Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gyeongbok Palace


Last weekend, we went to visit one of the must-see places in Seoul: Gyeonbokgung, or Gyeongbok Palace.  This palace was used during the Joseon dynasty in Korea.  I’ll spare the history lesson here; there’s plenty of info about it on the interwebs.  You can start with the wikipedia page if you like.


The wall around Gyeongbokgung:



A pavilion overlooking traffic outside the outer wall:



The outer wall as seen from across the street:



Inside the outer wall, there is an open courtyard where you pay for tickets and enter the inner courtyard through the inner wall.  with the backdrop of mountains, here is the gate through the inner wall from a distance:



The gate through the inner wall is guarded by “palace guards” in traditional costume.  Tourists flock through here, taking pictures with the guards, in front of the impressive gate, and entering into the inner courtyard:



Palace guards at the gate:



Here’s a better view of them (they were performing a “Changing of the Guard” ceremony just as we arrived):



Don’t mess with this guy:



This guy doesn’t look quite so scary:



The gate:



This is what the roof of the gate looks like up close:



Upon entering the inner wall, we noticed that a special event was taking place.  Some middle-aged dudes were just standing around in front of these reed mats, and a woman was yelling at them through a microphone.  Then they would bow for a while, and get back up.  Apparently, it was the 16th annual reenactment of the state exam, which was historically used to test scholars as an entrance examination into government and other bureaucratic employment positions.  Anywhere, here it is, with the throne room in the background:



Another view of the art on the beams supporting the roof:



The latticework:



A view of the gate to the inner courtyard through which we previously entered.  I like this picture for its representation of the coexistence of modern and ancient architecture in present-day Seoul.



The throne room:



Art in the throne room:



The throne room from a different angle (I’m not sure exactly because PapaFish took almost all of these pictures):



I liked the many gates, walls and doorways that separated the different buildings and sections of the palace grounds.



This was my favorite wall, even though I felt like I couldn’t manage to get a good enough picture to do it justice:



The wall with a gate and rooftops (pay no attention to the fire hydrant behind the curtain, er, I mean doorway!):



A pavilion (I forgot the name of it; I think it’s Hyangwonjeong)



This was another of my favorite doorways, with a little garden off to the side:



The doors of the palace buildings were also striking:



The doors are lined with a think kind of paper (it reminds me of mulberry paper)



A pagoda that we just walked by without visiting; hence, I don’t know the name of it:



Rooftops of the palace buildings against a mountainous backdrop and autumn colors in the foreground:



Palace walls with an autumn backdrop:



Angular view of palace walls with mountains and autumn colors in the background:



I did not really ever appreciate the autumn season before living in Minnesota in 2008.  Back then, I got to see such wonderful treasures as this:

Bloomington 01

Bloomington, MN 


and also this:

 Normandale 16

Normandale Lake Park, Bloomington, MN


in Seoul, we get similar pleasures, such as these bright colors amongst the still-green foliage:



The trees look like they are dying by fire:



As you can see, it was lovely, so we took a family picture:



Some Chinese tourists thought the view was lovely, too:



Happy Autumn, everyone!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Finally, we got a camera! It cost less than $40. We shipped it from the USA because cameras are extremely overpriced in this country.

So, of course, we had to take a few obligatory pictures of what life is generally like for us.

First of all, we needed a memory card because the camera would only hold about four pictures without one. We bought one at HomePlus – 4GB for less than 10,000 won (1,000 won roughly equals $1).


HomePlus is like Wal-Mart combined with Macy’s on some kind of weird illegal substance. Whenever we go to HomePlus, we eat at the cafeteria because they have super huge portions of food for less than 6,000 won. The three of us can share one meal, and I find the taste to be delicious.

Behind PapaFish you can see Overpriced Baby Studio on the right and a children’s play area on the left. The children’s play area costs something like 4,000 won for two hours of child-free freedom.


Probably the biggest bonus of eating at HomePlus is the fact that they have highchairs. Anywhere else we go to eat – except other supermarket-on-cocaine-cafeterias – requires holding TheFry on our laps, trading him back and forth so the other person can eat. We have a portable inflatable highchair seat, but we use it permanently at home, and I guess we’re basically just too lazy or forgetful to tote it around with us everywhere. Maybe we should make a better effort…


TheFry gives a “whaddup” to his homies.


I require tonkatsu from the HomePlus cafeteria. It is a tenderized pork cutlet, breaded and deep-fried Japanese style. This kind of Japanese-style cuisine is pretty popular in Korea these days. Also we got a big helping of omurice, which is basically fried rice wrapped in an egg. That’s ketchup squiggled on top of the egg.


