Saturday, September 29, 2012

Korea Trip: Monday. We went to a palace. All by ourselves!

The next day was Monday in Korea.  The first thing on our agenda was to go see some palaces. Actually, the very first thing on our agenda was to go back to the book coffee shop we had gone to with MJ before and treat ourselves to an iced mocha each.  It was yummy.  Having been both cooled down, sugared-up, and mildly caffeinated, we were ready to tour.  Before we went, though, we had to make a stop at a store in Insadong. See, while we were sipping our coffees, RR and I discussed what souvenirs we wanted to bring back for our friends and families. For my friend K, I wanted to bring back either something very Engrishy or something completely bizarre. I was describing the kind of thing I wanted, and RR said that she hadn't yet seen anything really terrible yet. I leaned forward to say conspiratorially, "I have." She reacted with the appropriate level of enthusiasm.  And what was this thing of which I spoke? Sadly, I don't have a picture of it. On our previous trip to Insadong with MJ, I'd walked past a store with a table outside that was filled with knick-knack type items. On that table was a creepy and possibly offensive statuette figurine thing of a small white boy. It wasn't quite like this, but it was of that genre. I couldn't say anything at the time because MJ was there, and I didn't want her to feel any sort of responsibility, as a representative of her country, for the creepy thing. But it was definitely weird. So on our way to the palace, I showed RR, and she was suitably horrified. I don't know why I didn't buy the thing. I will probably always regret it.

We headed north toward where we thought the first palace was.  Turns out that we were pretty close to it. We had figured it was probably walking distance, but we hadn't realized how close it actually was.

We joined up with the free English tour, and I'm glad we did because it was quite informative.  I don't normally like tours, but this one was worth it.  Having the background information made it even more interesting.  Some parts of the palace we already knew something about from watching an old episode of 1N2D--who knew television would actually be helpful!  Also, that place is huge. The movies and t.v. shows don't do it justice.  We very much enjoyed our visit to the palace. I felt bad for our tour guide at the end because no one asked questions. I wanted to tell her that I can't speak for other cultures, but Americans generally don't ask questions unless they are a particular type of person that the rest of us all hate. You know, the ones who either ask stupid questions that reveal some sort of ignorance or, worse, bigotry, or who ask questions just to hear themselves talk. Sometimes you do get genuinely curious people, but that's rare. And even when you have a legitimate question, usually we don't want to ask questions for fear of making ourselves look ignorant, or of annoying everyone else who just wants to leave and now has to wait for the answer so they don't look rude for leaving while the tour guide is talking. Is that a universal thing or just an American thing?

On our way out, we passed the Korean Folklore Museum, which is on the same grounds as the palace.  Surprisingly, RR did not want to stop in. I say surprisingly because normally there isn't a museum that she doesn't want to see.  But we had a lot of walking ahead of us, and we didn't want to wear ourselves out. Later, however, we realized that the museum probably had a gift shop, and we were annoyed with ourselves for not thinking of that while we were there.  Museum gift shops are one of our favorite places to visit.  But maybe next time, right? 

On our way back to the hotel, we walked down Gamgodang-gil, a street near the palace.  We weren't exactly sure where we were going, but we'd heard good things about that area and were pretty sure the street would get us where we wanted to go eventually.  I'm so glad we went that way.  The street is lovely and a perfect example of why Americans today are idiots when it comes to transportation planning. It's perfectly possible to have a street that cars can drive down but yet encourages use by pedestrians--and is actually safe for them.  I don't blame the planners who originally came up with our terrible modern cars-only street designs--they thought they were making the roads safer and more efficient, and they had no idea how badly it would turn out. But I do blame today's engineers, city officials, and most of all, city residents who insist that the way we design roads is the only way we can design roads, the only way for emergency vehicles to be effective, the only way to be safe for pedestrians, the only way to have efficient city traffic.  I resent the people who panic at the thought of Something Different.  So while I really enjoyed the walk, it was a bittersweet experience. The whole time I thought about how much more pleasant our neighborhoods would be if they had just a few streets like that one.  Go over to RR's blog if you want to see a picture of it.  And here's a picture of a different part of the road, courtesy of google street view.


We had already decided that after seeing the palace, we were going to head back to Myeong-dong, which we did. I'd like to say it was because we wanted to do some bargain hunting, but the truth was that we wanted more chestnuts.  Yes, we went for food.  But we did do some shopping while we were there.  We wanted to buy some makeup for our teenage cousin. Of course, while we in one of the shops, I wound up getting suckered into buying some cream for myself after the saleswoman pointed out it would be good for my skin, seeing how my face looked so dry around the eyes.  Apparently, skin care salespeople in Korea use the same techniques as skin care salespeople here in the U.S.  Later, I looked up what I had bought and found out it had snail in it. I know that should have been obvious since it said "escargot" on the label, but I guess I didn't think it was supposed to be literal.

By the way, one of the samples I got from something I bought was described as having placenta protein in it. I threw that one out. 

After we did our cosmetic shopping, we went to Shinsegae department store to the basement area, which sells groceries.  We wanted to buy some bok choy and some mushrooms to throw into a soup with our dduk. An older woman who worked there took the package of bok choy that we had selected away from us and gave us a different package, pointing to the price tag to show us that it was cheaper.  And then she took away our mushrooms and gave us a different pack, pointing out that they were fresher.  She was really sweet and managed to help us even with the language barrier. I know some Americans have had some issues with customer service while visiting Korea, and some Westerners have had to deal with issues with racism/prejudice, but while we were there, we didn't have any problems.  Everyone was very welcoming and helpful to us.

So, anyway, we headed home by subway. All by ourselves!  And back at the hotel, we made what turned out to be really, really good soup.  And we had survived our first full day in Korea all by ourselves. MJ and Husband had nothing to worry about.

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