It's Korean Thanksgiving, so I don't have to work most of this week. Last week, I not-so-subtley wrote in my parent letter that my birthday was this Thursday. As I hoped they would, the mommies all went together and bought me a fancy-shmancy cake that I'm planning to eat for all three meals, all three days of this glorious holiday. Mmm, cake.
Since I have three full days off, and I've been in the country less than a month, I had plenty of ideas for how to spend my time. I got a book earlier this week in Itaewon called "Seoul Best 100" that outlines the 100 best places to visit in the city. I read through every page of the book and decided I had one favorite: the Wall of Wishes. It's at a river called Cheonggyecheon, and my research online produced pictures like these:
According to my travel book, the Wall of Wishes is a wall along the river where people have decorated over 20,000 tiles with colorful and elaborate wishes. This wall, combined with the images online and the fact that there is a museum nearby, led me to believe that Cheonggyecheon was likely the very best part of Seoul. I decided my first day of Chuseok would be dedicated to locating this amazing fantasy land.
I actually thought to check the weather before I left today, and I saw that it was going to rain. I had brought a pair of polka-dotted rain boots with me, so I decided today would be an opportune time to bust them out. I coordinated my outfit around the highly fashionable hunks of rubber and set off with my subway map, guidebook, and a whole lot of optimism.
Gangnam wasn't raining at all, so I felt a little silly traipsing down the sidewalk as though I were on my way to go fly-fishing, but I had had nothing but candy for breakfast, so I was in a great mood. I successfully navigated my way through three line changes on the subway and emerged from the Jegi-dong Station, fully expecting the lovely river to be flowing along beside me. Instead, all I found was rain.
Somewhere in my near-quarter-century of life, I had developed the belief that rain boots would cause me to be entirely impervious to all natural elements. I chose a direction at random and headed off down the sidewalk, splashing in puddles and making a complete fool of myself. Due to the horrendous downpour, there was hardly anyone on the streets, but this didn't deter me at all. Remember, I was going to see a pretty river with a Wall of Wishes!
After tromping around aimlessly for a while, I decided that it was entirely unlikely that I'd stumble across the river on my own, so I stopped at a police station. I walked in, dripping wet, and simply said "help?" The police officer looked vaguely concerned about my state of well-being but he hardly spoke any English. Hoping to get some clear assistance, I pulled out my guidebook and pointed to the page about Cheonggyecheon. The officer shook his head and handed the book back, but I refused to take it. I pointed again at the picture and smiled encouragingly. At this, he became visibly flustered and started miming rain, a rising river, and a "whoooosh!" sound over and over again. I think he was telling me that if I got close to the river, it would sweep me away, but I remained unconcerned. When he realized I wasn't going to give up, he reluctantly led me to a map and pointed out the easiest route. I suddenly remembered the museum and tried to ask him where it was. Since he didn't know much English, and I don't know the Korean word for museum, we didn't get very far. Finally, I pointed to a random spot on the map and asked "museum?" to which he smiled and nodded. Success! I now knew where to find both the river AND the museum! He sat down, shaking his head at the crazy foreign girl, and I splashed back out into the monsoon.
Thirty more minutes of stomping in puddles followed while I tried to find my destinations. I decided I wanted to go to the museum first in case it closed early for the holiday, so I tried to remember where the man had shown me on the map. A lot of walking in circles later, I saw a sign with happy children on it and did a little dance; my museum was right up the road! I followed the sign around a corner and down an alleyway to the Seoul Folk Flea Market.
I knew as I approached that I was not at the right place, but I kept walking anyway. My socks and dress were soaked completely through, and the candy-high was beginning to wear off. Dozens of old Korean men stared at me as I entered the building and accidentally hit myself in the face with my umbrella.
I didn't spend much time inside the Flea Market, but I did notice a few things I had of course been trying to find: 8-track tapes, MRE's, and an absurd amount of leather. I wandered for a few minutes, but when I stumbled upon a bucket of dead fish, I decided this wasn't quite what I was looking for. Luckily, they had a tourist information spot, so I popped in and asked where to find the museum. For the record, it was nowhere near where the police officer had directed me, but it was somewhat within walking distance. By this point, I was determined to find the damn museum.
I headed out toward the river, thinking perhaps I could gaze out over the lovely landscape for a few minutes before I hit the museum. Unfortunately, because of the rain, the river looked like this:
Not quite what was in the brochure.
Sadly, I had to concede that perhaps I would not be visiting the Wall of Wishes today. However, this only made me more devoted to locating the museum so my day wouldn't be an entire waste. I splashed across the bridge, laughing maniacally at the flooded river below me. I walked for what seemed an inappropriate distance and nearly gave up before I finally saw the museum up in the distance. I skipped the rest of the way there and practically danced inside.
The museum was completely empty. I wandered from exhibit to exhibit, pretending I could read the Korean signs that accompanied miniature statues like these:
All in all, the museum was dreadfully boring, but I didn't want it to end because I was dreading going back out into the rain. The novelty of puddle-jumping had long since worn off, and I was cold, soaked, hungry, and about an hour and a half from home. I got lost trying to find the subway station and ended up hopping on a bus I knew would eventually take me somewhere near my home if I waited long enough.
Basically today proved that, as is most often true in life, the journey is infinitely more entertaining than the destination itself. Also, even if you're wearing rain boots, you'll still get really wet if you jump in enough puddles.