Saturday, 25 May 2013

And The Most Popular Guys In Namdaemun Market Are...

...definitely not the K-pop celebrities! Ha-ha-ha!

On my first venture to Namdaemun Market during my first weekend in Seoul as a tourist, I got lost. I think I got out on the wrong exit and ended up on the opposite side. I remember asking for help twice, but since both Korean women didn't speak English (and I couldn't speak survival Korean then!), I just had to find my way back to the correct exit. Fortunately, I was able to buy the souvenirs I had to bring back home: 'Korea' t-shirts, traditional Korean fans and of course, a poster of a popular Korean actor.

Since then, I return to Namdaemun Market every once in a while to buy a few more souvenirs and presents to bring home: ginseng tea and korean drama actor calendars.

But every time I'm in the area, I noticed that most tourists and shoppers don't flock at the souvenir shops or the bag shops or the clothes shops. They flock at the Korean food stalls!

Yes, the most popular guys in the Namdaemun Market are not your favorite K-pop stars or Korean actors and actresses! They are the Korean food vendors!

Just go to the Namdaemun Gate 2 and you will see a long queue of foreign tourists and locals waiting for their turn to get some hotteok or some bindaetteok.

And if you enter through Gate 2, that mandu stall on your left is also a favorite spot, where the Korean lady displays her mandu (Korean dumplings) of all sizes!

Next to that stall is a small bindae-tteok or bindae-duk restaurant, which is also popular to the local office employees during lunch time. The lines could be long during a weekday, but a couple of months ago, my friends Jenny, Sophie and I were lucky to enjoy a meal in this restaurant during a holiday. Bindae-tteok is a pan fried dish with veggies and mung beans inside. How I wanted to describe it, but doing it would just make me drool while I'm writing this. Ha-ha-ha! When eaten warm, it's really yummy, yummy, yummy! 

And on the other side of Namdaemun Market, near Exit 5 of the Hoehyeon Station (Namdaemun Station), another shop attended by a few Korean ajummas, sells hwang mandu (big-sized mandu). This shop also enjoys a long line of regular customers mixed with tourists. And whenever I am in the area, I usually buy a box of mandu (only KRW 6,000 of ten big pieces!) only when there's no long line!  

 But my favorite stall of all, since I have a sweet tooth, is that of the hotteok guys (with green aprons) on that alley leading to the Shinsegae Department store, or if I were coming from Gate 2 of Namdaemun Market, I turn left at the first alley and follow the wafting of the hotteok frying at the next mini-intersection. Hotteok is another pan fried delicacy which is filled with cinnamon, melted brown sugar and sliced nuts. I usually buy two because one is never enough! And it's only KRW 1,000 each! Happiness could be that cheap! Ha-ha-ha!

Sometimes, the lines in front of these guys are so long, the ajumma selling bags at the next stall complains because the hotteok customers cover her shop. Ha-ha-ha! Everyone has to re-align the line.

So, the next time you're walking through the alleys of the Namdaemun Market, observe where shoppers, locals and tourists actually flock, and you can immediately tell that K-pop stars and Korean celebrities are not the most popular people in Namdaemun Market.

The most popular guys are actually the ones who give everyone the most memorable experience of enjoying these Korean delicacies!
I will see you all there!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Watching A Korean Performance? Buy A Rush Ticket!

When my friend Sharise and I attended the Korea In Motion's opening ceremony last September 1, 2012, at Cheonggyecheon, where the Korea Tourism Organization launched the campaign, including a flash mob at Insadong, to promote the Korean performances in Seoul, we saw excerpts from interesting Korean performances which were highly recommendable for those who visit Seoul and who want other memorable things to do aside from sightseeing. They should also watch these Korean performances!
So, when my friend Cielo, from the Philippines, came to Seoul last year, I brought her to Daehang-no to watch the Korean musicale Hwarang. She and her friends, Itchay, Jenny and Marlu already watched JUMP, Fanta-Stick and Ballerina Who Loves B-Boy, which are both non-verbal performances. For a change, Cielo wanted something different. So, I accompanied to watch her, and we were both impressed!
Hwarang, the musicale, was showcased by Korea In Motion (KOINMO) last year at the opening ceremony, and if I personally know of somebody who came to watch that musicale because of KOINMO, then I say the campaign was a success!
And as the KOINMO campaign continues, they are selling tickets to these Korean performance at discounted prices. All you need to do is visit their homepage, Korea In Motion, to choose which performance you want to watch and check for any Rush Ticket available on the date of the performance. These tickets have 30% discount!
As these Rush Tickets are limited for each performance, I suggest you get them early! That's why they're called Rush Tickets!
               (The Rush Ticket flyers. Pizza not included.)

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Very Colorful Lotus Lantern Parade!

One night in a year, on a cool spring evening, millions gather along the main street of Jongno to wait for hours the passing of the most colorful parade of lanterns ever!  Adults and kids alike pick a spot along the main street while sitting or standing in excitement awaiting their chance to enjoy the colors of the lanterns, costumes and the floats that are about to pass before them.

For me, it's just a quick ride from Hannam-dong on the Blue Bus 402, which stops near the Seoul Plaza and makes a U-turn as the main Gwanghwamun area is closed to vehicular traffic on the day of the Lotus Lantern Parade, which is part of the Yeon Deung Heo, the Lotus Lantern Festival of the Jogyesa Temple in Seoul. Everyone in Seoul must have thought of converging into the Jongno area, where the parade would end. 

The parade usually starts at the Dongdaemun area an hour or more before sundown and ends at the Jogyesa Temple when it's already dark and all the colors of their lanterns come alive in a spectacular feast of colors.

It's quite an experience watching the parade, but one has to be prepared to stand for hours because comfortable seating along the parade route is only rewarded to the early birds. So, for me, the long walk from the Seoul Plaza to the Jonggak Station area, and picking a spot along the road with my camera and steady legs which are prepared to stand frozen for hours would be a worthy sacrifice, not just to achieve nirvana, but also to share in the spectacle everyone else has come to enjoy. 

Every time I watch the parade, I always remind myself that the tiredness I get from standing there for hours could not be compared to the sacrifice the parade participants make considering that, while they're all attired in these colorful and full-length costumes, they also had to walk for kilometers from the staging site until they finish their route at the Jogyesa Temple, all these while carrying their lighted, colorful lanterns as they smile and wave to the crowd along the way.
(The guys inside this 'dragon' must be so fit to be able to 'dance' along the route for hours without any break! I wonder if they have alternates along the way.)
Lucky may be the participants selected to sit on the huge floats, but they also have to act the part of their float's motif waving and freezing a smile on their face for hours. 

And this year, on a Saturday, to celebrate Buddha's birthday, millions will be lining up the Jongno streets once more to delight   in the colors of the lanterns and the floats. And I will be there, too. But before I do, I should fill my tummy before I head there so as not be bothered by an empty stomach as I prep my legs to stand for hours and my eyes to feast on the the most colorful, the most enchanting display of lights, colors and creativity: the Lotus Lantern Parade in Seoul!

Here are the rest of the colorful photographs!

(I wonder how many weeks or months it took them to prepare this very intricate float, including the set-up of electricals. Great work!)

(She must maintain this pose for hours, I suppose.)

(This is my favorite photo of the night, which is not about the colorful lanterns, but of these monks and their shadows, walking, chanting and banging their drums amidst the whole frenzy of the parade, providing a different drama from all the blinding lights as if to send a message of prayer.)

(The roads leading to Jongno were closed to vehicular traffic. It was a weird feeling walking in the middle of the streets.)
(The Cheonggye-cheon is adorned and lighted with the lotus lanterns at night.)