– Seoul, South Korea to Denton, Texas –
Our Saturday lasted an extra 14 hours. We left Seoul at 7:40pm on Saturday, September 28th. Then, we left Minneapolis for DFW at 7:40pm on Saturday, September 28th. The only difference was that it was 14 hours later when we left Minneapolis. It was a really funny coincidence, timing-wise. Sometimes time zones can really make you crazy. Our plane finally landed in DFW right around 10pm Saturday, which would have been 12pm Sunday in Seoul. It’s fun to fly back in time.
We began our very long Saturday at 6am with another treadmill run in our hotel, followed by breakfast and a shower. We spent a reasonable portion of the morning packing up our things to get ready to check out of the room. We hadn’t done much the night before, so we had a lot to finish. Luckily, we had plenty of time, so we didn’t try to rush. We did want to get out early, though, as we had plans for things we wanted to do with our free hours still in Seoul.
I discovered, a couple of days ago when sitting on the floor near our big black rolling Patagonia bag, that one of the wheels had cracked. Well, I guess the wheel part itself was intact. The problem was really with the “tire,” which seemed to have dry-rotted in the last 10 years or so that Mark has owned the bag, and it was finally giving up the ghost. The split was right up the middle. When we tried to leave the room with our bag, the tire started coming off, and we had to remove half of it to get it to keep rolling. Luckily, it did keep rolling, tough it ended up making a loud-ish noise while it did so. Yay for making funny noises in hotel lobbies and airports. I think Patagonia will fix it, too. We will have to email their service department to ask about it when we get home. I imagine they will ship us new wheels.
Anyway, down at the desk, we checked out of our room and settled up our bill. Once we’d finished that and turned in our keys, we checked our bags with the luggage desk and left with only my purse and the camera bag to carry around for the day. I think Mark was a lot happier without his backpack to haul around, though it did mean we had to hand carry our water, which made us a little sad.
We walked over to the Express Bus Terminal and hopped onto a train to the Sungnyemun Gate, our first destination for the morning. This gate is also known as Namdaemun, and is one of the eight great gates that once led into the city of Seoul through the fortress walls. The original was built in 1398, and repaired in 1448. It stood for many years before the walls around it were taken down by the Japanese during the occupation. It was damaged severely during the Korean War, and was then disassembled and rebuilt from scratch in the 60s to repair the damage. Until 2008, it was the oldest wooden structure in Seoul.
Then, in 2008, an arsonist set fire to the gate, and the entire roof of the gate was mostly destroyed. The man who burned the gate was a 69-year-old who was upset that he hadn’t been paid what he felt would be enough money for some property he sold to some land developers. The fellow set a fire at Changgyeong palace in 2006, too. A really classy guy. Apparently more than 300 firefighters worked to save the structure. The gate had to be rebuilt once again, and was finally completed in 2013. You can read a little bit more about all of this on Wikipedia.
Anyway, it was a short walk from our subway stop to the gate, and we made the walk slowly, trying to stay in the shade. We really didn’t want to get too hot today, since it would be a very long time before we could get a shower. We wanted to be careful. On our way up to the gate, we stopped at a camera obscura, which is something that Mark absolutely loves, but has never had the chance to visit in person before. The little building was very near to the gate, and we ducked inside to check things out.
A camera obscura is basically a room-sized pinhole camera. People sometimes build them into trailers or vans, as a convenient way to travel with a giant camera. Basically, you start with a box that has a small hole on one side. Light passes through the small hole from some image outside in front of the hole, and an optical phenomenon occurs that causes the image to be turned upside down and flipped from left to right. This is the same way some older analog cameras work. One wall of the building then serves as a focus, and moving the wall allows the user to select where they want the camera’s focus to point. Basically, if you have a person stand in front of the camera, moving the wall either brings the person into focus and blurs the background, or blurs the person and brings the background into focus. Mark would explain it better, but hopefully you get the gist.
