Monday, 6 August 2018

Dongdaemun's Secrets: Ancient Rites, Medicinal Herbs & Cheapest Fruits!

Tourists visiting Seoul, Korea, would always think about shopping galore when they think of 'Dongdaemun'. 

There are the all-night shopping, a night market for bags-to-die-for, a huge market full of fabrics, and a toy alley! But ask any local, and he or she would tell you that the Dongdaemun District has a lot of other interesting things to offer other than shopping. 

Well, you can ask any local. Or you can ask me. :-)

                         (Buphwa Temple)

When I first moved into my new neighborhood in the Dongdaemun District, I explored its alleys and markets. That day, I was so surprised at the hidden treasures my new neighborhood offerred its new resident!

I could not believe the various interesting spots just within a kilometer of my apartment building!  Surprised and impressed, I bragged about it!

So, I invited my friends for a tour around Jedi-dong so that they would also enjoy the places, food, and the cheapest fresh fruits this side of Seoul I get to enjoy on a daily basis!

1. Buphwa-sa
On our way to our first stop, Seonnongdan, we first stopped by a most interesting Buddhist temple, Buphwa Temple, whose building walls were decorated with excerpts of the teaching of Buddha. This temple is a few meters upon turning right from Exit 1 of Jegidong Station (Line 1).

          (A most charming interpretation of the 
      Bodhi tree with lights hanging on its 'branches')

At the temple's lobby, a sitting Buddha greets worshippers with an elegant replica of the Bodhi Tree interpreted with wooden thin slabs emanating from the floor and rising towards the ceiling, and hanging from it are lights covered with hanji (Korean traditional paper) that provided illumination, as well as enlightenment perhaps, to everyone seeking peace and guidance.

2. Seonnongdan
A few minutes of fun strolling from the Bupwha Temple (from Exit 1 of Jegidong Station) is Seonnongdan, an ancient site where the kings of the Joseon Dynasty offered prayers to the gods of agriculture since 1475.

(This place of traditional royal ritual dating
as far back as the 15th century is a hidden 
historical gem inside a residential neighborhood. 
Ingrid and Veronica are actually standing on the grounds of Seonnongdan. 
The Museum is below them.)

(Ingrid, Kristine and Gail posing in front of the 600-year old tree!)

(The walls of the house in front of Seonnongdan were painted with Seonnongdan ceremonial scenes)

This museum showcases the history, artifacts, rites, costumes, and scenes of the ancient tradition. On the museum grounds, which is actually above the main museum itself, a tall and imposing tree that has been standing there for 600 years and has welcomed monarchs, commoners, and that day, Philippine tourists as well!

                    (Seonnongdan entrance)

While Seonnongdan is a museum, it becomes a living space because of this tea shop. While we were there, Mr. Kim, a tea master and owner of the shop, treated us to a special tea ceremony, making us enjoy a rare blend of tea from China. He has been in the tea business for decades and has authored books about tea. 

                  (The tea master and guests)
                (Mr. Kim's tea and his books)
         (Huge posters adorn Mr. Kim's tea room)

Like students, we were given free lessons on tea by Mr. Kim, showing us his style of making and pouring tea on his small, dainty teacups.

I usually only had rice tea or green tea in Korea, but that day, the unique tea from a specific area in China tasted strong like a true medicinal tea would. And what was more amazing was the huge slab of jade that served as a tea table where Mr. Kim made tea. The slab had a small drain connected to it so he could wash out the tea right in front of him. He told us the slab of jade cost him a few thousand dollars.
   (Mr. Kim's business card in case you want to visit)

       (Playing with the Korean traditional farm 
             implements inside Seonnongdan)

3. Jeongneungcheon (Jeongneung Stream)

Right after our tea and visit to Seonnongdan, we just meandered around the neighborhood, walked behind a school, and crossed the Jeongneung Stream, a stream that empties into the Cheonggye Stream.

The Jeongneung Stream has fish and ducks as well as bike and hiking trails. 

                   (The tourists by the stream)

4. Seoul Yangnyeong-si Market

This is the biggest herb market in Seoul. You can walk around the alleys enjoy the aromas of dried wood, mountain herbs, and all other medicinal concoctions that waft through the air in this market. On some mornings during my walk, I made sure I included these alleys in my route just to enjoy the aromas and scents these dried wood and herbs provide to passers-by...for free!

This is where you can purchase some medicinal herbs for any ailment, or just for health maintenance.

And since this is really a medicinal market, don't be surprised by the horns or body parts of dead animals that are on display at the shops.

5. Seoul Yangnyeong-si Herb Medicine Museum

A few meters from the main arch of the Yangnyeong-si Market is the newly constructed multi-story museum that houses the history of herb medicine in Korea depicted in intricately made dioramas.

The museum has halls for talks, displays showcasing the herbs and their medicinal values, interactive games, and even an AI robot that greets visitors. Sadly, the robot could only speak hangeul.

(Ingrid and Veronica in front of the Museum)

The whole museum is actually a beautiful hanok-style design inside and out. Almost every corner is a spot perfect for a photograph. A year before, I once roamed this area while it was still under construction. I thought this was going to be some commercial building but I was glad this huge creative and relaxing space turned out to be a major tourist attraction for both local and international tourists! 

On the second floor, there's even an outdoor foot spa for a limited number of, well, pairs of tired feet!

        (Veronica and Ingrid on the second floor's 
              recreation of medicinal shops)

The Museum's main purpose is to showcase the Korean medicinal and herb tradition and history, and the Dongdaemun District didn't spare any expense to create this beautiful museum right in the middle of the medicinal market!

And if you're a student or a fan of traditional medicine, the Museum has a comprehensive display of herbs and their names, just like an encyclopedia.

It also has a small duty-free shop on the ground floor next to the entrance. Here's the Museum's official website:

6. Cheongnyangni Fruit and Vegetable Market

Well, this is my favorite part of my neighborhood! And the reason is yummy, sweet and cheap!

The Cheongnyangni market is where you can find the cheapest and freshest fruits and vegetables north of the Han River.

Aside from fresh produce, it has meat and fish sections, and alleys at the back full of restaurants. The market is really big. So, be prepared to be overwhelmed by the size and the enterprising vendors all around you.

And while walking around the market was fun, we had to stop for lunch, which turned out to be even more enjoyable! The kamja-tang restaurant is one of my yummiest discoveries inside the Cheongnyangni fruit and vegetable market.

Although I was told that kamja means potato, it also means the back of the pig. And this soupy Korean dish, is full of veggies, sprouts, spicy broth, potatoes, and the best part, the cooked, softened part of the pig's back. That part is meaty and just falls off the bone when cooked! And I am now salivating again as I write this! Ha-ha-ha!

When you decide to go to the fruit and vegetable market, don't forget to bring a big bag for your veggies and fruits, and the one with rollers if you're buying a lot more!

            (Gail and her KRW4,000 strawberries)

          (The arch entrance of the herb market 
                  near Exit 2 of Jegidong Station)

It was always fun to tour my friends. I toured them a couple of times before in my former playground, Itaewon, and around Dongdaemun shopping district.

This time, in another part of Seoul, I shared with them my new discoveries.

                             *  *  *  *  *

For an easier walk from Jegidong Station (Line 1), here's the map with numbers to label the spots we visited:

Have fun!

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