2008년 11월 29일 토요일

Korea and Her Neighbors

I decided to post a clip from a book I read about the History of Korea - 1900's till today. I thought it was very well written and a very interesting read. It cited lots of sources, including clips from other books like the following. If you take the time to read this post, I bet you'll be glad you did.

From a the book, "Korea and Her Neighbors" - written by a very respected travel writer, Isabella Bird Bishop, published in London in 1898. Her conclusions were not hastily formed but were the fruit of "long and intimate study" during four separate trips throughout Korea between January 1894 and March 1897.

Her first impressions of Korea were mixed. She entered a peninsula through the southern port of Pusan (Busan)-- "a miserable place," similar, as she later found, to "the general run of Korean towns." When she arrived in Seoul, however, even though it was in the depths of winter cold, her reaction was much more favorable. She judged that its location, between North and South Mountains, was the most attractive setting of all the world's capitals. She admired the appearance of the typical Korean-- "resembling neither the Chinese nor the Japanese, he is much better looking than either, and his physique is far finer than that of the latter." She also learned, in her more than three years of traversing the peninsula, that the climate was "as nearly perfect as it could be," neither too hot in the summer nor too cold in the winter, with nine months of clear blue skies and pleasantly crisp temperatures.

She was surprised to find that Seoul, the capital of the nation, had no buildings with even a second story. Aside from its palaces and shrines, most other structures were small huts, with only one or no windows, and with walls of clay plastered on willow or bamboo frames, under thatched roofs. These houses had no running water and no toilet. Sewage was disposed of (as had been true also in Europe a century or so earlier) by dumping it in shallow trenches that ran along the streets, washed only by the rains. The air was polluted by human excrescence, causing the worst stench, Mrs. Bishop reported, that she ever had encountered except in Peking (which is in China).

Cooking was done in a dirt-floored hut attached to the main room of the house where the men entertained their male friends, and where the family slept on the floor. The floor was covered with oiled paper above flues that warmed the floor while it carried the smoke and heat from the kitchen fire. In the rainy season (which fortunately came in the spring and summer while the rice was growing in paddies) the women washed the family clothing by pounding on stones in the ditches--and during the rest of tee year in streams. Womens' work was interminable, from early morning until late at night. Men dressed in white garb; and to launder it the women ripped the garments apart to insure thorough cleansing, and after each wash had to sew them together again. Heat for cooking and for winter warmth came from small braziers, which required the gathering by women and children of small twigs, leaves, and branches, which they searched out from surrounding hills.

The role of women in the society was a curious mixture. Within the home, women exercised authority in all matters domestic, even over their husbands and sons. A wife was known as "the inside master," just as her husband was "the outside master." The family finances were managed by the women and, however meager these resources might be, the women were expected to stretch them to meet the family's basic needs. Young girls typically lived happily, but they were married very young and without a choice of their own. Generally they didn't even see the groom's face until after the wedding. Then they were taken to the home of the groom, where they came under the stern and normally harsh governance of his mother. Slavery, buy then nearly extinct, was restricted to females, except for a few males who had to sell themselves to pay their debts. A slave girl would be married by her master to a free male, who would be paid for his subsequent services with food, clothing, and a place in which to live. Daughters born of a slave mother were retained in slavery, but sons were granted their freedom.

The streets in the daytime were crowded with small Mongolian ponies and oxen loaded with huge bundles of straw, along with carts often pulled by hand. Men strolled the streets aimlessly or on errands, with many squatting by the roadsides to play the Korean chess game "go" or to chat. Other men carried on their backs, in wooden frames called "chiqes", loads weighing as much as two hundred pounds. Women were not allowed outside their homes except after dark, when men were forbidden to traverse the streets. To guard against occasional encounters the women wore shawls to cover their faces. Children rollicked in the streets or open fields, playing their many games with home-built toys, or flew kites, and young girls excelled in swinging on very high swings and in throwing one another into the air on teeter-totters. On street corners there often were story-tellers, groups of singers, fortune-tellers, or acrobats, surrounded by crowds of men and children. But Mrs. Bishop failed to note most of the fun and games. Seoul, she reported, "lacks every charm possessed by other cities. It has no ruins, no libraries, no literature, and lastly an indifference to religion that is wihtout parallel." This was her first impression. Later, she learned to love Seoul's easy relaxation and social friendliness. "I had known it for a year," she confessed, "before I appreciated it, or fully realized that it is entitled to be regarded as one of the great capitals of the world. Few capitals are as beautifully situated.

2008년 11월 20일 목요일

I Want Nobody but You

Seriously, you can NOT walk around in Seoul, South Korea, without hearing this song. If you don't like music, if you don't listen to the radio, heck, even if you don't like to shop - you WILL, at some point, hear this song!

That being said, it's really catchy. When I heard it, I actually enjoyed it. When I later found out it was a song by the Wondergirls... I was truly shocked.

So, I decided to share this video with you. The first 2 minutes are extra. If you want the actual song, start watching at the 2 minute point.

Without further adeau - here's my favorite song by the Wondergirls.

