Saturday, July 26, 2008

Getting lost in Seoul and finding Deoksugung

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Today I decided I needed to go exploring, since the only other option was to sit around the love motel watching Korean TV and sleeping (which probably wouldn’t have worked anyway). So after a quick run to the mini-stop and the PC bang, I went back to the love motel to read my guidebook and find a good place to go. I had been thinking of something indoors because of the rain, but since it seemed to have stopped, I decided to go on a walk suggested by my book. It seemed pretty easy to get to, take line 2 to City Hall Station, transfer to line one, just one stop to Jonggak Station, and from there the book outlined a walk to see new and old shopping areas/ markets of Seoul.

Now, I’m generally very good at directions. I almost never get myself turned around. But I made my first mistake before I even got out of Wangshimni Station (station closest to my love motel, it’s a large station were three lines meet). I found Line 2, and I was so sure that I had followed the right sign to get on in the direction I wanted to go in… I got on the train, and as soon as I got to the next station I realized that I had gotten on in the wrong direction. So I got out, and was looking for somewhere to switch sides, but it looked as if I’d have to get out, and pay again. Finally I broke down and asked a guy who looked about my age… pulled out my very skillful… Shillye-jiman… um… yongugo??? I meant to at least say shillye-jiman, yongugo haseyo? I have no idea how good or bad the grammar of that is, but at least I get the point across that I want to know if he speaks English. (And I now realize that it's not yongugo, but yonggo.. didn't quite realize that at the time though) Luckly, he actually did speak pretty decent English! I asked him how to get to the other side….. Evidently you can do it. They don’t make it intuitive at all. So. Next time you are on the wrong side of the track, here is what you do. Go back up to the gate where you tap your card, but instead of using your card to get out, go over to the handicapped gate and push the help button. The gate will pop open. Then cross over to the correct entrance, and there the gate should open again. There is no need to talk to the gate, as I tried to do when it spoke to me (just trust me on this one. The gate said something to me.. I tried to answer, but just as everything seems to be lately, it was a futile effort). Just go through the gate. I have no idea how this magic happens, whether it’s a computer, or some man watching the dumb miguk getting lost and chuckling to himself before pushing the button to unlock the gate.

So I finally got to the right side of the track and got on my train. For some reason, I thought I had a long ride. I wasn’t paying attention, until I looked up and realized that I had gone one stop to far. I was so frustrated by this point (I’m not used to getting lost) I just got out and walked out of the station, and decided to walk to from there to Jonggak. I started walking and hunger was starting to get to me. I searched and searched for a place to eat. I feel so strange just sitting down and eating a meal by myself, so I was looking for someplace that would be… less awkward. I finally found a place with people eating what looked to be soup. They seated me, and I waited for a menu… finally when the waitress got to me, she just said to me samgyetang? I knew that this was a food of some sort, so I just nodded and said ne… it made my decision easier anyway. 30 seconds later, a bowl of broth with a whole small chicken was sitting in front of me. Plus some noodles on the side to throw in, plus, of course what meal would be complete without kimchi on the side. So… eating the chicken with the utensils at hand was the next challenge. I had a spoon (Korean style, metal with a long handle) and chopsticks (again, metal, Korean style). I watched the people around me, since evidently just about everyone in the whole restaurant was eating the same thing as me. It took a while, but I made my way through almost the entire chicken. I was impressed with myself. The chicken was filled with rice, garlic and ginsing. It was very good. Not spicy like a lot of Korean food. Actually, maybe a little bland, but not in a bad way. I went up to pay the bill, and she charged me 12,000 won ($12). That seemed a little steep… but then again, it was a whole chicken, so maybe that is reasonable. I do like the fact that there is no need to tip in this country though.

I then resumed my quest to get to Jonggak. I walked and walked for what seemed like an eternity, but probably wasn’t that long, when I finally got back to City Hall Station where I was supposed to get off and change to line 1, which was a good sign that I hadn’t lost myself again. When I finally figured out what street I needed to go up to go in the direction on Jonggak, I looked up and saw something completely unexpected. A huge… gate of some sort, old school style. I whipped out the guide book for some explanation.. but it had nothing… So I stared at the gate for a while and finally decided to go through. Well, it turns out it was a palace! Deoksugung Palace to be exact, the smallest of the palaces in Seoul. The entrance was 1.000 won. Seemed quite reasonable to me, so I decided to put the walking trip aside and check this out instead. As I walked in, a gentleman pulled me aside and asked if I would be interested in a guided tour in English, run by volunteers. Free Tour? Heck yea. Well, seeing as this was the English tour, and I was evidently the only wayguk in the whole palace, I got a private tour. ☺

I can’t tell you much, really about what the tour guide told me. It seems as though he is one of those people who talk a lot, but never say anything, but from what I can tell, this palace was used as a temporary palace during Japanese invasions when the larger palaces were burned. The artwork here is distinct because of the appearance of dragons and the color yellow (gold). Dragons symbolize an emperor/ empire. Korea had always been a tributary kingdom to china, sending a tremendous amount of wealth each year to the emperor of china. Somewhere near the end of the 19th century, the king of Korea declared himself an emperor, symbolically placing Korea at the same level of China, as an autonomous nation. At this time, you begin to see artwork with dragons, and even dragons with 5 claws as opposed to 3, which had always previously been reserved for China.

So anyway, moral of the story is Deoksugung is cool, and wondering around Seoul can bring many unexpected surprises.


  1. I just read your blog from start to now, and enjoyed it.

    Good luck, keep blogging! You are about a month ahead of me in heading to Seoul.

  2. I've gotten lost with you a few times... like Rollerland in Whitman?? and going to Mix 98.5 ??


  3. Love the pictures! Enjoyed my private tour of Korea. STOP wandering around the city by yourself. At least until you know what areas to stay out of.
    Auntie Val

  4. Korea was an independent kingdom under Chinese suzerainty (a nominal, 'outer' one at that, as opposed to 'inner' kingdoms under direct imperial control), just like Japan. So rather misleading because the realationship is more symbolic than economic. Just my two cents.


  5. I love getting lost in Seoul! Hi from a fellow blogger about Seoul / Korea BTW :) (

    You've probably already figured it out, but for the benefit of readers, going the other way on the subway almost never requires passing through the barrier. Each station is different, but usually there is a common area where you can climb the stairs and make your way back down to a different platform. Any of the transfer stations allow this, although it may take a little longer.

    I assume this to be true at all stations, though it's not necessarily so in Busan (most can, and the maps inside the trains point them out).

    Finally, there's the classic ajumma way of getting around subway barriers (by going under the turnstile), and the classic ajosshi way of going through the contactless turnstile (when the red flaps come out to block you, they keep walking as if nothing is in their way). The younger Koreans have less shame and simply jump over. You Koreans stay classy!

  6. Yes, many stations do have a way to get around, but many really do not. I've seen other Koreans cutting through the handicapped door to do this as well. Most stations that have two separate turnstiles depending on the direction that you want to go in usually don't have a way to cross over. If they do, it still might be easier to use the handicapped door, because it might mean a 5 minute walk.