Saturday, December 30, 2006

What we did today

We got the subway to Jongno-3ga and walked along Insadong. The Crowards, my visitors, were most interested in all the shops and bought a brilliant Polar bear hat, earrings and a necklace, a ring and a scrapbook for the holiday souvenirs.

We were looking for traditional Korean drumming, asking in the tourist information office we discovered there was a performance on, that very afternoon with drumming and B-Boys organised by the Rainbow Youth Center. We went for a coffee at Cafe Pascucci and had the best hot chocolate ever. We then went for a walk along the Cheonggyecheon and played with the ice. Coming back to Insadong we were in time to catch the B-Boys doing their breakdancing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Dinner and Boxing Day

It was the warmest Christmas day in Seoul for 100 years with temperatures reaching 12.6 deg C I just read in the paper today. We ventured out of the house for a short walk near the Hongik University to enjoy the sunshine and bought some more chocolates from the best chocolate shop in Seoul CacaoBoom.

We had some friends round for Christmas dinner. The highlight of our seven course meal was beef cooked in red wine with mashed potato and carrots. The meat had been marinated overnight and was especially tender and rich. The Christmas Pudding we had made went down very well with Erkin and his girlfriend, but I think it was a little too rich for our two Korean guests who are maybe not so used to such sweet and heavy puddings. Dessert does not really seem to exist in Korean restaurants we have noticed, though ice cream parlours are very popular here.

Unlike in the UK where Boxing Day is a holiday too, here The Bat had to go to work as normal, so to entertain myself I decided to take a bus at random and see where I got to.

I started from just outside our apartment, in front of the National Assembly building and decided to take the first bus that arrived going west. A 6633 arrived first:

This is the route map for the 6633.

As you can see, not much in the way of English, except where there is an interchange with a subway station.
Here's the view of the subway line 9 construction directly in front of the National Assembly.

After about 15 minutes I figured I'd gone far enough and I could see a stream with a path beside it. Alighting at the Dongah Apartment stop I took this shot of a typical block of shops:

It was only when I got home again and looked at the map did I realise why this hotel is named Niagara.

On the other side of the highway from it there is an artificial waterfall. I guess it does not flow during the winter, but I had noticed the rocks in the small hill.
For no apparent reason this small boat was a feature on the road.

After wandering around trying to get to the stream, during which time I found the Dunkin' Donut factory, I crossed the road and descended to walk beside the Anyangcheon. This small river flows into the Han River and, dodging the cyclists I walked north towards their confluence.
The World Cup stadium was visible on the opposite bank. Walking further along the Han river this is the Seongsangyo bridge:

I continued walking beside the Han river until I came back to the National Assembly and home.

This will most likely be my last blog posting of 2006. I have some visitors coming today and we are planning to go skiing next week. To all readers of the blog, I wish you all the very best for 2007.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Fog in Channel; Continent Cut off

One misconception that a lot of foreigeners have, is that there is a lot of fog in London. Well it seems for once they are not wrong. I saw the news reports on the bbc site yesterday about how fog caused British Airways to cancel all domestic flights and it looks like the delays are continuing, so if you are trying to get home this Christmas from England I hope you make it.

If you don't make it home, check out Diamond Geezer's Foggy Christmas Carols that you can all sing along to. North Korean's soldiers are getting Karoke machines to sing along with too, that should keep their spirits up.

Stafford's twelve days of Christmas at the Chosun Bimbo has not reached eleven lords a leaping yet, but that fog caused Lord Fraser to lose his rag and resulted in an air rage incident.

The preparations for the big Christmas dinner at our place are building up. We haven't bought the meat yet, but don't worry we wont be keeping it fresh in the fridge like this.

Update: I knew there was a better headline than that: It should have been
"Fog in Channel; Continent cut off"
from the Times.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas present from Skype

I just saw yesterday that skype are offering free international phone calls from Korea to the United States and Japan for a limited time during the holiday season.

From Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, calls made to the two countries will be free, regardless of whether the call is made to a fixed-line phone or cellular phone. No separate application is required during the offer because computers will automatically detect if calls are made from Korea.

I'm not sure if that applies to Canda too, is it clever enough to figure out which area codes are Canadian and charge for them? I can't see anything on the skype website about it at the moment.

