October 22, 2017 (PM)
Our Gyeongbokgung tour, one of South Korea’s most renowned landmarks, was insightful and delightful but it was so lengthy we were famished . It is not only its most renowned, it is also one of its most important historical structures because it once served as the seat of power of the powerful Joseon dynasty. Certainly, the sprawling structure filled us with awe and delight but it also zapped the very minute reserve of energy that we had in store. I guess our bodies are still trying to acclimate to South Korea’s weather.
Following our exhausting three-hour tour, my friends and I immediately went to look for a place to eat. We were, at the onset of our travel, on a tight budget so we had to be mindful of how much we spend. Nearly every restaurant we checked looked expensive. Because of this, it took us a while walking around before finally being able to find a place to dine. We chose to dine in a smallish, out-of-the way restaurant in the area around Bukchon village.
The restaurant we went into looked more like a Filipino carinderia than a restaurant because of its cramped space. We didn’t mind though because it was the most affordable we’ve come across so far. Moreover, in spite of the language barrier, the owner was very hospitable and warm, it feels like we were his first customers for the day. Unsurprisingly, we ordered Korean fried chicken for lunch.
Our meal was sumptuous even though it was just two variants of chicken – spicy and regular. It was supplemented by the banchan (side dishes) that the restaurant offered. Aside from the fact that we were famished, we relished every bit of the chicken because it is our first official meal in Seoul.
After having our lunch, we went to look for dessert. However, we were already keen on what we’re going to have for dessert. Prior to our trip, we already agreed to try Dal.Komm coffee, a café extensively featured in the top Korean drama series Descendants of the Sun. We are one to join the bandwagon after all. We again embarked on another walking tour as we earnestly tried to find one shop. Imagine our relief when we were finally able to find one which was quite a walk from Bukchon.
South Korean Observation # 2: Koreans love coffee shops. While we were searching for Dal.Komm (and during our stay), I noticed numerous coffee shops. Nearly every city block has one. And it is not just in Seoul that I have noticed such trend. This is the same in Busan, Gyeongju and Jeonju.
Dal.Komm is actually your ordinary coffee shop, the millenial version of course. Just like Starbucks, it markets more the ambiance and the experience rather than the products. At the coffee shop, we just winded down. Mostly, we caught up with our friends who visited Korea a week ahead of us. We were a bit jealous because they were there first. They had quite some fun so we are looking forward to an amazing experience as well. We further discussed where we are going to next.
From the café, we walked back to Gwanghwamun Square. It is the only place that we are quite familiar with, at least for now. Unfortunately, our three companions have to leave as their return flight is later that day. At the square, we bade them goodbye as the three of us who were left will carry on with our Korean Odyssey. Before proceeding to our next destination, we took the time to wander around Gwanghwamun Square.
Opened in August 1, 2009, Gwanghwamun Square is part of the plan to beautify historic downtown Seoul. In a way, it is the heart of the nation. Some of South Korea’s important buildings are within walking distance of the square. Within striking distance are Gyeongbokgung, the Blue House, the US Embassy and Seoul City Hall.
Sitting at the heart of the square is a statue of King Sejong. Part of the Joseon dynasty, he was the primary proponent of Hangul, Korean language’s native phonetic alphabet system. There is also a statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin in the Plaza. He was a naval commander during the Joseon era and masterminded numerous naval battles against the Japanese in spite of the lack of manpower.
Because it is Sunday, the Square is teeming with activities due to a weekend fair. But it wasn’t only the locals who are immersing into the scene. I have noted some foreign visitors amongst the crowd of locals. My friends and I also joined the crowd. Our curiosity was particularly piqued by a booth offering free Hangul calligraphy written to passersby. Those who want to have one can choose from a book of preset sayings and quotations, written in Hangul and translated in English for visitor’s convenience. There is quite a lot to choose from that it took us some time before figuring out the right quotes which demonstrate our individual personalities. Mine, roughly translated, it means:
“Be Powerful Like (The) Mountain,
Have a Mind Like (The) Ocean.”
My friend, who chose this quote for me, said it suited me the best because of how active I had been lately in climbing mountains. I totally got her point, hence, I chose it for me. The calligraphy is really awesome, plus it is free! I have learned how to write in Hangul but it is more of the mechanical one. I cannot write it as aesthetically as the locals do. Thank you Seoul for the awesome gift though.
After our brief participation at the Sunday fair, my friends and I proceeded to our next destination, Ewha Woman’s University which has become renowned because of its picturesque campus. More of our adventures there in the coming days. For now, annyeong 🙂