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Archive for October, 2010

No, this is not a catchy title for a new fantasy book (could be though… I should look into that…) but a brief summary of what makes Namsan special.

According to Pungsu-jiri (Korean Feng shui or Geomancy), the ideal or propitious site (called myongdang) is a place surrounded by mountains-a high, rugged range to the north flanked by hills folded into many ranges.

The range to the east of the ideal site is called the blue dragon, while that to the west is referred to as the white tiger.

A building or tomb must face a low hill in the south; the center of the site should command a relatively wide expanse of plain to the front.

A river flowing through the plain makes it an even better location.

That’s a perfect description of Seoul, and it’s not a coincidence.

I can hear you: “What’s the whole mountain thing ?”

Well, Koreans believe that the mountains are alive.  It is said that the mountains share their vital energy with their surroundings and the people living on their slopes.

With almost 70% of its territory covered with mountains, it’s no wonder Korea has developed a strong relationship with them.

Enter the Sanshin.

The Sanshin, or spirit of the mountain, is usually an old man sitting with a fierce looking tiger.

A very important deity in the shamanistic pantheon, he embodies the power of the mountain and offers gifts and protection to his devoted believers.

Namsan, with its 262m, is the Inner-Southern Guardian Mountain of  Seoul. Its Sanshin was actually “married” to the woman Sanshin of Bugaksan.

Both of them were said to protect Seoul.

Back to 2010.

Today, Namsan is a symbol of Seoul, with the Namsan N Tower (236m) being visible from most part of the city.

A very popular spot at night, for its great view of the city, it’s a really nice place by day as well.

First of all, the road stops before the top. The last meters of the climb, in the middle of the forest, are quite steep, but it’s well worth the effort.

We even saw a squirrel !

Once you reach the top, having completely forgotten that you’re at the very heart of a huge megalopolis, the two things that catch your eyes immediately are the Tower and the Pavilion.

The highlight of the whole trip, however, is the romantic side of Namsan.

First of all, and I’ve been told that’s a Korean thing, every surface that you can write on is… well, written on ^_^.

Friends and lovers from everywhere write little messages, with permanent markers sold at the mart on the car park.

The Tower sits on the edge of a cliff, so there is a big fence for safety.

But not only.

The picture on top of this blog is actually a snapshot of that fence.

Here’s a better look.

Meet the Locks of Love.

That “Big Wall” is a regular fence covered with locks that lovers attached there, as a token of their everlasting love.

Here’s a close up.

Some are engraved, some written on, some have hearts and pictures, some are old and rusty.

But all tell the story of people loving each other.

It’s not just for lovers, mind you.

Friends do it as well.

Now, this is still Korea.

Lovers are not supposed to display their feelings too openly, and that’s really cute when put in context.

Those 2, for example, sat down together and started writing on their locks (yes, they had one each).

But, after  a few minutes, it became somewhat awkward, and the boy left the bench to finish writing on his own.

When he returned it was even more awkward, as she really wanted to see what he wrote.

They kinda fought a little to read each other’s message before putting the locks up.

They discussed the best place to put them, locked one lock into the other, took a picture of it… what am i saying ?

Took many pictures of it, had their picture taken together, and left with a knowing smile on their face.

Adorable.

The whole place is filled to the brim with positive thoughts and feeling of love.

It mind sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

Standing with someone dear to your heart, on top of Namsan, overlooking Seoul and surrounded by thousands of Locks of Love…

It feels like nothing is impossible.

Fly high !

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If you’ve watched this video, you’ve seen almost all of the most beautiful places in Seoul.

While that’s a great thing for attracting visitors, it does not help in making them stay.

Granted, as a French, I have some pretty high standards when it comes to architecture and urbanism.

I guess the most disturbing part of the Korean urbanism is its absolute lack of consistency (from a European perspective).

The most beautiful futuristic glass towers are surrounded by tiny old worn out buildings, the palaces are stuck in the middle of condominium and 6 lines road, and so on…

My first impression was: “Gosh, it’s far from beautiful”.

My second impression was: “Good Gosh! How did I fall in love with Korea again ?” (Yeah, when you watch those dramas you tend to see something a tad different from what’s really there.)

My third impression was: “Right. Maybe I shouldn’t have come…”

Let me explain.

The day before I left France, one of my colleague heard that I was going to Seoul and came by my desk to tell me what I was going to get myself into.

The conversation went like this:

Colleague: So you’re going to Seoul ? On holiday ? For how long ?

Me: Yes. That’s my 2 weeks vacations.

Colleague: Tell you what. Seoul is ugly. You don’t want to stay there.

Me (in my head): Yeah, right ! (Aloud): Really ?

Colleague: You should go to Jiju, that’s beautiful.

Me (in my head again): I guess you mean Jeju Island… (Aloud): I’m afraid we won’t have enough time for Jeju. And it’s the peak season as well…

Colleague: Ok. Well, Seoul is ugly. It’s big and dirty and sad. There is no castle, no church, no temple,  nothing to visit.

Me (in my head): Err… that’s strange…   I thought the 5 Grand Palaces were in Seoul… as for the temples…

Colleague: There’s nothing to do, no place to go shopping, not a single traditional shop and they don’t even have a traditional market where I could buy some little things to bring home.

Me (In my head. Yes, I didn’t speak a lot): Ok… now that’s strange.

Colleague: All I could find was a stupid old market where all I could buy was some plastic buckets and stuff.

Me (laughing inside with all that nonsense): Really ? Well, that’s too bad. But how long did you stay in Korea ?

Colleague: Me ? Oh, just a day between two planes. But you know, I walked a lot !

Me (in my head, still laughing): Yes. I’m sure.”

After that, I was more than determined to prove her wrong.

So it was killing me to be unable to love what I was seeing.

I tried.

Hard.

I fell in love with some places… deeply in love.

But those places were in the middle of a city I couldn’t like.

Kind of a schizophrenic experience…

However, after 10 days in Korea, as I was burning under a scorching sun, while in deep conversation in the middle of a tea field on the south coast of the peninsula….

…it hit me.

I was missing Seoul.

I wanted to go shopping in Myeongdong, have tea in Insadong and study in Yonsei.

I was dying to go back to Namsan, see Cheonggyecheon at night and play with fireworks on the bank of the Han river with my samurai friend…

It took 10 days.

It wasn’t love at first sight.

But Korea won me over, heart and soul.

And I’ll show you why…

(No, it has nothing to do with them… ^_^ )

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