Now that I have visited most of the destinations on my priority list - the Joseon palaces and historical sites - in Seoul, it is time to wander around and enjoy the city.
When I was having breakfast at the hostel this morning, I met a Japanese student who is here to participate in an international English debate competition at Yonsei University. He seemed quite concerned about going around in Seoul without any knowledge of Korean. I shared with him some of my experience and taught him how to say "Thank you" in Korean. How ironic it was! I never thought that my Korean is good enough to teach someone else. In return, he left me his email address so that he could offer me some help when I visit Japan later.
I was running late for a meeting with Seong-a in Apgujeong, so I decided to jump on a taxi - yes, it was expensive but possibly the quickest way to get to the destination. Seong-a's workplace was a bit difficult to find, as it is located on the fifth floor of a small commercial building in one of the alleys in Apgujeong, away from the main road.
With a few conversations between Seong-a and the taxi driver, I finally managed to get there. She was so kind to treat me a coffee and showed me around the small but hi-tech, nicely decorated beauty salon where she is working. I was happy seeing her, but she seemed even more excited instead, which was really heart-warming.
Apparently I have chosen the wrong clothing - it was getting so warm that I began sweating again. After meeting with Seong-a, I decided to go back to the hostel and get changed instead of going straight to the National Museum in Ichon. On my way back, I took a brief visit to Unhyeonggung, just five minutes away from my hostel on the main road, which was the residence of Gojong's father, Heungseon Daewongeun. It was a small but cosy residence to the north of downtown.
It was almost one o'clock when I left the hostel again and given the size of the newly opened National Museum, I decided to go tomorrow morning and just strolled along Yulgokro to the west and visited Seoul Selection Bookstore on Samcheongro and the National Palace Museum next to Gyeongbokgung. I missed it during my last visit to Gyeongbokgung simply because I was exhausted and overwhelmed with information.
Seoul Selection Bookstore was recommended as one of the best bookstores in Seoul with a good collection of English books on Korea. But I was so disappointed at the fact that they have only two titles on the shelf. Fortunately I managed to find a book giving details of royal life in Joseon Dynasty and bought an extra copy for Chang Te in Taiwan.
Tourists interested in the history of Joseon Dynasty, especially those who have watched Dae Jang-geum or Road to Kingship, can never afford to miss the National Palace Museum located just at the southwestern corner of Gyeongbokgung. The current exhibition contains a eye-opening, extraordinarily well-preserved collection of documents, clothing, utensils and furniture of the Joseon imperial court. Presented in a neat and orderly way, this collection represents an excellent introduction to the imperial life of Joseon Dynasty. And it was a wise decision for me to skip lunch to buy a splendid book that contains great photos of the museum's collection, which are loads more than those in the exhibition halls. It was expensive, but it was definitely good value for money.
Later I walked along Sejongro to the south, passing by the Sejong Cultural Centre, the statue of the invincible General Yi Sun-sin, and the former sites of "uijeongbu" and "uigeumbu", the royal cabinet and imperial police of Joseon Dynasty frequently mentioned in Dae Jang-geum. For some reason I missed the large bookstore Bandi & Luni's near Jonggak subway station, which is on the northeast corner of the intersection of Ujeonggungro and Jongro. There I found the "dream book" that I have been looking for so long - a translated copy of Hyegyeonggung Madame Hong's Hanjungrok, or The Records in Anguish in English! I could hardly believe my eyes when I read the title, so much so that I wanted to shout in joy in front of the bookshelf. The book was published nine years ago and the English romanisation of Korean followed the old system, but it was no problem at all as long as I could find a legible version. I thought I was extremely lucky to have found this book, which was, surprisingly, written in Hangeul but not Chinese in its original form. This means that it is highly unlikely that I can find a copy of this book in the university library in Hong Kong.
In the late afternoon, I walked back north into Insadong again, relaxing in a teahouse with my books and MP3 player. I spent almost two hours there, enjoying the green tea although the rice cakes were not as good as those sold at the food stalls on the streets.
In the evening, Sun-mi and Hwa-joo took me to a mouth-watering dinner of "kimchi bokkeumbap", fried rice with kimchi, and a minced beef platter with sliced rice cakes, "tteok", in Samcheongdong, northeast of Gyeongbokgung. There are lots of small but delicate restaurants and artistic shops along the densely-planted street, similar to Nanshan Road in Hangzhou. The fried rice was absolutely gorgeous and likely to be the best fried rice I have ever had. I was tempted to go there again tomorrow simply for the fried rice. YUMMY!