Friday, July 1, 2011

Seoul Rocks

As I post, a giant free concert is taking place in Seoul Plaza, 27 floors below our room overlooking the construction of the new city hall. Our hotel is now part of the light show for the concert. The new city hall here is under construction, and we have heard construction everywhere we've traveled here. Even the hotel is remodeling. We had a very special day here, full of accomplishment with relative ease. A visit to the national Tourist Office helped us locate some priorities, including a place to buy maps, information about Han river cruises, where palaces are and how to get to the subway. The young man who assisted us spoke English very well, both understanding and accent, and was extremely helpful, even offering his subway pass. I acquired some topographic maps, at Kyopo Bookstore in the subway level (like a large University Bookstore), including one of Daegu area and another of the south coast, including Tongyong and Namhae. In addition, I got a couple of maps of mountains, one of Jirisan (Mt. Jiri) and another Tyvek map of several mountains including Seoraksan. I hope I can work on them in ways that do justice to the geology of Korea. It's very odd to me that there is endless granite for building, in the palaces and temples, in the great etched markers that appear everywhere, but there is no apparent volcanism, except on Jeju Island, no earthquakes. There is definitely sedimentary rock here, as evident from the dinosaur footprint fossils we saw in Goseng, but we understand so little about geology that we can't grasp the presence of granite, an igneous rock.
Second, we ate a lunch of temple food. This was a hope, but I wasn't following it actively today. After the bookstore, we obtained subway passes and put extra money on them (pretty much the same process as in any city with mass transit and computerized ticketing, except the passes are purchased in convenience stores, another way Korea is like Italy). We went to Insa-dong and while looking for a tofu reataurant recommended by the tourist information staffer, we found a sign, "Sanchon, Temple Cooking." I had read about and seen on KBS this cuisine, based on wild and simply cultivated foods, vegetarian, and hoped to try it. This is a famous temple food restaurant, one which was reviewed even by the New York Times. For 22K won (about $22) each, we dined well, and the food was beautifully presented. Check out Sanchon on line: there is some sense of its aesthetic and the devotion which goes into all they do. It was cool in the restaurant; so we took our time in the heat of the day.
Strolling past the shops, we headed toward Changdeokgung (palace), site of many dramas we watch. Jim found this image of Brahms at a pub along the way. The palace is beautiful and quite impressive: easy to imagine the scholars of (probably) the Sarim faction lining up before the towering throne hall [image at top] to protest some government action. We lingered near the Crown Prince's study, a building up on columns, similar to the Confusian academy study hall we had seen near Daegu. There was an apricot tree and we rested in its shade.
Returning to Insadong, I purchased a box of brushes for a certain young scholar we know, and, at Myung Sin Dang, had a seal made while we waited, in the cool shop. A number of famous visitors have found their way here, and the artist is a very skilled designer: she wrote my name in Korean (as my teacher had) and designed and carved the seal which has a rabbit carved on top. I gave her my card and she seemed pleased. I like it very much, and hope it will grace the new map pieces I make. I saw apricots in the street for sale, and taking it positively since its tree had provided shade, purchased them from a woman more intent on the video drama on her phone than on fruit sales. She didn't tell me the name but showed me the heroine. I smiled and indicated I like dramas too.
It is very hot here. We really ducked the heat in the south coast, with temperatures overnight hovering around 20C, and with the rain and breezes. When we returned to Daegu Thursday, it was 31C and it's not quite that hot in Seoul, but it is exhausting because it is dryer, actually, than that wet weather can be. This morning, I finally had enough coffee at breakfast and was able to dry my hair sufficiently to have the first not bad hair day since I arrived. We greatly enjoyed the KTX between Daegu and Seoul, and hope the President can get us started on high speed rail asap, for it is very convenient to have it.

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