Saturday, 12 November 2016

Seoul Day 3: New glasses and hordes of riot police

New glasses
One thing that came up in my very limited research of Korea before our holiday was that a new pair of glasses was a great thing to buy, so on our third morning we headed to Davich Optical to see if we could get a new pair (I'd had my prescription done in the UK a couple of days before leaving).

They were set up perfectly for the tourist with sales assistants that spoke English and the cheap frames all lined up for those of us looking for a bargain. I bought two pairs and got a pair I already had with me reglazed. Becks also bought a couple of pairs. On top of already cheap prices they also gave us a couple of extra discounts on top. We easily saved a couple of hundred pounds compared to shopping in the UK.

Outside the shop they had an ultrasonic glasses cleaner on the pavement that was free for anyone to use. I didn't have any glasses on my at this stage, but Becks cleaned a pair and I threw in my camera filters. The machine was awesome and we were pleased to find another one later on in our trip in Tokyo.
Statue on the approach to the Royal Palace
We'd read conflicting advice on which day the Royal Palace was closed but we decided to head in that direction to see if would get lucky and be able to have a look round the palace. On the approach to the palace is a 500m long boulevard which has a large central space down the middle filled with fountains, statues and grassed areas which made a pleasant amble. 

At the start of the boulevard was also an ongoing vigil by the relatives of those lost in the 2014 ferry disaster. It is clearly an emotional subject for many. 
The gates to the Royal Palace 
When we arrived at the palace it was indeed shut for the day, but it gave me the opportunity to get an almost pedestrian free / traffic free shot of the main gate.

With the palace shut we decided to head to the nearby Insadong district we'd visited the day before on our walking tour. With the public holiday over it was much less oppressive and we could amble along and enjoy some of the shops. We bought a few Christmas presents for people in cool little arts complex that we'd walk through the previously, but not stopped at the day before.

We sat and watched the world go by for a while sitting on the steps in a square at the southern end of Insadong. While we were sitting on the steps we started hearing a few whistles and then megaphones and slowly a protest rally emerged on the main road not too far from where we were sitting.

Knowing full well that the standard Foreign Office advice in these situations is to make yourself scarce, we decided that the only reasonable thing to do was to head straight for it!
Riot police galore
Our Korean being less than perfect we aren't 100% sure what the march was about, but we think it was related to workers rights. Our brief impressions of Korea so far was of a very peaceful, orderly and respectful society and the march seemed to conform to those expectations. Yes it was quite loud, but it definitely wasn't in any way threatening. 

What was quite shocking was the absolutely vast number of police attending the march, they must have outnumbered the protesters by quite a high factor. Having trouble walking down the pavements due to the number of people we bailed into the side streets only to find battalions of police lined up in the side street. It seemed totally out or proportion*.

Again ignoring foreign office advice I took a few sneaky shots of the police.
The old and new town halls
Breaking away from the protest we started drifting in the direction of city hall and found ourselves outside of the old city hall which is now a library. We decided to head inside for a look around and spent a pleasant half hour looking around the top floor. Sadly as we'd arrived after sunset the roof terrace was closed.

BBQ action
We needed to pick up our glasses before the shop shut at 9pm so started to make our way in that direction and found ourselves in a street of BBQ restaurant joints. I decided upon a completely random looking joint that was quite busy with locals but looked a bit rough around the edges.

We clearly weren't trusted to know what we were doing so the waiters regularly came across to silently take over from our cooking efforts. I was hoping that Korean BBQ would be awesome, bit sadly it was an average experience.
Coals for the BBQ heating outside of the restaurant
On leave the restaurant we collected our new glasses on the way back to our hotel. Cheap glasses and opticians that are open until 9pm!

*I'd read an article in the Economist that morning which said that despite being a democracy public protests weren't really tolerated in Korea. Recently two protesters had been killed by police using a water cannon and it was generating a national debate.

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