I mostly use the buddy system in Korea. I go out with either Jared or a friend, but rarely venture out on my own.
I go to the store or the doctor alone, but not sightseeing alone. However, that's exactly what I did one recent Saturday morning. I had found a blog post
about the National Library of Korea. I like libraries, and I was intrigued by their rare book collection. Jared had to work, and I felt like this was an outing just for me. I set off!
You can reach the library from Express Bus Terminal. Find Exit 5 (more difficult that I expected) and walk for about ten minutes. The library is much like the Library of Congress. Books are meant to be used, but not checked out.
It's actually a library campus. There's the the main library, the Digital Library, the Deposit building, and the Librarian Training Institue. The library was established in 1945, but has been in its present location since 1988. The National Library sits atop a hill and the digital library is below it. The roof of the digital library is covered with grass and creates the plaza in front of the National Library.
I had preregistered online and went to the information desk to collect my card. I could get a one day pass or a recurrent pass. I didn't know if I'd really be returning, but I did want a library card. So, I got the recurrent pass which has my name printed on it. A pretty fun souvenir for a book lover like me!
They have some legit security at the library. You can't take in bags and have to put them in a locker. I was sent into the locker room and was completely perplexed as to what to do. A kind stranger showed me how to use the computer log in system to select a locker and store my bag. You are allowed to take in valuables and writing materials, but I decided I wouldn't try to take in my camera. Instead, I took my wallet with my phone inside so I was still able to get a few pictures.
The old and rare books collection is on the 6th floor. It was smaller than I expected. They have about a dozen glass cases with scrolls and books from the Josen dynasty displayed. There are several rows of glass doored cabinets with stacks of books, and even an old card catalog. I wandered the aisles, and though I was unable to touch any of the books, I was happy just to be near them and smell them. There were several old men working at desks and occasionally coughing. Otherwise it was perfectly silent. I love libraries.
I wandered around some of the other floors, but didn't find much to interest me. After retrieving my items from the locker room, I decided I wasn't quite ready to go home yet. I walked up the hill just a few more minutes and followed the signs to the Seocho Silkworm bridge. This pedestrian bridge offers amazing views of the city. I was surprised to look at and spot Seoul tower. (I generally have very vague notions of where I am located in the city, so it was exciting to spot something that helped me orient myself. I blame this lack of geographic knowledge on the subway system. I just pop out of the ground at different parts of the city; therefore, it's difficult for me to connect them in my mind.) I immediately sent pictures to Jared and suggested we return for more photography.
I began the journey home completely content. Although I love exploring with Jared and friends, it was really refreshing to be on my own in this giant, bustling city. I realized more and more that I am beginning to think of Seoul as "my" city. Though I am still exploring, I'm exploring my new home, not a foreign city.