Thanks to KOCIS I am now an official "Worldwide Korea Blogger" for The Korea Blog. I'm still not quite sure exactly what this means, but they treated a group of us to a lovely day out this week culminating with a tour round the grounds of the Blue House (청와대).
After a brief meeting and the presentation of some rather spiffy looking certificates, we were ushered along to the Cheongwadae Sarangchae Museum and into the Charim restaurant. KOCIS had spared no expense and provided us with a choice between bulgogi or bibimbap. Knowing that I had to stroll around the presidential palatial grounds later on, I decided on the meatier option.
For 12,000 won (though free for us lucky few) you get a beautifully presented bulgogi, with a rather minimalist selection of side dishes.
The food was well cooked and had a little bit of a chili kick to it. Certainly a pleasant place to lunch at if you're in the area.
Next it was off into the museum itself for a little exploration.
Not quite sure if this was one of those robot English teachers. However, I would like to point out that I did not touch the robot. I promise... there was no touching involved.
Most of the bloggers took the opportunity to have their photo taken with President Lee and the First Lady (see my previous post for my stunning portrait).
Some even deigned to sit in the chair of office (disclaimer: probably not actual chair of office, but certainly an office chair of sorts).
This was the best photo in the whole building... possibly the best photo of Obama ever taken...
For those wishing to imagine themselves as last year's politicians, they even have a mock G20 summit room.
After all the museum frolics it was off on a special bus accompanied by special agent Kim all the way to the Blue House.
If you fancy taking the tour you must book well in advance and remember to bring your passport. The security screening is reminiscent of a polite airport and as we entered we were fortunate enough to be given to wonderful Cheongwadae tea cups. Unfortunately, I prefer to sip my tea from mugs decorated with the sinister drawings of Ralph Steadman (nothing like a casino full of lizard people to brighten up your morning cup of tea).
After a rather amusing video (including shots of President Lee cycling) we were taken on the rather brief, but interesting tour of the grounds. We were warned that pictures could only be taken at certain times and only of certain things. I accidentally took this picture of the tree that Lee Myung Bak planted when he was inaugurated. I didn't mean to, I promise, my finger sort of slipped and happened to press a button on my camera...
The tour was made more interesting by the hordes of older Koreans that accompanied us. Not content with pushing to the front and talking over the guide, several of the older ladies were seen to be scampering on to forbidden fields and pathways and had to be shooed back into line by the secret service. If this tour was one of your first tastes of Korea, then you might get a rather skewed impression of the locals. The ugly side of ajumma culture comes out in large tour groups.
We weren't allowed too close to the Blue House, I would have liked to get a little closer and take some more interesting shots, alas, security was fairly tight and time was pressing.
Still, a tour of the Blue House should be on everyone's list when staying in Korea. It's a chance to see where the rich and powerful make decisions and you get to meet some very personable secret service agents.
At the end of our excursion the good people of KOCIS were generous to provide us with goodie bags (stuffed with a book, cd, business card holder and usb dongle thing). Not a bad haul for the Worldwide Korea Bloggers and all in all a very enjoyable day.
Much thanks to The Korea Blog, KOCIS and all those who had a hand in organizing the day...
And finally the obligatory group shot.
Back row - Asif, Roger and Francesco.
More photos of the day can be found here.