Three new things…

…I visited this week in Seoul.

One of the mythical haetae

One of the mythical haetae

Thing 1 – The British Embassy. It’s always useful to know where your embassy is when you settle in to a new country. The last place I lived, it was flashily located at the top of the tallest, flashiest building of the flashiest part of the flashiest neighbourhood. Pretty flashy.

Here it is down a nondescript alleyway behind a nondescript (but highly secure-looking) gate, in a squat, nondescript building. However, it is still in the flashiest part of town, and directly next door to a palace.

I was there for the coldest Christmas do I’ve ever been to. The heating had stopped working and was apparently pumping air-con instead so, in a survival bid to rival the greatest arctic adventurers, I was forced to drink the finest Scotch whiskies to maintain warmth. There was also Boddingtons. I will definitely be going back from time to time.

Thing 2 – Deoksugung Palace. Today was the first time I’ve had real free time since I arrived – exactly one month ago today. And after recovering from the aforementioned arctic survival attempt, I chose to spend it seeing the sights. Obviously, I have been around the city a fair bit in the last month, having swept a wide area in search of home appliances, furniture and the thousand and one household miscellanies you don’t know you need until you don’t have them anymore. However, it’s getting to the point where students ask, “What have you seen here so far?” and drawing a big blank is starting to feel discourteous.

The palace is snugly tucked away behind the impressive Daehanmun gate, staffed on Sundays by the Royal Guard in colourful garb. This was the home of the last kings of the Choson dynasty, the last rulers of Korea before it was annexed by Japan and plunged into the turmoil it endured for much of the twentieth century. The light covering of snow and the bright winter sunlight made it somewhat Narnian.

Surrounded on all sides by the ultramodern glass and chrome buildings of the shopping and business districts, the space and calm inside the palace grounds seemed all the more precious. The contrast between the brightly painted and beautifully shaped traditional palace buildings and the nearby City Hall, and more distant North Seoul Tower also illustrate the dynamism of the megacity I now call home. There is a great deal I don’t know about Korea and East Asia in general, and this felt like a good place to start learning.

Deoksugung and City Hall

Deoksugung and City Hall

Colourful corners

Colourful corners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thing 3 – Namdaemun market. I’m in shock at prices in Seoul. Of pretty much everything except booze, and even then only soju is really cheap. Having reasoned it out, I have of course realised that what I’m now earning is commensurate with what I now have to pay to get things, but I’m still having trouble processing the fact that if I want an apple from the 7-11, one apple, I have to pay over a dollar for it. ONE APPLE! And it’s not even made of gold! We have found a fruit and veg market near the flat that sometimes sells up to 10 apples for $3.50, but a dollar an apple seems to be the regular going rate. I also almost fell over in a blue fit when we went duvet and bedsheet shopping a couple of weeks ago and the cheapest duvet cover we could find was $50. The cover!!!!! With no sheets or pillowcases included – and it isn’t even a really nice one!

So a trip to Namdaemun beckoned. Having heard it was a sprawling urban market grotto with fantastic clothes, fabrics, shoe stalls and food, we were not disappointed. Still a little pricier than one would presume for a market, prices were at least more reasonable than in most stores we’ve visited in the search for sheets and towels and general home comforts. And the real fun was just wandering around little bendy alleyways looking at stuff as the winter evening darkness fell and soaking up the sounds and smells.

Deoksugung in snow

Deoksugung in snow

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Steph Johnson
    Dec 31, 2013 @ 05:01:58

    It all looks BEAUTIFUL! I demand more pictures! 😀 (pretty please?)

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  2. Esteban Uceda Arias-Stella
    Dec 26, 2013 @ 17:15:27

    Merry Christmas! Deoksugung palace looks awesome! The architecture looks so beautiful, especially in the snow. It seems that I should definitely add Seoul to the list of places I need to visit.

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    • Pieces of 8
      Dec 26, 2013 @ 19:47:17

      Merry Christmas to you, too, and congratulations on your graduation! I hope you had a wonderful end to the year and are looking forward to a challenging and rewarding 2014!

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  3. Jared
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 23:36:45

    Glad you are getting settled. Those arctic winters are no joke, eh? I can’t imagine how expensive things are when coming from Peru – coming from the States we were astonished at how much everything costs after hearing everyone tell us “Korea is so cheap!” What milk and honey Korea are they talking about? Sounds like you are already finding some really great stuff. If you are facing the Deoksugung gate and go up the road to the left (along the wall) you’ll run into some pretty solid art museums. A nice place to spend a cold afternoon. Beautiful pictures and we are enjoying your posts!

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    • Pieces of 8
      Dec 19, 2013 @ 19:51:18

      Glad you are enjoying the posts. I hope they bring back some happy memories! Museums and galleries are next on the must-see list, along with Gangnam. I have to find out exactly what this famous style is…

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