Tuesday, January 18, 2011

She wore a raaaaaspberry beret

This past weekend can best be categorized as a shopping weekend. For some people that means actually doing some serious damage financially but for me it tends to mean lots of browsing and "ooohing" and "ahhing" over pretty pretty things with maybe a couple purchases throughout.

I haven't really been clothes shopping since coming here and wanted to go to Forever 21 on Saturday which worked out nicely because my coworker Heather wanted to hit up the Apple Store to look at laptops and both are in Myeongdong. Myeongdong was actually the first place I went in Korea but I was so overwhelmed that day that I didn't get to look around much. It's basically a massive shopping district and naturally on Saturday afternoons it's packed.
K-Pop stars and actors from K-Dramas are everywhere in advertisements. This massive display of Kim Hyun Joong was outside The Face Shop, which he's a spokesman for. It was ginormous, I had to take a picture. I admit I was obsessed with the Korean adaptation of Boys Over Flowers two years ago and I loved Kim Hyun Joong's character and his ridiculous hair. Don't judge.

So Heather, Jim, Traci, and I headed to the Apple Store first which for some reason is called Frisbee in Korea.
Heather bought a laptop and then we went in search for lunch and ended up at Pizza Hut. It was decorated in green pastels with fake sunflowers and smelled like a Bath and Body Works. It didn't really scream pizza but that's okay because their pizza is mad expensive anyway, at least ₩20,000 for a pie! So I ended up getting this salad bar deal that was like a mini buffet with pastas and fruit options. Also there were frosted flakes and a big public bowl of milk with a ladle. Because in Korea pizza comes with a side of breakfast apparently.

After lunch we went to Forever 21 and did some poking. I tried on a few things and I ended up with one shirt so, success. Then we skedaddled back onto the subway because it was so so cold out and the wind was absolutely brutal. It's crummy how during the week the temp hovers between 20 and 30 then drops below 10 on the weekends but what can you do.

When we got back I did my grocery shopping and spent the night relaxing and keeping warm. I've finally figured out that if I turn my heat up high enough and wait long enough it will eventually come on. My apartment is heated by an ondol (온돌), or heated floor. The loft where I sleep is usually toasty at night because the ceiling is low enough (I have to duck my head just a bit) that I get the heat from the floor of the apartment above me. Actually last night before bed I forgot to turn it off and when I came down this morning the place was an oven, whoops.

Sunday I spent in Gangnam at COEX which is a big convention and exhibition center (where they hosted the recent G20 Summit). It's part of the World Trade Center Seoul which is a group of buildings all right around each other that handle all that world business-y stuff. Connected to the convention center is the COEX Mall which is a ginormous underground shopping mall, Asia's largest.
It was super easy to get to. From Woninjae Station I transfered at Bupyeong, which is where you always need to transfer to get into Seoul, and then transfered again at Sindorim and got on Line 2 and rode that to Samseung Station. Literally as soon as you leave the station through exits 5 and 6 you're at the mall.

There's a Buddhist temple right across from COEX so I decided to check that out first then hit the mall afterwards. Of course I somehow got turned around and ended up on the wrong side and was wandering for a while, shocker. Here are some shots from the big loop I did of the south side.
Art. "Art". Art? Yeah I don't know.
An awesome futuristic swiss cheese building.

I finally gave up trying to find the temple and headed back to COEX, driven in no small part by the fact that I couldn't feel my legs anymore. There are a lot of pretty cool stores in that mall. I'm a big fan of stores that sell things that are sort of whimsical or kooky. Like if it's the sort of place where you can find mustache coffee mugs or band-aids made to look like strips of bacon or a shower curtain with the silhouette of Norman Bates in the infamous scene from Psycho then that's the kind I store I want to stretch my legs in. COEX has a lot of stationary type stores that sell all kinds of journals and cards and also some kooky kind of items so I had fun looking around.
Display of cakes in a pastry shop. Cakes here tend to be decorated with a whole bunch of fruit which isn't really something you see with cakes in the US.
I ate a late lunch in the food court and had intended to get some Korean food but saw a Sbarro and had try their pizza for, you know, research. Heh. Surprisingly it pretty much tasted the same as Sbarro I've had in the states and was similarly priced. Then I wandered through COEX some more and finally found myself close to the area where the temple was supposed to be. The directions I'd copied down said to take exit 6 out of Samseung Station, walk toward Asem Tower, take a left, and the temple would be right there. I'd been internally bitching on my walk earlier about how those directions were clearly not so simple but when I actually followed the signs that said "Asem Tower Plaza" and took a left, the temple was exactly where they'd said it would be. Oy with the poodles already.
This is Asem Tower, one of the buildings part of the World Trade Center Seoul. Since COEX is so big I was confused about where the temple would be in relation to it so for others' future reference it is directly across from the main entrance of the Convention and Exhibition Hall which is a big rounded glass building with a whole bunch of international flags flying in front of it, you can't miss it.
And this is Bongeunsa Temple. According to the English pamphlet I scooped up at the info booth, this temple was founded in 794, was the nation's leading temple by 1550, had many of its buildings constructed in 1618, and lost most of its buildings to a fire in 1939. Since then it's undergone a lot of renovation and reconstruction and is a pretty popular site now for both worshippers and tourists. On Thursday afternoons from 2-4pm the temple has a program for foreigners where for ₩10,000 you get a temple tour and partake in meditation, a tea ceremony, and lotus-flower making. Anyone can show up for that and they also offer a temple stay which you can make reservations for.
Two of the four heavenly kings, or Sacheonwang (사천왕) who stand on either side of the entryway. The Sacheonwang each guard one of the four cardinal points.
Mireukdaebul Statue, the largest statue of Buddha in Korea. This Buddha is the Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, and was completed in 1996 after ten years of construction. 
The statue's view of Seoul. This combination of modern and traditional is what I love so much about Korea.
The swastika has been a Buddhist symbol for a very long time and is used on Korean maps to mark the location of temples. Even knowing this though it's still a surprise to see it, given its modern connotation in the West. 
The main temple, Daewoongjeon, a name which definitely threw spell-checker for a loop as it just suggested "Congresswoman" and "Woolgathering" as possible alternatives. 
A couple of Sunim, Korean Buddhist monks (also used for nuns). I think the one on the right was talking on a cell phone. Are monks allowed to use cell phones? Is that a stupid question? Don't answer that. 
I really loved it there. I've come to terms with the fact that religion is never quite going to be my cup of tea but I appreciate places of worship like this that are so peaceful and open. I've always experienced some anxiety and claustrophobia inside Catholic churches but I felt like I could have just sat on a bench here all day enjoying the atmosphere. It was nice.

