A great place to stay in the spring (and through the year), as it’s surrounded by lovely trees and plants and is really well located.
When we were in Seoul for the month of April for Rod to help run the International Rumen Microbiology Workshop, we stayed at the Hoam Faculty House on campus. This was arranged by Dr. Baik, and it was very convenient and comfortable. There’s the main building, with the restaurants/breakfast room and rooms, plus another wing, where our room was. We were able to have a very nice buffet breakfast most days, and a couple of nights we had supper there too.
Arriving from Incheon Airport was remarkably easy: Bus 6017 leaves from the airport and goes directly to Seoul National University. The end stop is the Faculty House. Very convenient. Ditto to get back to the airport.
When we arrived at the beginning of the month the cherry blossoms on campus were glorious, and later in the month the azalea bushes at the front of Hoam were a blaze of color. Very pretty to see and experience.
The park is in the Gwanak-gu district of Seoul, just outside the gates of Seoul National University. It’s a lovely park, with large open spaces well used by the local people. A huge equestrian statue of General Kang dominates a large central square. This is the birth place of the famous Goryeo-era General and scholar, Kang Gamchan (948-1031). It is said that when Kang Gamchan was born, a star fell from heaven and landed where he was born, so this place was named “site of the falling star” (Nakseongdae).
Kids use the square to ride bicycles or skateboards. Another square connected to this has a small café on the side and a lot of free exercise equipment around the edge, very well used, especially by older folk. It’s a place to meet, chat, have a picnic, watch kids learn to ride bikes etc.
It was fun in the spring to just wander around the park and absorb some of the kids’ excitement, soak up some sunshine and enjoy the last of the beautiful cherry blossoms on the trees lining the squares and the wide path up the hill to General Kang’s shrine.
On one of the days I was there I found this sign in the park, mostly in Korean but with some English words—Women Friendly Seoul. It’s intriguing and I wonder what it actually means, or is targeting.
Love of Coffee Shops and European-style Pastries and Cakes
I’ve written before about how we found that many Korean people really seem to like the European-style coffee shop and all that goes with it. For a country whose cuisine was mostly based on rice and noodles, the Koreans have embraced bread and pastries in a big way. During our last long stay there in 2016 I researched Korean bakeries a bit and wrote about that here:
Many bakeries/coffee shops have French names: some noticeable ones are Le Pommier, Paris Baguette, Paris Croissant, Tous Les Jours, Patisserie Emma. We have eaten at a few, and the baked goods were pretty good, I must say.
However, there are large variations in the type and quality of baked goods in Korea. One the one hand, at many of these bakeries around Korea we saw loaves of bread with crisp crusts and airy interiors, buttery flaky croissants, baguettes, macarons, and gorgeous pastries and cakes that are aiming to live up to European standards. They have some Korean bakers trained in France and Germany. But still, there are some differences: in general cakes and pastries are not very sweet, and a lot more fresh whipped cream is used. My Korean friends tell me they call these “cream cakes”.
On the other hand, many places also serve earlier versions of Korean bread that came by way of Japan: soft and chewy, filled with red bean paste or topped with hot dogs or gooey condensed milk icing, for example. Definitely not a European idea. But, that’s great—that many cooking ideas can come together.
While writing the earlier article I collected up so many photos of delicious baked goods, that I decided I just have to share them. So, here we go!!
Insadong is a famous area in downtown Seoul where many tourists, and locals, go to shop and eat. It is well-placed for visiting a number of special sights: on one side is Jogyesa Temple, on another is Unhyeongung Palace, and just to the south is Tapgol Park, all of which I’ve written about before. See here https://vivskoreanadventures.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/jogyesa-temple-seoul/
Insadong Street, which is mainly pedestrianized, showcases traditional Korean culture with antique art and bookstores, traditional tea-houses, and craft shops. It is one of Korea’s leading gallery areas, and has been the location of art galleries since long ago.
Last time we were there we stopped in to look at an exhibition in the Gana Art Space (no photos allowed inside I’m afraid), which was interesting. But, what we also found lovely were the orchid arrangements for prizes/awards (or were they getting awards? I don’t read Korean, so I’m not certain). We thought these were gorgeous.
Subway: Line 3 Anguk station, or (slightly further) Line 1 Jonggak Station.
Escape into a peaceful green ribbon of nature away from the hustle and bustle of this huge city.
