Saturday, October 4, 2008

Seoul, Day 4: Palin, Palaces, Popular Places to Buy Stuff

Today, Bridget and I had a day off because South Korea celebrated Foundation Day, aka Gaecheonjeol, which marks the date of the founding of what is now known as Korea, back in 2333 BC. EVERYBODY had a day off, so no meetings, just play.

We managed to catch the Palin-Biden debate live on TV (it was 10 am here) and in my opinion at least, Biden whooped Palin. It was a little surreal to watch this important electoral event on the other side of the world and be really, really into it, but definitely a memorable experience!

Afterwards, we rode the train to the City Hall stop, where we ended up eating Vietnamese food and then taking a tour of Deoksugung Palace, first used as a palace in 1592. Here is a photo of the main gate during the changing of the guard ceremony:

Men in colorful uniforms perorm teh changing of the guard at the palace gate with trumpets and drums

Here is the main palace where the royal throne is located---notice the skyscrapers in the background!:

The main palace hall of Emperor Gojong, with the plaza before it and markers for where officials used to stand

Here is a more detailed shot of one of the corners of the palace buildings, wih a row of animals on top:

A colorful corner of a palace roof, with animal sculptures along its edge

Here is the royal throne:

The royal throne, with a folding screen of the sun, the moon and five mountains

After taking these and lots of other pictures at Deoksugung, we headed over to the tourist shopping area Insadong, where we shopped our butts off and then went to a Korean teahouse where we had, from top, coffee, molded jellies and a cinnamon ginger punch:

Our snack at the teahouse

Then we hopped back on the train home to Gangnam, where we managed to buy ourselves a sushi dinner (sushi fans: it was very good stuff!). This is a typical night scene in one of the side streets of Gangnam, basically a one lane road with zillions of electric signs:

ELectric signs light up a streets scene with crowds in Gangnam

I haven't mentioned this, but most streets in Seoul don't have names. The major roads have names, but after that it's your guess...

Here is a cart vendor at night in Gangnam. Notice the slope of the road...Seoul is one darn hilly town, especially the Gangnam area:

A cart vendor sells fruit and other items at night in Gangnam

After hauling ourselves and our shopping home, we turned in and had a good night!

Some observations about Seoul:

...it is incredibly crowded (this is incredibly obvious)
...wheelchair access varies. It can be good, and then awful. Gangnam is totally rough for chair users.
...blind access on city sidewalks and in train stations is interesting. There are always marked raised paths for blind people to follow pretty much everywhere.
...it does have people who beg, especially people with disabilities (and of course I am tempted to run up to them all and rope them over to Mr. Park's Popular School)
...people have very diverse ways of life here, but the community bond is very, very strong...the class divisions are very apparent
...the reason a lot of people speak some English is because you have to pass a test in English in order to graduate from college
...there are a lot of young people and the youth culture pretty much rocks
...people like to bargain
...the cultural history of Korea is very rich and people are very proud of it
...we are lucky to be able to be here!

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