When I left the temple I went back to COEX to poke in some more stores and defrost. I entered through the Exhibition Hall entrance which brought me out at the COEX movie theater.
As I was walking I passed this wall outside a restaurant with a random Jackie Chan collage. It's my brother's birthday today and I feel like of all people he would appreciate this goofiness so if you're reading this Jeff then enjoy! (I swear I'll get you an actual present though). 
I don't even know.
Then I spotted "Bookstore" out of the corner of my eye and made a bee line for it. Scratch what I said before- books are my religion. I immediately feel better when in a library or a bookshop. The best part about Bandi & Luni's is that they have one of those small whimsical kooky sections that I love so much. Usually I mull over an item for a while before forking over any money but I saw the cutest passport holder ever and had to have it. 
I mean look at that, you don't get much more adorable than that. And I needed a passport holder anyway. Win win win.

I wasn't sure if Bandi & Luni's would have an English language section but they did and it was very respectable. I was hoping for one row at the max but there were several or at least enough to justify dividing them up by topics. I read an online review later that said all their English books are priced based on that day's exchange rate and so nothing will be marked but all the books I looked at had price tags so maybe that's no longer true. The books were slightly more expensive than what you'd pay elsewhere (Batman: The Long Halloween for instance was like ₩23,000 at What the Book? but ₩29,000 at Bandi & Luni's) but not so unreasonable considering I don't get to browse English books as often as I'd like to. 

Satisfied with my purchases, (Norwegian Wood, which I've heard amazing things about, and The Passage,  which the bookworms in my family have highly recommended) I grabbed a smoothie and headed home to spicy chicken wings (that I'd bought pre-made at the grocery store) with a side of home cooked mashed potatoes for dinner. So overall a pretty good day. 

Because how can a day that involves books, Buddhist temples, and mashed potatoes be anything but a good day? 

Trivia of the Day: South Korea is a relatively homogeneous society with absolute majority of the population of Korean ethnicity. However, with its emergence as an economic powerhouse, opportunities for foreign immigrants increased and in 2007 the number of foreign citizens resident in South Korea passed the million mark for the first time in history. 440,000 of them came from China, with more than half of them being ethnic Koreans of Chinese citizenship. The next largest group was from the United States with 117,000 residents or 12%, excluding the American troops stationed in the country. Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and other countries followed. 

There are migrant workers from Southeast Asia and increasingly from Central Asia (notably Uzbekistan, many of them ethnic Koreans from there, and Mongolia), and in the main cities, particularly Seoul, there is a growing number of foreigners related to business and education. The number of expatriate English teachers hailing from English-speaking nations has increased from less than 1,000 in 1988 to over 20,000 since 2002. There are also some 30,000+ United States military personnel and civilian employees throughout the country, an increasing number of whom (as of 2010) are also accompanied by family members.


  1. Traci here:

    Your camera takes such nice pictures! I'm jealous. ^^

    I've been to that temple, but I've never really explored COEX, despite having been there two times. I'm glad you got the opportunity to take a good look around.

    The monks and cell phone thing is a good question. I agree with you about the religion aspect. Buddhism is not a religion I could ever see myself getting into, but you really have to admire the architecture and passion the people have for their beliefs.

  2. For the price I paid and number of years I've had it, my camera does take pretty good shots. Going to places like that temple though I'd really love a DSLR, especially for distant shots. And it's a canon so when you start checking out new cameras yourself I do recommend them!

    I think I'd like to see the temple again in the spring or summer when I can enjoy being outside more. I've heard they have performances and stuff sometimes which would be great to see. It worked out though for this weekend just because I didn't want to spend all day outside and it was toasty warm in COEX!