Friday, May 26, 2017

Day 2: Reventada en Seoul

Whenever I tell my friend, Ivon, about one of my latest escapades- how I managed to snag the last tickets to a concert; got bumped off a flight for big $$; ran into a celebrity while walking down the street- her response is always the same. "Que clase de reventada eres, coƱo", meaning that I am lucky AF.

At least, I think that is what she means. I have exhaustively googled this phrase, even focusing on Cuban slang dictionaries, in search of that definition and nada. I found sites that translate it to busted, tired or even slutty...nothing about lucky. Still, she is a good friend so I am choosing to believe her.

The truth is she might be right. While I do try to research my travels and do my best to be at the right place and the right time, I have to admit that a lot of my coolest experiences have happened as total flukes. Take for example, my second day in Seoul. I had already done the DMZ tour, so my plan was to get a 24 hr ticket on the Hop-On/ Hop-Off tour and explore some of the neighborhoods a friend had recommended.

I was staying in the Pangyo district, south of the city so Sunday morning, I boarded a bus to Gwanghwamun Square, where the tour would originate. For reasons I did not understand, the bus stopped several blocks short of my destination and the driver explained that I would have to walk the rest of the way. No problem, I had time.
As I approached, the reason became clear. Some of the streets were being blocked off and tents had popped up in the medians. There was some kind of festival or rally about to take place. This was days prior to the presidential election so I figured it was the latter and hoped that the closures would not affect the tour too much.

In the event that it did, I decided to go into the tourist information office for a back-up plan. The very helpful woman inside grabbed a map and proceeded to doodle all over it. "From 10-11, there will be a parade here" "From 3-5, there is are free Heritage activities here" "There are events all day long here." And so on...  It turned out it was the last day of  the Korean Royal Palace Culture Festival!!

Suddenly, the Hop-on/ Hop-off was off and I had parade plans. There was still an hour to go so if I rushed, I could visit the nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace. This plan lasted for approximately 3 minutes because...the courtyard to the palace was also the staging area for the parade!!

If there was security meant to keep non-participants from roaming the grounds, taking photos and generally being in the middle of everything, they did a crap job because I was all over the place.

My idea was to get as many photos as I could before the parade began, at which time, someone would surely come and boot me out of there. Only, no one ever did. I stood in the middle of the courtyard, ducking flags and banners as the parade just kind of went around me. It was nuts!!

I completely had the best seat in all of the parade route! I was reventada to the extreme!!

Once it was over, I figured it was a good time to finally visit the palace itself. I went to buy a ticket, looked at my change and realized I had been charged the reduced childrens' rate. I was not about to blow all this luck on ripping off a cultural institution so I explained to the woman in the ticket booth that she had undercharged me. Nope, there was a reduced admission for the festival. 

Once inside, I wondered if there was an audio guide I could rent to better appreciate what I was looking at. No need as I immediately stumbled across an English tour and was able to follow it for the next hour, learning all about the Joseon Dynasty and the history of the palace itself.

Our guide explained that one of the reasons that the Joseon Dynasty ruled longer than any other , over 500 years, was their insistence on accountability. At all times, there was someone documenting everything the emperor said or did . One emperor in particular, went out horseback riding and managed to fall off his horse, He turned to his guy and ordered him not to include this in the public record. Not only did the documentarian record the fall, he also recorded the order not to record it.

The Royal Banquet Hall

Even the chimneys were beautiful

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion: Although most of the palace was destroyed by fire during the Injim War,  this pavilion managed to survive.

As part of all the festivities, many of the women were wearing the traditional Hanboks. Not one to feel left out, I found a booth just outside the palace where they were offering free hanbok photo ops and joined in on the fun.

There were actually plenty of complimentary booths. Some offered calligraphy lessons, others had wine tastings and one particular table had a portrait artist with an ipad at the ready. He called me over to sit for him and for the next twenty minutes, he wavered between intently staring at me and feverishly working on his ipad. I don't know about you but I think he nailed it...

Korean Cotton Candy is the best Cotton Candy
After all the excitement of the morning, I was getting hungry so I made my way over to the Insadong area. This is where you can find lots of galleries, souvenir stores and most importantly for my purposes, restaurants.


As I checked out the street food, I wondered if the similarity between Korean pancakes and the poop emoji was coincidental.

And then I saw this and realized, nope this is very much meant to look like a turd snack, no accident about it.

In the end, as a hungry vegetarian, I did what I always do when I feel I might have a hard time finding something I can eat, I found an Indian restaurant. 

Meanwhile all around me, the party continued...

I looked at my map full of doodles and saw that there was still more to do.  I ran over to the Jongmyo Shrine just in time to attend a ceremony called the Jongmyo Jaerye meant to honor the departed.  This ritual dates back to the Joseon period and is now recreated once a year...and here I was!!

To be sitting there on this beautiful day, listening to the rhythmic chanting and watching a tradition that dates back over 600 years was one of those experiences  I know I will always remember.

From looking towards the past, I jumped on the metro and soon found myself in front of one of the most cutting edge buildings in Seoul, Zaha Hadid's Design Plaza. It is in the Dongdaemun shopping district and pretty much looks cool from all angles.

The coffee shop inside the Design Plaza

By this time, the sun was beginning to set and I had already walked over 13 miles (per my iphone). It was time to return to Pangyo. As I sat on the train, I looked back at the day I'd just experienced. I'd woken up with no higher expectation than a chill tour of the city and had ended up experiencing a parade, countless celebrations and one hilariously jacked-up ipad portrait. Maybe Ivon is right after all.  Maybe I am tremenda reventada.

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