Thursday, May 7, 2015

7 May 15 – Day 7 (Gyeongdong Market, Bongeunsa Temple, COEX Mall, Myeongdong)

Whatsapped little big sis and she suggested that SWT should try pack her stuff in a carton box so that she could check-in the box. We move out before 9am and reached the designated station. As we did not have any map of the area or of the Gyeongdong market, we just assumed that we are in the area of the market since we saw some stalls selling fresh vegetables and stuff. Walked straight down and saw shops selling various kinds of rice cakes. One particular shop stood out because it was selling kimchi jars, clear plastic containers and medicinal glass jars of various sizes. We then saw other shops selling oriental herbs, dried goods like nuts, various edible powders and stalls lining opposite the shops selling things such as anchovies, simple street food, fruits and vegetables.

Crossed over to another section that sells all sorts of ginsengs, another section sells all sorts of fresh vegetables; another section sells all the fresh seafood and another section sells all the fresh fruits. All the food stuff were very huge in size compared to those we usually see back home. A lot of interesting stuff to see but not to buy. I was pretty tempted to get some ginsengs but did not know how to communicate in Korean because most if not all the sellers were either uncle or aunty. Across the street we saw another big, sheltered (wet) market. Think we did not cover the whole Gyeongdong Market completely because we were quite lost as to where we had covered and not. Anyway, it was a good experience and we moved back to the subway station to take the subway to our next destination.

Got to COEX Mall and recalled that the Bongeunsa Temple is towards the north side of the mall so walk the length of it to get to the temple. By the time we got there, it was already 11+am. SWT went to the information booth to check on the temple experience program while I took some photos near the entrance. It was then I realized that today was Thursday and temple experience program is available to foreigners on Thursday from 2pm to 4:30pm. According to the volunteer there, the temple experience program consists of temple tour, meditation session, lotus flower making session and tea ceremony session. In addition, participants would receive souvenirs. SWT asked what kind of meditation would be conducted and was told the basic ones because the program is targeted for those with no meditation experience. SWT was keen even though she has basic meditation experiences.

Since it was still some time before 2pm, she had time to consider and we walked around the temple on our own to take photos. Just like back in Haedong Yonggung Temple, we saw small piles of stones around. I recalled the tour guide back in my first Korea trip in 2010 saying that this is some form of wishing. So I did a small pile of three stones myself and took photo of it, just for fun. Then we saw a pavilion with a structure that has water flowing out, something similar to one we saw back in Haedong Yonggung Temple but instead of natural spring, the water for this one seems to come from a water hose. Walked around some more and found the canteen but lunch was over and hence no lunch for me. Covered most of the temple and asked the volunteer near the entrance where to get lunch nearby. We were told that there is a Korean restaurant just left side of the temple. SWT was still unable to eat proper meal so we had to hunt for food that she can eat before the temple experience program.

Popped into a couple of café nearby and finally settled in Coffine Gurunaru where she had plain bagel and I had shrimp & tuna panini sandwich. It was yummy with the crunchy shrimps and all. While eating, told her that I would join the temple experience program as well since I did not get to do that during my 2012 trip. I also suggested to her that perhaps she could try asking the receptionist at K-pop II if they have any carton boxes to spare for her to pack her purchases. Returned to the temple after lunch, close to 2pm and did the registration where we were given a tag each with number and I was number four. While waiting around, more foreigners came to register for the program and we ended up with a group of 12 females, consisting of two from Singapore, two from Macau, two from Korea, four from France, one from Poland and one from US. We started the temple tour with a volunteer at 2pm. She was very sincere in spreading the goodness of Buddhism and even made a few good points like how we should see people as they are and not as how they should be.

Guessed she noticed that some of us seemed bored and also she noticed that she was running out of time, therefore she had to cut short the tour and we had to sort of run to the mediation center where our next activity, lotus flower making session, was. Removed our shoes, left our belongings next to the clothe rack where some of us hung up our outerwear. I asked the volunteer if it was ok for me to remove my sweater because I was in a sleeveless tee. She said ok to me but not to the other lady from France who wore a spaghetti straps top. Entered a room and we sat on the floor along a long table with participants facing each other. A volunteer who was taking photos of the program the whole time sat opposite me. Another volunteer explained to us how to make the paper lotus flower before we tried it ourselves. While I was working on my paper lotus flower, the volunteer who sat opposite me started asking me questions such as where I was from, whether I am a Buddhist, whether I believe in Buddhism, etc. When we were about to finish our flowers, the volunteer who taught us the steps, told us that we could get a plastic box and a paper bag for the flowers with a donation of W1,000. At the back of my mind, I had already decided that I was not going to bring back the flower so did not get the box and the bag.