Cheonggyecheon Stream and Park—a beautiful fresh water stream, right next to big roads full of traffic and lined with skyscrapers.
Parts of Seoul seem to be a collection of endless rows of concrete buildings decorated with an incredible number of colorful signs. The apartment complexes, all seemingly designed in the same Soviet-style blocks, begin to blend together. However, hiding behind the towering high-rises and perpetually crowded streets are many green oases, and Cheonggyecheon is one of those.
Tucked along the stream, this park is often overlooked by visitors, but not by locals. Locals can escape the monotony of city life and find a momentary respite in the almost-hidden shrubbery-lined pathways of this green ribbon. We also found it perfect for escaping the noise and traffic of the city. Just wandering along the edge of the stream, with the soothing sound of gurgling water and fish swimming around, is balm for the soul. Is very restorative. You don’t even have to walk, you can just sit in the shade and enjoy it.
We approached Cheonggyecheonby the stairway 12 not too far from the Euljiro-3metro station and wandered along a fair bit of the path along the stream. Cheonggyecheon is an urban stream nearly 11 km long running through Seoul that once served as a sewage and drainage channel during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Cheonggyecheon was enclosed during the Stream Coverage Project after Korea regained her independence in 1945 as it was considered an eyesore, and was covered in concrete for roads and had an elevated highway constructed along its length.
It stayed like this until being renovated into its present form in 2005. Since this painstaking restoration work was undertaken, Cheonggyecheon has been completely refurbished as a cultural and arts venue, providing various areas for recreation, including the beautiful promenade alongside the stream. The stream passes under a total of 22 bridges before flowing into the Hangang (Han River) and boasts many attractions along its length, notably art works, the most famous being the tile painting of King Jeongjo’s Royal Procession.
It was a contentious restoration, partly due to its cost, but also as many people thought it was unnecessary, and would cause worse traffic flow. However, it has proved to be well worth every won spent on it: it’s become a great park for locals to walk in, relax and enjoy; tourists have also discovered it; amazingly, It provides natural air conditioning, and makes the surrounding areas cooler in summer (and warmer in winter!); and in fact traffic flow is much improved.
Running alongside the Cheonggyecheon walkways is the Banchado of King Jeongjo, the largest tile painting in the world.
Depicting a royal procession, it is made up of 5,120 individual ceramic tiles, each one 30cm square and 2.4cm thick. It was painstakingly reproduced as close as possible to the original in detail, as well as in quality and craftsmanship.
It depicts King Jeongjo in his 9th reign during the Joseon Dynasty, leading a royal procession to visit the tomb of his father at Hwaseong (Suwon) in 1785, escorted by his mother Hyegyeonggung Hong. The original painting, created by famous artists in the Joseon era, including Kim Hongdo and his peers, is 63 pages long in total. The Banchado of King Jeongjo recreates the work on a magnificent scale in this tile painting.
Banchado of King Jeongjo is divided into two major sections: the royal procession; and a street map of Seoul in the Joseon Dynasty called Suseonjeondo. The original Suseonjeondo is a woodblock street map of Seoul produced by Kim Jeongho in 1825 during the late Joseon period. It depicts many details of the entire city at that time, including streets, roads and fortress walls, boasting a high level of accuracy.
One point of interest in the painting is that King Jeongjo is not actually seen, but only the
procession of his mother’s beautiful palanquin. This is because the King’s appearance was limited in paintings due to a strict ancient taboo. It was believed that for spiritual safety the king could not be described or painted in any material form.
The Banchado of King Jeongjo and Suseonjeondo on the tile wall painting are described in Korean and English on information boards so that both local people and overseas visitors can truly appreciate the historic and artistic value of the works of art.
I did write a bit about the tile painting before. See here
My apologies for being away from this blog for quite a while. Unfortunately, I was ill and in the hospital. I got very good care, and am now recuperating, but it did limit what I could do. I’m hoping that in the next few weeks I will be able to get back to posting more regularly. In the meantime, here are a couple of photos.
Spring is slow in coming to our part of the USA this year, but my Korean students tell me that spring is well under way in Korea and that there are “lots of flowers.” We were in Seoul last April and really loved all the spring flowers and flowering bushes. So, these few photos can remind us of that time.
