Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Walked The Wall (And The Wall Won)

Another long story from when we were in Seoul in September. I promise to start writing about things that have happened recently next week. Maybe the week after.
Seoul really empties out at Chuseok. It was still quite busy but nothing like the following week. On Wednesday morning we went to Seoul Station to meet Dan and Nid and catch the train to Suwon, a city about half an hour south of Seoul with an ancient Korean fortress. At the station we both had paninis for breakfast. My panini was a toasted sandwich and Anna’s was a bagel. Korea is weird.

Suwon welcomed us with a huge TV screen:

After chuckling about this we spent a good ten minutes trying to get a taxi driver to take us to the fortress. We were at the taxi stand outside the train station but they all either didn’t stop or when we said where we wanted to go they said something angrily in Korean and drove off. We eventually found another taxi stand that we were sure had been built in the time we were there and got a taxi.

The first part of the fortress we saw was a huge painted square area.

Past this was the palace – really a large walled in market-like area.

There were stalls here demonstrating various traditional Korean arts and crafts. The building itself was amazingly detailed. My Korean history is a bit rubbish, so I can’t really tell you much about the fortress. Wikipedia, on the other hand, has been studying hard and can tell you this:

Hwaseong Fortress, the wall surrounding the centre of Suwon, was built in the late 18th century by King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty to honour and house the remains of his father Prince Sado, who had been murdered by being locked alive inside a rice chest by his own father King Yeongjo having failed to obey his command to commit suicide. Located 30 kilometres (19 mi) south of Seoul and enclosing much of central Suwon including King Jeongjo's palace Haenggung, UNESCO designated the fortress a World Heritage site in 1997. The Suwoncheon, the main stream in Suwon, flows through the centre of the fortress.

It’s really less of a fortress and more of a large wall to keep invaders out, although there is the main palace building and lots of guard towers and gates, all of which are different.

As for the crafts, you could make a fan or a bowl, or have your name written in Korean calligraphy. There were also some traditional Korean games to play. We considered making a bowl (partly because we don't really have enough at the apartment) but decided against it when we found out we’d be waiting two weeks to get it fired. Instead we got our names written in Korean calligraphy.



The man who was doing this also had some beautiful paintings that he’d made using the Korean calligraphy techniques. He asked us where we were living and when we told him Buan, he replied, as most Koreans do, “Buan? Boo-arn?” Refreshingly this turned out to mean “really, that’s interesting” and not “what the hell is a Buan?” which is what most Koreans mean when they say this. He was from Saemangeum, which is in Buan county and home to the world famous (in Korea) Saemangeum Seawall.

We headed up the hill to see the fortress walls only to find it was fenced off halfway up. We did get a good view a sweet giant Buddha though, but I've just realised I didn't get any photos of it.

After going back down the hill and getting some directions we were off again. The climb was pretty brutal, but the views at the top were more than worth it

We walked along the wall for a bit. You can walk the whole thing but it takes ages, and the spot we started from looked like it had the best views. The wall itself was not really that high – only about 1.5 metres high in some places – and though it was higher on the outside it still didn’t look that imposing. We walked out to this turret a bit further along the wall…

…then we headed down the hill and back to the train station.

After lunch at Outback Steakhouse we were back on the train and off to Lotte World, the world’s largest (only?) indoor amusement park. The place was crazy busy, with wait times at least half an hour and much longer for the more popular rides. We went on the monorail that goes around the park to get a look at everything and it was pretty amazing. The monorail started in the outdoor area of the park which was really just a generic theme park – think Fantasyland minus the bumper boats and go-karts. The inside, though, was amazing. There are some things that are just not meant to be inside and a rollercoaster is definitely one of them. It was bizarre seeing the track snake around and then up and almost touch the roof. There were about six levels in the building, with an ice-skating rink on the bottom and a few rides tucked into a kind of artificial mountain that filled one side. The most amazing to watch were the “hot air balloons”, which actually ran on a track on the roof. I tried to take some photos but I’m not sure my camera was really up to the task, and my photography skills definitely weren’t. The inside looks especially amazing at night when they dim the main lighting and the curving tracks of the rides and the balloons gliding past are covered in neon lights.

I rode the bumper cars, which were totally worth the half hour wait. I noticed that the Korean people in the other cars seemed to be avoiding crashing – I thought that was the point of bumper cars? If you want to drive safely, get on the road. Note: don’t get on the road in Korea. Maybe that’s the point: back home we get on the bumper cars to let off some steam by owning on people, but here driving carefully is a refreshing change of pace from the actual road. A nice relaxing drive where I’m not in real danger more or less all the time – what a novelty! They even wore their seatbelts on the bumper cars, something that’s not too common in real cars here. Many of the taxis we’ve used have had the socket end of the back set belts tucked into the gap between the seats so you can’t use it even if you want to.

Anna is a closet adrenaline junkie so she’s off waiting in line for the jump-off-a-cliff ride or some such.

It’s all fine.

I’m not really an amusement park person, I’d rather be in the pub with a beer and a notebook. So that’s where I am. Or something like it. This might be more of a family restaurant than a pub. I did get a dirty look when I walked in and asked for a pint. But watevs. Tomorrow we are going to the electronics market so I might write my next update from a new computer. We still haven’t seen much of Seoul city, or the palaces, and I’m hanging out for Hongdae, which is Seoul hipster university district. Hopefully we can catch some of that in the next few days, if not I’m sure we’ll be back in Seoul before too long.

Update: The electronics market was a bit of a disappointment and I didn’t get a computer there, though I did eventually get one online. We visited Gyeongbok Palace during our EPIK training which was awesome and Hongdae exceeded all expectations – drinks served in plastic bags that you can carry around with you, and a live-dance-off!

Update update: Since I typed this, Anna took me to Seoul for my birthday. More about that trip in a few months.

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