I have a fellow co-worker and friend, who happens to be both Korean and a Seoul resident. And my wonderful, gracious, kind, lovely friend has been telling me for a while that anytime I wanted to go to Seoul she would be happy to show me around. During the past week we made plans to meet up in her area to do some sightseeing and grab dinner. Towards the end of the week we got on the subject of shamans and fortune tellers, a very popular thing here in Korea, even to this day. People will seek the assistance of fortune tellers for things such as finding a lucky name for their newborn, finding a good love match, and even for getting a talisman to ward off bad luck and evil spirits. You can see small tarp huts lined up in different areas of Seoul, all of which invite anyone who happens by to come in and get their fortunes told.
Because this is something that is inherently part of Korean culture, I really wanted to see what it was like. I am not one who believes in such things. I think that our fate is decided by God and by the decisions, whether they be good or bad that we choose to make. So for me, this experience was purely for entertainment purposes and as another way to experience the culture (I am adding this disclaimer for my Mother, as I can hear her cluck her tongue and shake her head while reading this-love you, Mom). Erica was happy to oblige me this and so we had a plan to meet around 1:15 on Saturday – a little fortune telling, some food, and lots of walking.
I met her at Jongrak station which has a large shopping area both inside the station as well as above. This is also the station where I had my “big feet” encounter that I mentioned in an earlier blog- ah, the memories. This area is close to where I generally hang out at when I come to Seoul. It is the northern part of the city hosting many things to see such as art museums, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Jogyesa Buddhist Temple, Insadong, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, and some other cute neighborhoods and attractions I am sure I am leaving out.
First we walked around the area, since the day was beautiful, there were tons of people out. We passed by Tapgol park, which used to be the home of a Buddhist temple as well as the location of the 1919 march of independence from Japanese occupation. We did not go in but I did get a lovely picture of the front gate.
I love the intricacy of the temple style of architecture. We walked through the Jongmo area and into Insadong. Here we stopped at an art museum which was hosting work from local artists. The main reason we stopped though, was to get a view from the 6th floor terrace.
After hanging out for a few minutes we headed back town to the street to get our fortunes read. Erica had a particular person that she liked to go to, so we were off to see him.
A lovely Indian restaurant caught me eye as we were walking by. I loved the openness of the sitting area. Definitely a place I will have to try at a later date.
We found Erica’s guy, and he kindly ushered us into his humble abode. The last time I paid to have my fortune told was when I was about 18 years old. I went with a boyfriend and the lady was quirky to say the least. This guy was pretty chill. He had a bohemian look about him, mostly late 70s era style with a cut off sleeved t’shirt, wire rimmed glasses, and hair that was a bit on the long side. He was very thin and waifish. but had a kind smile. Usually fortune tellers ask leading questions in order to read you, in my case, I don’t speak Korean, and he spoke very little English so he didn’t ask and I didn’t offer. Erica was kind enough to translate the whole experience as best she could. He first asked for my birthdate and time of birth. He looked it up in his book and proceeded to write things down. He then asked me how much I want to know; you have the option of knowing only the good stuff, or good stuff and some mild bad stuff, or all of it. I chose the good and only some of the bad.
Here is the abridged version- I will never be rich (I knew that already). My life is taking an up swing for the next six years or so. Changing my career was very smart, as I need to be doing something creative. I may work two jobs in the future, but they will be things I really enjoy. My window for marriage is between 41 and 46; after that, the next optimal time is at 71 (there is still hope for me mom). He said if I had gotten married earlier it most likely would have ended in divorce. He told me to never get a business loan, as I don’t have a head for business. He said I have a double personality-Mother Theresa by day and Madonna by night; not the biblical Madonna according to Erica-this made me giggle mainly because of Erica’s translation. He said I don’t like to be told what to do (very true) and I work best by myself- maybe partially true. He said I will live a long life but to keep an eye on my reproductive organs and my thyroid. I asked him how long I would stay in Korea and he said no more that four years. I would continue traveling. He also said to continue my studies, though I never told him I was studying in the first place.
All in all, it was a fun experience for less than 20$. Our next stop was the Samcheong-ro neighborhood. On our way we passed through some alleys that housed interesting restaurants, teahouses, and cafes. One that caught my eye was a flower café. The smell of the flowers outside were so fresh and fragrant that I couldn’t help but stop and take some pictures. Also their was this cool Thai restaurant that we passed that had this nifty flower arrangement on the ceiling.
Samcheong-ro is on a small hill and has a tree lined wall on one side as you enter the neighborhood. Again, the people were out in droves, there were artist on the street dancing, painting and busking (singing on the street). I felt like I walked into a Korean drama. It is a very picturesque area as you enter. Unfortunately, my photos don’t do it justice.
The area is known for converted hanok homes into boutiques, cafes, and bakeries. It is a pretty area with plenty of photo ops and delicious delicacies to try. We passed a bakery that was closed but had a decent line in front of it. Erica told me that this place was famous for their fresh baked bread. They often sell out, close the store and reopen when more is made and there is always a line. We decided to brave the line since the sign said they would open within a few minutes. They have about six different options. We decided on the cream cheese loaf and the chocolate loaf. They were still warm and steaming when he put them in the bag. Anyone who knows me knows that fresh bread is my weakness, in fact, I liken it to an addictive drug as I have no self control when around it. Lucky for me, Erica was with me so I didn’t have to go down that glorious, dark hole alone. Here is a photo of the bakery and our bread. If you are in the area, I highly recommend giving it a try.
We grabbed our bread and headed to a café outside of Samcheong-ro. We walked towards the palace and passed a contemporary art museum. Although we did not go into the palace grounds, the area it occupied was massive. I did not realize how much land the palace occupied. Next weekend I plan on heading over there to spend time at the palace. But on we walked to get some coffee and chow on our warm and yummy bread. Not far from the café and the palace, you began to see the Buddhist influence. We saw pagodas and a Nepalese museum. A few hundred meters more and we were at the entrance of Jogyesa Temple. It is not a large temple but they have lots of accommodations for temple stay visits in a separate building adjacent to the compound. The temple is very ornate with paper lanterns and prayer flags overhead. There were four ferocious looking warriors made of steel standing guard at the entrance. Overhead there was a beautiful piece of artwork surrounded by paper lanterns. Inside there was a tall stone pagoda, and a cute stone Buddha with his hand outstretched beckoning for our spare change. There was another raised pagoda where a monk was beating a large drum.
Here are the pictures I got within the compound.
After walking around the temple. We headed over to Myeongdong. This area is a foodie and shopaholics paradise. We popped into Lotte World, an enormous department and food store. I scored some manchego cheese and chorizo, which I never would have thought I would find here. Then, after window shopping for a bit, we made our way over to one of Erica’s favorite places to eat, a traditional hole in the wall, back alley Korean restaurant for some kimchi jjigae. It was delicious.
On our way back to the train station, I noticed a guy taking a picture of the street from the third floor of a clothing store. Since it looked like he had a great view of the street, we decided to copy him.
And this was the culmination of a perfect ending to a perfect day with a great host.
Here is a compilation of all the photos I took today. There are a couple of things in there that I did not talk about. Hope you enjoyed hanging out with me again today in Korea.