Korea 2008 Day Fifteen: Seolleung and Nanta

by Kara on October 22, 2008

Stephen and I were happily on our own again today. While I was brushing my teeth, I heard Stephen’s Dad giving him directions on the places we were supposed to go today. He even drew us a map, which we dutifully took with us and totally ignored. I privately pointed out to Stephen that it wasn’t really a free day if we are given a list of where we must go.

I wanted to go to the Museum of Korean Embroidery (I know – so girly). I knew from the guidebooks that it was small, but I wasn’t prepared for how small it actually was. We found the building in a narrow alley in Gangnam. When we went in, this older gentleman came out of what looked like the guard’s office. I pointed to the sign for the Museum and started reading it in Korean in case he didn’t speak English. Right away, he told Stephen (in Korean) that my reading was good. It turned out that he spoke English just fine, though. He got on the elevator with us and took us up to the fourth floor. Then he unlocked the museum just for us! It was supposed to open at 9 am, but I guess they don’t bother to open it unless someone comes by. I don’t think they get a lot of visitors. It took about 10 minutes to view what was on display. What I had read, and he confirmed, was that they have a very large collection, but only a very small exhibition space. They did have a number of books about Korean embroidery, mainly as it relates to clothing and bojagi (Korean wrapping clothes). We probably didn’t stay for more than 20 minutes altogether, and I was a little embarrassed that he opened the museum just for us. But we are probably two of the few Americans who have actually visited the museum.

Seolleung is the site of King Seongjong's tomb in Seoul, South Korea. King Seongjong ruled from 1469 to 1494. He was the ninth king of the Joseon Dynasty.

Seolleung is the site of King Seongjong's tomb in Seoul, South Korea. King Seongjong ruled from 1469 to 1494. He was the ninth king of the Joseon Dynasty.

After that, we decided to see if we could find the tombs of King Seongjong (who reigned from 1469-1494), his Queen, and their son, King Jungjong (who reigned from 1506-1544). Keep in mind that Gangnam is a very busy, very modern business district. When we got to the tombs, it was really amazing – it was like an oasis in the middle of the city. It was a densely wooded area, with open areas for the tombs. When we hiked from one tomb to the next, there were times when we couldn’t even hear the traffic around us. The whole place probably wasn’t even a square mile.

By then we were starving, so we walked to the Coex Mall (where the aquarium we visited is located) to find a restaurant. We got to sit in real chairs – yay! Stephen had tteok mandu guk (soup with dumplings and rice cakes) and I had bulgogi bap (barbecued beef on rice). I also got to visit the bookstore there, which I hadn’t gotten to do when Stephen’s Dad was dragging us around. I found their section of English language books on Korea and came across a book of short biographies of 50 important Koreans. It was a little brief on the biographies of people I wanted to learn more about, but it is great background on a variety of important people, and at least half of them were people with whom I was not familiar. The book was marked $22.95 in US dollars (a little steep, I thought), but the Korean price was 12,000 won, so I spent less than $12 on it. I found that most of the other affordable books of interest, I already had. There were a number of really interesting titles in the $50-$75 range that I neither wanted to pay for nor carry.

At this point, we thought we ought to visit at least one place on our carefully drawn map, so we took the subway up to Independence Gate. It was modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but let’s just say that this one is slightly smaller in scale. It had been sprinkling on and off all morning, but by this time, it was coming down a little more steadily, which made us not want to linger at the gate too long. So we headed south in search of the Nanta Theater, which I will explain shortly. We weren’t quite sure where the theater was, so we decided to take shelter in Tom N Toms Coffee and try and wait out the rain. We hung out for awhile, then I showed one of the staff my brochure and asked where the theater was. It turns out we were only half a block away. When we left, it was raining even harder, which made us wish we had bought umbrellas from the guy hawking them on the train (yes, vendors actually wander around the trains and try to sell stuff).

One of the things I did not want to miss on our trip was Nanta. It is a stage show that is kind of like Stomp, in that it is very percussive, but it is centered around a kitchen (the English title is Cookin’). It is also comedic. I LOVED the show. It was really funny and the some of the stuff that they did was amazing. We had excellent seats because the regular seating was nearly sold out so there were not two seats together, but there were two together in the VIP section, which was only $10 more per ticket. We ended up in the third row, which gave us a great view. They really involve the audience in the show (you have to watch out for flying vegetables) and it was great fun. The audience was very into it, except for the guy sitting next to me who slept through most of it. No, not Stephen – the other guy! It has toured all over the world (as Cookin’), so if you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it.

The show ended at 6:30, and we were ready for dinner. We took the subway to Lotte Department Store (again) and ate in the basement food court. We both decided to skip the pig intestine counter. Stephen had kim bap, which is kind of like California rolls, and a little sushi. I had tteok mandu guk. Then we headed home for our nightly helping of fruit.

Stephen’s Dad asked us if we wanted him to take us around tomorrow. My inclination was to scream, “NOOOOOO”, but I managed to refrain. I think we have managed to keep tomorrow a free day, although I am sure we will get a list. Tomorrow is our last full day here – it is hard to believe it is almost over. We leave Friday at about 2 pm and get back the same day at about 10 am. I love flying in that direction! I just hope I can manage to get my sleeping schedule back on track in time to be reasonably awake for work on Monday morning. I am sure my king size bed and fluffy pillow will help with that. If I forgot to mention it, I have been sleeping in a twin bed and Stephen has been sleeping on a pile of blankets on the floor. I also can’t wait to do my own laundry. Things don’t come out all soft and smooth here.

Check out more of Stephen’s pictures of South Korea.

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