Seoul Day 7: Birthday Gangnam Style

IMG_6135If you’re looking for Days Five and Six to our Seoul Saga, you can stop. I didn’t do them. Our conference has started and those posts would have been about over air conditioned meeting rooms and trying to remember to exchange business cards with two hands.

Actually, the last two days were dedicated to a pre-conference. Today the bonafide conference started, and the opening ceremonies were more elaborate than I expected. Like, by a long shot. I guess when forty-some-thousand Rotarians get together in a room, it causes a stir. We heard from the UN Secretary General, and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (home country of our international president, K.R. Ravindran), and that of the Republic of Korea.IMG_6163

Today is also Jack’s birthday, and with an afternoon light on actual conference activities, we let him set the afternoon’s agenda.

He’s been interested in the Gangnam neighborhood since we’d arrived. It’s south of the Han River from the heart of Seoul, considered the Rodeo Drive of Asia, and prime real-estate for the nouveau riche ever since that chubby South Korean rapper and his horse-riding dance moves made the name famous.

And, it’s a good 90 minute train ride and walk from the convention center. Seoul is kicking our butts in the commute department, I tell you.

IMG_6173Gangnam Station is the busiest in Seoul, and one could get off the train and just spend the day there, without ever ascending to the street, if interested in clothes, shoes, phone cases, or hats. There are a number of private schools in the area, and the station is really popular with the under 20 set.

We wandered around for a bit, above and below ground and were impressed for all of about five minutes. None of us is big on shopping, thankfully.

Not far from that district is the Bongeunsa Temple. It’s actually a series of temples, nestled in gardens in the middle of an urban landscape, which is something that struck me again and again, this juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern.

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IMG_6188Originally built in 794, the complex has been all but destroyed and rebuilt several times. The temple is important to Korean Buddhism, having withstood severe repression under the Joseon Dynasty (those folks responsible for all the palaces we’ve been visiting).

There were services going on in some of the buildings. I didn’t feel comfortable waltzing up and snapping a picture (in the other temple there were signs saying it was forbidden), but I did sneak a photo of some monks chanting, and took a little audio sample. It was so serene after the bustle of a busy shopping district (you can hear it below, complete with ambient noise).IMG_6193

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I have to tell you, today we reached that point in our trip where we all should have realized we’ve about had our fill of quality family time. It happens. A trying afternoon deciphering street signs and finding food we could all agree on just exacerbated the tension. There was a moment where someone said something to someone else and that person took offense and said something back and suddenly there were a couple members of our party not speaking to each other, just about the time we entered the temple. I asked for a couple of pictures and was summarily turned down.

And then I came up with a thing.

“If you guys can’t come to terms here, in this beautiful, holy place, then I just don’t know what we’re going to do with ourselves the rest of the trip.”

Yes. I played the Buddhist card. I’ll bet you didn’t know I had a Buddhist card. Heck, didn’t know I had a Buddhist card. But you go with what you got.

Things calmed down and we moved on to the Seonjeongneung, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of the tombs of several members of the Joseon Dynasty. IMG_6261It’s another serene site, and locals love the walking paths and shaded groves with benches.IMG_6241

It was getting late, so we decided to stop back by the Gangnam area to try our luck with the restaurants. I’m glad we did. I’ve been really interested in trying some Korean barbeque, but that requires a menu with pictures, an English speaking waiter or both, and it just wasn’t happening. And to be honest, after the Febreze incident the other night, we’re all a little gun-shy about the dinner situation. Thankfully, in the more tourist friendly Gangnam neighborhood we found the perfect place and finally had the opportunity to sample some of the food we’d been interested in trying.

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We were all happy campers, and Jack said it was a good cap to his seventeenth birthday.
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Oh my gosh, these guys have been such troopers, I tell you.

And no one was spoon fed his dinner tonight. That’s always a good thing.

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