our first stop was Gyeongbokgung, which as it turns out is actually really close to school - I might go back, actually, get a better look at some things than I could in the group. (Note: by point of posting, I have gone back. New post eventually.)
Anyway, the coolest thing about Gyeongbokgung (other than the fact that it’s a 700-year-old palace, but more on that later) was the painting style under the roof. I had learned (briefly) about this style of Korean decoration, called dancheong, in a class previously and I just really wanted to see it; luckily, Gyeongbokgung was rife with examples!
We were divided into groups which sucked a bit just because I didn’t really like the people in my group. They didn’t want to look at the things I wanted to look at and they were all the French kids who I’ve determined are pretty much universally assholes (except this one kid Guillaume he’s alright plus he knew where Frederick was because he lived in Rockville for like 5 years for some reason) and they just sort of rushed through and then lingered in lame bits that weren’t buildings and it was irritating because the mentor and I and a couple other people basically just spent the whole time trying to catch up to them.
They actually spent the longest time of all in the cafe/gift shop buying coffee so that was simultaneously irritating and nice because while I wanted to actually see things, I did sit outside on the covered porch and talk with our mentor for a while. He was really cool. He was asking about my name because he (and everyone else) said he’d thought that was a guys name. Shockingly people in Korea actually know the name and can pronounce it with greater success than most people I’ve met at home have been able to. I said that yeah, it was kind of gender-neutral but mostly a man’s name and he said he understood. His name was (is) 근선, aka Geunseon, which means “hibiscus” (the Korean national flower) and which he said was technically gender-neutral but in reality is distinctly feminine; I said it was a nice name but he said he hated it.
We talked a bit more about ourselves - our hometowns (I’ve just been saying “close to DC” to everyone for ease of understanding; he comes from somewhere down south though I don’t remember the town), our ages (he’s 24 because he took time off of school to get his required time in the army out of the way), our years (it’s his last semester), our majors (I don’t remember anything about this), stuff like that. We talked a bit more as we were walking but it was significantly less because he was talking to everyone else. He was really cool, honestly. I’ve actually seen him once since then and he recognized me and ran across the street to give me a really hard high-five.
One we did finally get going again (the cafe was really close to the entrance; we really hadn’t gotten much chance to see anything yet), it really was pretty. I guess in a way it’s kind of repetitive because most of the buildings sort of look the same but that painting is honestly so pretty I didn’t get tired of it. There’s a couple big ponds in the middle. One was surrounded by willows and had this big two-story open-air building with some stone pathways leading to it. There were people in it and I really wanted to go but the doors to the pathways were all closed and we weren’t sure it was ok to go over. The other pond was surrounded by pines and covered in lily pads. There was a tiny island in the middle with a small polyhedral pergola-type thing in the middle. It had a fancied-up boardwalk going out to it that was fenced off.
This second pond was also where I saw birds that looked like corvids of some sort but white and black and my inability to provide either a photograph (I tried but they flew) or a thoroughly complete description has since vexed my parents greatly.
We spent about two hours I think walking around this place. In a way I kind of feel like we didn’t see much, but what can you do. Such is the nature of touring in groups.
From there we went to a fancy department store to a fancy buffet that took up (so far as I can tell) the entirety of one of the floors. It was apparently very traditional Korean dishes (or as traditional as anything can be when served in buffet format). They were pretty good. I don’t remember a food in particular that stood out but the sauces were fantastic - I liked the fried lotus root a lot simply because it was flavorless and really took the sauces.
Koreans (or at least mediaeval Koreans) had a real thing for pumpkin. Like half of everything was pumpkin - pumpkin sauce, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pancakes, candied pumpkin, pumpkin I-don’t-know-what-else. It was a lot of pumpkin.
It was good. Not fantastic, mostly because a lot of it had gone cold from sitting out or gone soft because of same. I’ve had better but I’ve definitely had much worse. I also sat with my roommate, a sort-of friend of hers name Helen (that at this point I don’t think she’s talked to in weeks) who went to her uni back in Australia (though they didn’t meet until getting here), and some guy named Andre (Chinese but from the Netherlands) who I see everywhere and who is very nice but never say much to. I’m not really sure if that improved or took something from the situation but it really was OK. Although I think Helen hates me.
After that it was back on the bus to go to Bukcheon Hanok Village. This was the biggest disappointment. It’s still a working/normal neighborhood so there were signs everywhere asking people not to be loud so as not to disturb the residents. When we got there everyone went in the one direction the map suggested and it was a slow-moving madhouse so someone in our group asked Geunseon if we could go the other way. He ran off for a second to ask but I guess it was fine because we went off in another direction without any other groups.
Like I said it was still just a normal neighborhood. With absolutely insane hills but still. All over Seoul there are old tile-roofed buildings mixed in with the skyscrapers, so I honestly couldn’t see much difference between this area and the rest of Seoul. It was hugely disappointing and we finished going through really quickly so then we went to a cafe. It was super cute inside although all the French were pretty massively disappointed that it didn’t have rooftop seating (they had some weird term for it that I can’t for the life of me remember). The one girl also asked all of us for a lighter (no one had one) then laughed and said, “Zey say zhere are smokers, and zhen zhere are French,” and laughed haughtily and it was at once annoying and one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in my life and did exceptionally little to bring the French into my good graces.
After that we pretty much just went back. At least my roommate tells me they didn’t really see anything either so I guess I know that I didn’t just take a crap path. Again, I may try going back here alone because there’s a bunch of little museums we didn’t even glance at and places where you can pay like 5 bucks and learn/make a traditional handicraft and take it home which you may know is absolutely and directly up my alley. After that the mentor club kept sending out emails saying they were overenrolled and to fill out the form again if you really wanted in. Arianne and I filled it in three more times, I believe, without getting in. The final time they sent it out I finally gave up. Arianna did it one last time and got in. So.