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Korea, the country of morning freshness

10615432_10152755276332845_3440859680855504924_nIn antiquity, wise men have been long locking horns about the harmonious balance of the two principal elements of our being : male and female, black and white, mind and soul, to put it shortly, yin and yang.

In one state of the world, South Korea, this problem does not simply figure prominently on the official level, it is displayed on the national flag. Sometimes it seems as if the whole population of this country, those people who manifacture household appliances or cars, those who build idyllic Zen Buddhist monasteries on wood-covered mountain slopes, were taking part in solving the issue.

The capital of South Korea greets you with glittering skyscrapers of the business quarter, heavy traffic along busy street, the rhythmical hum of moving stairs in shopping malls.

downtownOne of the principal symbols of Seoul is the huge Gyeongbokgung palace, erected in the 16th century and many times rebuilt since then. Korean architecture is such that all palaces are not simply separate buildings, but cascades of buildings of varying shapes and sizes, situated on different levels but naturally linked into a single framework.

palaceSunsetMulti-storeyed pagodas, curved rooftops, cosy gardens reflected in trasparent surface of ponds, all that urges you towards soulful contemplation, if not immediate meditation.

pagodeSunsetThe best time for that is the lazy noon, when the air is suffused with flowery aromas. The dreamy state can only be distrupted by the flashy changing of the guards that happens at the palace three times a day : valiant guards in traditional garb solemnly march under motley banners around the inner yard, much to the sightseers’ delight.

palaceSunset2Not far from Gyeongbokgung there is another point of touristy attraction, the Insadong street. Here, art galleries are interspersed with traditional restaurants, calligraphy workshops, souvenir boutiques and tea rooms. It is here that one is advised to stock up on Korean tea mixes with mushrooms, ginger, jujube, plums, rice and lots of other cereals, unknown, a bit strange to smell and taste, but intriguing.

insadong2insadong3In the side-streets, in spite of the impressive neighbouring high-tech skyscrapers, one can still find the classical national houses, hanoks, with large interior space which serves as dining room, drawing room and bedroom : only mats and mattresses are changed. Sitting and lying in this space is always warm and comfortable, because the floor is heated by a special system of hot-water pipes underneath. The temperature of the water is adjusted with special taps, like in a heating battery, which helps preserve the perfect ambient temperature in the room at all times.

hanoksjeonju3More than 70% of South Korea is covered with mountains. In spite of the country’s modest size, it boasts a few national parks and preserves.

mountain1Each of these parks has at least one (usually more) pretty Buddhist monasteries, and quite often surmounting the summit and swimming in ice-cold mountain river is inseparable from a pilgrimage to the holy places.

mountain2The absolute majority of Korean over 40 are avid hikers, such mountain walks are their favourite pastime.

mountain3Korea’s main historic city is Gyeongju. For over a thousand years it had been the capital of the Silla kingdom. Today it is essentially a large open-air museum. Ancient monastries, majestic palaces, traditional Korean houses invite you to move around ;

sillaglowThe most obvious and accessible sight are the many hills of the Tumuli park, grassy kurgans of Korean nobles. These tombs are considered to be as important as pyramids of Egypt : they are about two millenia old, with all their precious contents, lavish robes, sophisticated decorations and weaponds, intact.

tumuli1A couple of hours’ drive from Gyeongju is Korea’s second-largest city, Busan.

busanBusan is not only famous for being a huge seaport, Asia’s transportation hub, and its gigantic fish market that attracts vendors and buyers from all over the country, but also for world-famous Zen Buddhist monasteries in its environs.

fishmarketEven if you are a firm believer in something non-Buddhist, you should go see those temple compounds for the chants of dreamy monks in grey habits if for nothing else.

templetripitaka4seaTemple1South Korean cuisine is acknowledged as one of the best on the continent ; pickled cabbage kimchi was recognised as the immaterial value of the mankind. Like everything in this country, the cuisine is built upon the foundation of the opposites, as well as the idea of five primary elements, each with its own taste, aroma and colour.

Shabushabu1Seoul’s most unusual restaurant Jungsik bears the name of its founding father, the creator of the « new Korean cuisine » Yim Jungsik. The classic ingredients were treated from the molecular point of view for the first time.

bibimbap4As a result, the traditional dish bibimbap (rice with meat and vegetables) became a starter made from tomato jelly and rocket mousse, while miyeok guk (soup from sea vegetables) became green risotto with sea food.

Korea certainly worth a closer look.

 

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