경복궁 Gyeongbokgung and 명동 Myeongdong: Two Sides of Korea

Yesterday two of my former students, now friends, and I went to Gyeongbokgung and Myeongdong and ended up walking a total of almost 9 miles. As someone who 1. never exercises and 2. has chronic feet problems to rival a 70-year-old, that’s actually quite a feat.

I had planned to meet up with them at around noon for lunch and I, much to my own surprise, successfully navigated the subway to get there. Don’t give me to much credit though it was only 3 stops away and I didn’t need to change lines, BUT STILL I’m rather proud of myself.

We had a different kind of Korean BBQ that I haven’t seen before, where the meat was basically cooked in a little oven on the table.

 

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It’s crazy that it had been almost a year since I’d met them. One year ago they happened to choose to study in Florida, and then happened to be in my class (the best class I’ve ever taught I might add) and despite such incredible diversity all of us from the US, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Korea, Vietnam and China all became good friends. And now one year later, I’m sitting in a restaurant with them in Korea.

I mentioned in a previous post that I couldn’t believe I was actually in Korea. And it’s moments like these, so surreal and so anticipated, that make me continue to feel like this all might be just a dream.

But of course it isn’t, and the suffocating heat quickly reminds me of that. So after lunch we headed to Gyeongbokgung which was built in 1395 and was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. I was excited to go, as I haven’t been to a palace yet on my trip but as I’d only ever seen photos of this area…

 

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I was not at all expecting the EXTENSIVE grounds that continued beyond the gates. In the beginning we mostly walked through the buildings looking at all the incredibly ornate details that make the style so distinctly Korean.

 

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Everything was so amazing to me because, as an American, we don’t often see anything that’s more than 200 years old. Having such a relatively short history compared to the rest of the world makes places like this even more surreal for me.

 

But it isn’t just the buildings that are impressive. The grounds are equally as beautiful and the harmony between the two is so perfect that everything seems to belong where it is. The nature isn’t interrupted by the architecture, instead it’s complimented by it. Everything make sense in relation to everything else.

 

 

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After seeing as much of the palace as possible we had a quick break for some coffee. Sitting in cafe’s is a way of life here, and something I am wholeheartedly in agreement with. So after cooling down for a bit and benefitting from a little caffeine boost we hopped on a bus and headed to Myeongdong.

Now, if there is an opposite side of Korean culture from the elegance and peace of Gyeongbokgung then it’s definitely Myeongdong. Myeongdong is basically a shopping district that is so full of tourists, street vendors, and brightly lit signs beckoning you into their stores that’s it’s almost too much to take in at one time.

 

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Myeongdong is exactly the kind of place that people who actually live in Seoul never go, as I’m sure you can see why, but it’s an experience in and of itself so I’m glad that I went! Expect to hear as much Chinese, English, and Japanese as you hear Korean. Even the signs are in Chinese.

But I was able to come away with a t-shirt encapsulating everything I love about Korean English

 

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And a foundation that I’ve been really loving the past few days. When in Korea, buy cosmetic products right?

 

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The contrast between the two places was so distance that it gave me a really interesting picture of both past and present Korean culture. The two areas are rather close to each other so if you have the chance, I recommend doing both of them in one day.

Korea is more than just the grander of the imperial palaces and more than just trendy fashion and beauty products. It’s the intersection of them both, and that is a combination that I imagine I will spend many years trying to understand. For now, let me know if you’ve been to either of these places and what you thought! Thanks for reading!

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