Note: this post has a lot of photos in no particular order, so please be patient and enjoy scrolling through.
One day while we were staying at SNU (Seoul National University), Gyeonhee (the wife of Chang, Rod’s friend and colleague) came into Seoul from Suwon where they live to take me to Namdaemum Market and the Namdaemun Gate. She, and most Koreans, think it’s one of the most interesting places to visit in the city. We caught a bus and then subway, and I was so happy to have her as an escort and guide, as this market is mind-boggling, huge and noisy, a colorful cacophony, but really fascinating as a window into Korean culture.
This is the largest traditional market in Korea, with over 10,000 vendors sprawled in malls, covered arcades, narrow alleys, outdoor shacks, ringed by high-rise buildings.
The current market area was first opened in 1964, but merchants have been selling items near this location since 1414 in the early days of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). It’s had a very interesting history: Over the years, this area has been damaged by fire and been in the control of the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. After the Korean War, US military goods were sold illegally at a back corner of the market. In the 1960s and 1970s, this market became known for offering some of the best high quality hand-sewn clothing, which I’m told still continues, as many of the vendors make their own goods.
All kinds of dried food items
I hope that’s not real animal fur, but I suspect it is!
A dense maze of shops, street stalls and small restaurants line its alleys, selling clothes, household items and foods. They say that many shoppers come here for cheap clothing, footwear, and handbags. But it’s also famous for jewelry, toys, stationery, carpets, used camera equipment, luggage, fashion items, hanbok, household items, and many Korean souvenirs. In fact, you could probably get almost anything here. Because it’s famous for reasonable prices and for the hospitality that characterizes traditional markets, it has many visitors, including foreigners.
Enjoying my Ho-duk snack
The best way to enjoy this massive market is just to wander aimlessly and get lost in the maze-like alleyways. Namdaemun Market is a great place to stroll through during the day or at night, even if you are not planning to buy anything. We did just stroll, although Gyeonhee had a pretty good idea of where we were and where she wanted us to walk. We stopped for a traditional snack from a street stall, called Ho-duk, a kind of pancake with a filling that is folded and served in a cup. The dough also had potato in it. Fillings can be sweet or savory, and we picked savory—mostly green onion I think.
There are vegetable and fresh produce stalls, mostly outside the covered market area, which were also fun to check out. I love fresh produce markets around the world and did take a few photos, most of which I’ll put in the next post on “eating in the market”.
Green tea ice cream
At Daehan Dawon Green Tea Garden we can choose how much milk to have in our icecream
Green Icecreams in Korea
Just a short, fun post today!
While I was writing about green tea the other day, I remembered the green tea icecream we had at the Daehan Dawon Green Tea Garden the day we visited. It was very good, but what was more memorable was that people could choose how much milk and green tea to have in their icecream. A sign informed us that we could have an all-milk icecream, or a 50-50 mix of milk and green tea, or an all-green-tea icecream. I chose the 100% green tea.
At one of the stalls just outside the park there was bamboo icecream for sale, so we also had to try that. It’s green too, and has a fresh, slightly vegetal taste. Rather pleasant, and not an icecream flavor we’ve come across anywhere else (and some of the possible flavors are amazing).
In both Japan and Korea we’ve tasted many different types of green tea and had green tea icecream, which in my opinion is one of the best flavors for icecream, as it’s not too sweet.
Rod and I at Daehan Dawon Green Tea Garden
What a beautiful set to drink your tea from!
But, it’s really interesting to see how many other products are available that also use green tea, showing that this tea is far more than just a beverage. There is candy, soap and sunblock, for example. At the shop at the Daehan Dawon Green Tea Garden in Korea we saw noodles, rice, candy; face creams and face packs, green tea bath packs, body lotions, sun block; potions for medicinal purposes, such as helping food poisoning and motion sickness.
And in the USA it’s also possible now to buy many of these kinds of products.
Green tea has the connotation and reputation of being healthy, so supposedly any of these products would be more healthy for you than one without green tea. I haven’t personally tried many of these other products, but it’s worth thinking about.
Dinosaur Service Area
Nikcha Service Area
Cheese for sale at service area
Korea’s Highway Service Areas
We’ve been extremely fortunate each time we visited Korea, as Korean friends and colleagues hosted us and took us on road trips. Because of this we’ve been able to see more of the country than we could on our own, and learned a lot about the history and culture.
Outside of Seoul, we were very impressed with Korea’s extensive highway system. Many interconnecting highways and freeways must be a Civil Engineer’s dream, with so many long tunnels (it’s an extremely hilly country), long bridges over deep valleys, and causeways to the many small islands in the south.
