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  • Day2

    Day 1: Insadong and Bukchon

    November 8, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ 🌙 8 °C

    I had flown to Seattle and spent the night at Alice's house before our morning direct flight to Seoul. Note: Never casually invite me on a trip. Not only will I go. I will end up on your flight. There is a good chance I will end up at your house the night before.

    We arrived early in the afternoon, and after figuring out the ATM (why is this always such a challenge?) and the bus route, we were off to central Seoul: Gagnam specifically. Even Americans know Gagnam thanks that that bizarrely addictive pop hit. Gagnam simply means "South of the River". Our hotel was just over the Banpo Bridge on the south side of the Han River attached to the flagship Shinsegae (New World) department store. Asian malls are a thing of wonder. There was a large department store, train station, metro station, extensive food court, and vast underground shopping mall...the extent of which was only discovered by Alice on the last day after I had already boarded the airport bus.

    On Friday, we set out on our guided tour organized by Alice's mom's good friend, Aeyoung. We started in Insadong: a lovely neighborhood with a pedestrianized main street full of shops, tea houses, and Korean food. We specifically went to Insadong to dine at Sachon, temple cuisine. Sachon is the restaurant of former buddhist monk, Kimyunsik, who creates amazing many-course meals from vegetables and herbs from the mountains of Korea. Amazing is such a disservice to describe this meal. As usual, I have little idea what I ate, but the herbs, vegetables, rice, barley tea, all of it...I think I converted to Korean immediately upon finishing this meal. I'm forever addicted to banchan, the small side dishes, often fermented, mostly containing red pepper powder, served with rice that complete a Korean meal.

    After Insadong, we tried to visit the secret garden of the Changgyeonggung, one of the two main palaces of the Joseon Dynasty. We arrived to hoards of young people (and not so young people) in Hanbok, Korean national dress. The palaces and museums of Korea have this genius option: entry is free if you wear Hanbok. No need to spend valuable museum money hiring people to stand around in costume! Convince the tourists to do it. You can rent Hanbok for about 8 bucks a day. Alice didn't take up my offer to rent some for her.

    The Secret Garden tours were full for the day, so instead we ventured over to Bukchon village, home to traditional houses, hanok, that date back to the Joseon time. It was picturesque, but also teeming with Hanbok clad tourists and road construction on winding, hilly, one lane roads with no sidewalk. It's occupied by current residents, so although pretty, it would be a pretty pain in the neck to live in.

    Next up: Alice and Maria visit the largest of the Seoul palaces, accidentally become part of an anti-Trump protest, and learn from an American tourist about a delightful lantern festival which no actual resident of Seoul seemed to know anything about.
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