BNE January/February 2017 |
Fly direct between Brisbane and Seoul with
Korean Air which operates four services each
and find out
more about Seoul atwww.visitkorea.or.kr
district. It was a riveting mix of Korean percussion music, featuring skilled
drummers and gong players (including women), amazing hanbok costumes,
juggling feats, music and song. There was no way to fall asleep during this
performance because it was so loud and full of action.
After days of walking I decide to visit a traditional Korean bath house,
or jjimjilbang, for a wind down. Inside there are hot tubs, showers, Korean
traditional kiln saunas and massage tables and a mere $10 entry for the
day (if you can last that long!) covers a sweating room and hot, cold
and seawater baths but treatments are extra. I get nude and am slapped,
pummeled, steamed and scrubbed to within an inch of my life. No one
seems to speak English at these bath houses but that’s half the fun and
theres’ no doubt you come out squeaky clean.
In fact, I’ve never seen such a clean, tidy city in Asia as Seoul. Cleanliness
is next to godliness for Koreans and I found myself keeping an eagle eye out
in search of just one piece of litter. On a more quirky note, this cleanliness
also extends to a virtual national obsession with toilets. “We are very proud
of our toilets here in Korea,” says a guide pointing them out in Suwon right
next to the northern gate of Hwaseong Fortress. “They are very clean and
beautiful and all free!” (she meant there was no charge).
Seoul underwent a beautiful toilet drive just before the World Cup in
2002 to replace squat toilets with fully automated toilets, complete with
diligent cleaners and attendants. It must be the only city in the world where
you can do a toilet tour, where people will open their homes so you can
inspect their toilets and where they even have toilets built in the shape of
soccer balls. In one place I stayed the toilets (there were two) in my room
had so many functions I couldn’t get the things to work and just keep
pushing buttons until gravity saved the day.
For my last two nights I wanted to end on a calm note so I enrolled in
the templestay program at Hwagyesa, a Zen Buddhist monastery on the
northern outskirts of Seoul. Hwagyesa is home to the Seoul International
Zen Centre and is located in peaceful Bukhansan National Park at the foot
of Mt Samgaksan.
On arrival I’m drilled about taking off my shoes and bowing before
entering rooms, not eating from the table reserved for monks, shown how
to chant and prostate myself correctly and warned that I shouldn’t fidget or
lie down during extended backbreaking cross-legged meditations.
Then in my first mediation class the eagle-eyed Zen Master spies me
trying to hide my camera at the back of the hall and shuffles up to me.
“Oops”, I think, “I’m in big trouble, Cover blown.”
“Are you planning to use flash?”, he asks in impeccable English, looking
very serious. “Aaaah, weell, yes, but….” I stutter.
A big smile breaks out on his face. “Good,” he beams, “come on up the
front.” The monk spends the rest of a terribly serious ceremony posing for
the camera like a Hollywood star and beaming cheeky grins to me from his
best angle before every flash.
Koreans are warm and funny, with a distinct sense of humour and an
endearing willingness to laugh at themselves, much as we Australians do. In
a country so clean and green, where the food offers tastes you won’t find at
home, and where football is the national pride, what’s not to like?
Karen Halabi travelled courtesy of the Korea National Tourism Organisation
, 98 Gye-Dong, Jongno-Gu,
A Buddhist Templestay, seehttp://eng.templestay.com/
Eat at Hanmiri
, 983 Daechi-dong, Gangnam-gu. Call
(the website is only in
Korean so ask your hanok or concierge to book)
Drink at the Tea Gallery at the Beautiful Tea Museum
Insadong, Jongno-gu. Call +82-2-735-6678, seehttp://teamuseum.co.kr/en/
Shop at Insadong
, Jongno-gu; 110-290 Apgujeong-dong,
Apgujeong Station, Line 3 on the metro
Visit the Chongdong Theatre
, 41 Jeongdong-gil, Jung-gu.
Call +82-2 751 1500,chongdong.com
Visit a bath house, Dragon Hill Spa
40-713 Yongsan-gu. Call
or for the JoongAng Daily’s
recommended jjimjilbang list, type in “top 10 saunas” atwww.joongangdaily.joins.com
See the Jongmyo Ritual
at the Royal Shrine, an extraordinary
spectacle that happens only once a year in May. Well worth
booking ahead for, seewww.jongmyo.net
Masks at Insadong
Meditation at a Templestay