After a good night's sleep, I was ready for a day of excitement, exploration and Korean experiences. Mara, Justin and I headed out around 9:30am to head for Suwon. The train station is about a ten minute walk from the Neiman apartment, so we enjoyed the morning stroll. At the train station, we took a few minutes to figure out how to buy me a transportation card. After a failed communication/pantomime attempt with a station attendant, a young Korean woman took pity and helped us ask our question. Then it was just a matter of putting some Won in a machine and getting the card. Then we were on the subway to Suwon, which took only about half an hour.
I managed to find the tourist booth at Suwon, but walked away when I couldn't find a map (or anything) in English. Luckily, a tourist booth employee chased after me and handed me one in English, so we had a nice map with the pertinent information on it. The main thing to see at Suwon is the Hwaseong Fortress, so that was our goal. We seemed to start out in the right general direction but quickly got a bit turned around. Luckily, the city itself was fascinating to see as we walked along the main streets. Eventually, we decided to quit trying to follow the map and just climb up as much as possible. Justin pointed out what looked like a hiking trail that headed steeply uphill, so we took that. Soon, I was huffing and puffing and clambering uphill after them.
Sure enough, we soon topped a rise and there we were at an old wall that stretched to the left and to the right, overlooking a grand view of the city. It had crenellations and everything! We walked along the wall until we got to a tourist store, where we bought some cold waters and hit the bathrooms. (Also, this is where I managed to catch my breath!)
For a few minutes, we pondered paying the 1,000 Won (about $0.85) to ring the “bell of filial piety,” which has symbolic meaning for wishing your family good health, yourself a good future, and some other nice things. We resisted, though, and went on along the pathway by the wall.
We explored the area, admiring the sentry station and views over Suwon, which were truly magnificent, other than the pollution obscuring much of the view. It was odd, having a perfectly clear blue sky and yet not being able to clearly see the buildings in the distance. There was a signpost, showing the distances to major cities and locations around the world. After admiring the views and the foreign, beautiful architecture of the area, we decided to walk down to a the fortress proper and a festival we could both see and hear. There were some pretty steep hills and we pounded down them much more quickly than we had ascended the hill earlier.
We came out at a cultural food festival, which suited us fine. There were tents with beautifully carved watermelons – true works of art! – and wonderfully arranged foods. Most of the signage was in Korea, but a few in English allowed us to appreciate what was being shown. At one tent, we tried a puffy sweet which a representative told us was made from cactus. I’m not sure she picked the right word, because it seemed more to be a confection of some sort. Once we tried their treat, they nudged us over to their sign and took our picture, for publicity I guess.Soon there were no free tastings left, so we wandered on to another part of the cultural festival we serendipitously happened to have stumbled upon. There were school children everywhere, all dressed alike and chattering loudly or running around crazily, as all kids on a field trip seem to do. We wandered amongst the reconstructed palace buildings, seeing exhibits such as a historical crafts display, archery show and a martial arts demonstration. It was a really fascinating way to spend the afternoon, seeing all sorts of things to really catch the eye. I really enjoyed the colors, shapes and serenity (of the grounds if not the crowds) of the royal grounds.
For those interested in the basic history of this place we visited, here is an excerpt from the tourist map/brochure we got at the train station: “The Hwaseong Haenggung (a temporary palace) had its 340 rooms completed in 1790, and its fortification completed in 1796, creating a total of 576 rooms. The facility was constructed with the aim of worshipping at Crown Prince Sadoseja Hyeollungwon Tomb. It was also used for a residence for King Jeongjo to stay after he was dethroned to the kingship in 1804. As such, it is larger and more beautiful than its class. It was destroyed during the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea. Its restoration began in 1996 and finished its first phase in 2002, completing the restoration of 482 rooms of a total of around 600 rooms. It was designated as the Historical Site No. 478 in June, 2007.”
Our stomachs finally began to make themselves known, and so we wandered the alleyways of what turned out to be Paldalmun Area Market Street Festival. Paldalmun is the south gate of the castle, nestled right in a crazy intersection of the city, much like the various statues situated throughout Washington, DC. Most of the places didn’t have English menus or staff that spoke English, and our Korean is non-existent. Therefore, we picked a place with lots of pictures and ordered by pointing. We got two cold-noodle dishes and one hot noodle dish, which wasn’t exactly our intent but it worked out well anyway. Mine was one of the cold ones, which I wasn’t excited about at first. The buckwheat noodles were in a bowl of water with shaved ice. Otherwise, there were just several little side dishes. It turned out that though the noodles were fairly flavorless by themselves, eating them in combination with the little sides was yummy! It wasn’t a meal I’d call completely satisfying, but it was much better than I originally expected.
After that, we wandered the streets a bit. We talked about possibly going to a nearby folk village, but the energy level of the group was waning, so we decided to head home instead. It turns out this was a good idea, because it took us a good hour or hour and a half to make it back, due partially to taking the train to a dead end, which was unexpected. Now we’re relaxing at the apartment for a bit and planning to go out for Korean barbeque in a little bit.
All in all, a good second day for me in South Korea. My feet are pleasantly tired but I don’t think they’ll be sore. I may take tomorrow to go off into Seoul on my own, as Justin and Mara have talked about having a down day and I want to see as much as possible. The Neiman apartment is unfortunately not terribly central, and so getting to most places in Seoul will take an hour or more. I think it’ll be fun to take a day for myself, though, and see how I do. After all, by the end of the month I’ll be completely on my own!