Sunday, April 6, 2014

View from the Top: Seoul's 63 Building

There are quite a few spots around Seoul that offer a breathtaking view of the sprawling city. As a bad knee prevents me from being an avid hiker, I've yet to get a look at the city from the top of one of its numerous mountain peaks. Instead, I opted to check out the famous 63 Building, which sits right on the Han River and gives a chance at a full 360 panorama of Seoul. (And it has an elevator that takes you to the top, therefore saving my knee the effort.) 

Let me just say: Seoul is one good lookin' city. 

seoul 63 building han river

If you've been anywhere near the Han River in Seoul, you've probably seen the 63 Building -- it's that really, really tall one that's all shiny and gold. It has 63 floors, as you might've guessed, and measures a whopping 264 meters. You can technically only go as high as the 60th floor, which was a slight bummer, but really, what's another three floors when you're already that high up?

seoul 63 building han river

Visiting the 63 Building was a pitstop on the way home from other errands in Seoul -- we really only wanted to check out the view. That being said, the building offers quite a lot of other activities, from restaurants to a "sea world" to a wax museum. Due to time constraints and a general unwillingness to spend money on the other attractions (which are semi-pricey), we went straight to the top of the building. 

seoul 63 building han riverIdentical blocks of high-rise apartments.

When you go to the 63 Building, you'll have to buy tickets on the ground floor before you can even get on an elevator for the observation floor. (Don't worry about getting lost -- it's a bit of a maze, but there are tons of employees stationed all over to point you in the right direction.) The observation floor is also technically an art gallery, known as 63 SkyArt, which adds a little extra bang for your buck. We were slightly offput that the fee for the art gallery/observation deck was ₩11,000 (~$10 USD), but figured it could be worse. Getting up to, into, and down from Namsan Tower, for example, is more expensive (unless you hike). 

seoul 63 building han riverThe buildings just never end.

While I wasn't able to get any pictures because it was moving so fast, the elevator that took us up to the 60th floor had glass walls! We were able to see the Han and the buildings of Seoul shrink right in front of us as our ears popped and we experienced mild vertigo. (Going down was even more disorienting, actually.) 

seoul 63 building han riverSpeaking of disorienting, this is the "Thrill Deck" corner of the observation floor -- but honestly, not terribly thrilling as the glass panels were mirrored back at me instead of being see-through down to the ground. I look so thrilled, right?

The art gallery had some decent pieces on display, so I did take a little time to look at the art on the wall. Really, though, I was too preoccupied with getting some shots of Seoul to give the art the attention it deserved. 

seoul 63 building han riverWe were lucky to visit on such a clear day. Definitely something to keep in mind in case you want to visit the 63 Building. Keep an eye on the pollution levels.

seoul 63 building han river

After wandering all the way around and staring out the windows for a while, we got bored and decided to leave. There is a cafe and small gift shop, but both were crowded with other tourists. As we left, we walked around the outside of the building so we could get some good shots of it against the clear blue sky.

seoul 63 building han riverThere is it, ladies and gents. Tall, shiny, and gold(ish). 

seoul 63 building han riverAn art installation of some metal trees outside the building, making a neat contrast of shapes and textures.

  • We got off the subway at Daebang Station, took exit 6, and hopped on the #62 city bus. (Our bus driver even made sure we got off at the right stop, even though it clearly announced the 63 Building stop over the speakers.) 
  • The 63 Building is also within walking distance of several subway stations that are along the Han River, so as we were leaving, we chose to just walk back to Yeoinaru Station.
  • Also, for more information and directions, Korea Tourism Organization's site for the 63 Building has comprehensive information about how to get there.

Overall, it was neat. Worth the ₩11,000? Meh. The view was definitely gorgeous, but I have to roll my eyes at all the gimmicks of the building. That, and I wish the ticket price for getting to the 60th floor was a little cheaper. 

However, I will say that I was definitely impressed with the panorama of Seoul, and as far as observation decks go, this one presents an awfully pretty view. If you don't mind the ticket price, I would recommend taking a trip up to the 60th floor. Just look at those pictures -- how would you not want to see that? 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Monthly Photo Recap: March 2014

This month was surprisingly light on photo-taking. I can't think of a particular reason, though I suppose it was just a fairly boring month. And yet, it's flown by -- I can't believe it's already April! March saw the end of the wintery temperatures, which kept me inside most weekends. (I'm definitely happy that I've now seen the end of my last winter in Korea.) And now, with April comes the start of the fun festivals and events that make me loooove spring in Korea. The next couple months of photo recaps will definitely be much, much more exciting.