Even the grilles around tree bases are decorated
At the Dinosaur Service Area
A notable feature of highway driving is the regularly-spaced Service Areas—with gas stations, large toilet facilities, bus parking, many restaurants and coffee shops, other small shops (for clothes, holiday necessities, tools, food, fruits) and sometimes even a small grocery store. Usually there’s also a special closed-in smoking area, something we were interested to see, as Korea is trying to cut down on the number of smokers. We were there in the summer, so the areas were always really busy and crowded—a veritable hive of activity. It was fun to stop for coffee and/or a light lunch, for us usually noodles, and watch the people and the hustle-bustle.
Most of the service areas have a special name and theme, usually linked to where they are. So, for example, we stopped at the Nokcha Service Area/Boseong Nokcha (nokcha means green tea), close to the part of the country where green tea is grown. Another day, driving back from Geoje Island, we stopped at the Dinosaur Service Area. In this part of the country, many dinosaur fossils and footprints have been found.
Sculpture at Nokcha Service Area to honor the highway workers
What a neat idea.
Most of the service areas have a garden/park area, and many have a sculpture or statue or two. It certainly makes stopping at these service areas very interesting and pleasant. The stunning blue sculpture above at the Nokcha Service Area is to honor all the workers who worked on the construction of Highway 10.
(There are a lot of photos, so please scroll through and enjoy)
We’ve always loved water lilies, no matter where we are—in a park or garden in the USA, at a lake in South Africa, in a park in France, at a temple in Korea or Japan. They are gorgeous, and incredibly photogenic, so over the years we’ve collected up hundreds of photos. So, I decided to do a couple of photo essays, and Korea seemed like a perfect place to start.
Water lilies, also called lotus by some, are an important religious symbol in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. They both symbolize resurrection, because many of the lilies close their flowers at night and reopen in the morning at first sunlight. Buddhists regard the water lily and lotus as a symbol of enlightenment because of the beautiful bloom that emerges from the mud/water. They also consider these blooms a symbol of purity, spontaneous generation and divine birth. No wonder then that we find them at Buddhist Temples in Korea, Thailand, and Japan.
However, there is some difference between a water lily and a lotus. The leaves of the lotus rise above the water (they are emergent) while the leaves of the water lily float on the surface. The same is true for their flowers; water lily flowers float, although some can be 6-8 inches above the water. Water lilies can also have variegated leaves, whereas lotus plants generally do not.
In Buddhist beliefs, the color of the flowers is also important. A white water lily/lotus refers to purity of mind and spirit. If a flower is red is refers to compassion and love.
A blue flower refers to common sense; it uses wisdom and logic to create enlightenment. The pink flower represents the history and historical legends of Buddha. A purple flower speaks of spiritual awakening and mysticism. And finally, a gold flower represents all achievement of all enlightenment, especially in the Buddha.
The flowers feature on the temple door panels too
The stage of growth of the flower is also important as a different stage of enlightenment. A closed flower represents the time before a Buddhist follower found Buddha or enlightenment. A fully open flower represents full enlightenment and self-awareness.
These aquatic plants grow in lakes, ponds and edges of streams. So, temples organize some kind of water and large wet muddy pots for these gorgeous plants to grow and flourish.
Signs at Nakseongdae Metro station for Seoul National University. A series of signs is obviously telling about the development of the Korean flag, but what are they saying?
A sign in SNU very clearly tells me what the places are
The Importance of Language
I’ve always been interested in other languages, communication and multiculturalism and am currently an ESL teacher. So, it is always fun for me to be in another country where a language other than English is used. These experiences always reinforce my belief in how important communication is and how difficult it can be when one doesn’t speak a language, and even more so when the alphabet is not based on a Latin script (as English is, and many other languages around the world).
Public notice board. A little English, so I can get the general idea, but no specifics
I have no idea what this truck carries/delivers!
What kind of shop is this?
I have to admit that I don’t speak Korean, other than a few basic words, and I cannot read Korean writing at all, so being here in Seoul is potentially a language adventure. Luckily for visitors, Korea as a country has embraced the idea of learning English and so in many public places the important signs and information are also written in English and we can cope, for example on the wonderful Metro system.
As I wandered around the campus of SNU and the nearby park and metro station on my own the first day that everyone else was at the workshop, I had a fun and interesting experience looking at the language used in signs. Some were in both Korean and English, some with a little English and some with no English at all. I realize that there is no obligation to write anything in English, so am happy when I can read something, but not upset when there is no English script. Then for me it is just a fun exercise to try and
This sign is in Nakseongdae Park. I can read Women Friendly Seoul, but why is it there? What does it mean? It’s a teaser, only knowing one phrase!
guess or figure out what the place (or whatever) might be. I’m probably usually not correct, unless there are other visual cues, like pictures or I can see into a shop, for example.
