Saturday was murky and close as I headed to the Hangang River Park from Express Bus Terminal. Descending the subway past the very unimpressive graffiti I emerged at the under-utilised floating islands. Since my last visit a CNN café and a pub have been installed but were actually off limit. It seems where before visitors could stroll around popping in for the odd photography exhibition the advent of actual venues has generated an official opening and closing time. I was banished from entry despite the human activity before me.
A crowd of frustrated visitors (walkers, families and cyclists) were gesticulating at the security guard who quite possibly could have been a centenarian. It really isn’t worth it, just carry on pottering until something interesting manifest itself. I settled at the amphitheatre, empty but for a cyclist sucking desperately on his $2 tobacco breakfast. Another chapter of Morrissey later I continued towards Dongjak Bridge and the observatory café, of course it was shut. Jumping back onto line nine I rode for two stops to Nodeul station and climbed to the summit of Noryangjin Hill and the well coiffured Sayuksin Park. Inside the park is the “The Tombs of the 6 Martyred Ministers” along with an eco-museum, an outdoor gym and good rest areas. Idoubled back down the hill to a less inspiring “park” area before managing to navigate safely to Hangangdae Bridge to gain access to Nodeulseom, an island where I hoped to investigate apiculture or the raising of honey bees.
The Island is one of the largest government sponsored urban farming projects in Seoul. It has been turned into a space for community urban farming projects and the rumoured beekeeping. Unfortunately they were not in residence and half the Island appeared to be undergoing major land preparation. I later found out that an Arts Centre has been in the pipeline for several years and maybe they were preparing the footings for that. The road from the bridge leads to Yongsan station where I grabbed a bite.
After lunch I visited the Daelim Museum which is actually a Gallery. The Troika: Persistent Illusions Exhibition is the main draw at the moment. This collective from London embrace a variety of media, including sculpture, drawing and contemporary installation, the exhibition introduces Troika’s existing and new works. A new edition of Cloud, installed at London’s Heathrow Airport, and Falling Light, created in collaboration with Swarovski are on display in Korea for the first time, as well as The Sum of All Possibilities, due to be installed as a public artwork in Seoul at the end of this year. Its an engaging exhibition particularly if compared to the infantile tosh I witnessed at the Leeum.
I grabbed a caffeine injection and decided to trundle through Tongin-dong market before passing through Gyeongbokgung to Gwanghwamun Square. The boy soldiers were out in force and are now just just a comical and ridiculous site to most regular visitors to Seoul. They stand in rows, stony faced with their riot shields more useful as sun-shades; poor buggers if a riot actually transpired they’d cack themselves. I was told that the ferry victims families were intending to peacefully protesting later that day, hardly cause for an import of the national guard. Anyway I’ve checked the press and nowt happened so a good use of public resources! During the past fortnight we’ve had further smaller public tragedies in Korea. North of Seoul a bus station fire claimed lives and 21 were killed in an old folks home in the South West of SK. The SK military also pooped a few shells at North Korea.
The steps of the Sejong Centre had been coated in a mural out of respect for the victims a sad reminder that, as Seoul went about its business during this period of National mourning, over 50 victims have still not been found. It was time to find my digs near Mapo-ga as I’d not stayed in that area before. The area is undergoing gentrification but the food streets appeared still intact and the Pigs Trotter Restaurants of Gongdeok were just a 10 minute stroll away. I say this not because I intended to devour this delicacy just for those readers who want to try the “real” Korea, whatever that is. Not having been raised from peasant stock I settled for a 5 stop ride to Jongno-ga and Pork Loin Galmegi. Joking apart if my Nan was alive she’d have to come to SK because all the offal and off-cuts she used to devour are all haute cuisine here.
My accommodation though cheap was less than spectacular, Small but perfectly formed the problem was again the cleanliness which left a lot to be desired. I’m starting to believe they leave the mould just in case you can’t afford dinner, lunch and breakfast! Last weekends place of abode was Mapo Oneroom Tel.
Rising and caffeinating early I perched myself in a coffee shop watching the all-night punters escaping the mini-brothels of Gondeok, bizarre really as they sit on the main carriageway opposite the coffee shops chains and gleaming steel and glass towers. After updating on the 200 million quid Van Gal will spend returning the EPL trophy to the wrong side of Manchester i checked out the local public artwork. Generally finding it less than inspiring I followed the steep road to Hyochang Station turning right to face another climb to the park itself.
Hyochang Park was originally the cemetery of royal noble consort Ui of the Seong clan, her only son Crown Prince Munhyo and the Sugeui Park clan, it was known at that time as Hyochangwon. The Japanese Imperialists transformed Hyochangwon into a park in 1924. A memorial ceremony is held every year on 13 April, the anniversary of the establishment of the provisional government in Shanghai. The park was designated as a historical landmark in 1989. In addition to the graves of patriotic martyrs, the park has such amenities as a children’s playground, sports facilities, the Kim Gu Museum and a senior citizens’ association who have a thriving badminton league. It’s a lovely place to hang out on a Sunday morning full of Seoulites of all ages, pottering, exercising, playing games and simply relaxing. I did a circumnavigation before taking the paths which criss-cross the park. The park is at the rear of Sookmyung Women’s University and after spending an hour or more exploring I set off to check out the university area. It’s awash with cafes, small restaurants, boutiques and bars and I expect pretty dynamic during the week. Taking the hill down which splits the university campus I wondered why all Korean Universities are built on hillsides? Please enlighten me if you know.
My stroll took me under the subway line where I met the road which leads directly to Seoul station, some 15 minutes away. It’s a rather uninspiring walk along a 4 lane carriageway lined with small motorbike shops and seedy looking bars. Some establishments were obviously not operational as their roofs had caved in. As I approached the station area the buildings became newer, taller and the number of street folk increased in tandem with the soju and makeolli empties. By this time I had the tired knee shakes and by my reckoning I’d covered a good 10km in distance. In saying this Nandemum Market and Myeongdong were nearby and so I explored the markets before the 11am rush.
Namdaemun Market, located in the very centre of Seoul, is the biggest traditional market in Korea selling children’s clothing, men & women’s clothing, daily miscellaneous goods, kitchenware and local and imported products. Most shops have their own factories and make the products themselves offering both wholesale and retail prices which enables visitors to purchase various shopping items at an extremely inexpensive price. Foreign visitors to Namdaemun Market show different features: the Japanese are more into foods like Gim (seaweed), Gimchi, and ginseng, while the Chinese show interest in clothing and miscellaneous goods. On the other hand, most tourists from the west simply enjoy the ambience of the traditional market. Hours vary by store, so it’s advisable to plan out in advance according with a shopping list before you start the actual shopping. Of course I’m more interested in the characters not the shopping. The areas supposed to be buzzing at nightie but that of course is the time for alternate pursuits and its most probably irritatingly overcrowded.
I took my Applestore fix at Frisbee before settling down in a café for another chapter of M’s biography and from there the bus to Dullju.