Suwon, S. Korea
Yesterday was kimchi for lunch again, but this time I got pictures! It was another long day where I didn't get a chance to go out in the evening.
But today, it's the weekend! I headed out to Suwon to see a UNESCO world heritage fortress and a toilet museum.
The Suwon tourist info booth is right at the subway exit and the ladies there were super helpful. I easily got the bus to the fortress.
But there's a market right outside the fortress, so of course I poked around there first. I ended up with a bunch of mochi, although here they're called tteok. I enjoyed watching the ladies sitting on the street stringing some sort of long bean. And I even tried to buy a jacket. Of course, the largest size they carried (in men's) was still a good 2 inches short of reaching my wrists.
I started by walking the city walls. From there, I got a good view of both the fully-modern city outside the walls, and the similar but shorter city inside the walls.
Path Along the Walls
After one initial small set of stairs, for the most part, it was flat and easy. This is a well-kept city wall. Along the way, several turrets, bastions, and pavilions dotted the path. All were clearly marked with signs in multiple languages.
These are beautifully painted, just like the palaces back in Seoul. You have to check out the pictures for all of the bright colors and repeating geometric designs. It's not just the palace in the fortress that's decorated this way, even the definsive building are decorated brightly. They'd be quite impressive for medieval times. But these are all young. Like younger than the USA, Napoleon young. At one of the larger stopping points, people were participaring in archery lessons. I'm really hoping that when Europe was fighting gun battles, the Koreans weren't trying to defend with arrows. I saw a few tiny cannons, so maybe the archery is just anachronistic fun.
I was about halfway around the wall before anybody bothered to ask me for a ticket. I guess they don't put ticket takers at the part of the wall that is less touristy and has better city access. Apparently, you are supposed to pay in order to hike the walls. I was not aware of this. For a dollar though, it wasn't a big deal to go over to the booth and get a ticket. The wall was worth more than that.
Great building panels
Later, I also got a ticket to ring a huge (taller than me) bell. A dollar gets you three swings of the battering ram. The bell can be heard from quite some distance away.
At some point, the flatness slowly became a bit of a slope. And then BAM stairs. I thought it was a few, so I didn't count. Then there were more. And more. And hundreds of stairs to climb to get to the top.
Apparently, I accidentally climbed a mountain. The last major part of the fortress is at the top of the mountain for a great view of the surrounding area. I descended back to the beginning of the wall. The whole circuit took about 3 hours and left me a little gross from the last part.
Top of the Fortress
I went back a bit into the quaint little city part and found a sit-on-the-floor restaurant for lunch. I appreciated the extra liquid in the miso soup- the hike had definitely taken some sweat out of me.
I wandered a little street filled with craftspeople and their wares. Most of the goods were very impressive artistically, but useless except for collecting dust.
Then, I wandered the food market. I saw all sorts of weird meats including sea snails, chicken feet, and pigs heads for sale. Vegetables included huge daikon radishes, ginseng, and those long beans again. And of course, there was a plethora of seafood, much of it still moving. I saw one shopkeeper pull out a big fishing net to go pick out a fish for a customer. She had to go fishing, right in her little bucket, and put the fish in some other container to die. That's fresh!
Fishing in the Market
In many places, the vendors were actively preparing food as they waited for customers. Some ladies peeled roots. Others sliced cucumbers, their hands deftly knowing what to do while the ladies payed attention elsewhere. One location featured a girl filling some sort of dough with red bean paste and plopping it on a cook top. The line was long, so I tried some. The red bean paste wasn't as sweet as I'm used to, but the dough was great.
From here, I grabbed a cab to Mr. Toilet House, the toilet museum. This place wasn't as crappy as Poopoo Land (pun intended). This place actually had quite a lot of information about toilets, poop, and sanitation. They used interactive displays to show how paper is made from elephant poop. They had actual dried/preserved poop from different animals so that we could see the difference. And there were lots of examples of various types of toilets, from ancient Roman latrines, to a modern toilet with glass walls that turn translucent when the light switches on. It was worth the visit.
Mr. Toilet House
Mr. Toilet House display
Finally, I metroed to the National Museum. I finally made it!
The museum is free, which is nice, and it's rather large. The first floor teaches Korean history, the second has artwork and artifacts that were donated by private collectors, and the third floor has foreign stuff.
On the first floor, the signage is in English (and other languages), so I got a good understanding of what was going on. Also, they didn't just leave a collection of objects lying in a glass case and call it a day. They filled in some of the blanks. Like if only half of a carving was recovered, they put a drawing of what the other half would look like in place of the other half. They had a horse helmet, and then they had a model horse wearing a replica, so that we could really get a feel for how the items were used in the past.
It starts with standard pre-history stuff -rock tools and such, but quickly moves on to the interesting parts. It tells about all of the various cultures that existed in various parts of the Korean peninsula, and then spends a lot of time on the Joseon Dynasty (which became the Korean Empire).
This is a particulary interesting period because a bunch of the smart people were in charge, (the museum calls them Korean literati) and supposedly they kept the top guys in check by making them set examples for the peasants. This period lasted several hundred years. This is the period where Korean writing is invented. To answer my question from before, the Joseon dynasty did have firearms when that fortress was built. And at the end of the "dynasty" some guy decided that Korea would become and Empire, because it sounded better. Of course, that led to Japanese colonization, but that's afterwards.
The history lesson ends with the Japanese colonization and doesn't really touch the most modern history.
The next floor was interesting, but less so. The art wasn't my style, although people who like traditional Chinese or Japanese style art might like it. And the collections didn't do anythign for me. Basically, instead of breaking objects up by what period they're from, they located them based on who donated them. One guy had an affinity for pottery, another for furniture. But it's not really all connected. It's as if they had to appease the donors by honoring their individual collections as a separate entity.
I didn't go to the 3rd floor due to time, but also because it wasn't Korean and I've seen objects from other places.
I grabbed an udon soup on the way back to the hotel. (Even though it's hot outside, the extra liquid in the soup is exactly what I need, again.) The cool and different part of this particular udon soup was that they threw tempura vegetables (onions, carrots, etc) into the soup for some additional flavor and texture. Also, I got this cool "rice ball" stuff ed with kimchi and daikon. I'd recommend the (fast-food) place, but I didn't catch the name, and it was all in Korean anyway.