Monday, 28 November 2016

Seek And You Shall Find: Itaewon's Antique Alley

A few meters down from the main Itaewon intersection opposite the Hamilton Hotel, towards the direction of Han River is a neighborhood of shops selling antique and vintage items that would interest antique shoppers and collectors.

Passing through the shops one morning, I saw a lot of interested shoppers rummaging through small candelabras, vintage plates, porcelain cups and flashy furnitures. 

I wonder where the sellers got these rare items from, but it would have been interesting if there was a story that accompanied each item: the era where they manufactured, and their previous owners.

I am not exactly the type who would buy these items. But if you are one of those homeowners who would decorate their homes, or offices with these antique pieces, the Itaewon antique shops would be the best place for you to seek and find the treasures you would enjoy owning.

From Exit 3 of Itaewon Station, make a u-turn and look for Taco Bell. Head down on that Taco Bell side and walk straight towards the direction of the Han River. A few steps down you would see these shops, and even after you pass the intersection, you can turn right and see a few more.

Happy hunting!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Jewels In Gyeongbuk Palace: Visitors in Hanbok

                (Hyangwonjeong Pavilion and pond of                                            Gyeongbuk Palace)

Just as the leaves in Seoul were quietly transforming their colors, I quietly sneaked into the Gyeongbuk Palace on the day I thought would be cloudy. 

That morning, I checked the weather forecast and rain was expected. But I then realized, if it rained, the colored leaves would be gone the next day. So I had to go! And quick!

Just as it was spectacular looking down at the colorful Deoksu Palace from the Seosomun Observatory near the City Hall, Gyeongbuk Palace was also spectacularly awashed with yellows, oranges, reds, browns, and the mood the fall season brought.

Although the autumn leaves in the gardens surrounding the Palace were the perfect complement for the architecture and history of the place, what caught my attention that morning was another character in the scene: visitors wearing hanbok!

Wearing hanbok is especially popular among fans of Korean dramas, and a lot of hanbok shops in Insadong are cashing in from renting out their hanbok for these fans.

Having your photos taken while wearing the Korean traditional costume and immersed in a Korean character from a drama is probably in every fan's itinerary when in Korea. 

And since Gyeongbuk Palace gives free entrance to everyone wearing hanbok, the palace becomes a drama set! (While I had to pay KRW3,000!).

So, instead of taking photographs of the autumn foliage, the visitors in hanbok became my instant theme! I didn't actually sneak up behind them; I just lazily walked around the palace grounds and they were just everywhere! 

And it was colorfully clear why!

Their colorful hanbok blended perfectly with the architecture of Korea's premiere palace. No need to set up props! They only set up tripods!

I noticed that the couples in hanbok were mostly international visitors, and girl groups were locals and international visitors. Armed with their cameras and smartphones, they were all enjoying the experience of wearing their rented costumes while roaming the palace gardens as they were being bathed with the season's colors. 

I have only visited the Gyeongbuk Palace a couple of times before, where I measured my tour with the sections I visited. That day, I measured my visit (and my route!) with the photographs I took of the visitors in hanbok.

I then realized that my discovery of the third 'character' in the Palace that day turned my visit into my most enjoyable visit ever (the palace was the first 'character'; autumn foliage second). Just as these visitors were enjoying their time in hanbok, I was just enjoying how they brought the corners of the historic palace back to life! 

My friend Fay, who used to live in Seoul, is one big fan of the colorful hanbok. To her, it is the most beautiful of all the national costumes.

And that day, I could see why. The pastel colors of the traditional costume blended well with the autumn background, and the presence of the ladies with braided hair and ribbons, walking gracefully in a very feminine costume brought drama and authenticity to my visit!

And aside from the traditional hanbok designs, a few girls wore the modernized hanbok with all the gold ribbons, loud colors and bolero-type blouses. And perhaps underneath the billowing skirts they wore high heels to complete the modernity?

As I was leaving the palace grounds through the Insadong-side exit, I saw a few more girls in hanbok entering. There are hanbok rental shops in Insa-dong where you can rent them for hours, or even for a day. 
                   (The beautiful gardens around 
               Hyangwonjeong Pavilion and pond)

The next time you visit Korea's palaces, make sure you enjoy the other 'characters' on your visit like I did, as sometimes, we tend to overlook what's obviously unique and interesting.

I was glad I went that day and got rewarded for it.

With the jewels at Gyeongbuk Palace.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Kia Brings Tennis Champions To Seoul!

Their names are already legends in tennis: Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Marat Safin, and Pat Cash.

