Monday, June 26, 2017

I'm "Seoul" Back!! (Part 2): Central Asian Village, National Museum of Korea, Gwanghwamun Square, Insadong, Yonsei University

- June 23-24, 2017, Friday-Saturday.

- On my third day in Seoul, I was still thinking how I would/should schedule my small adventures because of my busy schedule. Thankfully, I was able to squeeze in a lot of those during my first day in Seoul, as my second day was mostly for the conference (click here for Part 1). Still, I still had a few items waiting to be ticked off from my bucket list for this trip.

- I attended some panel sessions including the panel on Philippines and Korea (where most of the other Philippine presenters were assigned,) and afterwards I had some free time before having dinner with my friend and colleague Michelle. Fortunately, I had some sunlight left before dinner, and I decided to briefly hang out in Insadong, my "home" in Seoul. I cooled off in a poop-themed cafe at the rooftop of the Ssamziegil Mall.

With Michelle and Indonesian friend Ummul, who's also studying in Korea right now. Ummul was Michelle's classmate in her graduate program, and I met Ummul in a world peace youth forum some years ago. Small world!!
Yonsei University's Harwood Hall.
Photo by Ms. Sarah. Also, didn't notice I was sitting like a girl. Hahahaha.
Found my way to Insadong, saw this wall in one of Insadong's quiet alleys.
Porcelain dolls displayed. I think they're also for sale??
They're all wearing Korean costumes.
Poop cafe.
- That evening, I rode the train to Dongdaemun Station, as it was more accessible to where I was, and walked south to the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park (but if you want to go directly, there are three lines that go straight to the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park). I looked for the Dongdaemun Culture and History Park metro station, and waited for Michelle outside Exit 5. That night, we were going to have dinner in Seoul's flourishing "Central Asian Village." From Exit 5, walk right (Woori Bank to your left,) until you see the street with a Paris Baguette. Walk left, and turn right at the next street (turn right at Euljiro 42-gil) to see a small enclave of businesses run by immigrants from Central Asia (specifically Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and though not really in Central Asia, but affiliated culturally and historically, Mongolia.) It is easy to get lost in this small enclave because of its maze-like streets. The restaurants and other establishments were written in two to three scripts: Latin alphabet (to write English and Uzbek/Kazakh/Tajik,) Cyrillic (Russian alphabet, to write Uzbek/Kazakh/Tajik,) and of course, Hangeul (Korean alphabet). Apart from the restaurants, services like cargo services, airline services, and groceries (though not necessarily Central-Asian in nature) can be found here.

- Michelle and I got a bit lost in looking for one of Central Asian Village's most talked about restaurant - Samarkand. Samarkand is an Uzbek restaurant, and unfortunately, there are around 4 restaurants in the area with the name "Samarkand," which causes a lot of confusion among visitors. All of them, as we were later told, were run by the same Uzbek person. Eventually, we found two big Samarkand restaurants along Euljiro 42-gil (it's a street name) that are right beside each other: Samarkand City and Star Samarkand. We chose to eat at Samarkand City (it's at the second floor of a building) since it seemed to have a more cultural interior as compared to the other |Samarkand restaurants. Upon entering, we felt as if we teleported to Uzbekistan: all the restaurant staff were Uzbek, the customers were Uzbek, and the interiors were Uzbek. Michelle and I were definitely out of place. Some of the older restaurant staff might have been staying in Korea for a long time, and could speak Korean well. Other younger ones who were probably new migrants could either speak Uzbek or Russian. Since the staff assigned to us could not understand neither English nor Korean, my survival-level Russian was our saving grace (I never regretted taking Russian as one of my foreign language electives back in college.)

This is a good semi-hidden place to dine in in Seoul.
If only I had an Uzbek chapan (it's the Uzbek costume).
- The restaurant's name "Samarkand" was derived from one of Uzbekistan's former capitals, Samarkand. It was the capital of the Timurid Empire, which is sort of Uzbekistan's own version of the Mongol Empire. It was ruled by Timur, also known as Tamerlane. Eventually, one of Timur's descendants got together with one of Genghis Khan's descendants, and this new line of rules ruled India - the Mughal Empire. This is why Indian Islamic architecture like the Taj Mahal looks a lot like the buildings in Uzbekistan.

A picture of Uzbekistan's Registan.
Another image of the Registan.
Musical instruments and traditional Uzbek tie-died fabric.
- Michelle and I had borsht (Russian red-beet soup,) pelmeni (Russian-style meat dumplings), manti (giant Central-Asian-style meat dumplings,) plov (also known as pilaf; a rice dish,) katik/qatiq (Central-Asian and Caucasian fermented milk/yogurt-like dairy product,) and ayron/ayran (Central-Asian and Caucasian yogurt drink with sliced cucumbers.) If we only had more tummy space, we would also have tried the meat skewers (kebab) of Samarkand City. Samarkand City also sells some Uzbek snacks, bags, and accessories.

Goodness, how to finish all of them. The orange at the left is typical Uzbek carrot salad, then the big plate to the left is plov. The red bowl is borsht. The white container with a spoon on top is the katik, and the glass with white stuff inside is ayron. The big dumpling plate is manty, and the little dumplings at the far right is pelmeni.
This plate of big dumplings is manty.
Borscht and plov.
- After dinner, we decided to have dessert in next door Star Samarkand just because I wanted to take a photo with the nice Uzbek costumes that were displayed in the restaurant wall. We each had a slice of Russian honey cake or "medovik." I read that this cake takes a long time to prepare. Each layer of the medovik is made from biscuits, and softened with honey and condensed milk, giving it soft but at the same time tough texture.

