Saturday, November 26, 2011

Seoul II Seoul (groan)

We're in Seoul for the weekend to see our French-Czech friends Xavier & Irena and their children Mia & Lukas. They moved from Bangkok last Spring and have a nice apartment just south of Nanshan Hill in the centre of town - although Seoul is so huge with so many different neighborhoods, it's difficult to tell where the 'centre' is.  

Visited Changdeokgung, one of Seoul's five grand palaces this morning (but a sylable out ofr place and it could have been Changgyeongung, Gyeongbokgung, Gyeonhuigung or Deoksuggung). Dates from 1412, burnt, rebuilt, burnt, rebuilt etc. Nice, calming place but strangely empty, both of 'things' and people. After a heavy chicken & kimchi lunch we strolled past little shops selling photos of boy-bands, poked our nose into the Tudor/Gothic-affected Choong An High School (which might as well have been Charterhouse), and into Bukchon, a charming higgledy-piggledy warren of lanes peppered with tiny traditional Korean (hanok) homes... which in turn merged into Samcheong-dong, meaning 'district of three pure things': read boutiques, coffee shops and galleries. You couldn't move for them. In fact, this triple combination is a surprising (to me) feature of the city. I've been to Seoul twice before but both for work so can't say I know it, and it's the first time for Liz and the girls. It reminds us very much of Tokyo: sophisticated, modern, efficient, sprawling, very urban, and slightly all over the place - the latter being very un-Beijing which is, if not contained, then certainly regimented.

In the evening we saw Nanta - Korea's longest-running theatrical show which has been performed continuously in three smallish theatres in Seoul since 1997, as well as at Edinburgh Festival, on Broadway and in a dozen other countries. The plot revolves around four cooks attempting to prepare a wedding banquet, but essentially it's Stomp with food -comedy, acrobatics, magic and traditional Korean samul nori music, performed in this case with kitchen knives, chopping boards and sundry utensils, with audience participation and much food flying around. Fun for all the family.

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