For those who've not got onto the bandwagon: nip out to your local electrical shop and buy yourself a headset (or order one online), download the free software from skype, (available for all platforms) create a skype account, and start calling over the internet for free. You can also send SMS messages, use the text chat feature and make video calls with the latest versions on windows operating system.

You can also call normal fixed line and cell phone numbers if you purchase skype credit. Calls cost a fraction of normal phone rates, however I have had many complaints of poor quality sound for the receiver, which is a real shame as I have always been able to hear the other party perfectly well.

For the full package you can purchase an incoming phone number to allow non skypers to call you. They have just launched this service in Korea, so you can have a Korean number. It also allows you to create a voicemail box, or have calls forwarded to a mobile or fixed line number.

So what have you got to lose? Go ahead and

Skype Me™!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hagwons Hassled by new law

Since none of the Korean news themed blogs ( The Marmot , Lost Nomad and Yeolchae ) picked this up I thought I'd mention this from the Korea Times yesterday.

Students who quit studying at private institutes will get refunds for their fees according to the days left in the school term.
The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development made the announcement yesterday. The practice will begin in March next year.

To date, students who paid a month tuition fee for lessons to private institutes could not get the fees refunded even though they gave up the lessons after a day. Only if private schools are unable to give the lessons, do they get the refunds according to the private institute law.

To correct the flaw in the current law, the revision bill allows students who give up the lessons to get refunds according to the days left if they claim the refund before two-thirds of the lesson days pass.

`It will help lift the financial burden of many parents caused by private education at the institutes,' said Yeo Jong-goo of the ministry.

Well, Mr Goo you must have no idea how to run a business. Boo hoo, those poor students, they give up after a day and they don't get any money back? No, too right, they shouldn't get their money back. The school still has to pay the teacher. What are they going to do if the whole class drops out? How can they pay the teacher if they have refunded all the fees they've just collected?

I'm sorry, if you sign up for a months worth of lessons and you can't make it, well you should have thought of that before you started. If you join and gym and then get tired after a couple of weeks, do they refund your fees and say 'There, There, we're sorry you couldn't manage it here's your cash back'. Funnily enough No. So why should schools have to pay back for students who give up?

Private language schools in Korea (hagwons) have got a pretty bad reputation, but if they are having to work under these laws then, for once, they do have my sympathy. (I am assuming this new law relates to private language schools, it was not clear in the article, and I've emailed the reporter to find out.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Snowfall in Seoul

After we came back from the cinema last night it started to snow. When we got up this morning we were greeted to this delightful scene:

The film was "The Holiday" starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet and Jude Law. It's this month's only western film on at the moment. It's a slushy romantic comedy with the two actresses swapping lives and houses in LA and the home counties and meeting men. Excellent christmas material.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Seoul Christmas Lights

As promised I was out this evening with the new camera and happened by sheer chance to be in the right place at the right time to see the lights being switched on in Seoul City plaza:

The whole grassy area has been filled with a large construction covered in thousands of coloured lights and a christmas tree installed as well. Beside it there is an ice skating rink at which we were treated to a short ice dancing demonstration by several skaters.

Moving on to the Cheonggyecheon both sides of the stream have been adorned with similar lighting.

Lotte department store have pulled out all the stops and covered all available trees with lights.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas in Korea

Well blow me down, Christmas is coming. I am delighted to hear that our Christmas cards are arriving already. If you haven't got one and are expecting one, please let me know. If you haven't got one and were not expecting one from us, to wish you a very Merry Christmas here's a scan of one of the two designs we sent, :

For those friends and relatives coming to the blog for the first time having typed in the website from our "round robin" letter, greetings and welcome from me and The Bat. This is how my wife requested to be referred to on the blog to protect her anonymity, so if you feel enthusiastic enough to comment on the blog please don't refer to her real name! I receive all the comments by email, so don't think that by commenting on any of the older posts I will miss your remarks.

When I started the blog it was initially aimed at friends and family that would be interested to know what we got up to in South Korea. However as I began writing up our adventures I realised how little is known about Korea outside the country and also how difficult it is to get detailed information in English about things to do and see for people thinking of coming to Korea and also for foreigners living here. So I try to cover topics and places that I feel are relevant to all three audiences. If you have any specific things you'd like me to write about please let me know in the comments or by email.

If you are keen to keep up with the blog there is an RSS feed which will inform you of new entries without you having to come to the blog page everyday. You will need either some RSS enabled software, usually your email program or browser can handle it, or use one of the many online services such as Bloglines. In spite of my recent post I do intend to continue. I'll post roughly once or twice a week.

