Posts Tagged ‘Seoul’

I live in Jangandong. Here are some pictures.

 

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Once you’ve seen one Joseon dynasty tomb, you’ve seen them all. That’s something I’ve never said, at least not without being sarcastic. For those who have been in Korea for an extended period I could understand that some historical monuments start to look very similar to each other. If you are in this phase of diminishing returns when it comes to visiting ‘old stuff’, then I sincerely recommend a visit to the royal tombs of Taereung Gangneung over on the north east side of Seoul.

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The two locations are a tomb complex in Nowon-gu. Taereung Royal Tomb (태릉) houses the burial mound of Queen Munjeong who was the second queen of King Jungjong, the 11th King of the Joseon Dynasty. Nearby Gangneung (강릉) is the final resting place of  Munjeoang’s son King Myeongjong, the 13th King of Joseon Dynasty, and his wife Queen Insunwanghu.  As mentioned earlier, once you are familiar with the burial sites of the Joseon Dynasty history can start slipping into carefully cultivated UNESCO heritage sites. The orderly layouts and well designed information placard can detract from the interesting and often extremely turbulent history which lies beneath.

Taereung Shrine Entrance

Beneath the grassy knoll of Taereung lies one of the more interesting figures of Korean dynastic history and a great candidate to be patron saint of pushy mums – Queen Munjeong. Her son Myeongjong was too young to rule by himself until 1565 so Queen Munjeong ated as a regent. Despite her many depictions as a power crazy Lady Macbeth type figure, there are also accounts of her being a more than competent administrator. She even gave out land to common people that had been formerly owned by the nobility. Although this practice is rarely for altruistic reasons; it is usually more related to stripping the yangban (upper classes) of land for political reasons. An ominous sign which appears in most dynasties the world over, was the fact that she continued to rule even after her son reached the age of majority. It was only after her death that her son took over power, which seems to me a black and white indication of their relationship.If, like me, you would like to know more about this narrative then you could watch the historical drama  Mandate of Heaven 2013. It’s on a list which I am working my way through – I’m about 1400 years behind at the moment! Another interesting fact about Munjeong was that she was one of the most influential supporters of Buddhism. During the early years of Joseon Neo Confucism replaced Buddhism as the de facto state ideology. The Queen lifted the official ban on Buddhist worship and instigated a resurgence of Buddhism.The next chapter of Korean history starts after Munjeong’s death. However, I have not visited the other tomb complex yet so I will reserve the research for my next visit.

The location of the tomb is in a wonderful location, owing to the practice of geomancy. Like most tombs and royal palaces in Korea the location is chosen with freshwater flowing near the front area and mountains to the rear. In the case of Taereung you can actually follow a small tributary from the Jungang Stream (itself a tributary of the Han). There is a great cycle path all the way up the Jungang Cheon and heading north you can take a right before Taerung Subway station and wind your way up the stream which follows the Bukbu Expressway. It’s a great bike ride in summer because it’s mostly in the shade. The advantage of going by bike is the fact that you miss nearly all the main traffic. I came off the stream when it splits and found myself next to the huge Military academy – the museum is opposite.

The museum is actually the main reason why I would recommend this place. It gives a very detailed description of how tombs are used and made. That sounds extraordinarily dull, but believe me, the graphics and displays kept me in the museum for much longer than I expected. I wish I had seen the museum a few years ago because it would have helped me understand exactly why the paths are laid out as they are and also the construction of the burial mound.

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The museum costs 1000 won for adults and is open Summer season 09:00-18:30 / Winter season 09:00-17:30

[Subway + Bus]
Seokgye station (Seoul Subway Line 1 and 6), Exit 6.
– Take bus 1155 , 1156 or 73
– Get off at Taereung Gangneung (10 min interval / 15 min ride).

Hwarangdae station (Seoul Subway Line 6), Exit 1.
–  Take bus 202 , 1155, 1156, 73 or 82.
–  Get aff at Taereung Gangneung (5 min interval / 5 min ride).

Taereung station (Seoul Subway Line 6 and 7), Exit 7.
– Take bus 202, 1155 , 1156, 73 or 82.
– Get off at Taereung Gangneung (10 min interval / 10 min ride).

Palsaik Samgyupsal

Palsaik Samgyeopsal serves pork belly meat (samgyupsal)

They are seasoned or perhaps marinated with eight (pal) special sauces.

All the sauces have different colours (saik)

 eight + colour + porkbelly = Palsaik Samgyupsal

 

Palsaik Signage

 

 

The flavours are amazing and the novelty fun is the constant bickering over which is the best flavour: ginger, wine, ginseng, pine leaves, herbs, curry, soybean paste, and chilli pepper paste or gochujang (as it’s known in Korea). My personal favourite is the pine leaves, but I enjoyed all the other flavours too. Each sauce has its own nutritional benefits, however, I’m not sure of eating one of the fattier parts of a pig counts as well-being food. I read some research not long ago about pork fat producing some kind of chemicals in the brain to make you feel good – like pineapple and chilli. Every time I eat samgyupsal I feel great, mentally. I would recommend this place as a great introduction to samgyupsal, my only reservation is that it is perhaps too good. This may lead to the typical street corner BBQ places being pretty run of the mill. If you are a seasoned veteran when it comes to samgyupsal, I still think this place would provide something of a welcome surprise. As you can see from the map there hare various branches in other global locations. This is one of the flagfliers for the wave of Korean food which is set to sweep across the early 21st century – along with Bibigo’s bibimbap and Kimchi. If you have a chance to visit I strongly recommend you take the opportunity. It does smell of clever marketing and contrived advertising copy, but the flavours are real and the atmosphere is authentic.