I think this is why, in most counties we’ve ever visited, menus for example usually have pictures too of what the food looks like. And in Japan, they take it one step further and often have plastic models of the dish, or the whole meal. I never did see models of food in Korea though.
One of the first bike-sharing initiatives was in the 1960s in Amsterdam, which wasn’t terribly successful, due to theft and abandonment in canals. In 1995 Portsmouth, UK, and Copenhagen launched a system using smart technology—smart cards with magnetic stripes, used for a fee.
Since then, bike-sharing technology has evolved and the number of programs around the world has grown exponentially, especially in Asia and especially in China. There are coin stations, docking stations, and dockless bikes. Theft remains a problem, as does cost of upkeep.
The first time I really became aware of bike-sharing was when we lived in Paris in 2007 with their famous Ve’lib program. Now, we notice it almost everywhere we travel, and it’s fun to take note of the different color bikes and the different systems. In general, the bikes seem to be pretty well used.
Bikes in Gongju City Korea
In Korea, we came across a few bike-share programs, a fact we found interesting as traffic in the cities is generally really heavy and congested. I’d be very wary of riding a bike there, but I suppose for the locals it’s okay as they understand the traffic flow etc.
A great place to stay in the spring (and through the year), as it’s surrounded by lovely trees and plants and is really well located.
When we were in Seoul for the month of April for Rod to help run the International Rumen Microbiology Workshop, we stayed at the Hoam Faculty House on campus. This was arranged by Dr. Baik, and it was very convenient and comfortable. There’s the main building, with the restaurants/breakfast room and rooms, plus another wing, where our room was. We were able to have a very nice buffet breakfast most days, and a couple of nights we had supper there too.
Beautiful azaleas outside Hoam
Vibrant red azaleas at Hoam
Arriving from Incheon Airport was remarkably easy: Bus 6017 leaves from the airport and goes directly to Seoul National University. The end stop is the Faculty House. Very convenient. Ditto to get back to the airport.
When we arrived at the beginning of the month the cherry blossoms on campus were glorious, and later in the month the azalea bushes at the front of Hoam were a blaze of color. Very pretty to see and experience.
The park is in the Gwanak-gu district of Seoul, just outside the gates of Seoul National University. It’s a lovely park, with large open spaces well used by the local people. A huge equestrian statue of General Kang dominates a large central square. This is the birth place of the famous Goryeo-era General and scholar, Kang Gamchan (948-1031). It is said that when Kang Gamchan was born, a star fell from heaven and landed where he was born, so this place was named “site of the falling star” (Nakseongdae).
Kids use the square to ride bicycles or skateboards. Another square connected to this has a small café on the side and a lot of free exercise equipment around the edge, very well used, especially by older folk. It’s a place to meet, chat, have a picnic, watch kids learn to ride bikes etc.
It was fun in the spring to just wander around the park and absorb some of the kids’ excitement, soak up some sunshine and enjoy the last of the beautiful cherry blossoms on the trees lining the squares and the wide path up the hill to General Kang’s shrine.
On one of the days I was there I found this sign in the park, mostly in Korean but with some English words—Women Friendly Seoul. It’s intriguing and I wonder what it actually means, or is targeting.
Love of Coffee Shops and European-style Pastries and Cakes
I’ve written before about how we found that many Korean people really seem to like the European-style coffee shop and all that goes with it. For a country whose cuisine was mostly based on rice and noodles, the Koreans have embraced bread and pastries in a big way. During our last long stay there in 2016 I researched Korean bakeries a bit and wrote about that here:
Many bakeries/coffee shops have French names: some noticeable ones are Le Pommier, Paris Baguette, Paris Croissant, Tous Les Jours, Patisserie Emma. We have eaten at a few, and the baked goods were pretty good, I must say.
This one has coffee with an Italian influence…
…and lovely macarons
However, there are large variations in the type and quality of baked goods in Korea. One the one hand, at many of these bakeries around Korea we saw loaves of bread with crisp crusts and airy interiors, buttery flaky croissants, baguettes, macarons, and gorgeous pastries and cakes that are aiming to live up to European standards. They have some Korean bakers trained in France and Germany. But still, there are some differences: in general cakes and pastries are not very sweet, and a lot more fresh whipped cream is used. My Korean friends tell me they call these “cream cakes”.
…lots of cream
A perfect macaron
On the other hand, many places also serve earlier versions of Korean bread that came by way of Japan: soft and chewy, filled with red bean paste or topped with hot dogs or gooey condensed milk icing, for example. Definitely not a European idea. But, that’s great—that many cooking ideas can come together.
While writing the earlier article I collected up so many photos of delicious baked goods, that I decided I just have to share them. So, here we go!!