Seoul, South Korea
For breakfast I stopped at a Tom N Toms Coffee shop where I had a green tea shake with red beans – red beans (also known as sweet beans) mixed with a dessert is a little strange to my western palate, but overall more than edible.
I then visited the Bongeunsa Temple, a Buddhist temple complex south of downtown Seoul in Gangnam – that part of the city made famous by the Korean pop singer PSY. As I approached the temple buildings, I heard numerous Buddhist chants from the monks inside; I didn’t dare step in any of the actual structures, not wanting to disturb any worshipers, so I enjoyed the chants and religious art from the outside. Between the two dominant buildings on the temple grounds, there was a ceiling of paper lanterns outside over a stone pagoda. Toward the back of the temple complex stood a giant statue of Mireukdaebul (Buddha of the future state) and I’m told that this is the largest Buddha statue in Korea.
After touring the temple, I still had time to kill before meeting up with my contact, so I traveled back to the National Museum of Korea to look at the Musee d’Orsay exhibit on ‘Beyond Impressionism’. Besides the usual artists’ work on display (Monet, Renoir, van Gogh, Gauguin, Signac, Seurat, Cross, Rousseau, etc.) I discovered two new artists to admire: Léon Frédéric and Émile Friant. After studying the paintings and photos from Paris, France over a hundred years ago, I then alked around the museum grounds, strolling through the pagoda garden and watching the various families picnic-ing with tents to shelter them from the sun and insects.
I then made my way to the Alive Museum, an interactive museum located in an artsy part of town with many musical instrument shops, street painters, and art dealers. I finally let my sweet tooth taste what I’ve seen so many Koreans eating: a solid cane made of corn puffs and filled with ice cream – pretty tasty. At 16:30, I met my contact and we went inside the Alive museum, where I had an embarrassingly large amount of fun; posing with the 2-D – though made to look 3-D – art painted on the walls and floor, while also climbing up on the more interactive exhibits proved to be fantastic time. Afterwards we walked the streets and one multi-floored complex which not only sold tons of crafts, but had classes going on where people were making their own. It then occurred to me that Seoul is a fantastic city to take a girl out on a date; there is so much to do and see, that you can do something different everyday for the rest of your love’s life.
I then met up with my contact’s parents and we all dined together, having essentially what can be described as gourmet hamburger patties with the usual banchan to mix with it. After dinner, my contact showed me Ehwa Women’s University, which she was currently attending. The main architectural draw on this university was a structure split right down the middle and built into the earth with grass, bushes, and pathways on top and stairs and a walkway down the slit; that this structure exists on an all women’s university is perfectly fitting.
For a nightcap of dessert, we all shared bingsoo, an ice flake dessert with various toppings of your choice. The flakes were perfect, like a light, fluffy, creamy snow; not quite ice cream and definitely not like a sno-cone which is much too hard. I do believe this dessert has real potential in America and can catch on – at least in places frequented by hipsters.
During this night, while driving, I saw an amazingly large amount of police officers patrolling the streets in downtown Seoul; at least a platoon on every street corner; all in all, probably a whole division was out there to keep 13,000 peaceful protestors in check (the protestors were protesting the government’s handling of the recent ferry disaster) – it’s lamentable that the government in Seoul thought that that many police were necessary; it’s also unfortunate that most governments everywhere think similarly.