We were then led out of the room to another room for the meditation session and on the way there, we dropped our flowers next to our belongings beside the clothe rack. We sat down on a cushion each and the nun who was our instructor told us to try to cross our legs such that our feet lay on the thighs so that it was in the lotus flower position. Ok, that was tough. I only managed half the flower like the lady from US who had prior mediation experience. The nun told us to close our eyes, relax, and breathe in and out per her instructions. Unfortunately, I could not breathe per her pace due to my uncomfortable position. Finally the session was over and we were ushered to the next location elsewhere in the temple for the tea ceremony. As I was too comfortable in my sleeveless top that I forgot to take my sweater. Fortunately I remembered it while walking down from the center and so quickly rushed back to take. After that, SWT and I walked briskly to catch up with the rest of the group.

Reached the next location, sat down on a cushion and the same nun appeared. She was also the demonstrator for the tea ceremony. She explained the differences between black tea and green tea and that one can brew the green tea leaves for a few times before discarding. The lady from Poland was surprised with this fact because she always discards the tea leaves after one brew. From the tea ceremony, I learnt that the best temperature to make tea is around 60-70 degree Celsius. The nun made enough tea for the first row and the rows behind were handed tea and snacks by the other volunteers in the room. After the session was over, souvenirs such as a beaded bracelet, a pen, a luggage tag and a brochure on temple experience were given out to all the participants. Told SWT that I intend to leave the paper lotus flower in the temple and so we took photos of the flowers before bringing them to a statue near the entrance of the temple.

Left the temple around 4+pm and we walked back to COEX Mall. The ground floor and above seemed to be convention centers while the basements are for shops. Walked around the basements, popped into shops randomly without any proper sequence. Not sure if we covered most of the shops and we left the place during the rush hours of 6+pm. Reached Myeongdong station and tried to find a machine to refund our T-money. Learnt from a local that there was no refund for it. The last round I did not do the refund because I intended to pass it to Min for her Korea trip. Headed to Myeongdong area and we walked around since it was the last night of our stay. One of the items on my shopping list was foot spray and it was interesting how those beauty shops sell products for the hair, face, body, all except for the feet. In the end, I went to check out The Face Shop since they were selling foot peeling masks. Sure enough, they sell foot spray and it was on offer price hence no samples were given for my purchase. Anyway, next thing was to look for seaweed and I bought a pack of nine packets at W10,000 from a street vendor. Not the best deal around. While walking around, we saw a lot of carton boxes but they were either soiled or packed up by people.

Walked some more to see what to eat for dinner and we randomly popped into a shop that sells Japanese cuisine located at the edge of Myeongdong area. It was a small, cozy shop with two customers inside. We sat down, flipped through the menu and SWT decided on a bowl of udon while I opted for the pork cutlet rice. The food was great; the pork cutlet was crispy on the outside while juicy and tender on the inside. Finished all my food clean and took a photo of the shop before walking back to K-pop II. Went to level four to check on the carton box but the receptionist said they do not have. As we saw some flatten boxes outside the building, we went back down so that SWT could quickly grab one and head back up. Went back to level four to ask for masking tape and marker before heading back to our room. Showered, packed and whatsapped little big sis. She asked why I did not buy some ginsengs from the Gyeongdong Market and told her that communication was a problem, plus not sure if the aunties there are willing to sell in small quantity. While I was comfortably watching tv on my bed, SWT was busy doing her packing and in the end, she stuff all the foot peeling masks, the coin pouches and two packs of the kelp snacks into the carton box. Firmed up the timing to take the airport limousine bus with SWT before sleeping.

Thoughts: Gyeongdong Market was a good experience and I would recommend people to go before it gets crowded with tourists. And I think it would be best to go in the early part of the trip so one can stock up some fresh fruits for the rest of the stay. Also it is a good place to stock up or find ingredients that one cannot find back home. Much was said about Bongeunsa Temple but personally I did not find anything interesting about it. Perhaps it was because I am not into Buddhism or because it was not as grand as the Haedong Yonggung Temple in Busan. The 2.5 hour of temple experience was not enough to really experience temple life. Perhaps a temple stay would be better. COEX Mall was something similar to our Suntec Conventional Center but lesser shops. Guessed it would have been interesting to visit the aquarium and the Kimchi Museum.

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