2017 travel diary 10: A lazy weekend in Seoul

Outside Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon
Outside the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon

Insadong, Seoul, 6 May 2018. There is never a shortage of things to do in Seoul. For the final weekend of my 2017 Korea trip I had not scheduled anything other than a couple of dinner engagements. I could easily have done nothing apart from hanging out in my new favourite coffee shop. Their fresh salads for brunch, their appealing bakery section and of course their perfectly-crafted hand-drip coffee keep you sustained while you’re taking advantage of their free wi-fi or simply gazing out of the window. But I had to tear myself away at some stage to do some of the galleries.

In the Seoul branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art there was an exhibition of recent acquisitions: works by Kang Ik-joong, Kim Whanki (with an acquisition cost of 1.3 billion won, MMCA’s “most expensive possession ever”) and more. Also guaranteed to take a good chunk of time is the wonderful gift shop where you can purchase work by noted craftsmen. I invested in a rather lovely tea cup made by Lee Kang-hyo, a regular visitor to the UK who would later in the year travel to Plymouth and Stoke-on-Trent to do his dramatic pot-decorating performance to the accompaniment of samulnori rhythms.

In the Seoul Museum of Art there was an exhibition of Minjung art – something that is not easy to find in the mainstream galleries, and made possible by a special donation from Lee Ho-jae, CEO of Gana Art. This is now destined to be a permanent exhibition, alongside their permanent display of works by Chung Kyung-ja.

In the Gwacheon branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art there was Lesson 0 – a specially curated show of mainly Korean but also other Asian artists which included a work from my favourite tongue-in-cheek artist, Kim Beom…

Kim Beom: A Rock That Was Taught It Was a Bird (2010)
Kim Beom: A Rock That Was Taught It Was a Bird (2010)

…a temporary addition to Paik Nam June’s famous The More The Better installation by Lee Seung-taek…

… an absolutely fabulous exhibition of tapestry work by Song Burnsoo (exhibition entitled Pantomime of 50 Years)…

… and an action-packed exhibition of items from MMCA’s permanent collection entitled Cracks in the Concrete.

Early evenings were spent strolling through the backstreets of insadong, Unnidong and Bukchon – It’s great for:

  • people-watching, particularly now that so many Asian tourists opt to dress up in hanbok for their perambulations.
  • snacking at the numerous tempting fast food stalls
  • browsing in the gift shops: I was surprised that the two places where I succumbed to temptation gave me spontaneous discounts, even though I was happy to offer the marked price.

I was also planning on going on an early morning stroll along the Seoul fortress wall from Sajikdan to the Guksadang Shamanist shrine on Inwangsan – a fairly regular excursion on the RASKB calendar. But I used the extreme yellow dust as an excuse for idleness and stayed in bed. The option will always be waiting for me next time.

Protection from Yellow Dust
Protection from Yellow Dust

But, as always, I did enjoy the lanterns around Jogyesa and the Chonggyecheon (particularly around the time of Buddha’s Birthday and the Lotus Lantern parade).

And of course one of the main pleasures of hanging out in Seoul is the opportunity to have dinner with friends. I never think of exploring office buildings for restaurants, but the first few floors of D Tower seems to be full of eateries and I had a boozy supper in a Korean fusion restaurant; in the basement of another office block behind the Chosun Ilbo building in Gwanghwamun is a Chinese place run by a noted resaurateur. So yes, it’s nice to browse the older-style eateries in the low-rise areas, but there are plenty of places to eat in what from the outside look like unappealing high-rises.

To wrap up my visit, a night-time trip on the Namsan cable car: this was an unexpected post-dinner treat on my last evening in Seoul.

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