And thanks to Kia Motors and the ATP Champions Tour, these tennis legends came to Seoul, much to the delight of their Korean fans!
            (Marat Safin and John McEnroe 
             talking to sports reporters)
             (The four Champions in Seoul)

On November 12 and 13 in 2016, when the autumn temperatures in Seoul were best for the outdoors, the legends amazed their Korean fans with their booming serves, shot-making, and enthralling points that made their names the most exciting to watch during their professional days. 

John McEnroe, a former World No. 1 with 7 Grand Slam singles titles to his name, is the only left-handed player in the field. McEnroe is known for his serve-and-volley game as well as his leftie out-wide serve, which, according to Pat Cash, "is very difficult on this court; it's very fast".

         (Young tennis players pose with 
                       Pete and Pat)
         (Fernando Gonzalez was last year's                  tournament champion)

Pete Sampras, with his 14 Grand Slam singles titles, sharing the 2nd spot with Rafa Nadal in the current all-time record list, is also known for his serve-and-volley game, but it's his booming serves that usually do the damage. 

When I asked Pete Sampras about his reaching the World No. 1 ranking in 1993 and the 286 weeks he spent on that spot, he said that "it was one thing to get there; it's twice as hard to stay there".  

                  (Pat Cash with fans)
   (Marat Safin with a young Korean fan)

Marat Safin, also a former World No. 1, has won 2 Grand Slam singles titles, while Pat Cash has been a Wimbledon champion.
                (Excited tennis fans)
          (John McEnroe with his fans)

With the tournament having events such as the autograph signing, the 'one-point lesson' hit with Pat and Pete, and the 'fastest serve' contest, the local and international tennis fans in the SK Handball Arena were treated to a weekend of fun and special tennis matches.

                    (Marat in action)

During the matches, fans would get into the game by cheering words of encouragement for their favorite players.

But the most popular player among the fans was Pat Cash, who not only entertained everyone with his antics on court, but also gave away his prized trademark headbands to lucky fans who were seated courtside. He even walked over to a fan on the other side of the court just to give her his headband in appreciation of the fan's all-out cheering for him.

      (McEnroe questioning a line call)
      (Pat Cash unleashing a backhand)

And just like his old self, John McEnroe flared up during matches (jokingly though) whenever a questionable line call didn't go his way. But that's what fans came to see: their favorite tennis players being just themselves on the court.

And being a tennis fan and a player myself, I felt the excitement of the fans, both young and old, whenever a long rally happened and ended with a winner, or when they rushed courtside after matches to ask for a photo with their favorite player or for an autograph. 

            (The great Pete Sampras)

I even heard one Korean female fan loudly giggled after she had a photo with Marat Safin. It was understandable; he is handsome and at 6'4", his presence on the court is still intimidating.

On the first day of the tournament, Marat Safin won over Pete Sampras (7-6 (4),6-4), while John McEnroe won over Pat Cash (6-2,6-4). 

On the second day, Marat Safin lifted the champion's trophy after winning over John McEnroe (7-5,7-5), while Pete Sampras won over Pat Cash (7-5,6-3).   

        (McEnroe talking to a reporter)
(Marat Safin giving a champion's speech as the runner-up, John McEnroe, looks on)

While the two-day tournament was probably too short for Korean fans to enjoy watching these champions, Kia and the ATP Champions Tour would probably be bringing more legendary champions to Seoul next year! :-)

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Sit, Sip, and See: Deoksu Palace in Autumn Colors!

Autumn is the season of the year when the trees in Seoul turn to yellow, orange, and red before they fall. 

And if you want to enjoy the fall colors from the ground, you can just walk around the palace gardens and the surrounding hills and mountains. 

But if you want to enjoy the colors from above, one spot that would certainly give you a spectacular view of autumn is from the Jeong-dong Observatory!

From here, on the 13th floor of the City Hall's Seosomun Building, you can look down on Deoksu Palace while having an iced cafe mocha!

             (A spectacular view of the palace 
       while sipping iced cafe mocha!)

Yes, there's a cafĂ© at the Yeongdong Observatory, where you can sit, sip, and see! 

The view is breathtaking and probably the best view of any palace in Seoul while being bathed in beautiful fall colors!

The best time to go up there is when the trees are on their best fall colors, and during noon time when the sun is at its brightest and is bathing the palace and its gardens with a colorful glow! 

The Jeongdong Observatory is on the building left of the Deoksu Palace. Just take the cobblestone street on the left side of the palace walls, and go inside the first government building you see on your left. Once inside, enter through the right turnstile. There's an elevator going up to the 13th floor.

I hope you'll find the Jeongdong Observatory when you're in Seoul and enjoy the fantastic autumn view like I did!