Saturday, June 25, 2011

...from Jeju-do back to 'the Mainland'...Mom's in the center of Seoul...Toksu Palace...S.'s send-off...back to Bukchon in the rain...lanterns...delightfully enigmatic stationery

Saturday night in Seoul...S. is in the air, flying back to the States, and I'm back in Bukchon, the neighborhood where I began this visit to Korea almost four weeks ago, the rain pouring on the tile roof of the hanok (traditional Korean courtyard house) where I'm staying...I have two-and-a-half-days left here before I get on a plane, Tucson-bound...The remnants of Typhoon Meari are supposed to bring even more wind and rain here tomorrow afternoon...

So much traveling the past few days--staying in a different place each night since the last posting four days ago: Jeju Island...Incheon...back to Seoul in a different hanok, and then The Plaza Hotel last night before seeing my wife off earlier this afternoon, and now back to my original hanok...This room has papered floors and sliding doors, just like I remember during the summer when I was fourteen years old, spending a rainy month at my Grandmother's in a village just south of Seoul.

Some scenery, then, from this past Tuesday through today:

Wednesday, we had most of the day to tour around Jeju-do Island, as our flight back to the mainland wasn't until 8 p.m....The weather on the SW coast of the island was rainy/foggy all day--but still lovely, in a truly 'atmospheric' way--I have not experienced such humidity since living in Nicaragua! Fortunately, it wasn't hot--the temperatures were only in the 70's, but we were drenched nonetheless...reminded us of visiting the highlands of Costa Rica...

A tea plantation on the SW flank of Halla-san volcano:

Cheon-ji-yeon Falls--cascading into a gorge that leads directly into the sea less than a kilometer away:

"Ju-sang-jeol-li-dae" is a mouthful--the name of this section of the Jung-mun coast where columnar basalt formations make up the cliffs, reminiscent of the "Giant's Causeway" in Ireland:

Further west along the Southern Coast--a section of beach where a bunch of soldiers-on-leave were burying each other in mud and throwing each other into the rough surf...

...and a bit further west, still, another watefall-filled-gorge lined with subtropical forest that leads directly into the sea; sudden fog obscured the highest falls, but we were able to hike down to this spot:

See why S. and I were reminded of Costa Rica?

...a flight back to the mainland Wednesday night...
and then,an excursion, on my mother's last day here in the country...
from our hotel near the airport we trekked through
the rain to Incheon's Chinatown for lunch:

Incheon was one of the first ports opened to foreign trade in the 19th century, as Korea finally exited its 'Hermit Kingdom' historical phase...This area, while much smaller than San Francisco's Chinatown, is still an ethnic enclave of 'foreign' residents in otherwise ethnically homogenous Korea...and the birthplace of  "Ja-jahng-myeon"--a Korean-Chinese interpretation of hand-pulled wheat noodles with black-bean sauce. That was my mother's last meal with us before heading to the air-port...

After seeing my mother off, my wife and I headed back into Seoul...stayed in a differerent hanok; I wanted her to experience the Bukchon neighborhood before she left...This hanok happened to have a resident rabbit in its courtyard, just like in the first place I stayed:

Yesterday morning, after sleeping on mats on the hanok-floor, we went to Changdeokgung Palace; I wanted to show my wife the forested gardens behind the palace--Hu-weon, also known as "Bi-weon," the 'Secret Garden'...lush under the summer raindrops...

After an afternoon of gallery-browsing and souvenir-shopping in Insa-dong, we were able to relax in our hotel--our one-and-only splurge on this trip--The Plaza Hotel--in the heart of the city, overlooking Seoul Plaza, Kwanghwamun Plaza, some of the city's main boulevards, and the walled garden-enclave of Toksu Palace, plus five different giant TV-screens on various building-tops...Here's the view from our 17th-story room:
We have always wanted to stay in a hotel like this--smack-dab in the middle of a bustling historical metropolis, but perched above it, with views of old-and-new architecture...A great online deal made it possible, and we enjoyed every minute of it...Even with the construction cranes (the City Hall is being remodeled with a giant curving glass addition), the view was still grand...
...zooming in on Kwanghwamun Plaza with its statues of Admiral Yi Sun-shin and King Sejong the Great, figures from the Joseon Dynasty's golden medieval period...Kwanghwamun Gate leading into the Kyongbokkung Palace Compound, and to the left, up on the hillside, the big blue-tile-roofed structure is "Cheongwadae," the official residence of South Korea's President:

...and the same area at night:

...ahh, feet up...

...the Hotel was refurbished under the direction of an Italian designer a few years ago...very posh, great attention to detail, sleek public areas:

...and the bedside 'phone' is a touch-screen computer that controls EVERYTHING in the room...

...a large-screen flat and thin TV, of course...(showing the weather forecast--bands of monsoon rain...)

...and I couldn't resist--just had to take a picture of this control panel in the bathroom...The Koreans and the Japanese have taken the humble bidet to technological heights:
(Hermès toiletries, incidentally...)

Downstairs, below the lobby, an artisan  'maître boulanger' French boulangerie/pâtisserie...with a local addition:

...Directly across the street, the Toksu-gung Palace complex; we went for a quick stroll this morning...Here is the throne hall:
...looking from the grounds of the Palace gardens back toward the skyscrapers around Seoul Plaza--the building directly to the right of the two-storied building in the middle of the photo--that's The Plaza Hotel:

...a comparison of now:

...and then--the last time I was here, eighteen years ago:


After returning to the airport, seeing my wife off...I made my way back into the city, back to Bukchon, once is the view from the hanok where I'm staying:
...quite the 'step down' from last night's computer-controled room, but still an oasis in the midst of Seoul; I have to put on my shoes to walk down some granite steps to get to the shared bathroom across the garden--no bidet here, by the way... evening walk downtown, passing a Buddhist area
with these incredible paper-lantern-sculptures: 

 ...on my way to a bookstore in the under-the-street-shopping-center of one of the downtown towers--spent a couple of hours wandering aisles--understanding SOME, enjoying the half-ignorance...wishing I could read/speak Korean fluently already...Did 'stock up' on some language-learning materials as well as historical/cultural things...and I like the bookstore's bag:
The calligraphy reads: (and I have to brag about my small linguistic victory here--I didn't even need to use a dictionary to 'get' this packaging!) "People make books, and books make people.'

Speaking of words and packaging--I spent more time than I care to admit enjoying all of the ENGRISH in the stationery section--check out some of these notebook covers:

Wow--that's a chipper way to approach one's schoolwork...
from failure to failure...LEARN!

And 'Engrish' is not limited to English;
check out this nonsensical French cover: 
Cutesy dogs, but random French, which reads:
"Gaspard in Venice. Lisa's House
Lisa takes the plane.
Christmas present. Desserts.
Lisa has fleas.
The jealousy of Gaspard."

Breathtaking, no?

 And this is just so weird:
Why is Hansel in a cage? Why is Gretel giving him an apple?
Where's the candy house? the witch?
Why would you want this on your CALENDAR?!

Pure fun: 
Surely the way to enjoy life, and especially traveling:
 Be like Domo, "who is curious about everything,
gets excited and thrilled every day."

Finally, push yourself:
"Cool summer rain will quench your thirst."

And on that note, with rain pattering on the tiles over my head, signing off...

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