Now that my school is in Songdo, I've been taking a bus to work. Here's my ghost-like reflection in the sides of the phone booths right next to my bus stop. (Waiting for the bus gets boring.)

My littlest students are fascinated by the strange floor windows in the classrooms in the new building. I have to constantly tell them to get away from the windows at break time because they like to do this. Sigh.

This one was chasing me around with his sticky blue goop during break the other day. He's a sassy kid and while a super lazy student, is quite smart and funny if you talk about things he's interested in. 

"Let's have sandwich night," they said. "It'll be fun," they said. No one warned me about the food coma that would immediately follow sandwich night. So. Much. Food.

Possibly the most exciting moment of my month: EMMA IS COMING TO KOREA! She's taking the (very) long way home from her teaching job in France, stopping through Korea for a little over two weeks before returning to the States. I can't wait!!! May 1st!!!!!

Bringing back the 90s, one skirt at a time.

I've recently decided that while I like dogs better, I think I would prefer to be a cat because they sleep the majority of the time and that is relevant to my interests. 

Sunday morning, heading into Seoul, having difficulties. Being awake is just hard sometimes, especially when you can't get your sunglasses out of your hair. 

After attempting (and failing) to spy on the filming of "The Avengers 2," we settled instead for sunbathing by the Han River for a bit, enjoying the warmth and blue skies. 

And! The cherry blossoms are out! I can't wait to go back and see the full display of blossoms tomorrow. They're just so goddamn beautiful. 

Finally visited Seodaemun Prison and learned quite a bit more about Korea's history during the time of Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century. While depressing, I really like the museum they've created in the old prison and highly recommend it. Blog entry coming soon! 

Rounded out the month with a trip to Burger B in Hongdae because it's just so damn good. That milkshake was peanut butter and basically tasted like heaven. 

The walls of the subway stations around Korea are so photogenic -- and perfect backdrops for a photo! Corey took this one for me and I really, really like it. The random tile pattern is just awesome. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Photo Blog: Time Warp at the Seoul Folk Flea Market

If you were take a Goodwill thrift store and mix it with equal parts antique shop and estate sale, then throw in a pinch of distinctly Asian flair, the result would be the Seoul Folk Flea MarketSome friends and I stumbled across this amazing market by accident -- we'd set out looking for a completely different market and managed to get completely lost. Luckily, losing our way was the best possible thing to have happened because the market we did find greatly exceeded our expectations.

Though I'm slightly upset that it took me two years to find this market, it's probably also for the best. If I'd known about all the vintage and antique things in that that building holds when I was first decorating my apartment in 2011, it would've been dangerous... That being said, this is definitely a new go-to spot for gifts and souvenirs. 

The flea market was only recently put into an actual building in 2008, with its origins being in the street vendors that used to cluster around that area of the Cheonggyecheon Stream. Now it boasts hundreds of vendors and offers a staggering range of items.

Lucky for us (and you), a respectable amount of effort has been put into making this market organized and tourist-friendly. As we walked around, we noticed that the different areas of the market are color-coded, as you can see in the pictures above, from the signs hanging above the aisles to the tarps that pulled down over the booths. Here's a basic breakdown of the zones: 
  • Yellow = household goods, personal goods, vintage clothes, accessories.
  • Orange = vintage clothes, shoes, bags.
  • Green = antiques, used goods.
  • Red = food court!
  • Indigo = tools, bicycle accessories, repair items.
  • Blue = clothes (sports, men's, military).
  • Purple = leisure, cameras, clothing.

Aside from the obviously ancient antiques that makes the market kind of feel like a museum, looking through most of the booths was like a bizarre time warp through the past 50 years. I say bizarre because of the number of very American (and generally Western) items that were being sold, which I can only assume are leftovers from the Korean War and Korea's subsequent modernization. The entire building is just steeped in nostalgia, making any attempt to shop with purpose nearly impossible due to the overwhelming desire to just carefully look at everything.

