Friday, 28 October 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 4)

The temperature dropped significantly today with cold winds from all directions following a heavy rain early in the morning. I put on a sweater and wind-breaker before setting off for the National Museum of Korea scheduled to be opened today.

A 45-minute ride on the subway and train took me to Inchon station, where the National Museum is located. However, the museum was not opened until the official ceremony at 2 pm. Having briefly looked around I decided to go elsewhere instead of wandering around in the neighbourhood, which looked nothing more than a well developed residential area.

Another 45-minute ride on the subway took me to Seolleung, where the royal tombs of Seongjong and his son Jungjong, the king portrayed by Im Ho in Dae Jang-geum, are located. Most tour guides do not feature these royal tombs but, fortunately, my Lonely Planet does. And having spent about an hour strolling along the paths in the quiet and colourful graveyard, it was certainly worth a visit for Dae Jang-geum fans or those who are interested in the history of Korea.

The tombs were built on massive load of soil covered with grass, which roughly measure 10 metres in height. They just looked like a green hill sitting quietly by the side of a busy road. Visitors have to climb up the hill before the actual tombs where the kings were buried become visible. The tombs were extremely simple in design, again in the shape of a hemisphere, guarded by a pair of stone-crafted generals, civil servants and some animals. Surprisingly, even the tombs of senior officials in China looked more grandeur than the Joseon kings.

After visiting the royal tombs I walked along the busy road and turned east into Bongeunsaro towards to COEX Mall, a huge underground shopping centre with the largest bookstore I have ever seen. Sadly, I still couldn't find any original text of Goryeo history and could only find a copy of the collection of all references to Korea in Chinese official histories compiled during the imperial times. I then tried the leading bookstores on Euljiro and Jonggak and still to no avail - let alone books about the imperial wives and concubines as well as ancient costumes. Perhaps I should try my luck at Seoul Selection near Gyeongbokgung later.

Before I set off this morning, Seong-a called me on the mobile, saying that our meeting has to be postponed. She suggested next Monday and Tuesday but unfortunately I won't be back from Gyeongju until Wednesday evening. Tentatively we have confirmed our meeting on Thursday but she would ring me again nearer the time. I do hope we can meet as scheduled next Thursday.

Poor Hwa-joo has to work overtime tomorrow and I'm still not sure if she could join me and Sun-mi for hiking to Bukhansan. Perhaps we should take an easy course and return to the downtown earlier so that Hwa-joo can join us for afternoon tea or dinner.

The real challenges are yet to emerge - Make sure I can catch the 8:15 am train to Daegu East where I have to transfer to Gyeongju on Sunday. Again, Andong seems to be farther away from Gyeongju as I have imagined and it could be equally challenging to make it a day trip. Let's see what happens...

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