Tag Archives: South Korea

A visit to the DMZ/38th parallel

21 Oct

I didn’t realize how close Seoul was to the 38th parallel – the dividing line between North and South Korea until I visited.  When I heard that there was an optional tour included in our package I jumped at the chance to visit this “no man’s land.”  The bus ride from our hotel was less than two hours – no wonder South Korea is so worried about North Korea having nuclear power.

Earlier the week that we visited the leader of North Korea had announced some farm reforms that sounded suspiciously like how China’s opening up policy started with Deng Xiao Ping – allowing farmers to take excess goods to market and sell them.  That was the back drop of the visit which was a very interesting morning.

Sculpture representing the reunification of the two countries

I don’t have photos of the entire visit because the main highlight was that we got to go down into one of the tunnels that have allegedly been built in the past by North Korea to try a sneak attack in South Korea.  We couldn’t bring anything into the tunnels except ourselves – all bags and cameras had to be locked in lockers provided and we had to wear hard hats.

The tunnel itself descended steeply down and we rode in a type of tram through the descent part and then were given about 20 minutes to explore.  The walls were damp and water appeared randomly spurting from above and below at various points which was unsettling.  I am not cut out to be a North or South Korean soldier – I am too tall.  My hard hat was necessary as I kept hitting my head and wound up walking like a duck  for the 20 minutes meaning that my thighs were burning by the time I exited.

The rest of the tour was kind of like a theme park – with soldiers everywhere.  We were in a bus and drove around to other different “sites.”  The no man’s land area is pretty large so without the bus it wouldn’t have been possible.  There was only one place where we were allowed to get out and look across at North Korea.

Two of the many soldiers on duty. These two seemed to have a sense of humor and actually posed for lots of pictures.

Looking across through the mist at the North Korean border. What was real and what was for display for us to see was difficult to tell.

One of the final stops (before the gift shop – yes there was a gift shop at the DMZ) was a train station.  It was a completely empty, miniature train station that is waiting for the day that the two countries will be reunited.  Prior to the conflict, this area had been a thriving village and was the main transfer point for trains from the north to the south.  If that station was again connected you could go from the Korean cost all the way to China via train.  I don’t know when that will be possible, but they are ready for the day.

The empty train station – ready for passengers.

Ten years ago I went to Berlin and visited Checkpoint Charlie, but that had turned into a historical museum.  This was different – more real, yet surreal as well.  My Chinese colleagues commented that the story that was told in the museum exhibits was very different from what they had been taught in school.  China is sympathetic to the North Korean cause – but the DMZ has a more South Korean point of view. It was interesting to watch my colleagues as they observed and questioned history.

These women spent about 5 minutes positioning themselves correctly. It’s funny how anything can turn into a photo opportunity – even the demilitarized zone!

I am glad that I went. The visit made me think again about how human beings can react and the consequences of those actions. I’ve read several books on North Korea and the Korean conflict and am now curious for even more information. It was a thoughtful place, wrapped in a candy colored theme park.

Where is the last place you visited that made you think? Or where is the last place you visited that made you thankful – thankful for peace, thankful for family, for your own country?

I am thankful for it all and would also like to wish my mother a Happy Birthday!  Sometimes seeing elsewhere makes me appreciate home.  Happy Birthday mom!

Exploring – Seoul’s downtown

14 Oct

Our last evening in Seoul we finally had some free time.  I linked up with two others and we decided that we did not want to go shopping which was the chosen past time of the majority of the group.  I’m tall in China, I’m tall in Korea – clothes don’t fit – so it wasn’t an option.

Instead we took a wonderful wander through the main shopping district, sampling street food, poking into galleries, hopping on the subway, watching live music performances, snapping photos and getting advice from extremely friendly tourism volunteers.  We looked for a place to serve a special kind of noodle and then capped it off by listening to a duo singing Coldplay songs on a street corner.

I am trying the new gallery feature with WordPress with the collage above.  If you’d like to see the photos more closely click on one and you’ll go to another page where you can see the photos larger and my captions of each shot.  Please let me know if you prefer this or my previous format.

It was a wonderful, relaxed afternoon/evening in a welcoming atmosphere.  I enjoyed Seoul a lot and would go back if given the opportunity.  It’s a direct flight and is closer than Beijing!

Have you had a wander through a neighborhood lately?  What do you enjoy when you explore a new place?

The mini- Forbidden City (a visit to Seoul’s royal palace)

8 Oct

One of the first places we went after landing in Seoul was the historic palace complex.  Before I went I asked several colleagues who had been to Korea for advice on what to see.  Several had mentioned that Seoul had a mini-Forbidden city, but Beijing’s was much more impressive.  The two complexes were different – but it was a good example of how you compare what you see with what you know.

A beautiful fountain before the president’s house with mountains in the background.

This is where they said to stand for the best photos. I’m actually not sure if you can see much of the house because of my head – but there is a beautiful mountain behind.

Prior to entering the complex we first looked at the president’s house and had more views of the mountains surrounding the city.  The current president’s house is literally across the street from the former palace complex meaning that this location has been the center of power for many generations.  I’m guessing the feng shui is very good there.