 

 

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There are various options available, but if it’s your first visit then you should definitely get the whole lot. The aesthetics alone make this the best option because they come in their own small bowls on a long wooden serving tray. The rest is as you would expect from any BBQ place, just throw it on and cut it up with the scissors once it’s done. Due to the often messy nature of fat spitting and sauces dripping you have the option of wearing an apron. This is a feature of many dalkgalbi restaurants in Korea, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a samgyupsal place.

 

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There are a few branches around Seoul (and the World) but I visited the branch off the main shopping area in Sincheon. Come out of Exit three and walk up the street to Paris Baguette, turn right immediately before Paris Baguette then follow the road which bears left for about 75m. It’s on your left as you walk up the street. If you get lost type this into a naver map: 팔색삼겹살

Sinchon Branch Map

 

 

 

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is the new landmark building in a landmark area of Seoul. It can get confusing around here, so let me be specific.

동 = east대 = big문 = gate

Dongdaemun is literally a large gate on the eastern part of what once was the Seoul wall. This wall is intact (if recreated) in many places. Several of these gates necklace the former walls of Seoul and provide useful compass points for navigating the city.

Dongdaemun-gu is the district which takes its name from this famous gate; it’s a bit further east from the gate. It’s also my home.

Dongdaemun History & Culture Park is the area which used to house a famous baseball and football stadium. It has been demolished and rebuilt to include museums and ramparts from the wall. This backs on to the markets and busy fashion trade centres. It is also the name for the underground station. Finally we get to the edifice I would like to write about – Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It is quite a mouthful so has been shortened to ddp. I have noticed that many Seoul residents are still unfamiliar with this acronym, but from here on I will refer to it as ddp.

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ddp has been taking shape during the years I have been in Korea. It used to be a building site but as it neared completion I used to ascend the building opposite to view it from above, luckily there is an elevator on the outside of the building which goes up about 17 floors. Finally after 5 years it has been officially inaugurated and I have been able to see it from every other angle, including from the inside. It was designed by Iraqi British architect Zaha Hadid, and it’s a multifunctional mixture of post modern play things. Under the shiny aluminium panels you can find a fashion design information center with seminar rooms and a lecture hall. There is a convention hall, exhibition halls, museum and my personal favourite – a kind of design market.

Zaha Hadid 360 degrees Opening Event

Zaha Hadid 360 degrees Opening Event

 

The fun mixed use nature of the building adds to the playfulness and post industrial vibe that you can find here. Each part of the building morphs into the next and getting from one area to the next is so much fun that you almost don’t care what’s going on in the exhibition spaces. It’s got a minimal feel to it, especially with all the white. However, it differs from any modernist structure because it is completely freeform. There seems to be nothing holding anything up. Moving around the building makes no sense at all, but that’s one of the reasons I like it so much, you never quite know what’s going to happen round the next corner.

ddp

 

The highlight of the interior has to be the staircase which coils round in a triangular direction. There seem to be no straight lines and at one point you can look across to a window and realise that the floor is uphill, the same floor you walked on before without noticing the gradient. I think a lot of organic architecture dates quickly with materials and concrete looking shabby after only a couple of years.  With ddp I think technology has finally caught up with concept and it has allowed Hadid to build something straight from the sketch book with very little compromise.

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From above, and from certain other angles it looks like a spaceship has docked in the middle of the city. The shape of the spaceship resembles the head of some exotic reptile. These curving forms are all contained within a metallic shell of aluminium panels. The underbelly of the building joins into the cultural plaza where you can find some shops and the subway station. There is a lot of concrete surrounding the building but it manages to keep some kind of harmony with the grassy park and the ramparts of the old buildings which sit in the shadow of the silver spaceship.

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It has been criticized for not fitting in with the surrounding area and for not having a specific purpose. I would admit that it does look strange next to some of the larger retail buildings in that area, but it was a large space to fill and I admire the bravery of going for such a structure. I think over time many of the surrounding buildings will be knocked down, and Seoul has far too many geometric blocks littering the skyline anyway. Whether it will be the new fashion and design hub of Asia only time will tell. For the moment, it has provided the city with something different and something which goes some way to shaping the future urban landscape. I think it is far more successful than the City Hall building for demonstrating how this metropolis sees itself moving into the future. The future here seems to be soft edged, fun and playful. If you visit ddp you will be able to walk on it, in it, through it, round it, under it and over it. Someone told me that you can do those things in a multi story car park, if it is just a large post modern car park then I would be more than happy to park myself there every Saturday afternoon – because I love the place!

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Links and further reading:

http://www.ddp.or.kr/MA010001/getInitPage.do

http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/dongdaemun-design-park-plaza/

http://www.arirang.co.kr/news/News_View.asp?nseq=159617

 

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