You know it's Christmas around here because everywhere is covered in fairy lights. Cat at Seoul Life has a good photo of the Christmas lights on the Shinsagae department store and, now our new camera has arrived this morning, I hope to bring you more photos of the brightly lit streets.

Demanding an Apology from KBS for racist TV

Fellow blogger Michael Hunt (The Metropolitician) is demanding an apology from KBS for the Korean media's continued racist and sexist stereotyping of foreign people.

Please sign his online petition on his blog from the link.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Too much blogging?

Oh Dear. I was thinking of doing a post about blogging.
But then this morning I read Diamond Geezer who mentioned Twitter which has a blog which had a link to Scobleizer and the first thing on the list of "signs you have been blogging too much" was "you blog about blogging".
It is a continuation of Darren Rose's "8 signs it might be time to take a break from blogging " where there were another couple of signs that apply to me.
So maybe I'll stop posting for a bit.
We'll see.

Friday, December 08, 2006

It's a small world

Everyone has their "It's a small world" story. Here's a small one for today.

I was at the Seoul City Club last night for the European Chamber of Commerce Korea and the Europe Korea Foundation Networking event. I've not been to one of these before, but since I met the Marketing Manager for the EECK at the Pudding Club event, I've been on their mailing list, and this party sounded too good to miss. While everyone else there was introducing themselves and the company they work for, I was there just representing myself. When I introduced myself to a group of British and American expats and explained how I'm a house husband, one of them asked if I wrote a blog. When I replied that I did, he asked if I'd left a comment on his blog, and, sure enough, in my exploration of Korean blogs I'd stumbled upon Steve's Seoul Blog and commented on how great minds think alike, as he uses the same blogger template that I do!

And in the interests of networking here are some of the people I met: There was Peter from The Writer's Ink he wrote a book on Idioms and was telling me how hard it is get anything published. I said I know, my father writes a blog about it Grumpy Old Bookman; Tom from Soft Landing he writes in the Korea Times on high tech companies in Korea; Lisa from Hodo Tour Company she is going to sort out a skiiing trip for me when some friends come over next month. If you need an English speaking travel agent in Seoul she can help; Mr Kim from Kotra; Niall an Irishman from the University of Seoul; Jerry from Telus he is working on bringing Blackberry to Korea, the pilot is going well I understand; Steven from Chevron; Michael an architect from Parsons Brinckerhoff; and BJ a graphic designer from F-Emotion. It was a great party, I drank plenty of vodka but amazingly I am not hung over this morning! Has anyone got any Small world stories to share?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

What are the threats round here?

Well, North Korea does not seem to be able to stay out of the headlines. Last I heard they were still having talks about having talks. Everyone still wants to get together to have these famous "six party talks" ie US, Japan, China, Russia and the 2 Koreas. Dear Leader is still procrastinating about whether to join in or not. It's not clear if the sanctions banning the export to North Korea of iPods, Rolex watches and luxury cars have made any difference to his style yet. The Americans are vaguely wittering about offering the North Koreans a peace treaty, they very graciously thought they might allow South Korea to attend the ceremony too, if there ever is one. Since all North Koreans are taught from birth to hate everything American with total dedication it's hard to see a peace treaty being first on the list of things Mr Kim is looking for. Who would they hate then?

The latest scandal is a re-insurance fraud. Some foolish English insurance companies might have taken on a few more risks in NK than they were expecting and have got some very neat and tidy accident reports which seem suspiciously too perfect. Meanwhile in Doha, Qatar the South Korean team entered the stadium for the Asian Games with the North Korean team under a special "flag of unity". And yet the medal table lists the tally of golds for the two countries separately. Not so friendly after all? But anyway the threat of Nuclear attack appears to have receded, at least that's what the president said to John Howard. Not that it stops every single newspaper article on NK mentioning the nuclear test, as if we could forget.

The three recent cases of Avian influenza have certainly put a damper on poultry farming. Inspite of the prime minister and the parliament publicly eating chicken to reassure the country that it is completely safe, the price of chicken has dropped dramatically.

