Seoul Lovely : Day 1 - Gwanghwamun Plaza, Gyangbokgung Palace, a bit of Myeongdong.

Day one -- hit the palaces! I discovered how hard it is to pack four events into a day. The initial plan was to go to 2 palaces and then have dinner at Insadong and maybe check out Namsan Tower, but the our pace + unforseen incidents meant otherwise. 

It began with ~organic~ breakfast at Studio 41st, where we met up with Tita Young Kim shortly after. She brought us a couple of sim cards, five T-money cards and lots of helpfulness. She asked me about our itineraries and offered some suggestions. We had a bit of trouble with the sims because they wouldn't work on any of our phones at first. After repeatedly inserting the things / restarting our phones, we found it only worked on mine. (Yay for you, Samsung.)

We then walked to Hongik University station and set out for Gwanghwamun Square.

The day was sunny and the air was cool. Coming up from the station, the first thing I noticed was this massive building to our left -- apparently the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. Nice and massive, with a bunch of event posters out in front. The large green island of Gwanghwamun Square stretched out before us, with King Sejong and then the palace. To the south was another statue of the Turtle Ship General (I never got his name).

After a few pictures and weirdness above ground, we went under King Sejong's statue to check out his museum. It was all right. There was a lovely throne, a ceiling full of constellations, various dioramas and interactive displays. I appreciated the man's intelligence--I wish I could read hanggul; it really is a prettily written language.

We went into another part of the museum, which was all about the Turtle ship. You could play a shooting game, pretending to be onboard the turtle ship. Or build the turtle ship out of wooden blocks, and make lots of turtle ship battle formations! And then we grew hungry, had lunch. There are a bunch of restaurants on the second floor of the museum. We picked one that served shabu-shabu, and were extremely grateful that Tita Young was there to help us with the language barrier. The restaurant manager--maybe in his fifties--was attentive and patient, helping us mix things and snerking (not in a bad way) at our cluelessness. But it was pretty good. We had two servings of seafood & beef shabu-shabu. The parents and I had the spicy variant, while the siblings and Tita Young had the none-spicy one.

We were done with lunch a little past 2pm, and just missed the changing of the guard at Gyangbokgung Palace! And consequently, the scheduled English tour as well. But no matter. We took some photos with the poker-faced guards in fantastic outfits. We particularly liked one guard's headdress with two feathers sticking out. There was an official chasing away some tourists who were posing 'non-seriously' with the guards. My parents got to take one funny photo while he wasn't looking, hurrah.

This palace is pretty huge. I think we went through three courtyards before deciding to take off on our own and find the National Folk Museum of Korea. Finding that involved a lot of walking around as well. We went through a couple of exhibits about Korea's history, and one about its crafts. I'm not quite sure how else to describe a couple of hours in a museum--we ran into a Thai tour group, tried out the vending machine, took mirror selfies in ancient mirrors, and checked out the drums, divider screens, ornate silken robes behind the glass panels.

We left the museum in the late afternoon, and decided to check out the hypercrazy shopping district of Myeongdong. While we were walking to the station, we noticed a South Korean flag crossed with a Philippine flag on each of the streetlights. Evidence of Noynoy! He arrived the same day we did, to purchase some planes.

It's interesting how Gyangbokgung is framed by mountains on one side, and skyscrapers on the other. I love how old and new structures grow inside the same space. Though dwarfed by tall glassy buildings, the palace maintains its authenticity and relevance, standing majestic against the mountains. The past is clearly of great value to the South Koreans; perhaps this is because so much of it was lost during the split with NK (more on that in the next post).

Tita Young had somewhere to go that afternoon as well, so we said goodbye to her when we got off at Myeongdong station. Upon exiting, we were swept up in the lights, the sounds, the smells and the retail madness. We went into a bunch of shoe stores looking for stuff for mom. The people of Seoul do love their colorful footwear. Didn't find any that were her style, though. There were makeup stores at every corner, alternating with apparel stores and restaurants, and sales people hanging out, yelling at the passing crowd and waving products. Unfortunately, we were pretty beat after all the walking around Gyangbokgung, so we didn't hold up very long in Myeongdong. Mom and Dad bought some candied sweet potato (yay, Kamote) and I got one of those spirally potato chip sticks. Abby bought an album for her friend, and the parents dropped by the Nanta theater to inquire about tickets. We spent a long while in there. After that, we walked to Chungjeongno station (going through the Lotte department store and the Myeongdong underground shopping complex I believe) and brought our tired selves home to the Studio 41st neighborhood.

We ate at one of those sit-on-the-floor places (shoes off!) which only had three things on the English menu. We ordered all three. I had all-veggie Bibimbap, Dad had some kind of spicy soup, and everyone else had this fried fish dish. An old man from the next table was staring at us, as was a child from another table (clad in a neon yellow tracksuit!) Either we stuck out so horribly (despite not being white) or I was being offensive by not having any socks on. D: (not sure!)

Things I learned:

- Korean royalty had enough space on their thrones to lounge comfortably.
- Better socks than sorry.
- The cast of Nanta are named accordingly: Head Chef, Nephew, Manager, Female, Sexy Chef.
- The Sexy Chef must always have a moustache.
- Do not jaywalk in front of the main palace! We saw some foreigner-men in suits attempting this, and the guard immediately called them out.

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