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School’s out

This week I’ve been enjoying time off from work. Botond and So Young have gone to Japan. One of our colleagues has gone to Cambodia, I think. Earlier this week I took ₩150,000 out of the bank, reducing my balance to low five-figure proportions. I certainly wasn’t going abroad (besides the financial reason my visa is single entry (although apparently it’s easy enough to change it to multiple entry)).

I had two touristy ideas in mind to occupy me during the week off: go and see the Glories of Persia exhibition at the National Museum of Korea which finishes at the end of the month, and visit Suwon Fortress. Both of these aims have now been fulfilled, and it’s only Thrusday. Additional goals included seeing a doctor for my annual (since last year) bowel exam and going to a dentist. These I haven’t done, but I’ve been paid today, so maybe I’ll get on them tomorrow.

I’d been to the National Museum of Korea once before – in February last year when my colleagues and I went to the Louvre exhibition there. The Glories of Persia entrance fee was ₩10,000, while a ticket to the main part of the museum was free. I got one of each. I was a little disappointed with the Persia exhibition. While there were a number of boards retelling episodes of Persian history in both Korean and English, none of the exhibits had English descriptions.

National Museum of Korea

Maybe I wandered round too quickly. There were two or three rooms of artefacts on loan from Iran. Most impressive were the golden bowls on display just inside the entrance. They looked very fragile, made of thin sheets of rich yellow gold an ornamented with human and animal figures. One in particular had three or four bulls, each with its horns projecting outward – these horns being hollow. Also quite memorable was a black stone mastiff – probably life-size (and therefore representing a big doggie).

After the Glories of Persia I wandered round the garden at the back of the museum. I hadn’t recharged my camera’s battery since I’d been to Bukhansan, so it ran out of juice quickly, but I took a few photos.

Next I went into the museum proper for the first time. In a couple of hours I covered maybe one sixth of the exhibits – specifically, I wandered round the archeological displays of pre-modern Korea which takes up half the ground floor. Of note here were a pair of large ornate golden earrings, designated National Treasure number 83 or something, and an incense burner decorated with animals people, stylised mountains and with a dragon forming the base.

Getting a little tired and hungry, I fortuitously discovered the cafeteria at the end of this section and had what was effectively mushroom risotto – yangsangi bibimbap I think it was called. Also in this general area was a ten storey pagoda – a kind of stone monolith about, I don’t know, 25 feet high, designed to look like a pagoda, with a number of little figures carved in relief on each floor.

The museum itself has the feeling of being brand-spanking new. On the outside it’s broadly a great concrete cuboid, while inside it’s clean and airy – pleasant but dull. Nevertheless I must go back sometime and investigate more of the exhibits – with a fully-charged camera battery.

After leaving the museum (taking a walk through grounds in front of the building) I went to Itaewon and bought a hat.

Yesterday, armed against the sun with my new hat, I set of on the long journey to Suwon, south of Seoul. Most of the way, I travelled on line 4 – which was my route into Seoul when I lived in Ansan – then changed at Geumjeong.

I intended to walk from Suwon Station to the fortress, having previously determined a route using Google Maps and Congnamul.com. It turned out not to be quite so simple as that (obviously) – I reached some sort of office complex for Kyeonggi-do, the province surrounding (but not including) Seoul. I turned around and looked for another route. It seemed a simple enough proposition – just head uphill until I reach the wall and then look for an entrance.

I followed a road with woods on the uphill side to the left and some views of the city on the right, and eventually this road went under the wall and I climbed up a path to the fortifications. The wall is actually a ring maybe a mile or two across, the western part on the wooded hill, the eastern part threading through urban Suwon. The ring isn’t quite complete – a couple of hundred metres either side of the southern gate is missing – but what’s there is definitely impressive.

I arrived at the wall near it southern extreme, just west of the southern gate and walked pretty much the whole extant perimeter in a clockwisely direction. It’s not like the Great Wall of China, where you can actually walk on the wall (not that I’ve ever been to China), but instead you have the wall on your left-hand side (if you go clockwise like me) with a narrow stone path adjacent to it, then sometimes a little grass slope and the woods, or sometimes just the woods on your right. The wall has broad, closely spaced crenellations which are topped with tiles, and every so often there is a sentry tower command post, gate, or even a pavillion.

Hwaseomun and Seobukgongsimdon

I’m not sure if there’s a museum – I didn’t see one, but I didn’t particularly look into it. It took me about four hours to do my near-circuit. At the end, I descended from the last part of the wall to a stream (which earlier on I’d crossed, along with a load of middle school schoolgirls) then into a shopping area with a pedestrian street following the course of the wall. Then, in a roundabout like the historic gates in Seoul, there was the southern gate. I took a couple of photos of it, then hopped into a taxi and headed back to the station (where I had a vegetable rice bulgogi burger at Lotteria – instead of a bun, it comes sandwiched between two patties of rice; a bit tricky to eat, but nice).

Quite a pleasant day out, and I have a few hundred photos to show for it this time. I hope to get them up on Flickr soon (which probably means before the end of the year).

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