This girl is cute

I don't know who this girl is or what she's saying... but she's cute. See how cute Korean girls are?

So I decided to put her on my blog. Also - she likes to play in the mud, and that's always a good quality. Did you know that Korea has some of the world's LARGEST mud banks on the west coast? It's true. Actually, they have an annual MUD festival. I was going to go this year, but I JUST missed it. I think it's in August or the end of July. Anyway - I decided to go in 2009 instead. :) Can't wait! :D

2008년 11월 12일 수요일

Soraksan Mountain

The last weekend in October, I had plans to visit Soraksan Mountain with a friend - but unfortunately, those plans fell through. So, on that Saturday, I woke up and decided I would go anyways... alone! So I pulled out my travel book and made some quick plans - cleaned my apartment - packed - and took the subway to the Bus Terminal in the south end of Seoul.

I was able to catch a bus to Sokcho (속초). It took 4 hours arrive, from 3:30pm to 7:30pm, where I quickly found an inexpensive motel near the beach on the eastern sea of Korea. That night, I knew I'd be waking up early and hiking, so I ate dinner and then just got some rest in the motel. The next morning, I woke up at about 6am, took a shower, and left to go hiking! A local bus took me to the base of the mountain, and the gate of Soraksan national park. From there, I took the 3.5 hour trail to Ulsambawi Rock - although I conquered it in much less time since I was a solo traveler and because I'm a fast paced type of person. I spent some time at the top before coming down.

Unlike many people in the City of Seoul, the mountain people were incredibly outgoing and friendly! They were happy to make small talk,or exchange a smile or word. In Seoul... most people just don't do that. They avoid eye contact with strangers (despite the fact that you are surrounded by dozens of strangers daily at any given time). They almost never say hello... unless they're selling something. It's a bit of a downer. So that made this escape to the mountains particularly delightful.

Korea, in general, has great land. It's really beautiful - filled with mountains and valleys. This is one reason why the Korean people are so tough. You wouldn't BELIEVE me if I tried explaining the average age of the hikers in Korea. It's probably about 40 (quite a LOW ended estimate). I'm not counting the kids that don't walk by themselves. YES - parents bring kids to the mountian who can't walk, and the parents end up walking for TWO as they carry their kids. And then there are the ajumas! I mean... I saw women who were DEFINITELY in their 50s or 60s climbing the mountain. And they weren't going all that slow. They are TOUGH! It's really shocking. You NEVER see things like that in America... at least I didn't!

Since this time of the year was such a popular time to visit the mountian - when I was climbing down, it was similar to walking down the street in Jongno, a very famous part of Seoul. A steady traffic of people were going up and down, and I was like the "crazy driver" speeding past everyone, weaving in and out and between.

I took lots of pictures - drank some natural mineral water - had some great encounters with strangers - tried some corn-on-a-stick (but it wasn't good... but then again I'm from Illinois where we grow some of the best corn in the world) - got some GREAT excersize - and saw some BEAUTIFUL scenery.

When I got back to the motel, I packed my things (I didn't bring much) and went to eat lunch before going to the bus terminal. After lunch, I learned that my bus wouldn't leave until 3:30pm, later than I'd expected. It was only noon. At first I was bummed. Then I realized that there was a sandy beach only 5 minutes away by foot! The weather was GREAT. The sun was bright, the air was crisp but not too cool, and the sky was a clear blue. So I bought an ice tea, found a great bench which was quiet and peaceful - close to the beach but not too close - and there I sat. I smoked a cigar and read my Bible... and just soaked in the atmosphere. After a day of hiking... it was really great. And 2 hours was the perfect amount of time.

I arrived back at my apartment in Seoul at 9:30pm. Here are some of my many pictures documenting this trip. I'm really glad I went. Wish you could've been there, too!

2008년 11월 5일 수요일

My not-so-Halloweeny Halloween

Well... My Halloween wasn't very Halloweeny - but I still had a great time. My October work schedule ended and I had 4 days off: Thursday (10/30), Friday (10/31), Saturday (11/1), and Sunday (11/2).

I spent Thursday relaxing and doing lazy things. Friday- I was more productive, and at night I met a class of mine from October for dinner. We ate my FAVORITE Korean food, Yongyum Galbi. I'll make another blog post about that later - after I record a video on how to eat it. It'll be better.

Anyway, after we ate dinner, we went to a tea place; and after that, we decided to go to Namsan Mountain in the middle of Seoul. It's one of the most famous places for tourists to visit because it provides a GREAT lookout across Seoul. I'll probably have to make another post about that, too, so you can see.

Anyway, it ended up being a great night. Left to right: Christina, Irene, Me, Keira. Christina and Irene remind me a little of my friends Peggy Loo and Christine Chen, too. :)

Art by Korean Elementary School Kids

I was coming home via the subway the other week in October and saw a bunch of pictures being showcased that had been done by some local Korean Elementary School kids. I thought they were pretty funny, so I decided to take a few pictures and post them on my blog.

It's just so interesting, especially in the case of kids. You can see what kinds of things they learn in school... and you can see a little piece of how they see the world in their heads... hahaha

Check it out: