Take a tour and learn some more
By Agnes Yu
A burgeoning English-speaking community in Seoul has in turn spurred an influx of wide-ranging services made to cater to the whims and wants of a foreigner in a foreign land.
There are various restaurants to appease your stomach’s cravings, websites and magazines to keep your finger on the pulse as well as clubs and tours to get you involved and keep you active.
One walking tour of the popular Bukchon neighborhood in particular takes place every Saturday afternoon with Robert Koehler, the editor-in-chief of SEOUL magazine.
This tour is organized by Seoul Selection, the joint publisher with the city government of SEOUL magazine and according to the website, ``Situated between two of Seoul’s most important royal palaces, Bukchon contains the city’s highest concentration of Korean traditional ‘hanok’ houses, intersected by steep, narrow streets and flights of steps. It is also home to a rich variety of museums, traditional teahouses, restaurants, cafes, shops and more.’’
It starts at 2:30 p.m. with some “outstanding” views of the trendy Samcheong-dong street. It continues to Gahoe-dong to admire the hanok and traditional in addition to early modern architecture. Some significant sites include Jeongdok Library and Choongang High School where a popular Korean drama was filmed. The route meanders to Gye-dong and a highlight of the tour is Simsimheon or “House Where the Heart is Found.” In his recent article on the Bukchon area for SEOUL magazine, Koehler writes that this ``is a private residence currently operated by the National Trust of Korea, an NGO working to protect Korea’s environmental and historical heritage. Built in 2002 by master craftsman Jung Yeong-soo, it’s a perfect blend of Korean traditional charm and modern convenience.’’ Before wrapping up at 5 p.m. the tour visits Wonseo-dong, the neighborhood along the western wall of Changdeokgung Palace.
Koehler is a longtime resident of Korea and also the author of the bestselling guidebook Seoul. He can offer expert commentary on the history and culture of one of the most enchanting districts of the capital.
The first tour was on November 5 and since then they have attracted both expats and tourists. John Glionna took the tour with his friend Douglas Binns and Glionna said, ``I loved the tour. Robert is part professor, part showman. It's obvious that he loves Seoul and it history, not to mention its architectural back story. I felt I was in the hands of a wine connoisseur who was laying on vintages I'd never heard of, directing me to smell corks he knew I'd be amazed at. I saw a Seoul I never knew existed. I'd take his tour again in a heartbeat.’’
This guided trek can offer insight and background information that a solitary wander about may lack, you can meet others at the same time and Koehler is there to help you navigate the unique neighborhoods.
Binns mentioned, ``The best part of the tour is the sense of mystery. The tour goes through alleyways and on back streets in a part of Seoul that many people don't see. You lose your sense of direction, but you've got Robert to guide you.’’
To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02-734-9565. The cost is 30,000 won per person.
Meanwhile the Royal Asiatic Society ― Korea branch (RASKB) is offering a tour “Seochon: Wandering Seoul's Last ‘Untouched’ Neighborhood,” on March 11, starting at 1:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. This special tour will be led by Robert Fouser.
Along with telling great stories relevant to the district, Fouser is a strong proponent for preservation; he is the first foreign professor of the Department of Korean Language Education at Seoul National University.
The tour description reads, ``In this excursion, we will explore the Seochon (West Village) neighborhood of Seoul that sits between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Mt. Inwangsan.’’ It is a ``showcase of the layers of 20th-century urban history,’’ including an assortment of hanok and Japanese colonial-period architecture, art galleries, modern museums, open markets, and traditional restaurants on top of some of the most interesting hidden alleys in Seoul.
The cost is 15,000 won for members and 20,000 for non-members. Please reserve your spot before March 7 by emailing email@example.com
For those who need further convincing, Binns added, ``Taking a tour is the perfect thing to do with friends and relatives who come to visit ― as long as they are good walkers and have a sense of curiosity.’’
Visit www.seoulselection.com for more information on the Bukchon tour.
Visit www.raskb.com for more information on the Seochon tour.