Tonkatsu, omurice, cole slaw, kimchi and miso soup cost us 5,500 won.


TheFry absolutely loves tonkatsu. He is the main reason why we order it. At home, if we can’t get him to eat his vegetables, sometimes in a moment of desperation we will dip a small bit of it in tonkatsu sauce. He will usually eat it, unaware of its original form.

In other news, TheFry is getting his top two teeth at the same time. This basically means we get to hang out with this every day:



Sometimes he still looks like this, though.


This is fine, too.


At the end of the day, PapaFish is more exhausted than TheFry.

“Milk” and “Mama” are two words that TheFry knows. He can say “Mama” but not milk. However, when we ask him if he wants his milk, he sometimes gets hysterical. If we go to the fridge without asking him if he wants milk, he sometimes gets hysterical. And sometimes he just gets hysterical.

Also, he doesn’t just call me “Mama”, he basically says it all the time. He knows that “I’m the Mama”, but he has been known to call PapaFish “Mama” also.

Up until recently, TheFry had a really clingy fixation with me, preferring me in most circumstances to anyone else, including PapaFish. I prayed and hoped that this would change. Maybe I wasn’t specific enough. Now, if I get home from work and PapaFish needs to go grab groceries, take out trash, run some other errand or just plain go out to relieve some steam, TheFry will cry when he leaves. However, when PapaFish is home, I still have to be with them. So really, TheFry has learned to prefer having the three of us together to any other arrangement at all.

We’re hoping to go out this weekend to see some fall foliage; it’s supposed to be the peak time for viewing the red maple leaves. The bad thing about having a super-cheap used camera is that the batteries only last a couple of hours at a time. Hopefully we can find some good rechargeable ones somewhere without having to travel too far to buy them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chuseok 2009: Namsangol Hanok Village

Saturday, October 3 was Chuseok. Chuseok is one of the biggest holidays in Korea. I got almost the whole week off, and about a dozen Asian pears, to boot!

Apart from baking pies the whole week and doing pretty much nothing around the house, we did venture out on Chuseok Day with some friends. We visited Namsangol Hanok Village.

A Hanok is a Korean traditional-style house. The Hanok Village is thus a cluster of Korean traditional-style houses set up with rooms to look as they would have in ye olden days. There are a number of Hanok villages in Korea, and the one at Namsan has a large open area for big events.

When we arrived, the place was packed. There were people doing traditional crafts and playing traditional games everywhere.


It was quite a lovely day. Some people were flying kites. That is Namsan Tower at the top of Namsan in the background.


There is a little pond with foliage. It is a nice spot for some nice landscaping, with the modern buildings towering in the background.


There was a large pavillion in the middle of everything where people would gather to rest in the shade on the warm day.


Different rooms of the Hanok were set up to look like they might have some time ago. Here is one room with a bed, a dresser, a table, and a lamp in the background.


Here is a kitchen. There is a spindle but also some kimchi jars.


Kimchi jars sit amongst the lovely autumn foliage.


This is a rice-cooker.


I find Korean architecture to be quite aesthetically pleasing…


A garden. There was traditional music playing, and we were all fooled at first, thinking someone would actually be sitting around the corner playing the fiddle. Alas, it was a recording, broadcast from strategically-planted speakers.


Near the Hanok Village is the Korea House, a super-expensive tourist destination where people can eat a meal and watch traditional performances. They had many food displays. Above is a table set up with foods for ancestors.


Cabbage kimchi, standard fare for most meals in Korea.


Rice cakes steamed on pine needles – traditional food for Chuseok


The outside of one of the buildings – I can’t remember if it is the Korea House or one of the Hanok buildings.

So what did we do besides just look around? Plenty of stuff! One of the things I love most about Korea is that, while you may be able to do a lot of cool stuff that costs money, there’s almost always something to do that costs nothing (or next to nothing).


PapaFish plays jegi chagi, or, as we call it, Korean Traditional hacky-sack…


Here’s a game I can’t seem to remember the name of…or find it on the internet


PapaFish is kind of a natural at games, of course, so he was a pro from the start!


There was, of course, the obligatory hanbok-wearing event. TheFry hates hats.


This one is a little better…

So what does a munchkin like TheFry do at an event like this? He chills! He watches games, he looks at the rooms, and he charms people! There was even a point where we had to give a premature goodbye to some lovely people because a crowd was starting to form around the stroller!


And who can blame them?


By the end of the day, he was a little tuckered out.


He made a very lovely courtesan.

Thank you to our wonderful friends, who lent us their camera and took us around! We had a lovely time.