Seoul Searching.

6:37 AM Jessica Montgomery 0 Comments

-Written at appx. 8:30am on board a train bound for Seoul; whose ticket was bought on a whim:

Sitting on this train, fighting the "normalcy" of my daily routine and the brown, sticky substance loitering on the edge of my tray table, a single statement kept repeating over and over again in my head. An optimistic mantra that wasn't in the least bit cloudy vague, or pretentious I promise: I don't want to live an ordinary life. This struck me more as an affirmation rather than a call for change or distinction. After all, no one person can say that their life is ordinary. It's impossible. We are all different. We all have stories. We all have history. And instead of chasing after this idea of an "non-ordinary" existence that a thought like that might provoke, I am simply dedicated to the act of living. Just live. Trains seem to bring out the romance in people. What is so whimsical and romantic about a train? Is it the continuous sense of being propelled forward? Symbolic and invigorating. Is it the thoughts and links to our past? Or perhaps it's because for this duration we have this time slot in which we are here and here alone, without control, yet able to see the outside world pass us by. We can't use this time for other things besides dealing with the here and the now. You can't take a break from riding the train to do your laundry -cut the grass. As one of my most inspirational travel friends has so liberatingly tattooed on her body: the dishes will still be dirty.
I felt this same zeal and liberation in Japan. Amidst the adrenaline soaked cocktail of freedom and anxiety flowing through my veins, I experienced the same clear and reflective optimism on the train back to Osaka. Pure bliss. Adventure and the unknown awaited.

-Thus began by day-adventure alone in Seoul. One of the biggest cities in the world.


I've been to Seoul many times before. Reunions and departures; eating and drinking. But the only real time I spent in Seoul taking in the history and culture was back when my parents were in town. I've usually viewed Seoul as my "affordable and accessible NYC": A short train ride away to escape, touch a bit of the Western world, and indulge into the wee hours of the morning. So I thought it was about time (Can't believe it's already been an embarrassing year and a half!) to take in the city without a drink in hand.
The night prior I scouted out a couple places to see, their hours, and directions to get there. My first stop was the Seoul Museum of Art. [Line 1, City Hall Station, Exit 1] Yes. I know. I haven't been there yet. Shameful. But as I walked up the path to the building, I realized that it was fate that I chose this timing in which to go and visit. SEMA was hosting an exhibition called Nordic Passion: Architecture and Design From the Nordic Countries. This blew me away. Why? Well, a couple weeks ago I had this strange dream that I went to Iceland. I know little to nothing about Iceland, yet I woke up with the name "Reykjavik" on my mind! That just happened to be the capital of Iceland. Which I only knew after I Googled it. So, it's safe to say that either fate or my strange subconscious had led me to here.
The museum itself was lovely. A large atrium, nice natural lighting, and a modern interior that contrasted with it's classical exterior made me feel all the warm and fuzzies like back in my art school days. I got there right as the museum opened so I basically had the entire place to myself aside from a few school tours. The exhibits spaces were curated well and I felt right at home among the Nordic designs. I swear...Iceland is calling.
There was another small exhibit that contrasted with the Nordic designs and that was a small show titled When Attitudes Become Form. This little show had one artist featured that really blew me away. I really don't know much about contemporary Korean painting, so this was a real treat. I walked into the little exhibit space, alone, only with my own judgements and assumptions. The night prior I had been scouring the internet for documentaries about Korean history (mostly about The Korean War and cultural fallout sincem just to brush up on my history), so every painting I looked at I assumed the worst. I looked at one painting and thought that the imagery was supposed to emulate oppression and cultural confines...when really, after reading the artist's statement, it turned out to be about family values and story-telling! haha It's amazing what our own histories and bias can bring...and it's amazing what looking at art can tell you about yourself.
[The one artist that really stuck with me from this little show was: Cho Moon-Ki.]

I wanted to try and walk everywhere since the weather was cooperating, so I decided to walk to, and explore, a palace that I've never been to: Deoksugung Palace. The palace grounds were pretty lovely. It's just so amazing to walk around the grounds of a palace built in the 1500s and look across the street to see a Samsung skyscraper. Korea is a country of stark contrast.
With entering the palace, you can choose to purchase a ticket to The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Painting for 6,000won. It was a nice surprise. The paintings inside the museum were great. The current exhibition showcased highlights of Korean painting from early in the 20th Century until the mid 1950s. This was especially interesting to me considering I just spruced up on my Korean War history. But, once again, to my surprise there was little to no evidence of war being depicted in the scenes set by the artists. Little to no adversity, hardship, anger, sorrow...anything! Many of the paintings, like paintings done in Europe or The States during this time period, were simply about...painting! I found this to be incredible and I felt extremely ignorant. Ignorant in a good; great way actually! I need to get me a big, fat, book on Korean painting. Stat.

After the museum, I set out in search of the Bukchon Hanok village [Line 3, Anguk Station, Exit 2]. Hanok is a traditional style Korean housing. They are beautiful, elegant, simple, and adorable. And this little neighborhood, sprawling over the rolling hills of inner Seoul, was just that. I walked around for a wee bit and took my fair share of photos. The hills and stairs helped beat away the cold and the views of the city (Seoul Tower in the background) encouraged me to keep exploring this varied, concrete jungle. I met a few cats and a few children along the way for company.

I wandered away from the Hanok village and found myself at a bubble tea cafe. This was the first time I sat down all day. I didn't really realize though...until I sat down. Haha, that was a mistake! Gettin' old here people! Gettin' old! I took this time to indulge and regroup. I gained my bearings and stumbled into Insadong. I usually love Insadong, but for some reason on this day it wasn't doing anything for me. It was a little too touristy. So, I skimmed the outskirts and wound up crawling into a basement, vintage-shop and bought the first necklace that caught my eye on a mannequin. I've never seen anything quite like this thing and this way I'll always have something to remind me of this wee trip. I walked a little further and came across the second campus of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. I was a little museumed-out so I flirted along the building's exterior and had my way with a few outdoor sculptures. (Side Note: Korea has some amazing street art! I don't mean public sculptures, I mean graffiti! It's minimal, clever, and typically well placed. I feel like making a little side-project dedicated to Korean street art sometime... Maybe a new blog? A little book? Collaborators?? Anyone!?)

The sun was starting to set in the sky and the air was getting chill again so I decided that I should choose a dinner destination. When my parents visited I took them to Namdaemun market, but I was a little too intimidated and concerned to try any of the street food there. It was incredibly crowded and wasn't exactly a good "sit-down" destination for family. So, this was my chance.
The walk to the market from City Hall was a bit of a ways, but! I was excited that the map in my head was still functioning. My memory might be failing me but for some reason it can keep a sense of direction!
The market was far less crowded this time around. A Friday afternoon in the winter compared to a Saturday evening in the spring can make a world of difference. I walked around a bit and found my way to the food alleys: My favorite district of any market. I love to see what's being sold, the prices of, and whose buying

---SOMEHOW the rest of this post was deleted... :( I'm going to see if I can restore it somehow. Pretty bummed. 

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