Monday, January 30, 2012

The National Museum of Seoul

Seoul National Museum

I am currently living out the last few days of my winter vacation. Trying to make the most of it, I spent part of the day wandering around the National Museum of Seoul on Friday. I suppose because it's school holidays I expected it to be overrun with kids, but luckily it was so peaceful. I arrived early enough that museum was next to empty. The museum is gigantic and I felt like I had the run of the place. Just walking up to the building from the street you can easily grasp its grandeur.
The collection of pieces itself inside the building, was not the most attractive feature, it was more the building itself and the grounds. From the outside, there is a beautiful juxtaposition between old and new. The modern building of the museum is set behind a small traditional Korean building, overlooking a little pond. To add to the view, beyond the museum, framed by its grand entranceway, is Namsan Tower, perched up on its mountain. It was a beautiful view.

Inside the stark building were 3 floors of room after room, scarcely outfitted in glass casings and the permanent collection. The main exhibits were Ancient & Medieval History, Calligraphy & Painting, Asian Art, and Sculpture & Craft. In my opinion, the best part of the museum, was the actual building itself. The lines running up and down, massive geometric configurations everywhere, I would imagine it's an architects dream. Also tucked away were many different cafes and sitting areas, one more appealing than the next.

This is the website for the museum. I would recommend it just for a few hours of slow meandering and absorbing your surroundings. I didn't see the Special Collection, just the Permanent one, and it was free to get in. Can't really go wrong with that.

And some pictures from the day. The first set of pictures are some of the actual artifacts in the museum.


Old jewelry.

Entrance to the Calligraphy Exhibit.

Traditional Uzbekistan home setting.

Monks bell.

Buddhist statues from India.


The next few photos are some of the beautiful cafes and sitting areas tucked around the museum.

The last few photos are from my favorite part of the museum, the actual building itself.

Looking down from the 3rd floor. 

The entrance to the museum.

Lines, shapes and more lines!

Sleek, clean and beautiful


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Skating at City Hall

Haechi on ice, Seoul's mascot.

As I have started to mention in my posts, my time in Korea is coming to an end. So my spare time is spent crossing off all the things I still want to do before I go. Skating at City Hall was one of those things. A few weekends ago my boyfriend and I headed to City Hall and finally went. Living in Osan last year I did this and it was great fun. One dollar for a pair of skates and we had a blast. Seoul's skating rink experience and Osan's were slightly different, due mostly to the sheer volume of people there.

We arrived at about 2pm and actually had to buy tickets to the 4pm skate because everything else was sold out. So we paid our 2,000 won each and headed to nearby Myeongdong to kill the time. We arrived back to the rink early to join a huge, but quickly moving line up to grab a pair of skates. The skates were pretty horrendous. The cheapest variety possible made of awful, hard plastic that dug into all the wrong places, and blades that couldn't have sliced through much. We waited for the skate patrollers to let the lineups of people waiting to get on the ice at 4pm and then slowly made our way out on the ice. The ice surface was pretty shady but then again you couldn't go much faster than a crawl due to the amout of people on the rink. It was organized chaos. Lots of people, but everyone generally moving in the same direction, with the flow. There were people of all ages and and if you take away the actual 'quality factor' of the skate, it was great fun. We spent maybe 40 minutes going round and round with what seemed like the rest of Korea's population. A DJ was blaring K-pop, and the sun was shining, so all in all another great afternoon in Seoul.

Patiently waiting.

Almost ready.

Joining the masses on ice. 

Skating @ City Hall, Seoul.

Check out this link for more information on skating at City Hall in Seoul.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Top 10 Things I Am Most Excited For Going Home

1.  Seeing my family.

2.  Seeing my friends.

3.  My cat Minky (although I am NOT excited about the allergies returning that I have been free of for all this time).

4.  Having access to the rest of my wardrobe (I had to struggle not to put this as number one).

5.  Not having to squat down to pee everyday at work.

6.  Not having to take out my nose ring and tongue ring every morning before work.

7.  Ethnic diversity.

8.  Girls Weekends away.

9.  Driving a car.

10. A diet that does not include rice on a daily basis (in fact give me at least 6 months before I see another white grain of rice please).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Old Tea House in Insadong

Almost 15 months after stepping foot into South Korea I think I may have found my favorite spot. It is humble and quiet and tucked away down a narrow alleyway off a main street. It is a beautiful traditional Korean tea house.

Now that it is official, I am leaving Korea in less than 2 months, I am trying to squeeze in all the things I want to do before I go. Saturday's itinerary was to spend some more time exploring Insadong. I am hunting for the perfect 'Korea' piece to bring home with me and I thought Insadong would inspire me. After a few hours of walking and browsing and generally enjoying the day we needed a break. Starbucks was a hop, skip and a jump away but I held out and went in search of a tea house. What I found was exactly what I was looking for.

At the very, very end of a quiet little offshoot alley lined with pots and plants, I found Shin Old Tea House. What a gem. As soon as you enter inside, there is an open, light, indoor greenhouse type of room. There is green foliage everywhere, from trees to plants, to roots and stems poking in every direction. With our shoes kicked off here, we were guided by the only ajumma who was working, to a table.

As soon as we walked into the next room where we were seated, the lights were much dimmer, and the ambiance much different. Instead of exuding light and life, it now reeked of history and tradition. All the seats were on the floor, no chairs in sight. Each table had beautifully coloured cushions to sit on. The small, low tables were made in a dark wood matching both the interior and exterior of the building. This style of traditional Korean building is called hanok. The walls were covered in framed art work and traditional tapestries, so everywhere your eye turned, there was something to soak in.