Not a single Korean has died or even fallen ill from Avian flu. What the Koreans are dying from is Suicide. According to the National Statistical Office (NSO), suicide was the fourth-largest cause of death in the country for two years in a row with 26.1 out of 100,000 people killing themselves, up 2.2-fold from 11.8 ten years ago. South Korea also recorded the highest suicide rate among the OECD member countries. Searching the internet for good ways to kill oneself is becoming more common. I couldn't help but remember the theme tune to M*A*S*H having read that article. [For those who don't automatically think of the number 4077 and Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, along with Hawkeye, BJ, Hotlips, Radar and Klinger, when the acronym MASH appears, the theme tune was Suicide is Painless]
The rise is attributed to an increasing number of people in their 30's taking their lives due to the worsening economic conditions. So inspite of Korean exports reaching $300 billion this year they are still not happy!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sunny Day in Seoul

Not much to blog about today. It was a lovely sunny day yesterday, but very cold indeed. We went for a short walk along the Hangang and this photo shows the Seoul skyline quite well with Mapo Bridge in the foreground and the Seoul North Tower on the hill.

As we walked along the path we discovered the local birdwatchers are now manning a small enclosure where they have setup five very high power telescopes to be able to observe the birds on the small island in the middle of the river. We saw mallards, spot billed ducks, eurasian widgeons, tufted ducks and cormorants.

Off to the camera shop today to get the return the loan camera and get the old one back. They finally quoted an unfeasibly large amount to repair it, for some reason waiting for the part to arrive from Germany before telling us. It's not worth spending that much on an old digital camera so it looks like we're going to buy a new one. That's the trouble with buying a Leica. If you drop it, like I did, it hurts in the wallet. Anyone want a broken Leica Digilux 1 digital camera? They are going for £70 on ebay!

Friday, December 01, 2006

MBC looking for English speaking tourist

I just saw this on the Lonely Planet ThornTree forum:

MBC are looking for an English speaking tourist to follow around for the day next week, either Monday or Tuesday 4th or 5th of Dec. They'll pay 100,000 won to get your impressions of the city and see how you get on.

If you know anyone who might be interested they'd like to know name, duration of stay, plans for the day, place of accom, telephone / email address. Give them a call on 02 2171 2461 or email

I've emailed them and offered my services if they can't find anyone else!

Other things happening next week:

Tuesday 5th Dec. To 100th Anniversary of the birth of Ahn Eak Tai Classical music concert.
7:30 at the KBS Hall in Yeouido. Admission free.

Thursday 7th Dec. The European Chamber of Commerce Korea and the Europe Korea Foundation are happy to present their Year End Party on the Rocks. Co-organized with Emotions Publicis Events and sponsored by Diageo Korea Co., Ltd., this EUCCK Network Club will take place on Thursday, December 7th at Seoul City Club in Yeouido. The evening will feature Smirnoff Black Label Vodka, an Ice Carving Show, a Vodka Fountain, Music Band, Lucky draw and every guest will receive a free gift. Register today for your chance to join in the fun!

Note: Deadline for registration and cancellations is Tuesday, December 5th, 2006. Cost 45,000 Won.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Good places to go in Seoul

Here are a few other places we've been to in Seoul that might be of interest:

Presseum. Newspaper History Museum. The best part of this little museum in the Dong-A building (it's beside the new sculpture at the start of the Cheonggyecheon), is the exhibition of over 100 front pages of newspapers from around the world from their Jan 1st 2000 edition. Trying to guess the country of the less obvious ones was a good game.

They have a nice shiny brochure in English which makes it sound interesting and informative, but all the exhibits are in Korean (as you'd expect) unfortunately there is no English explaining any of them. On the top floor you can have your photo taken, enter some text and they print the front page of that day's paper with your photo replacing the main picture for you to take away! Not great value at 3,000 Won each. ( They had a website, but they seem to have let the registration expire!)

The Agriculture Museum, Not an inspiring name, but actually turned out to be very interesting. Lots of large dioramas over three floors telling the story of food production in Korea through history. They also have very realistic reconstructions of a village and shops and houses in old Korea. The handset in English was a waste of time and did not add anything to the English exhibit descriptions. Free admission.

Contemporary Art museum. This is out at the Seoul Grand Park, so a bit of a trek out on metro line 4 to get to. Skip the "elephant ride" road train. It's 800 won for a 2 minute ride that is almost quicker to walk. Also out there is the Zoo, Seoul Land amusement park and a Botanical garden. In the museum the huge installation in the foyer with hundreds of TV screens showing bright, fast cutting images is very eighties. There are plenty of lines, swirls, blotches, plain colours and stockings in the artwork to enjoy.