Local Markets in Korea: Suwon, not too far from Seoul (depending on traffic!) and Inheon market, close to Seoul National University.
Traveling to another part of one’s own country or to another country is a wonderful way to learn about the place, the people, the culture, the history and the cuisine—all the things that go to make up what’s special, unique or different about it, what defines its character.
One of our favorite activities anywhere (even at home) is to visit the local market. They may be daily or weekly, indoors or outdoors, but are always brimming with activity. It’s a lot of fun to wander around and see what kinds of fresh produce the market has, what kinds of breads, cheeses, meats, fish, and flowers. Often there will be stalls with local cooked foods too, to try. Depending on the country, we may find all kinds of olives and olive oils, or different herbs and spices. It’s always a flavorful, colorful, cheerful event.
At Suwon market and at Inheon Market, close to Seoul National University, I was fascinated most of all with all the really different items that seem very “exotic” to westerners, foods that we don’t typically find in the USA or at most European markets, like silkworms.
Some things I don’t recognize at all and can’t even guess what they are. Others I’m pretty sure that I’m not brave enough to try! For example, the red-hot spicy foods, cooked silkworms for sale, all kinds of seaweed and various roots, fungi and herbs for Oriental-style medicine and health. Many counties in the east prize traditional medicine—it’s been around for hundreds of years, so who am I to say it doesn’t work?
Here are just a few photos we took of those different culinary and herbal delights, a big part of Korean culture I believe.
On our recent visit to Korea we really enjoyed finding out more about one of the country’s famous early kings. Why spotlight this king? He is considered to be one of the greatest Korean kings and is especially remembered for the development of Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. This is also the king who is on the face of the W10,000 bank note.
In October 2009 a new statue of Sejong the Great was unveiled in Gwanghwamun Plaza, in downtown Seoul, on the occasion of the 563rd anniversary of the invention of the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, in 1446. The statue is close to the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, the key Joseon Kingdom era military commander, another well-loved historical figure.
(Note that the exact date of the completion of the alphabet is not clear as some say it was 1443, others 1446).
There is also a National Hangeul Museum, which I’ll cover later.
One weekend, we wandered around Gwanghwamun Plaza (near the famous palace complex), which had a special book festival on that weekend (see previous post). Below the statue of King Sejong is a very informative museum/exhibition hall on the life and times of this great king and of Admiral Yi Sun-shin and it was fun to learn more about them both (I’ll cover Admiral Yi in a later post).
King Sejong the Great is one of only two Korean kings to be called Great, and is regarded as one of the finest rulers in Korean history. King Sejong was born in 1397, and ascended the throne in 1418 at the age of 21. He was the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty (1397-1910). He died in 1450 at the age of 54 after ruling for 32 years. He ought not to have been king, as he had two older brothers. However, they were wise and realized their younger brother was the best future ruler for their country. So, they both pretended to be incompetent, and were deemed unfit to rule. The mandate to rule fell to the third brother, Sejong.
Without doubt, King Sejong was a remarkable man: a Confucian scholar, philologist, musician, poet, and a skilled swordsman. He believed a person needed to combine physical training with education and spiritual practices to become a whole person. He promoted research in the cultural, economic, and political heritage of Korea, and he sponsored many new developments in the areas of science, philosophy, music, and linguistics. To encourage young scholars to study, he established grants and other government support.
King Sejong believed that the basis of good government was a ruler with wide-ranging
knowledge, virtue, and the ability to recognize and use talented men for government service. As an administrator, King Sejong introduced many progressive ideas and reforms to improve the life of the common people. For example, in times of drought and flood, he established relief programs and opened centers to provide food and shelter. For farmers with poor harvests, he reinstated a loan system from the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) that loaned surplus grains to them from government stores, for repayment in kind with nominal interest.
Very early in his reign, in 1420, King Sejong established the Chipyon-chon (Hall of Worthies), a royal research institute. He had the best scholars and writers of the time compile many valuable works on history, geography, astronomy, mathematics, military science, agriculture, and pharmacology, which included encyclopedias on Chinese medicine and Korean medicine (hanyak).
In addition, over the years King Sejong commissioned a large number of literary works, as he saw books as a way of spreading education among his people. One of the first works he commissioned was a history of the Goryeo Kingdom. Others included a handbook on improved farming methods to increase production, a revised and enlarged collection of model filial deeds, and an illustrated book of the duties and responsibilities in human relationships. A collection of King Sejong’s own poems praising Buddha, entitled Worin Chon-gangjigok, was also published.
