Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Category: Korea

Cat cafe and Namsan Park

After the Gongpyeong Historic Site Museum, I walked to Myeongdong. I needed lunch, and wanted to keep up my track record of only eating things cooked on a grill or wok by guys in parkas, and eaten standing. I was headed to Namsan Park, and it’s a short but uphill walk to the entrance to the park.

So to fortify myself, I had some bulgogi from one of the street vendors. I believe it was made using both a grill and a wok, so my criteria were satisfied.

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I also stopped for coffee at the Myeongdong Cat Cafe.

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Fortunately there’s a funicular that takes you up to the cable cars. From there, it’s a few minutes to the top of Namsan Mountain.

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It was a very clear day, so while it was cold, the view was spectacular. I didn’t go up the N Seoul Tower; I’ll save that for a time when I’m here with my wife.

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You really get a sense of how vast the city is from up there. More than 10 million people live in Seoul, about a quarter of nation’s population.

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I spent a while there, then took the cable car back down after sunset (the temperature was dropping quickly).

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After one more bite of street food, it was back to the hotel, as I have a busy Monday promoting Rest, and Tuesday I’m doing my own interviews for the four-day week book. So if any more tourism happens it’ll be pretty much accidental.

The amazing Gongpyeong Historic Sites Museum

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About a mile from the Gyeongbokgung Palace, in the basement of a skyscraper, is one of the most remarkable museums I’ve ever visited: the Gongpyeong Historic Sites Museum. Gyeongbokgung and the National Museum get the attention, but if you want to see something really amazing, come here.

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A few years ago, when work was starting on a new skyscraper, construction crews unearthed building foundations and materials from a 17th-century neighborhood. Archaeologists were able to use this to reconstruct a picture of daily life in this area, and incredibly, the building developers built a museum over the dig.

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They built a glass floor over some of the dig, installed catwalks over some other sections, and cleared a path through the site elsewhere; so you have the experience of first walking over the site, then descending into it.

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This being Korea, there are also giant screens everywhere, and a VR reconstruction of a building that you can explore (it’s not bad at all).

I’ve seen this kind of museum once before, over a Viking site in Turku, Finland, and each time I’m impressed by the idea of locating a museum right over a dig.

It’s rarely the case that the layout and architecture of a museum is just as interesting as the materials within it (and often museum designers strive to keep the space in the background of the visitor’s attention), but in this case, there’s no way not to admire the design. But for me at least, that didn’t detract from the historical material.

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And the museum is HUGE. When you first go into it you don’t get a sense of just how big it’s going to be, but it’s just massive.

Finally, it was surprisingly quiet there, and there were no huge crowds. Which was a nice change from, well, everywhere else in Seoul!

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Sunday morning I hopped on the metro and headed over to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the biggest of the several Joeson era palaces in Seoul.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

It’s a super-popular location for foreign visitors, and for local Koreans, and for good reason: it’s a terrifically well-maintained site despite having been burned to the ground a rebuilt a couple times (the plaques always note when the Japanese were involved in the destruction).

Palace

If memory serves, the architectural style is Classical Chinese, and comes from a period when the Korean elites were essentially trying to reconstruct a purer version of Chinese architecture and art than what they found at the time in China.

Taking pictures

However, it’s also where my dad says he went ice skating as a kid, so there’s that too.

From there, I walked down Gwanghwamun, stopping in a surprisingly cool underground museum devoted to the lives of King Sejong (who was like a cross between James I and Tony Stark, and is credited with the development of Hangul, a ton of scientific instruments, and a raft of modernization initiatives) and Admiral Yi (of the turtle ships).

© 2019 Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

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