Saturday, June 28, 2014

Art, Music, and Bingsus

29 June 2014

We keep looking at things to do in South Korea, and starting to make plans to travel elsewhere.  And then, we find lists of things to do in Seoul, things we haven't done yet, more places to explore, more interesting things to see and experience - and, well, we're probably going to stay in Seoul another week.  Or more.  We aren't sure, it's just that there are day trips to the beach, or terraced tea farms, or parks full of pagodas, or the various temples and palaces all around Seoul, or the ancient walls and gates that once surrounded the city back in the 14-somethings - well, you get the picture.  Lots more to do and see here, without schlepping our luggage and figuring out how to get around.

So yes, at least another week in Seoul.

And yes, those orange-y flowers really are that colour!

We discovered the Zoo Coffee café up the road, nowhere near the zoo itself.  But they feature cuddly plush toy animals, sorted by colour apparently.  For sale, possibly to fund animal protection programs?  Or endangered species?  The zoo?   We don't know, the sign was in Korean and the staff didn't speak any English.  But I really liked the atmosphere of this café.

We've been enjoying the cafés of Seoul, although they aren't like cafés elsewhere in the world.  The cafés of Seoul focus on drinks (coffee, tea, and juices), and Korean snack food - cakes, maybe scones or muffins, often bagels, and almost always bingsus.  (BING-soo)  A bingsu is a Korean warm-weather treat, although we haven't tried one yet.  The bingsu is crushed or shaved ice, layered with fruit, or sweet red beans, or sometimes cookies or something like that.  Sort of a parfait effect, in a really big glass.  Or maybe a cross between a parfait and an Italian ice.  Sometimes there seems to be some flavoured liquid poured over the ice.  People stir the whole thing and eat it with a spoon, usually two or three people sharing one bingsu.  I'm intrigued, but haven't found any place serving a small bingsu for one.  (I'd also prefer a berry bingsu, but they are hard to find.  Red bean and mango seem to be most popular, and, well, we all know that mango is my kryptonite.)

Not only are the manhole covers in Seoul intriguing - the grates around the trees lining the sidewalks are decorative.  With Asian cranes flying through blue skies and pink clouds.  Amazing!  Who makes decorative grates around trees???

Our subway station closest to the hotel, the Nambu Bus Terminal stop, is also the station closest to the Seoul Arts Center.  So of course one of the murals in the subway station is a mosaic featuring traditional musicians playing, well, traditional instruments - a few stringed mandolin-type of things, and what looks like maybe a sitar or autoharp (remember those from school?) or maybe a dulcimer.  Or a zither?  Definitely a flute or two, some bells, and a drum or gong.  

Anyway, it makes a great mural!

We've seen people walking in our area with cellos strapped to their backs, violin cases, maybe a few horns in cases - and it took a while to realize that they probably are musicians in an orchestra that rehearses and plays at the Arts Center.  We haven't seen any ads for concerts, but we've certainly seen the musicians.  I even saw one young woman in a café busily taping her music together so it would be one continuous score, needing fewer page turns.  Definitely professional musicians!

We went to Itaewon for burgers, and Richard wrote the blog on that experience.  (It's the blog before this one.)  The hat was happy to meet a bunch of friends.  I found Itaewon a little disorienting, since it seemed to be full of American franchises and oriented toward the US military base nearby.  After our immersion in Korean culture, finding this little ex-pat enclave was just weird.

We've found that Koreans are, in general, very helpful - we often have people who speak some English come over and offer to help us.  (Sometimes we're only trying to decide where to go for dinner.  But the help in figuring out where we're going is definitely appreciated.)  People are also interested in where we're from, since they don't seem to get as many tourists as other parts of Asia.  (One little girl, maybe two years old, came running over pointing and smiling at me, like I was a novelty - she was adorable, so I pointed my finger and we did the God-Adam-by-Michelangelo thing - or maybe an ET thing, depending on your point of view.  Her mother laughed and whisked the child away.)  I have to say, though, that Koreans seem, well, mysterious or inscrutable or something.  I'm sure part of it is the language barrier we've hit.  But like much of our time here in Korea, it's as if we understand part of what's going on, we comprehend the surface of what we're seeing, but there seems to be so much more depth that we just remain clueless about.  It might be what I think of as the crowded city syndrome, where people live and work and travel in close proximity, and thus have learned to keep their emotions close and guarded.  Private.  Or, it might be cultural.  Again, this is one of those things that we sense goes much deeper than our understanding of it.

So we'll continue to stumble our way through Seoul, and continue to try figuring things out as best we can.


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