Korea: Day Eleven Thursday 22 April
Friday, 23 April 2010
Lovely, LOVELY day!
Today was planned as refreshment for the soul and I’m happy to report that it worked beautifully. Tired, grumpy people met for a delayed breakfast at 9:00am and when we met again an hour later to go to the bus things were much the same. Often food in tummies will change the mood, but not today!
Mr Hong drove us to Changdeokgung Palace, which was built in 1405, then burned during the Japanese invasion of 1592, restored in 1610 and again in 1804 after another fire. The buildings were of little interest to the choristers and I hadn’t brought them here to give them a history lesson, so we moved quickly through the courtyards and out into the gardens.
As it says on the back of the tickets “The Secret Garden of Changdeokgung is one of the most enchanting spaces in Korea”. These are not formal tended gardens such as you find in England or Australia, but rather this is an area of forest through which paths wind. Along the way you discover little jewels. The first was a pond beside which had been built a pavilion. There was a small island in the pond with a tree cleverly pruned to an interesting shape. The effect of still water, a beautiful tree, and an interesting pavilion started the calming process, and fresh air and exercise did the rest. By the time the singers had walked around this beautiful area for three hours, everyone was in a better frame of mind.
The shopaholics amongst us visited the gift shop on the way out of the palace compound. Georgina is the best person to bargain her way to a better price, but Natalie has an eye for a bargain and doesn’t really need to barter. All of the singers are looking for gifts to take home and there is much consultation between them about what would be best for the individual members of their respective families.
There were a whole heap of frustrated photographers today, sadly, including myself! We had no sooner arrived in the Secret Garden than several of us discovered that our camera batteries were dead. Many had charged their batteries, but the power wattage is different in Korea, and it doesn’t seem to fully charge the batteries. Other choristers were happy to share their cameras so that no one was disadvantaged for the competition. What competition? Not the one I told you about the other day. Today was a trial run for it, however. Louise offered a 5,000 won prize for the best photograph of the day. The singers were only allowed one entry and Louise judged them herself. At the end of the day there were about 20 entries and it was a tough competition. Brett, who is here beside me as we create this report, said that he’d seen several of the entries and was glad that he didn’t have to choose. When it came time to reveal the winners, Louise actually chose three runner-up shots and they belonged to Michelle, Amanda and Abbi. The over all winner was Maddie but we can’t tell you about her photograph till later in this report for reasons which will become clear. Lunch today was organised by Brett and Louise. Mr Hong drove us from the Palace to Seoul Tower. We got off with what seemed like 25,000 school students all trying to get to or from the same place as us. There is no sidewalk and it’s a very narrow, steep road up to the tower and there were buses going in both directions on a road that really only should have had one vehicle. We quickly got off the road and made our way down a little lane to an exercise park. There were several pieces of equipment in this little area surrounded by trees in the middle of which was a wooden pagoda. Several elderly men were having a rest on the pagoda so we asked Mi Kyung to ask them for permission to use the area. They were happy to oblige. It seems that little parks such as this are common in this city and are used by both adults and children in lieu of gym memberships.
We digress – again! Brett and Louise had purchased sweet bread, sliced cheese and ham, and jars of peanut butter and four-berry jam. They had packed two knives from the hotel so we began making sandwiches. As fast as we could spread, they disappeared. There was insufficient ham and cheese we discovered, but the peanut butter and jam were not knocked back! Mi Kyung had a new experience today, which she enjoyed, according to Louise. She had her first jam and peanut butter sandwich! There was orange juice and fruit as well – apples, bananas and oranges. They were bought from a street vendor near the restaurant last night. Louise also bought a variety of Korean savoury snacks that the choristers sampled. Some they recognized but others were new to them. It went over well enough that we’ll do the same for tomorrow’s lunch but this time with more cheese and ham. It was nice for the singers to have something familiar because, much as they love the Korean food, it is good to have a break now and then.
After lunch we crawled up to Seoul Tower….and I don’t say that lightly! It was very steep and while not very far (400 metres?) the incline meant that your legs were burning by the time you’d gone a short way. We did make it of course, but there was a lot of relief when we reached the top. We’d come to Seoul Tower for a specific purpose. There is a tradition here that, if a lover snaps a padlock shut on the fence that surrounds the tower and throws away the key, their love will stay true forever. You have to see the padlocks for yourself to understand.
Louise’s friend, Heidi, had given her a small padlock to put on the fence for Peter Louise’s fiancé and we all wanted to support her in this endeavour. It is impossible to estimate how many locks are on the fence already, but the photos will hopefully give you an indication of how thick they are. To find a spot for a new padlock, is actually quite difficult. Belinda said, “What if you found a key and tried to find the matching padlock?! You’d be here forever!”
And now we can tell you about Maddie’s photo. She had taken a close up of a padlock on the wire above the main fence. In the background were the beautiful shapes and colours of the mountains with the city skyland sitting prettily in front. It was an unusual look at the view and with the padlock in the foreground it was a strong reminder of the purpose of our visit here today....a deserving winner of the prize! We have asked the choristers to email their entries to me and when I have them all, we’ll publish them for you to see. It won’t happen till we get home unfortunately.
The trip down the mountain in the cable car was most enjoyable. We were all able to fit into one car so that was a bonus, but the view down the mountain was spectacular. Like Canberra, this city is nested in a valley and the beautiful shapes and colours of the hills are a magnificent backdrop for a very impressive city skyline. Add to that the occasional clump of cherry blossom and the result is absolutely magnificent!
I need to talk to you about the blossoms. I know I’ve been raving on about them, but you should see them! The only way I can aptly describe them is to say that they float against their dark trunks like crystal chandelier pieces. There is a stillness to them that is picture-perfect. Look at the photos! It’s wonderful to be here when the trees are blooming.
As we got off the cable car, Michelle said “I really enjoyed that!” Louise felt that she was referring to the entire morning, not just the ride. Everyone was really happy and the mood of the day had definitely changed for the better.
We went back to the hotel for an hour of rest and then were driven in the bus to the far side of the city, south of the river. Dae Young had arranged for us to have a bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) barbeque near the 63 Building. We we arrived, Dae Young was waiting for us on the sidewalk and he walked us the short distance to the restaurant which was on the second floor. It made us all happy to see him again. We’d missed him during the last two days. The meat was bubbling away on the tabletop barbeques when we arrived. Louise reported that all the meat had disappeared from the barbeques before we left. There were lots of side dishes and the vegetarians had a hot stone pot bibimbap (mixed rice and vegetables) for their dinner.
The viewing area at the top of the 63 Building shuts at 9:00pm so we had to hurry to get there in time to enjoy the view. As it turns out, today is Earth Watch day in Korea so all the city lights were to be turned out from 8:00pm for ten minutes. We were hoping to be at the top of the building to see them go out and back on again, but unfortunately we didn’t make it. The 63 Building is the tallest construction in Seoul. Three levels are underground so it’s actually only 60 floors up to the top.
Belinda, Georgia and Sarah were a bit nervous about the elevator because one wall was entirely glass and the visual impact was quite strong. Sarah held on to Mr CC’s arm on the way up and that was enough to give her courage.
Many succeeded in getting good night shots with their cameras!! Brett’s photos are up for you to see. Louise was using the movie camera tonight so there should be some footage to watch at our Show and Tell night on May 28.
Brett left ages ago to work on a secret project so Louise has been in to help with this report.
Michaela and Mi Kyung are battling colds but apart from that, all are well and happy. Tomorrow we go to the National Museum of Korea.
Love from all of us,
Alpha et al
Today’s photos are available at