Bukhansan. (again) I tried another route into the park recently. About 10 or 15 mins walk from Soyu station on Line 4 is the Hwagyesa entrance, which, when I went, was deserted. From there I climbed to Daedongmun which is a gate in one of the fortress walls. It was quite a difficult path from that side, but going back I arrived at Jeongneung ticket booth along a very easy path. My good friend Erkin took some photos when he was there.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Recycling in Korea

I have a keen interest in recycling and it has been instructional to see how seriously the Koreans take it. With a city of 10 million people and space for landfill at a premium, you can understand why. In 2003, nearly three-quarters of all waste was recycled; this is one of the best rates in OECD countries.

One of the most important pieces of orientation we had from the building manager was an introduction to the rubbish and recycling area in the basement.

Here’s the deal, at least in our building:
Glass bottles, metal tins and cans go in one bag.
PET bottles go in another bag.
Other random large bits of plastic and polystyrene go in another bag.
Large cardboard items are piled up here:

Other paper is collected in boxes in the corner.
Newspapers are collected in a separate pile.
Fabric and material goes into a bag.
Small cardboard and paper items go into another bag.
All organic waste is emptied into a small bucket outside the front door and the plastic bag you brought it down in goes into another bucket beside it. (You really don't want to see a photo of that as it does not get cleaned very often!)

All these various bags are collected by men who pile them high on to their small trucks and cart them off to various recycling depots around the city. I would be very interested to know the economics of this whole chain and what happens next, if anyone has any information please let me know.

Anything else that does not fit into those categories, usually very little, goes into special taxed waste bags, they come in 10,20,50 and 100 liter sizes and are collected by the dustmen.

There's a small truck that makes the rounds once a week collecting old electrical equipment, monitors and computers etc. It plays a recorded announcement that sounds like 'foobar hamnida'. Quite apt for old computers.

Koreans are also coming round to the idea of secondhand shops. Whereas in the UK the high streets are often crowded with charity shops offering second hand clothing, books etc etc they are not so prevalent here. There are second hand furniture shops, but they tend to congregate in one place, for example Noryangjin. The Beautiful Store is one chain that is expanding here and I have been to their shop in Seoul Station.

In a similar vein, one waste reduction measure that I thoroughly approve of is charging 50 Won for carrier bags at the supermarket. I don't think it is a tax the way they have done it in Ireland, but still, it's a small incentive to bring a bag with you. It's something the carrier bag manufacturers are keen to prevent in the UK.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Yeouido's latest sculptures

Continuing the theme of local construction sites, yesterday I finally got to see inside the courtyard of the apartment block that's nearly finished. It's called
"Island Park"

said "Island Park, The Sharp". [I guess no one told them the other name for that little symbol is the hash sign].
Of course any new building round here would not be complete without the obligatory outdoor sculpture / artwork and, as befits its size and prestige, this building has a total of four. One in the middle of the courtyard :

This one :

and there's another one of similar size opposite, along with a large collage, neither of which I've successfully photographed yet.

This type of outdoor sculpture work was something that I noticed very soon after arriving in Seoul. The range and quantity is quite amazing. They range from the small, plain and simple :

(That one is outside Kyobo securities building beside Yeouido metro station) to the large, colourful and complex. This fish fountain is just along the road from the one above.

It was only later that I heard of the regulation requiring some outdoor work of art for each building, we had only guessed until then.

Two more good places for sculpture are the Olympic Park Sculpture Garden and at Seoul Grand Park outside the National Museum of Contemporary Art there are 70 artworks.

I have been building up a collection of photos and I hope to upload them all onto flickr at some point. But since I have already used up my bandwidth with the free account for this month, either I'm going to have to pay for it, or that little project may have to wait.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Birdwatching and Taeanhaean National Park

On my previous visit to the Cheonsuman Birdwatching fair I used public transport and it took me five hours to get there. This time we thought we'd try hiring a car and a reservation from Hertz showed that for one day car hire it is almost cheaper for two people than taking the bus. (OK, so we were going for two days, which changes the economics a little, but anyway...)

I duly collected the car from the Downtown Yeouido branch on Saturday morning (the rate of 110,000 won for 2 days was even better than I'd been quoted from the Hertz site) and we set off. Almost immediately we hit heavy traffic, which continued for over 50 km. We finally arrived at 1:30pm after four hours.