When we entered the complex it was very large.  It hasn’t been completely reconstructed the way the Forbidden City is in Beijing and there is more green space throughout which was a refreshing change.  There was also fewer people in general – though still a lot because we went on a Saturday afternoon.

Palace map

One special area was a series of vats that had been pieced together where the royal family would store their special kimchi!  It makes sense given how important kimchi is to the culture in South Korea.  There was space for hundreds of vats – perhaps they had all the different types that our guide explained when we had our kimchi lesson.

Entrance to kimchi room

Pots and pots for the royal kimchi – a separate room

The pavilions were similar to those I have seen in many different Chinese cities and actually used some Chinese characters as long ago characters were used throughout the entire region.  One unique attribute was that under several of the pavilions you could see spaces for large ovens – they had under the floor heating systems to protect themselves from Seoul’s winters.

The Korean version is much simpler than the animals you typically see on Chinese roofs – I don’t know if that is because these are older and thus more simplified or just a different style.

Peering through the next door…

A temple guardian with a cheshire cat grin. I didn’t realize Alice in Wonderland was inspired by Korean royalty.

Have you ever visited somewhere grand and then said – “Well, it’s not as nice as XXX.” I’m glad I didn’t do that in this case or I may not have enjoyed this royal complex.

That said, some places are just let-downs.  Have you had any visits like that recently?

I guess there were a few more people there than I remembered!

The Seoul Tower

30 Sep

During my recent trip to Seoul one of the highlights of the trip was visiting the Seoul Tower.  Seoul is set in a valley with mountains surrounding it – there are lots of hills and lakes – apparently the feng shui is one of the best possible for a city.  In Chinese there is a saying when you are looking for an apartment (有山有水) – that basically means that if you have a mountain at the back of the house and water in front – it is the perfect situation.  Seoul is a prime example.

You can see the mountains surrounding Seoul

Here you can see the mountains and the water – good location!

Another view of the city

At the top one of the hills that surround the city is the Seoul Tower.  We looked down at the city at dusk and enjoyed the view – Seoul spread out at your feet.  Closer in, the tower has also become a place for young couples to declare their love and to lock things of importance to them to the fences guarding people from the edge.   I was fascinated by the display – it was a modern version of the locks that I saw at the top of Mount Tai earlier this year.

Lots of different locks – and other symbols of love

The dustbin made me laugh. I don’t read Korean so I don’t know what it said – but it was unique.

The locks even tower over my head. I wonder how people put them at the top?

I think that my favorite was still the small dust bin that you can see above.  I looked through the entire collection (and there were thousands of locks) – and I didn’t see another like it.  Perhaps they believe cleaning together is the secret of marital bliss?

I wonder how the tradition started there – it’s not a holy place now, but perhaps in the past?  Who knows?

If you were going to “lock something up” as a symbol – what would it be?

Making kimchi in Seoul

25 Sep

The aprons and gloves were necessary. The red pepper paste was pretty powerful!

As part of my recent trip to South Korea, I attended a brief demonstration of how to make kimchi – the ubiquitous fermented/pickled cabbage dish that is everywhere in South Korea.  Since I was with a Chinese tour group I don’t know that I absorbed enough information to make my own (nor would I especially want to), but I did get a chance to spread the red pepper paste on the cabbage leaves and bundle it up.

Our guide/teacher explaining the different types of kimchi.

Our hosts (who were hoping that we would purchase their kimchi products) explained the different types – with over 200 different varieties possible.  In Korea they sell special kimchi refrigerators so that each home always has a constant supply available – and to segregate the smell that can seep into different areas.

Kimchi in small bowls accompanying our roast pork dinner

An example of turnip kimchi

When we ate – kimchi was available for breakfast, lunch and dinner in different formats.  Sometimes it was the pickled spicy cabbage, sometimes turnip – some yellow, some white, some darker colors.  Even at the airport when I ordered a bowl of noodles, there was a small side dish of kimchi as an accompaniment.

Over my short stay in Seoul – I ate a lot of kimchi, enough so that I probably won’t have it for a while, however it was a unique and fun part of my trip.

Have you had kimchi?  When trying to explaining it to someone who has never had it , I likened it to a spicy version of sauerkraut.  What would you compare it to?

Travel theme – texture

20 Sep

After skipping a week of the travel theme at Where’s my Backpack, I am back this week with two shots that symbolize “texture” to me.

Can you feel the scales?

The first shot was one that Li took when we were on holiday in the Philippines earlier this year.  This extreme close up of a snake still makes me feel slightly uncomfortable when I look at it – but the shot itself captures the texture of the snake’s skin almost perfectly.  Looking at it I almost expect the snake’s tongue to come out of the monitor hissing towards me.

We took lots of shots of different wildlife while on that trip – if you’d like to see any of the others, you can check out my post from earlier this year on Wildlife in the Philippines.

Stone pocked texture

The second shot is one that I recently took when in Seoul, South Korea at the palace complex in Seoul.  I was fascinated by the different guardian animal/humans that surrounded various buildings and this one has the contrasting texture of the carving in the sculpture, but also the pock marked stone itself creating an interesting contrast.

I haven’t decided if this was a guardian of good or guardian of evil.  What do you think?

How do you view texture in the world around you?  If you’d like to see other people’s ideas of texture, please click on the link at the top of the post.

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