Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Apr 05 2012

Korea, part five

It was a hot night in the sauna’s sleeping room. Chenbl was in the special room for snorers. If I’d known better I would have chosen one of the cooler “oxygen rooms” downstairs. Alas, as it was I was up at 6:30am, all washed, scrubbed, blown and back out on the bright morning Seoul streets by 7. Chenbl gave the impression that he knew where he was going, and, like Wile E. himself, I fell for it once again, following him around until he asked someone where the hell the subway station from whence we’d come the last night was. 

We traveled to our hotel for the next two nights, a small Japanese-run joint, and stored our bags before taking the subway to another part of town, a part filled with markets to walk around. Eventually we happened upon a really old pagoda from 1453 that was apparently causing strange behavior in passersby, as people would come up and pray to it, recite a poem, or just stare at it for a while. As the figures of Monkey, Pigsy and the rest of the cast and crew of Journey to the West were inscribed upon it, I couldn’t really blame them.  

We then walked through the artsy Insadong Street area, full of foreigners and trendy restaurants, all the way to the Korea’s version of the forbidden city, which has been torn down and rebuilt many times throughout the nation’s history. We arrived just at the changing of the guards at the gate, the guards in question in full traditional regalia except for the decidedly non-period walkie-talkies in their belts. The palace itself was interesting in that the queen’s quarters were quite a bit nicer and bigger than those of the king, which made me wonder exactly who wore the pants in the kingdom. The saddest part was the complex where all of the forgotten consorts lived, just in case.

After retreating from the “Arirang” film out of fear that Chenbl’s snores would disturb the other viewers, we walked along a really lovely winding street lined with art galleries and the like, bordered by a steep hill. We had a lunch of noodles, then packed our stuff, got up, crossed the street, and had another delicious lunch. Police walked up and down the street in pairs every few minutes. The light was wonderful as the sun dipped towards the horizon, and we climbed the hill to walk around the alleys lined with old traditional Korean houses that have been restored, with bonsai trees in little yards, and in some cases carparks underneath. It looked lovely, but I wondered how those hills are in the icy winters.

Back down the hill and on the cave-like subway to the Seoul Tower, which is accessed via a furnicular and then a gondola before even reaching the base of the tower on the top of the mountain. It was busy, but the sights were impressive. Seoul really is an impressive city, from what little I’ve been able to see so far.

But we couldn’t linger too long, as we were having dinner with a Korean friend of Chenbl’s and said friend’s Chinese wife. Mr. Kim took us to a barbequed pork place where you have to put your coat in an airtight bag to keep your home from smelling like roasted pig flesh for the next two weeks. It was a loud, boisterous place, full of semi-drunk people toasting each other, a great atmosphere. Mr. Kim kept batting his wife gently across the face, saying things like, “My wife is terrible, she can’t even cook!’ Oh, the playful banter of lovebirds. We talked until late, and I’m downstairs at the hotel’s lone computer, typing this out before I go back and crash for the night.

posted by Poagao at 10:12 pm  

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