We looked round the birding fair and had a delicious lunch including fried fish and fresh prawns, it was just warm enough to be able to sit outside.

Coming down from the embankment into the paddy fields to go birdwatching required taking a different route to the one the bus trip had taken last time. There was an attendant preventing access on that specific track, but the next one along was not guarded. I finally got a good look at the geese and identified them as Bean Geese. At dusk it was an incredible site and sound when the thousands and thousands of them left the paddy fields where they had been grazing and flew out on to the open water to spend the night. We were lucky enough to be right in middle of it on a deserted stretch of track beside the estuary. The noise of their wing beats as they flew over was fascinating.

We struggled a little in the dark to find a way out of the paddy fields back onto to the main road but succeeded by retracing our route. Continuing west we headed towards Anmyeondo and chose a small pension just off the main road south of Bangpo which turned out to be very good value (40,000 won) for a small warm room with a kitchenette area too.

On Sunday we drove up the coast, most of which is part of Taeanhaean National Park, to Mallipo and headed for the Cheollipo Arboretum. Luckily we had not consulted the Lonely Planet guide at this point, because it is out of date and suggests it is only open to members and membership is 60,000 won. In fact it is open to the public for 10,000 won each. This peaceful and scenic little spot was setup in 1966 by an American who bought the land and has lived there ever since, amassing a collection of over 6,500 species of local and exotic plants.

We had another excellent seafood lunch in Mallipo, crab soup this time and had time for a walk around the small town. You cannot really miss this motel :

The Statue of Liberty is visible all around the town. The beach here is very nice, I'll bet it's crowded in summer :

It wasn't actually that bright and sunny, I've enhanced the photo a bit :)
This is nothing to do with Mallipo, but it came out rather well :

(And as Max Headroom used to say "think of the m-m-m-m-m-moth")

We set off back for Seoul at 5:30pm and immediately encountered slow moving traffic on the expressway so it took five hours to get home. So it was still faster than public transport getting there, but not on the way back!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Korean Pop band

I am going to post pictures and details of our trip at the weekend, but in the meantime here's something else to watch and listen to.

I was reading Soju and I and I watched and enjoyed the video of Jaurim live in Japan, so I watched a few more of the recordings on YouTube. I liked the video to this song the Ha Ha Ha song:

Friday, November 17, 2006

Construction Sites in Yeouido

I have always had a certain fascination with building sites. If I hadn't been a computer programmer, I think I would have been a civil engineer. Since I've been here I have had plenty of time to follow the progress of the large number of building sites dotted around the small island of Yeouido.

While wandering around the ecology park I stumbled across this modest little monument to the building of the embankment around the island. There are some pretty impressive statistics there:
7.6km in circumference
16m high
21-50 m wide
8.5 million cubic meters of reclaimed soil
520,000 people
58,400 construction machines used
4 million cubic meters of rock
The dedication reads:
Here stands an embankment. A threshold to a miracle of the Han River and a promise for the prosperity of the Yoi-do community. Built with the heartfelt support of President Park Chung Hee and four million citizens of Seoul. This embankment was dedicated on June 1 1968 after 100 days of work launched Feb 20 1968.

And they have been building ever since.

Directly opposite our building is the building site that caused the fire in our apartment. It does not seem to have set them back. The 14 storey building has been totally gutted and refurbished since I arrived mid August and it looks like it's going to be ready in the next few weeks.

The building site beside the National Assembly has been making steady progress:

There are a couple of other office blocks and a large apartment complex this side of the park that are almost finished. The two large Marriott serviced apartment blocks will be completed in April 2007.

The five towers of this new apartment complex are starting to make an impression on the local skyline.

They have just started site preparation work on what was a parking lot, beside the Yeouido Transportation Centre bus stop. The trees have been very carefully removed and it looks like the hoardings will go up in the next couple of weeks, there is no indication yet of what is to come.

In contrast there is a site right beside it, which has a large poster promising Parc1. This Richard Rogers Partnership designed project is really impressive, the website is worth a look. It will have two 70 storey towers, at 270m the largest towers in Korea, hotels, a conference centre, a shopping mall and a cinema complex. Construction work is supposed to start in 2006 according to the website and open in 2010.
Work has just begun beside Yeouido metro station on another skyscraper project called S-Trenue.