We piddled around with the camera obscura and the people working in it for probably 15 minutes. That’s really the kind of thing Mark and enjoys, so he had a lot of fun puttering around in there. I mostly stood in front of the camera and felt a little silly, wondering if I was supposed to be smiling or if I was just starting to look like a crazy person. Sometimes modeling gets a little weird. Ripley and I have both spent a lot of time modeling for Mark, so we would definitely know.
Once he finished with the camera, we walked up to the gate to take a few pictures there. The gate was neat, though a lot of things we are seeing have really started to look alike at this point. I’m a little surprised by the continuity of style through all of the old structures, honestly. How can everything be so similar? Did they have rules about it? Does the fact that so many things have had to be rebuilt have something to do with it? I just don’t know.
After the gate, we got back on the subway and took a couple of trains over to the National Museum of Korea to spend the rest of our afternoon. It was a little early yet when we arrived, but we decided to go ahead and have lunch. We’d finished off all of our food at breakfast in the morning, and that left us a little hungry, since we were trying not to buy too many new things at the grocery store the previous night.
We decided the easiest thing to do would be to go back to our egg burger place and have that again. Today, we ordered a burger each and a set of fries each, since we were a little hungrier and we were hoping not to have to eat much on the plane later. Mark ordered his fries with cheese, which basically turned out to be fries with slices of American cheese over the top. I think he was a little disappointed. They definitely weren’t anything special. The plain ones were still wonderful, as fries go.
After lunch, we went on into the museum to while away the final hours before we needed to go get our luggage and begin our trip to the airport. Since we were done with the first floor, we checked the second and third floor to see what they contained and to decide which one to start with, so we would see the most of what we wanted to see first. The second floor is home to the Calligraphy and Painting Gallery. The third floor is the location of the Sculpture and Crafts Gallery and the Donation Gallery.
We decided that the third floor sounded more interesting than the second, so we took the escalators we needed up to the top floor, where we began our little tour of the museum for the second day. We picked up a new map, since we forgot the one we got yesterday. Our tour today mostly consisted of pottery. I swear we saw every kind of ancient Korean pottery you can think of, and I’m sure many you can’t. It was a lot of fun, but room after room of old pottery all starts to look the same after a little while.
I did particularly enjoy celadon pottery. Celadon is a color and a type of pottery glaze, a light green that is quite like jade. The pottery style started in China, but eventually spread to Japan and Korea. Apparently the best-looking celadon pottery is made of porcelain, but you can add the glaze to other types of pots. It isn’t clear to me what kind we were seeing in the museum, though I suspect a lot of it was porcelain. Mostly I just liked it because it was such a pretty color. The museum has a particularly cool celadon incense burner that is considered a National Treasure of Korea. It was made in the 12th century.
In between galleries, we stopped by a water cooler to get a drink. The “cups” that you were meant to use to get water were basically little paper envelopes that you opened up and filled. They were hard to hold and hard to fill, but we finally managed okay. I guess it cuts down on paper waste, but they don’t make great cups. There was a little tea shop on the third floor as well, but we didn’t see anything we wanted, so we moved on.
In the crafts section, we got to see a large number of statues of the Buddha and various bodhisattvas, though I couldn’t tell you exactly which ones. I’m not even sure if there is a finite number of them. Many of the Buddhas were cast metal, which is cool. We also saw a painting of the Buddha that covered more than one story of the building. You can see it just below. It was very hard to get the whole thing in a photograph, but we managed.
When we finished the third floor, we still had plenty of time to kill, so we walked down the stairs to the second floor to see more of the museum. We saw furniture and calligraphy and a number of other interesting things. We even got to see a fancy office building built inside the museum, and this one actually had furnishings. It is funny how different such a thing looks from what western offices would’ve looked like during the same time period. I think comparing it side by side with some of the things we saw in castles in Scotland would be a lot of fun.
Just before 2:30, we realized we needed to get a move on, so we hurried out of the museum to head for the train station. We stopped briefly by the music stage we saw them erecting yesterday to take some photos of a performance that was going on before moving on. We also decided we needed something else to drink, so we stopped by the coffee shop next to our burger place to get something or other.
