Seoul and Sydney (part 2: let’s see a show)

Monday

After our morning routine of exercise and coffee, we had breakfast with Virginia’s father in the hotel. We reserved train tickets for the following day and then headed out.

Our first stop was Yonsei University, particularly to see an exhibit on M.C. Escher’s art. Virginia’s father is especially interested in art and the passage of time, and we had been talking about Escher the night before. The exhibit itself was quite nice, a great overview of his work.

Wgh0bChIQCexGD%oF%gWe walked around the campus for a while, and then took a taxi over to the Korean Catholic Cathedral. The complex is impressive, anchored by the Gothic-style cathedral in brick, unusual for the time in which it was built. We wandered around for a while, viewing both the artwork in the main nave and the tombs of Catholic martyrs from the 19th century. The complex also has a commercial building with shops and restaurants. We chose one that had dok mandoo soup, which hit the spot for all of us. The mandoo were immense, and three mandoo were more than enough to make us full and happy.

After lunch, we walked several blocks to a large bookstore near the palaces complex. We’re all avid readers, so a bookstore is a great way for us to kill some time. Virginia and her father bought a few books after the usual process of picking up too many books and then winnowing down. We then walked back to where we’d been to get some coffee at one of the many, many shops in the downtown area. We ended up at the second place we saw, as the first place was a little too confined for our liking.

And then it was time to see Nanta, a non-verbal comedy built around a rush in a restaurant kitchen to make a wedding dinner in just over an hour. The show’s been running for twenty years, and Virginia and her father had seen it a couple of years before. But it was my first time and it was great fun! As happens too often, I ended up as part of the show. I was brought up on stage for a “making mandoo” competition. We lost the competition, though I think it was rigged ;-).

After the show ended, I picked up my souvenir photo and we left for an early dinner at a Japanese restaurant near Yonsei University. Virginia’s father wanted us all to have sake, in particular suggesting we have hire sake (hot sake with a blowfish fin added). We’d tried this last time and were EXTREMELY clear in expressing how much we did not want that. We had regular sake instead with a delicious meal to close out the day.

 

Tuesday

Another day, another morning routine. After breakfast, we took a taxi to Seoul Station for our train to Daejeon for the day. We’d bought first class tickets, which meant comfortable seats and complimentary snacks for the hour-long ride.

Why go to Daejeon? We learned it’s the “Silicon Valley” of South Korea, and many of the largest corporations have set up innovation labs there. Possibly related to that, the Korean government moved the National Science Museum from Seoul to Daejeon in 1990, and we thought it would be a fun place to visit. And it was! After being dropped off at a side gate, we walked to the main ticket office and received some very helpful advice on selecting a show time. We then walked over to the Science & Technology Hall to look around. We had arrived right around noon, so it was basically empty as everyone else had gone to lunch. We were struck by the emphasis on interactivity and practical technology history — this was no esoteric gallery.

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The National Science Museum.

After a quick lunch at the museum’s cafe, we went to the Planetarium to see a show on the sun and moon. It was a little eerie because we were the only three people in a large theater. The operator first live-narrated a show in Korean, and then presented a pre-recorded show in English. The latter was clearly aimed at kids, but I appreciate his showing it to us.

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“Blooms in Snow Flower” (courtesy of olympics.org)

After the planetarium show, Virginia’s father called for a taxi to go back to the train station. We had a quiet ride back to Seoul (more snacks, more quiet time with my Kindle). Virginia’s father wanted us to see a small museum about the Korean train station and thought it was in the old Seoul Station. Instead, we found a pop-up exhibit on the Olympics, which was unexpectedly great. It included videos of people involved and an exhibit of Olympic posters from the beginning through the Pyeongchang games. We especially liked one of the posters so much that we bought a print to take home.

The day was capped with dinner at L’Abri, a French restaurant in the same building as the bookstore we’d visited the previous day. We paired two bottles of Burgundy with a classic menu and significant conversation, all for the good.

Wednesday

After the previous evening, we got off to a slow start overall. We exercised, had breakfast, and packed up our bags before grabbing seats in the lounge for coffee and reading. Virginia’s father met us around 11:30am for coffee, and then we went downstairs to have lunch at Yeohyang (the hotel’s Chinese restaurant).

We decided to visit Ewha Womans University, which is both next door to Yonsei University and where Virginia’s mother had attended college. There’s a museum there that has several exhibitions of Korean art and historical items from the Joseon and Goryeo eras. They were curated and presented well, holding your attention but not overstaying its welcome.

We then went outside and walked around the central campus. Incidentally, it’s kind of amazing that Yonsei and Ewha have such beautiful, relatively expansive campuses in the middle of an enormous, built-up city like Seoul. It reminds me of our experience as undergraduates at the University of Chicago, where the campus makes you feel like you’re not in a city at all. Virginia’s father went to check out an art gallery (that didn’t turn out to exist, unfortunately) while we continued walking, and then we reconvened to go back to the hotel to collect our bags. We said our goodbyes to Virginia’s father and took the hotel’s shuttle bus to the train station.

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Our trip to Incheon airport was uneventful. We were flying Thai Airways for our next leg, and we arrived before the airline’s desks even opened. Thankfully, we were first in our line, which had two benefits: we got to see the airline’s opening ceremony (which I’d never witnessed for any airline), and we received our boarding passes quickly. We then spent some time in the lounge, recharging our phones and getting some food, before our flight.

The flight itself started oddly: for the first time I’d been on an airplane that had to abort its takeoff while on the runway. Fortunately, the delay wasn’t long and we were able to get off the ground on attempt number two. Next stop: Bangkok.

 

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