The fortress and the poop

We’d like to sleep in.

We can’t sleep in.

This damned Chuseok three day public holiday means many destinations are closed from tomorrow, so we have to make use of today.

The hotel buffet breakfast has a wide choice of western dishes, including pizza(!) and not much traditional Korean.

It takes us three metro trains to reach Suwon. It should be two but the first terminated at an early station. It feels a lot like Japan, but different. Different characters on the signs, buildings a touch more run down, vegetation wilder, almost tropical in appearance.

After arrival at Suwon Station we make our way out to the bus stop in front of the Novotel Hotel. A young Korean lady stares at us.

“Russia?” she asks.

“No, Australia.”

She points at B, “Hangeul?”

“No, Malaysia.”

At Alex.

“Australia,” I say.

A bus arrives and she disappears.

We are in Suwon to see the Hwaseong Fortress Wall that encloses most of the old city. It takes us a while to sort out which bus to catch, but there are destination lists in English. When the right number arrives we board. At the Paldulmun Gate stop where I intend to get off, a passenger says we should instead go to the next one.

Instead we are near the Hwaseong Temporary Palace. We decide to walk back towards the Paldulmun, a detour which takes us to the Suwon Chicken Street, home of numerous beer and fried chicken restaurants.

We choose the busy Jin Mi and order half regular fried chicken, half in the sweet sauce. We don’t eat the chicken livers, but the rest is pretty good.

The Paldulmun is a big stone fortress gate that is inaccessible. But on the other side of the river, down through the pedestrian mall and up worn steps, is an unobtrusive entrance to the city wall.

We’ll just walk a short way, we say. But somehow we don’t stop. There’s always another view across the city. The massive Suwon Jeil Cathedral, the tethered Flying Suwon balloon which rises and falls in the distance, the attractively trendy cafes that sit below.

Despite the constant threat of rain, the warm humidity, we make it about a third of the way around the wall, stopping at the Yeonmudae Archery Centre. Unfortunately, the centre is closed today, which is a pity as I was hoping we could give this popular Korean activity a go.

The tourist information centre helps write the Hangul for our next destination, Mr Toilet House. A taxi takes us quite a distance out through heavy traffic for the modest fee of about A$13.

Sim Dae-Juk, former mayor of Suwon, had a passion for sanitation and built a toilet shaped museum dedicated to doing the business. Though somewhat aimed at a younger generation, Alex would have loved it when little, it’s quirky and amusing enough that we found it thoroughly enjoyable. The garden is especially good, with sculptures of people squatting and pooping.

Across the road, the Haewoojae Cultural Centre was mostly closed, but the kid’s activity centre and library were hilarious. Perfect place for the young scatologist!

Without a taxi, it was a bit of a walk past factories, market gardens and a high school to get to the bus stop. We then caught an express bus with USB sockets but no English announcements. Fortunately, its terminus was opposite Sadang Station, a direct ride back to Dongdaemun.

Despite our exhaustion, we didn’t go straight back to the hotel. Instead we took a walk around Dongdaemun. A lot of Dongdaemun.

Around the outside of the amazing Zahra Haddid Dongdaemun Design Plaza, then across to Doota Mall. We eat dinners of chicken and beef rib stews and of Jeju beef noodles at the basement food court. So far I have enjoyed the food.

It’s dark when we emerge. I suggest we cross the main road to take a look at Dongdaemun gate and what is now the Dongdaemun Hotel, where we stayed at first visit to Seoul nineteen years ago.

The area has changed. The clothing markets are already closed for the day instead of being open into the wee hours. And now there is the beautifully transformed Cheonggyecheon Stream, young people strolling beneath the trees, listening to an amateur band. It’s a very romantic place.

We wander past streetside food stalls selling skewers and tteokbokki, fruit juices and doughnuts. It’s evocative and so different to home.

In another throwback to our last trip we explore the multiple stories of cheap clothes at Migliore, where B found clothes before. We buy something for her again.

Close to our hotel are the APM wholesale markets, a tower of small boutiques that can sell you an individual item or a big grey plastic bundle of them for resale. And it’s open until 4 AM.

We would have bought more for B, but Alex was exhausted and complaining and we’d almost run out of cash. They only take cash.

A last stop for dessert at 7-Eleven next to the hotel, then we finally return. It’s almost 10 pm. There’s washing done.

It’s been one of our classic travel days and a surprisingly fun one.

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