Wednesday, June 15, 2011

[SEOUL] The Tower and the Palace

N-Seoul Tower a.k.a. Namsan Tower is probably the most famous in Korea despite the existence of other more interesting rivals such as the Jongno Tower or the 63 Building in Yeoui-do. However, although the last two might both have their own gimmicks to lure tourists in, Namsan actually has more tricks up her sleeves: a Teddy Bear Museum; a veranda full of “love locks”; an observatory; and a revolving restaurant. Oops, I forgot the cable car. The two other skyscrapers suddenly became boring.

The tower was very accessible for me because all my accommodations were located within Jongno-gu, particularly in the Myeongdong area. I only had to walk to reach the elevator going up the hill to the cable car station. Still, I reserved the tower for the last few days of my stay. It’s weird like that, how one place so near has to be visited last. The important thing is I was able to visit it, although I limited myself to just one of tis features: the Observatory.

I paid 9,000 won for the admission to that observatory, which was as much as you would pay for an admission ticket for a movie. A tandem ticket for the Teddy Bear Museum is available for 14,000 won, I believe. I wasn’t able to memorize the prices, okay. Sorry, just human. I decided to no longer visit that museum because from my experience at the Lotte Folk Museum and at the National Folk Museum of Korea, DIY museum tours take a lot of time, especially for people who are very keen to details. It was already late when I arrived at the tower via cable car, and I was very sleepy. What if I fell asleep there? It would have been awkward since I don’t look like a Teddy Bear at all.

The observatory was crowded with people. I actually enjoyed the elevator ride better. Why? Since a lot of tourists flock there you have to wait for your turn at the elevator. Perhaps anticipating this scenario, whoever built those elevators decided to include a visual show for you to enjoy, just weird images of comets zooming, a group of squares disintegrating, and a lot more abstract concepts turned into colorful visual effects. And that’s just the elevator door. Once inside the roof, it suddenly erupts into an array of colors with various colorful displays.

The observatory is small and on the walls you'll see names of locations. I guess what this means is that if you look straight with a powerful telescope you'll be staring directly at those destinations. I took a picture of the portion of the glass wall saying, “Manila, Philippines” of course, but all I could see outside were tiny dots of light coming from urban Seoul below. At the center are various souvenir items that are obviously overpriced. Go splurge.

One floor down is a wall filled with square wooden tiles with messages of undying love and admiration from various tourists. Some of them express their grief for not being able to do the trip with someone they left back home. Some shower Seoul with well-deserved raves. Take your pick. Some even have drawings. Well you will have to buy the wooden tiles. You really thought they were for free? Naïve much? You take the elevator down from there and then you either go to the Teddy Bear Museum or eat expensive steak on the topmost floor so you could experience eating in a revolving restaurant with a splendid view of Seoul’s skyline after dark. Obviously, I didn’t do that. Who am I, Bill Gates? Instead, I went back to the lobby and saw a flight of stairs behind the ticket booth. I followed the path and it led to a balcony whose railings could no longer be seen because of the colorful locks on them. Padlocks.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the popular story regarding the tower that you often hear about. Lock a padlock at Namsan Tower and you are guaranteed eternal love. If it doesn’t, could I get a refund? I no longer bothered buying an unnecessarily expensive padlock from the souvenir store, not because I’m a cheapskate, but because there is no one to offer the lock to. Or maybe both. Fvck whoever it was who thought of this pesky gimmick. I’m not bitter! I’m not bitter! I’m not bitter! Hahahahaha.

There is an oddly-placed pavilion next to the tower by the way, used by many as a resting place before riding the cable car back down to the city. Seoul is really proving to be a city of contrasts, huh. There are various restaurants cum bars within the vicinity. I’d bet they are also overpriced. Well, nobody said that being a tourist comes cheap; being a traveler, maybe. Anyway, let’s leave the tower alone for now and let me introduce you to one palace that went astray in another district, Deoksugung.

“-gung” already means “Palace” so saying “Deoksugung Palace” would be like saying “Deoksu Palace Palace.” You know, not that different from people saying “TIN Number” or “ATM Machine”. Deoksu Palace Palace is rather small, but this is mainly because most of the area it used to cover has fallen victim to the urban sprawl around it. There are considerably fewer palaces and two modern-looking buildings inside, one of which has something to do with American Art. Yes, separate entrance fee.

The palace is pretty good-looking as a park and I enjoyed just sitting there on one of the benches while watching people do their thing. I forgot that there's also some sort of party venue used for events. At least it still serves its purpose because according to the info stand, that “pavilion” has always been used to entertain guests and hold functions even before.

Cross the street from Deoksugung and you’ll find yourself in a huge patch of green grass with a stage and an ongoing construction in front of it. That building being renovated is the namesake of the Metro station you find in front of the palace. Yes, Seoul City Hall. The grassy area is aptly called Seoul Plaza. A lot of skyscrapers surround them. Head south and you'll end up in yet another ongoing construction: Namdaemun Gate. The gate was a victim of an arson attack from some random Korean citizen who decided to take out his frustrations over the government on the helpless gate. Hmmm, someone’s confusing nation for state.

Across the gate is the Namdaemun Market, pretty much like Divisoria except that you can eat Kimchi at some random stall and then buy winter clothes made of faux fur from another. Shopping is not my thing so I only passed by the market en route to the nearest Metro station. Myeongdong Cathedral is also located in Jung-gu’s Myeongdong area but I never visited it despite staying there for almost a week, haha.

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