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Valentine’s Day: Seoul, 원구단, and the Westin Chosun Hotel

Disclaimer: this is a thoroughly sentimental, personal post. Proceed with caution.

My wife and I were married on October 7, 2006, in Roslyn Harbor, Long Island, New York,  at St. Mary’s Church, surrounded by family. We chose to get married after returning to the United States from Korea because after so many years of being away from family; we wanted them around to celebrate the event with us.

However, my wife and I fell in love, got engaged, and made our future plans together in Seoul; obviously, it holds some wonderful memories for us.

Our first date was on Valentine’s Day weekend (the Saturday after), 2001. I had worked a rare Saturday that day and finished a little before 9:00 PM. I made my way to Sinchon, we met in front of the McDonalds Building (where she lived at the time), we went for kalbi (갈비), she ordered soju (소주) with dinner. I was in love. The date finished basically on Monday morning after a bowl of seollentang (설렁탕).

But it took me awhile to propose. I eventually got my act together and asked Ms. Hyun to marry me in May of 2004.

I reserved a room at the wonderful Westin Chosun, told her to pack a bag, and kept everything as hush hush as possible. I proposed, she accepted, we went to eat at an incredibly expensive restaurant called The Ninth Gate, and general merriment abounded. We even had Crêpe Suzette for dessert, if only because I never had the chance to say that aloud before. Let alone in a Koreanized form.

The Chosun Hotel actually has a very interesting history. The modern hotel looks and feels modern, but it sits on the site of the original Chosun Hotel. Apparently, the hotel was the first of its kind in Korea, had the first elevator in Korea, and a whole series of other firsts. Right in the inner courtyard of the hotel sits 원구단 (Wondugan), an altar where King Gojong peformed the Rite of Heaven, a ritual for a good harvest. The altar sits between two mountains in Seoul (Namsan and Bukhansan), affording it a whole mess of good feng shui (풍수).

Gojong approves of the union between Gallagher and Hyun. All in the land rejoice.

I figured a blessing from a king, feng shui, and a rite of heaven would prove auspicious for my wife and I. Years, love, and many adventures later, I still believe this to be true.

I bought a poster-size version of Wondugan to mark the occasion for Valentine’s Day this year.

Wondugan, or where Michael Gallagher proposed to Jen Hyun.

By the way, in South Korea women give chocolate to men on February 14, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14 (White Day). On April 14 (Black Day), those who did not receive anything on the 14th of Feb or March go to a Chinese restaurant to eat black noodles (자장면 jajangmyeon) and “mourn” their single life. I took the above from Wikipedia (where all knowledge emanates,  right?).

I included the above to remind my wife that she still owes me some chocolate. She has always claimed that since she is American she didn’t have to as we should follow American custom, but that doesn’t fly with me. I don’t even like chocolate, so I will, in some quasi-fushion of these various holidays, settle for a big bowl of 자장면.

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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