Uzbek chapan for men.
Female tan chapan and a golden skullcap.
There are also some Uzbek bowls and plates displayed.

Russian honey cake.
The restaurant also sells Uzbek bread.
The second of the 4 Samarkand restaurants in the area.
- Michelle and I ended dinner around 11pm, just around the time the restaurant was closing. If in case I get to visit Seoul again in the future, I would surely try the enclave's Mongol and Kazakh restaurants!!

- On my final day in Seoul, I had a more relaxed itinerary since our conference in Yonsei has ended. My first stop was the National Museum of Korea, which is easily accessible through the Ichon metro station, exit 2. Aside from the National Museum, this station exit also leads to the National Museum of Hangeul, although I wasn't able to visit this anymore. 

- The National Museum of Korea was established in the 1940s after the Japanese Occupation, although this current museum was opened to the public in 2005 after the museum changed locations multiple times. This spacious building, however, does not have as much artifacts as one would expect in a "national" museum. I feel that this is because other important artifacts have been distributed to other related museums, such as the National Folk Museum and the National Palace Museum, both of which are located in the Gyeongbok Palace complex.

You'll see this sign before going up the train station.
This is one long museum.
Outside the museum.
View of Namsan and N Seoul Tower.
- Outside, the museum has a nice view of Namsan and the N Seoul Tower. Once inside, people can go through the galleries on all three floors of the spacious museum. The ground floor is dedicated to Korean history from pre-history to the Korean Empire of the early 1900s, the second floor dedicated to fine arts like calligraphy, pottery, and paintings, and the third floor is for Asian art (China, Japan, South and Southeast Asia, Central Asia and the Silk Road, etc.) I did it from the top down, so I would go down floor by floor instead of going up and up, which of course, is more tiring.

Gandhara art in the South and Southeast Asian gallery.
People, please remember that I am foremost an Indian Studies specialist (though Korean Studies has also made its mark in my heart and career.)
Central-Asian art.
More Central-Asian Silk-Road art.
Gallery of Buddhas.
One of Korea's prized treasures: the pensive Buddha, Three Kingdoms Era.
The 14th-century 10-story Gyeongcheonsa Buddhist pagoda. It shows Goryeo-style architecture.
2-story tall Buddhist painting.
Acording to early Koreans, this is what a lion looks like.
Goguyeo-era golden crown.
Goguryeo-era soldier.
Silla gold-and-jade crown. One of my favorite Korean artifacts.
Seated Avalokiteshvara statue.
Replica of the royal throne.
Golden robe.
A partial detailed map of Joseon Korea's territory. This photo doesn't do justice!! This partial map was as tall as I was.
- After the main exhibition hall, I also took some time to go through the special exhibition on Arab art. It is something that I don't have much opportunity to see and study, so I grabbed this rare chance.

Funeral stele.
Funeral mask and glove. (These were so small. Not sure if they were for children, or people were just small before. I'm not sure.)
Female statue. See how the statue gives important to certain parts, which suggest fertility.
Egyptian art in Arabia.
Giant statues of men.
If I remember correctly it is supposed to be one of the covers of  the Kaaba.
The doors of the Kaaba.
These belonged to former king, King Abdulaziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia.
- From the museum, I had a last quick visit to Gwangjang Market and Insadong to make sure I didn't miss anything. I had my last naengmyeon in Seoul in Insadong, and realized that I had around an hour left before I needed to head back to the hotel. Since I wanted to experience something more cultural, I headed to none other than Gwanghwamun Square, the plaza in front of Seoul's biggest palace, Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace.) I read somewhere before that every weekend, there is some kind of bazaar in the square, and so I decided to check it out. Gwanghwamun Square has its own metro station, Gwanghwamun Square metro station, and fortunately, this train goes to my hotel without any line transfers. The bazaar for that Saturday did not interest me (though the theme of the bazaars may change every weekend so please don't be discouraged to check it out,) so I just decided to check out the free costume rental area. This is located in front of the golden King Sejong statue, along the slope going to the basement level metro station. I had a little fun and took some photos with a bunch of costumed Korean kids too. (Don't worry, I asked permission from their moms.)

Gwanghwamun from Gwanghwamun Square.
Me: Kids....I'm gonna tell you an incredible story - the story of how I met your mother.
Kids: Hu u.
Me and little me.
Of course, I need a solo shot.
Here, have a little heart.
- Finally, as little raindrops fell, I decided to go back to my hotel, fix my things, and rush to the airport. Thankfully, my hotel, Lotte City Hotel Mapo, is connected to the all-stop airport train, so I just had to hop on the train and ride all the way to the airport. This is a cheaper option than the AREX (Airport Express) train, though of course, cheaper means less comfort, and less speed.   

People of the world, please help me analyze her shirt: "The growing seriously hanmi you and othen yound you." (This girl was standing in front of me at the walkalator in the airport.)
- I am back in Manila now, and while I was happy with seeing Seoul again, I am hoping that the next time I go to Korea, I'd have the opportunity to visit other provinces like Busan, Gyeongju, or Jeju, just so I'd have the chance to learn more about South Korea. Despite my short stay in Seoul, I am happy that I had a fruitful trip, not only because of the things I learned from the conference that I attended in Yonsei University, but also because of the new experiences that I had in this vibrant East-Asian city. (Don't forget to read Part 1 here!!)