We arrived in the port city of Incheon a one-hour bus ride to Seoul found us at our first stop or the day, the largest fish market in Seoul and in Korea. Here again, this is a wholesale market that also sells at retail to individuals. It was similar to what we saw yesterday in Incheon except the market was MUCH larger and there were many more kinds of water-dwelling creatures of all shapes and sizes on offer, including sea urchins and a number of fish I had never seen before and therefore didn’t recognize. One of these is a particularly ugly creature that looks like a fat and flabby catfish with a bottom-feeding, large-sized mouth on its underside that the Koreans actually disembowel and eat, entrails and all. This particular variety of fish is displayed by the fish mongers belly-side up, with its disemboweled insides sitting on top of the fish’s belly. How delightful…..
From the Seoul fish market our tour continued by crossing over the Han River Bridge (the Han River is fairly wide and runs through Seoul) and visiting the Korean National Museum, apparently the Korean equivalent of the Israel Museum. It is a lovely and modern museum but seemed to me to be TOO large for the amount of displays it had on exhibit. The museum is 3 stories high and consists of a number (18, I think) of exhibition halls, all of which together are intended to tell the story of Korea through archeology and art. There was only time enough for me to see the pre-history and Buddha sections, but my impression was that for such a lovely museum, there was not, relatively speaking, a lot on display. What must be said, however, is that everything that was on display was simply beautiful, even if I didn’t quite comprehend the significance of everything I saw. The museum signage explanations in English (the only other language exhibited in the Museum besides Korean) ranged from Very Good (for the general introductions to the specific museum sections) to Barely Adequate (when describing exhibited objects). I know I probably missed a lot because of my lack of knowledge of Korean history and culture, but we can’t all know everything, so we pick and choose those things of importance to us. Korea is not high enough on that list of mine for me to devote much time to learning about it.
One of the delightful things we saw at the museum were small groups of kids, accompanied by who I imagine were their teachers, sitting in many corners and niches in the museum, obviously working on some kind of project that involved a museum visit. I found this unusual because today was supposed to be some sort of holiday in Korea, yet the kids were involved in learning a learning activity which was obviously structured. In any event, the kids were very well-behaved and seemed deeply engrossed in their learning in these small groups. They all seemed to have workbooks that apparently required answers to be filled in that could only be gotten by a personal visit to the museum, and the kids seemed to really like that a lot.
Once our formal visit to the museum ended, we went for lunch to the museum restaurant, where we were served a vegetarian meal that consisted of a cup of (utterly tasteless) bean sprout soup, a bowl of vegetarian kimchee (kim chee) (cabbage variety) a dish of mixed steamed vegetables and a bowl of rice to mix into it, a small dish of what is supposed to be Korean hot sauce (not hot at all), and a cup of green tea. Not exactly a satisfying meal for me, but maybe this is why I didn’t see many fat Koreans.
After lunch we boarded the bus again and headed to somewhere in Seoul that displayed 5 traditional Korean houses (“traditional” here meaning, I believe, houses designed during the last 200-300 years) and their furnishings. Here the explanatory information was very poor, so it was difficult for me to really tell what was supposedly going on. However, as the appears to have been some sort of children’s holiday from school (I believe Saturday is normally a school day in Korea), there were many children here, this time with their families, both visiting the grounds and participating in cultural learning activities such as making traditional Korean bows and arrows, learning how to make traditional Korean masks, playing traditional Korean children’s games and other child-centered activities. There were also traditional tradespeople on hand showing how to weave straw implements such as egg holders, mats and other straw items; and there was a tae kwon do school demonstrating their martial arts skills that also provided an opportunity for kids to test their skill at smashing Korean roof tiles with their fists. These “roof tiles” were actually pieces of strong plastic expressly made for this purpose, and they could be put back together after one “smashing” to let the next person in line try their skill. Correctly “smashed” “tiles” wouldn’t shatter, but they would “break” along a seam line that was the seam line where they were also reassembled. And finally, although we were scheduled to leave this site at 2:45 PM, at 3 PM there was a traditional wedding ceremony scheduled here, and one of the house courtyards was decorated in red and blue colors in preparation for the wedding ceremony. From the advertisement of the event, it appeared to me that this was to be a re-enactment of a traditional Korean (religious?) ceremony, although in an adjacent courtyard were a young Asian woman and a Western-looking young man, a bride-and-groom-to-be, who were having their photos taken (so maybe the place was decorated for THEIR wedding). As I stood with others who were taking photos of the young couple posing, someone who was obviously assisting the photographer told me not to take photos of the couple. When I asked her, “Why not?”, she replied with a question, “Do you know them?” Obviously I didn’t, so I replied with a question of my own, “Do you know me?” as if to insinuate that she was being ill-mannered by addressing someone much older than she was, who she did not know. And while she was trying to process that, I took a few more photos and then moved on….
From the wedding site I went over to a large pond in the center of the grounds and found a pine tree to lean on, at the edge of the pond, as I watched both the koi in the water and the people passing by on this lovely day. After about 15 minutes of people-watching I headed back to the meeting place for the tour bus and shortly thereafter got on the bus and headed back to Incheon and the ship. On the way back the bus again crossed the Han River that runs through Seoul, and this time we had better views from the bus window of the width of the river. There are various kinds of amenities along the river banks, including walking and bicycle trails that are heavily used by the residents of Seoul.
Can you see how high the window washers are?
Trump World I in Korea
Trump World II
A touch of old by the museum
Bride and Groom at the ancient village
Kids dressing up in costumes
By the gardens of the musuem
Back at the musuem
Just a taste of what is in the gift shop
The US Military Base
Driving Back to the ship
Sunrise from the ship