In the end, we elected to try bubble tea, or boba tea, whichever term is more familiar to you. Bubble tea originally came from Taiwan, but has spread across all of Asia and even into the U.S. these days. We even have at least one bubble tea shop in Denton, though Mark and I have never been. You’ll also hear bubble tea called milk tea, which is because of how it is made. Bubble tea typically contains tea concentrate, milk, sugar syrup, and tapioca pearls. Basically, the drink is made by combining cold tea concentrate with milk, which is then poured over cooked tapioca pearls and ice. Mark’s drink was made with green tea, and mine was made with black tea and a squirt of chocolate syrup. Mine was definitely better. I think we will even be trying to make these at home sometime soon. I actually already had the giant tapioca pearls, and I didn’t have any plans for what to do with them yet. Now I do. I just need some giant straws.
Mark was honestly a little weirded out by drinking up the tapioca pearls with his straw, but it didn’t bother me much. I guess I can see how it might seem odd to chew your drink, but I rather liked it. It probably helped that my tea tasted a little better than his. I’ve already been looking at recipes to make the stuff at home to kill time. I think it will be very easy to make them good.
Drinks in hand, we made our way back to the subway and climbed on to go back to our hotel for the very last time. When we arrived at Express Bus Terminal, we hurried back across the street to the Sheraton, then picked up our bags and turned right back to take another subway train back to Seoul Station. In Seoul Station, we bought our tickets for the Airport Railroad, which would take us directly to the airport without any stops. You have to take the Express train for that service, rather than the All-Stops train, which, as you might expect from the name, will stop at every stop along the way.
Unfortunately, the next train didn’t leave for like half an hour, so we had to sit on the train and wait while everyone else loaded up. The train being a little later than we expected made us get to the airport later than I had intended, but we didn’t have much choice. The express train at least had internet, so we weren’t bored on the hour long ride into the airport.
When we checked in, we got super lucky, because the gate agent asked us if we wanted Exit Row seats. Of course we did! What kind of question was that? We were so excited. How could anyone resist having extra leg room on a twelve hour flight? We made it through security and into the airport about an hour before our flight was going to start boarding, which meant that we didn’t have a lot of time to find dinner before we got on the plane.
We rushed around the airport looking for food, only to finally give up when once again we found that any and every Korean restaurant in the airport did not have anything vegetarian on the menu. We ended up eating at Quiznos, which was still a little different than home, but better than nothing, and at least they had a clearly vegetarian sandwich.
We rolled into our gate area 5 minutes before boarding started and were happily aboard and ensconced in our exit row seats not long after. Since we had just had a meal, and the time was pushing on into evening, I was confident that I wouldn’t have to each much plane food, if any at all, which was wonderful as well. I couldn’t even stand the smell of the stuff on our last flight. Maybe Delta food is worse than American? I don’t know.
I must’ve watched six moves on the flight, and I think I dozed through at least one, though I got very little sleep. Mark spent his whole flight working on a white paper for work, so he didn’t sleep at all. We did get some ice cream in the middle of the “night,” which was fun. I was a lot more comfortable on this flight in general, with the lack of plane food and all of the leg room. It was much more pleasant than the flight we took to get to Korea in the first place.
We arrived in Minneapolis around 5:30pm, where we picked up our bag, went through customs, and then checked our bag again. After that, we had to clear security. It all happened pretty quickly though, so we were out and looking for “dinner” (or whatever meal it should’ve been by this point) around 6pm Dallas time. We found a place serving Beyond Meat burgers and sweet potato fries, so that’s what we had. Our final flight back to DFW at 7:40 was about half empty, so we managed to score exit row seats once again. It was an awesome day for airports and flying. Our plane landed around 10pm, and we were home by 11pm.
We are only home for 5 days before we pack up and go out on a road trip with my parents around Colorado and Utah. I’m just excited to get to sleep in my own bed for a few days. I’m also excited to be back to the land of common vegetarian food. Oh, how I’ve missed the ubiquitous single vegetarian option on the menu. I should remember our Korea trip the next time I feel like complaining about only finding veggie burgers in the middle of nowhere.