Directions and information: 
  • Sinseoldong Station, Exit 10. 
  • Walk straight out of the exit and around the corner on the left. You'll make a left at the Shinhan Bank. From there, look for signs and little lanterns hanging along the streetlights. The market will be on your left! (If you cross Cheonggyecheon Stream, you've gone too far.) 
  • Hours: 10:00am - 7:00pm. Closed on every 2nd and 4th Tuesday. (Note: Many vendors close early, so I would advise going before 5:00pm.) 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art in Seoul

Near the end of 2013, years of construction finally came to a close and the Seoul branch of Korea's Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art opened. Located next to Gyeongbok Palace in my favorite area of Seoul, this new museum offers excellent exhibits that range from sculptures, paintings, and interactive installations. I happily spent a few hours there recently and I highly recommend checking it out while you're in Seoul!  

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary art

Two other branches of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art already exist in Korea: Gwacheon and Deoksugung, and a fourth branch is still under construction Cheongju. The museum features art from Korean artists as well as international artists, with an impressive range of pieces. 
Personally, I'm not always a big fan of modern art, but I was very impressed with the pieces in the Seoul branch. I can't wait to go back actually, especially once the exhibits turnover and new pieces are brought in. 

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary art

As soon as we arrived, I was immediately impressed with the musuem and its staff. We got there a little after 5pm, ready to pay the 7,000 won admission for all exhibits. The staff politely stopped us from paying, informing us that after 6pm, admission to the museum was free. Not wanting to kill time for 45 minutes, we went ahead a paid for admission, but I definitely respect their kindness and honesty. If anything, it made me even more willing to support the museum with my 7,000 won.  

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artTicket.

The pieces are spread well throughout the museum, from gallery rooms featuring a traveling exhibition to installations on the walls of the hallways or hanging from the ceiling. I was unsure of the picture-taking policy of the museum, as I didn't spot any of the typical "No Photography" signs, so I snapped pictures as we went so I could show off the range of art the museum offers. 

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artEntrance to one of the galleries.

The Zeitgeist Korea exhibit currently occupies two galleries. Some of my favorite pieces were part of this exhibit -- really expressive paintings and creative techniques. (The Zeitgeist Korea exhibit was the one place where I hesitated to take photos -- my gut instinct told me that it wasn't at all allowed, but I still don't know for sure.)

Outside of the rooms holding exhibits, the next photos should give you an idea of the art that's on (and in) the walls of the hallways: 

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artHuge installation on a hallway wall in the museum.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artPerformance art in the form of an opera singer. The information on the wall said the artist found great comfort in Schubert's Lieder, so this interactive performance art was set up. The listener, seated in the chair, would be given the gift of song by one of the hired opera singers. This guy had a beautiful voice and we were mesmerized by this performance.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary art  
Don't forget to look up! This thing was moving, too!

Going back into the galleries, we came across more interactive pieces that allowed patrons to walk around in the middle of the installations:

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artProjectors in the four corners of the room lit up all these big rectangles with images.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artThis huge, intricate piece looked like it was made with pieces of plastic trash, but it was full of sensors that would make the piece move in response to the movements of the patrons walking around.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artIt was definitely weird, but it also just looked so cool.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artThis room had a story being displayed on all four walls and in order to (try to) read it all, we had to quickly spin on the spot to chase the words around the room. This is just a portion of one wall.

My favorite piece in the whole museum was this one, entitled "Home Within Home Within Home Within Home Within Home," by Do Ho Suh. Believe it or not, this giant, detailed blue structure is made of fabric. The outer structure is a Western-style townhouse and inside, there's a smaller structure hanging from the ceiling that is in the style of a traditional Korean home. 

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artThe line to get in.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artAmazing detail.

Museum Information: 
  • Directions: Anguk Station Exit 1, Gyeongbokgung Station Exit 6, or Gwanghwamun Station Exit 2. Handy map can be found here
  • Admission: 7,000 won for all exhibits, either 3,000 or 5,000 for individual exhibits. Free admission for special exhibitions on Museum Day -- last Wednesday of every month.
  • Hours: Tues, Thurs, Fri, Sun - 10:00am~6:00pm, Wed & Sat - 10:00am~9:00pm (and free after 6:00pm!), closed Mon & national holidays.
Have you been to the MMCA Seoul yet? What about any of the other branches in Korea? Leave your thoughts below!