[personal profile] niori_1709
Of course I moved to Korea in the middle of a winter cold snap (from Siberia guys, Siberia), so that cut out a good chunk of the things I could do. As much as I wanted to see all the magnificent temples, palaces and shrines, those things would have to wait for warmer weather. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that knows me that the first tourist related thing I did while in Korea was to go to a museum. Not just any museum, but The National Museum of Korea. I wanted to start off at the top of the ladder apparently. The museum is located right in Seoul, and only a hour or so subway ride away. After spending roughly three hours there, I can tell you that that museum totally deserves to be at the top of the ladder.

The National Museum of Korea covers the very long span of Korea’s history. Katie (my co-worker) and I went at a time that we could get an English tour. I’m glad we did, because the tour was a great one, though we did admittedly have to skip a lot of stuff on it. The museum itself is huge, and you could literally spend the whole day there, and maybe then you’d be able to see everything, so the length of the tour didn’t bother me, especially since we were more than welcome to wander at our leisure once it was finished. Our tour guide was great, and it was obvious that she was really passionate about Korean history. She focused mainly on early Korean history for the most part, and only mentioned modern things near the end and briefly. For me, the most fascinating aspects were how she explained Korean history within the framework of the major philosophical and religious thoughts that have developed, especially Buddhism and Confucianism (with a brief mention of Taoism and Catholicism as well). Ever since I took an East Asian religious studies class (which, sadly enough, never mentioned Korea), I’ve been interested by the two of them. Interestingly enough, the museum focused more on religious, cultural, philosophical and political developments in Korean history more than the history of warfare. Not completely of course, because in order to explain modern Korea you need to hear about the unification of the three kingdoms and how that happened (conquering of course), the various times Japan tried to, and eventually did, occupy Korea (that was mentioned a lot- they’re not too fond of the Japanese) and of course the Korean War. Yet I still found it interesting and wonderful that, instead of focusing on the big, flashy stuff, they focused at the core of Korean history- the intangible things that helped make Korea the one we know today.

The artefacts in that museum were astounding. I’ll admit that I was most impressed by the Buddhist artefacts, including a ten story pagoda that was absolutely amazing and the numerous statues of Buddha (there’s a room just for them). There was also an amazing replica of a tomb (regrettably located in modern North Korea, so it’s not something any of us will ever see in real life). The walls of the room were painted like those found in the real tomb, and they were magnificent works of art. Each wall had the sacred animal that represented that direction- a dragon, a phoenix, a tiger and a turtle (well…it’s supposed to be a turtle, but I don’t see the resemblance). After having them pointed out and explained by the guide, I began to see them everywhere. Not only in that museum, but in other places I’ve visited as well. Knowing what they mean has added a whole new layer to my appreciation of Korean history and art. Speaking of art, there was also a room that showcased calligraphy, mostly that done my famous calligraphers, and another that had a collection of Korean artwork. There were a number of paper fans that had scenes painted on them, and they were some of the most beautiful works of art I have ever seen. The pottery was also exquisite, my favourite being the very last item we were shown on the tour. It’s a deceptively simple piece called full moon pot. It’s plain and doesn’t look like anything special, but it’s a very particular and difficult pot to make. It needs to be absolutely perfect, otherwise it’ll break and be absolutely useless.

The National Museum of Korea was absolutely perfect, and an absolutely perfect thing\ for me to do for my first week in Korea. It was an amazing introduction to Korea and her history, and it made me realize right off the bat how spectacular this place I had moved to was. It wetted my appetite for more, and now I can’t get enough learning and knowledge about my home for the next year.

For my second weekend in Korea, I decided to do something a little less serious and a little more fun. Don’t get me wrong- The National Museum of Korea was amazing, and I had a blast, but I wanted to do something with little thought process involved. I wanted to do something where I could act like a little kid again. I found that something in the Coex mall, more specifically, I found it at the Coex mall aquarium.

Coex mall is a little like the West Edmonton mall. It’s not as big and it certainly doesn’t have as much, but it’s the same idea. On top of the aquarium, there’s also a huge Cineplex theatre and a Kimchi museum (Kimchi is pretty much the Korean national dish, and I truly do recommend it). I could have spent a good chuck of the day just wandering around the mall and shopping (and a few weekends later, I did go back just to shop). There were some really great stores there, including a few tourist ones that sold some beautiful souvenirs and tourist friendly merchandise, especially pottery. I also thanked my lucky stars that I found a really great bookstore, called Bandi & Luni’s (doesn’t that sound like it should be a store name in Harry Potter?) that has a spectacular foreign language selection, and some of the sections in have a better selection that the bookstores back in Canada. I never got to the Kimchi Museum, but I do plan to get back to it sometime.

That’s a little bit about the mall itself, but that wasn’t what we were there for. We were there to check out the aquarium, and it did not disappoint. For starters, who ever designed that aquarium should have won an award, because it was absolutely beautiful. It was designed so that every section went with a water based habitat theme- Amazon rainforest ecosystem, deep ocean ecosystem, etc. Not only was it divided by these themed habitats (which was a great way to get a feel for the animals you’re looking at), but they did their best to decorate the space to make you feel like you’re there. The Amazon rainforest area was spectacular and the sheer design and how well it was done blew my mind while I was walking through it. There was also a weird and wacky room where everyday and normal items had been turned into working fish tanks. Some of them were pretty funny, like the gold fish swimming around in a toilet bowl. Others were just so cool to see, like the old fashioned lamp post that had been turned into a tank. It was nonsensical and felt quite a bit Wonderland-like to me, but I have to admit that it was amusing, and the kids around me thought it was awesome and hilarious. The most amazing part, however, was the underwater tunnel. It’s nothing unique – lots of aquariums have them- but that didn’t make it any less awesome to walk through that long, curving hall with a glass ceiling and walls, and look up and around you and see all these sea animals going about their daily business as though you’re not even there. It made me feel like I was really in the ocean, getting to see all these animals up close and personal. It was looking at them from a new angle, and it was fun and fascinating to do.

The aquarium itself was awesome, but it wouldn’t have been anything without the animals there to see. It had animals from all over the world. Admittedly, there were a lot of them I had seen before or they just didn’t catch my attention, but that didn’t even come close to taking away from my enjoyment. The tropical fish and reef sections were spectacular, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched all the beautiful colours all in one place. I found both Nemo and Dory, and the child in me was jumping up and down. That child came out again at the end of the road, when we came to the penguin exhibit. The penguins were the warm water ones found in South America (Humbolt), and they were adorable. I love penguins so much, and I pretty much stood there and flailed as I watched them get fed. Those things were so cute! Other highlights included crabs that were bigger than my arm span, a hammerhead shark (a small one, to be sure, but a hammerhead nonetheless) and even a couple of manatees! I was almost as excited to see them as I was the penguins, albeit for different reasons (my mom loves manatees). Those don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what was there. The Coex aquarium was a great way to spend a lazy Saturday. It was light, fun and an all around good time.



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