The clientele added so much to the environment too. There was one table with 2 young ladies who had their heads poured over some very important looking work. They rarely spoke and looked so focused on the task at hand. Beside them, a little further away were 2 business men, conducting their business over tea and a laptop computer. A little closer was a table of 4 middle aged women, sipping their tea, and incessantly chattering like teenaged girls. The last table was barely bigger than our tiny 2 person table, but there were up to 8 people huddled around it at one point. One family spanning over 3 generations. Grandmother was there, her kids and their spouses and a small little boy no older than 2. Everyone was there, nestled closely on the floor enjoying their tea. To me, this place was the greatest part of my day, an amazing discovery but to everyone else, it was just an ordinary place, on an ordinary day.

The menu was as simple as the tea house. There were maybe 6 different choices. Green tea, jujube, ginger, and a few others, nothing too fancy. I ordered green tea and Garry ordered ginger. Mine was the better choice because it came with a small one person tea pot, and an even smaller traditional tea glass, and then a thermos full of hot water so I could steep my tea, pour it myself, and refill at my leisure. Garry's ginger tea was tasty, but much less involved than mine- just a mug, the tea and a few floating pine nuts. I recommend the green tea. With the tea came some deok (rice cakes), and another traditional Korean snack.

The whole experience was beautiful. I could've spent the rest of my afternoon in that old tea house and every afternoon there after. As I sit drinking green tea on my apartment floor, I am imagining myself to be back at the old tea house. It really did feel like a part of Korea's history. I only have a short time left in Korea but I will make sure to return to this place. After travelling to all different corners of South Korea, it may very well be my most favorite spot yet.

Here are some pictures to try and do it justice.

At the end of this alley, is the old tea house.
Just outside of the tea house. 
The entrance way.
The front room entrance, before we got seated. 
Our tiny little table inside. 

The 2 girls, heads down, very focused on their work. 

Korean snacks. 

Tea time.

Part of the decor.

More beautiful decorations.
My happy place. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy 2012!


After another Christmas in South Korea, comes another New Year.  Happy 2012. Like most people on NYE, our plans were back and forth and up in the air until pretty much the day before the big night out. Since most of our old friends are in Osan, we weren't sure who was coming into Seoul, or whether we could even muster up the energy to face the crowds. Our best option was to head to City Hall and watch the ball drop there. Last year I spent New Year's in Hongdae (the centre of Seoul's night life) so I didn't really need to relive that experience. As for spending it in a club or a bar, spending a fortune, and waiting an eternity for drinks and tables and then eventually taxis, neither Garry nor I were that bothered by all the fuss.

Last minute, we ended up joining our Osan friends and taking a big gamble on a jazz bar in Itaewon where no one had even been before. I was a little skeptical but couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised. Garry and I had a quiet drink and a quick bite together at a pub he had been eyeing up that was under construction the last time we passed it in Itaewon. After our meal, we couldn't resist the special, a plate of 7 oysters for 6000won, and when we got it, they were gigantic oysters! Almost too big for my liking, but delicious none the less. Then we were off to the next destination. We met up with everyone else at the perfect table, in the perfect location. My pet peeve with live music venues is they are so loud, and it's not just cause I am in my 30's now. It's always driven me crazy to have to yell at the people you're with to try and have a regular conversation. And I just don't have the lung power to do it and end up horse half way through the night. So anyways, the bar we went to was called All That Jazz. It had tons of space and a second floor where we were seated. Our table looked over the band and all the other tables, with a beautiful bird's eye view. We got the benefit of a great perspective of what was happening in the bar, the perfect decibel of music, and awesome conversations all night around the table.

We managed to avoid almost all of the chaos of a typical New Year's. The subway extended it's hours till 2 am so we could get home no problem, (well, almost no problem), we found a place that could accommodate us all, and everyone was happy with the music. Another big downer on most NYE's is the unavoidable fact you are guaranteed to drop a lot of cash. Yup, we even avoided that. After the boys going in on a bottle of whisky and some decently priced glasses of wine, the balcony started to fill up, and our bill was still low. Somehow, there was only one server covering all the tables and we was pretty run off his feet. We asked for water like 3 times before Garry just popped out to grab a few big bottles from the store. Along with that though I think he managed to grab top ups on everyones booze, and there you have it, Bob's your uncle. We paid convenience store prices for the rest of our drinks that night. And honestly, we weren't even being that sneaky. Korea is so 'laxed about bringing in food and drinks from outside into an establishment, that even if the waiter did notice, he probably wouldn't have cared. So all, in all, it was a successful evening. I am happy Garry and I made it out and celebrated the New Year in Seoul, with soul, and in style.

My camera settings were off and the more drinks I had in me, the less I was paying attention to it. But here is an occasionally blurry selection of what our night shaped up to be.

NYE pub dinner at the Rose & Crown, Itaewon.

Dinner for 2, to start the evening.

Mammoth oysters.

Next stop was....

One of the bands. 

The bird's eye view from our table.

(Sorry about the flash ladies!)

And these last few are a selection from what looks to be a photo shoot on our subway journey home. There were about 30 of these on my camera. Looked like fun!

Cutie photo bomb!

Strike a pose!

And that's a wrap. Happy 2012!