Almost as soon as we arrived back after Chuseok, we began a thorough cleaning of Amy’s apartment – her mother was coming over from Canada for a visit, and naturally we wanted the place to be spick and span. She arrived without any major mishap, and once the worst of the jet-lag was over we took a trip out to the Korea Folk Village just outside of Yongin; a working village where traditional crafts and lifestyles are preserved for the benefit of locals and tourists alike. The site was pretty large, with trees, thatched cottages and small plots of cultivated land everywhere. We occasionally ran across a resident busy working on something, and more often a film crew shooting a Korean period drama (the area is often as an outdoor film set of Korea as it was hundreds of years ago). There were also gasp-inspiring displays of traditional dances, acrobatics, horsemanship and a wedding ceremony to round the experience out.
The following day, we met up with Amy’s friend Hyun Mi and went out to a huge lunch followed by a trip to the Hoam Art Museum out near Everland. The museum consists of softly-lit displays of traditional Korean art, set in a modern building surrounded by serene gardens, and was donated by Samsung (though corporate symbols are refreshingly absent). Hyun Mi’s son Ung also came along, and kept us thoroughly entertained and puzzled with constant guess-the-flag games (he knows just about all the flags in the world, even though he’s only about five).
Wednesday was another national holdiday (in celebration of the Korean language), so we went into Seoul and met up with Ju Kwan (another of Amy’s friends), who had offered to take us up to the demilitarised zone (DMZ). We started off at Odusan observatory, where curious tourists can peer over the river to the North Korean model farms and villages on the other side and watch the odd patrol. The North used to shout propaganda through gigantic loudspeakers, but these were removed a while ago as part of the ongoing talks and so we were spared the racket. The low cloud made for eerie viewing, and we headed out to the Third Tunnel only to find the road closed for a Presidential visit to Pyongyang – instead, we bustled around the Freedom Bridge and rail link and went back to Seoul (passing the odd tank trap) for a much-needed coffee.
The weather improved considerably on Friday, and, ignoring the pull of a new game of Puzzle Quest, we set the day aside for sightseeing and shopping. Namsan, the tree-covered hill in the centre of Seoul, was our first stop and we boarded a slightly cramped cable car to avoid a long and sunstroke-inducing walk. The tower and viewing platforms at the base offer panoramic views of Seoul, the city appearing all the denser from afar. We also passed one of the ancient hill beacon sites, which seems to be on the municipal re-enactment list as there were people with ornamental weapons and glued-on beards around performing a ritual lighting. Insadong was our next stop, where I played the dutiful boyfriend by borrowing Amy’s PSP, retiring to a quiet corner to solve some puzzles and returning to help carry the shopping bags. We dined at Sanchon, purportedly one of the best restaurants in Asia during the 80’s, chilled out on the banks of Chonggyechon (a small river running through the city centre, recently cleaned up and turned into a pleasant recreation area) and met Ju Kwan again for some pizza (along with unlimited salad, which in Korea includes things like fruit, trail mix and cookies).
The weekend saw Yongin’s first Mallard festival – in theory a celebration of the ducks that live in rice paddies and eat insects (thus removing the need for pesticides), but in practice a brilliant showcase of local organic agriculture and traditional Korean arts and crafts. We went with Sunny and his family, and had a thoroughly entertaining afternoon including lots of snack food, giant bubbles, watercolour paintings, gold and silver pheasants and some traditional arts we’d not seen before (a knife dance, fusion drumming and some Korean opera singers). The festival director was so surprised and happy to see foreigners that he came over to thank us for coming and gave us some coffee. One the way back, we stopped at the Wawoo Temple and took a look at the amalgamation of Korean and Indian styles (including a reclining Buddha, stupas, pagodas and a pool full of terrapins that nobody knows what to do with).
After all that activity, Sunday was always going to be quiet – we met up with Anne, went to Bundang and took a refreshing walk in one of the parks while Amy held a Seoul Veggie Club lunch. In the evening, we went out for dakgalbi (spicy chicken cooked on a hob set into the table – Amy and I had noodles) and then had pumpkin pie back at the apartment in honour of (Canadian) Thanksgiving. Roger had started chewing the air conditioner, so we first tried putting red pepper paste (the ubiquitous Korean condiment which is far too spicy for sensible people) on the pipes – when he licked it off and went back for more we blocked the area off with some wood (which he is currently working on getting through).