Realizing that literacy was key to a powerful nation, he gathered a group of scholars to
develop a phonetic writing system that would correctly represent the sounds of spoken Korean and that could be easily learned by all people. The result was the creation of the Korean Hangeul alphabet, and this scientific alphabet is his best-known achievement. The system was completed in 1443 (or 1446). This alphabet allowed the general population to become more literate, as before this they were unable to master the classical Chinese language and script that was the official written language of Korea at the time. In addition, Chinese is very different to Korean in its vocal patterns and sentence formation and so could not represent Korean sounds and structure adequately.
Like Hungarian, Turkish, Mongolian, and Finnish, Korean is classified with the Ural-Altaic language group. The Hangeul system is a simple alphabet, with 24 characters (10 vowels and 14 consonants), that is apparently easy to learn, and the shape of the characters actually instructed readers where to place their tongues, thus making it easier for uneducated people to grasp.
Initially, many scholars and government officials opposed the use of Hangeul. Despite this, King Sejong ordered popular poems, religious verses, and well-known proverbs to be translated into Hangeul to encourage its use. Hangeul was therefore also a political as well as a linguistic achievement.
King Sejong’s rule is remembered as an age of peace and prosperity. Besides the creation
of the alphabet, his masterful way of dealing with invading Japanese pirate ships made him beloved by the Korean people. King Sejong contributed to Korean civilization and society in a number of other ways, through his great understanding of then-current technology. He made improvements in the movable metal type that had been invented in Korea around 1234. He started the development of musical notation for Korean and Chinese music, helped improve designs for various musical instruments, and encouraged the composition of orchestral music.
King Sejong also sponsored many scientific inventions, including the rain gauge, the sundial, a water clock, celestial globes, astronomical maps, and the orrery, a mechanical representation of the solar system.
Indeed, a king to be proud of. Some of these inventions are in the museum and I have photos of some of them.
The Sundial(angbu ilgu) invented in 1434. The 12 hours on the plate were also expressed as 12 animals, so illiterate citizens could tell the time (see below).
Celestial globe, 1437
Singijeon is a rocket-propelled arrow, 1448, and is considered the world’s first multi-launch rocket.
Old book: called Hunmin Jeongeum, presumed published in 1446. Encouraged by King Sejong after creating Hangeul, it gives explanations and examples of correct sounds to instruct the people.
The book festival was at the north end of the long square closest to the Gwanghwamun Gate leading into the huge Gyeongbokgung Palace complex. This is one of the most important squares in Seoul, so is a fitting venue for something like this. What a wonderful idea, to encourage people to read and to love books, especially in these days when so much is done on computers or tablets, and many young people always have their eyes on some screen or other.
As I wrote earlier, “Kids were reading in an open tent; people could borrow books from a small library; various artists were decorating or illustrating large “books”; huge mock-ups of famous titles, a book ‘tower’ and a large blue elephant illustrated the theme. A young lady invited passers-by to write on a large board called the Visitors Book, so I added to the messages—some about books and reading, many about Seoul and experiences in Seoul.”
It was fun to see so many people of all ages really interested and engaged in this book festival, especially seeing that Korea is well known as being one of the top tech countries in the world.
Fun Factoid: I found the results of a survey published in the Korea Herald just before the 2016 World Book Day (see all results here http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20170421000234 ), which found that the average salaryman in Korea reads 2.3 books a month and spends about 29,000 won ($25) a month on books. The most popular topics were economics and business management, followed by humanities, history, religion and arts.
UNESCO organizes the World Book Day and Copyright Day, with pop-up book fairs all around the world. It’s a way to celebrate all things related to books and reading, and to highlight the importance of books in all societies. In 2016 some of the countries/cities involved were Australia, Tokyo, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Paris, Amsterdam, Sweden, Chicago, Seattle. In Korea, Pusan and Daegu also hosted pop-up fairs. In 2018, it’s expected that the day will be marked in over 100 countries.
World Book Day is always celebrated on April 23rd to promote reading, publishing and copyright. It was officially celebrated for the first time on April 23, 1995. April 23rd was chosen because on this day in 1616 Miguel de Cervantes died, as did William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.