Running down the middle of Yeouido is part of the massive linear construction site for the Seoul Metro line 9. This huge project started in 2002 and due for completion at the end of 2008 will see 25.5km of new metro. It will have three tracks to allow express trains to run between the interchange stations as well as regular trains. There will be a new station outside the National Assembly building, an interchange with line 5 at Yeouido station and a new station at the eastern end of the island.

The method of construction is interesting. They have excavated the road along the route of the line and then covered over the excavation with steel girders and heavy iron roadway sections that can be removed as required. A common sight is to see concrete being poured into the worksite beneath the street:

notice how many cement trucks there are lined up ready to continue the pour.

As you can see, plenty to keep me interested, and that's just in Yeouido. Around Seoul and the rest of the country cranes are all over the place.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Banned from Blogging on Dokdo

Not me, but Gerry Bevers.
You may recall in a previous review of blogs I mentioned Occidentalism and how it included some detailed posts about the issue of these tiny islands in the middle of the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

Well, yesterday the president of the university Gerry works for in Incheon has asked him not to post anymore about “Dokdo” on the Internet.

He told me that it was a sensitive issue in Korea and that he had been contacted by individuals complaining of my postings on the subject. He said that he was worried about the school's reputation.

It seems some Korean students, unable to keep up with his detailed analysis, have formed a smear campaign to get him to fired for daring to suggest that well, actually, they might belong to the Japanese.

I've heard of people getting fired for blogging about the company they work for, but blogging about the sovereignty of a couple of islands? Considering the blog is his own personal work and does not even mention the university it seems a big mistake on the part of the president to prevent him blogging. His suggestion that Gerry should :
Write an academic paper or hold a seminar rather than broadcasting it over the Internet.

seems to miss that point that the posts could be classed as an academic paper, but because he is not a historian he is unlikely to get published. I suggest Gerry sends them to History Today and other sites.

It will be interesting to see if this story hits the newspapers tomorrow.

All Gerry's posts, along with the numerous comments they generated, are here if you'd like to follow the story :
Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Part 1

Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Part 2

Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Maps 1

Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Maps 2

“The Struggle for the Japanese Soul”

“South Korea must choose sides”

Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Maps 3

Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Part 3

Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Part 4

Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Part 4 Supplement

Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Part 5

Lies, Half-truths, & Dokdo Video, Part 6

(I copied the links from Shaun who mentions the story too.)
I have to admit I've only read the first three at the moment and my eyes are starting to glaze over.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Some More Korean Blogs

I've been working my way through the blogs on the Korean Blog list again. In contrast to the previous couple of posts on the subject I thought I'd list each one in turn. So, in no particular order, here we go:

A Year In Korea Ryan is a fellow Englishman. He's working at the English Village in Seoul. He arrived in July and seems to be finding his feet.

Adventures In Korea Colleen is a Canadian teaching English in Yongsin. She's been blogging since Oct 2004.

Ahssa! Is an unusual blog. It's tagline is 'An on-going Roman a Clef blovel About Life as American Expat in Korea'. Contributors include Shelton TeaCher, Lester Aswepe and Coy Askew and seems to be about life working at a hogwan.

Alive In Daejeon James works in Daejeon, and posts regular updates on his life and friends there.

American Family Living In Korea Becky and Bob Eller have been posting regular updates on their family life in Sacheon since April, including plenty of photos and their recent trip to China.

An American In Ulsan TSF has some amusing and interesting updates on his life and travels in Korea as a teacher in Cheonsang.

An American Studying In Seoul Baily J has just gone back to Oregon after a year in Korea. Sounds like he's having a hard time adjusting to life back in the USA.

Art life and Everything Penelope Thompson is an Australian performance artist in Busan. She's got pictures and videos of her art on her blog.

As Far As I Can Go Some strange random burblings from someone on Live Journal there.

Live Life! Love Life The life and times of an American student over here. Featuring "Miniskirt Monday". The inspiration for FeetMan Seoul he says.

Ranting on the ROK Stef is a Kiwi ESL teacher and has some interesting posts.

Janes Daily Blah I think I'll let Jane speak for herself : "I'm short, I'm weird, and my life goal is to become a professional hermit. Or a traveler-writer-photographer. In reality, I tend to go back and forth between the two, so I'd say life's going well. Please check out my photographs, located at Jane's Journeys (last updated on 10.15.06), and be sure to visit my store!" She's keen to sell her book : Prisoner of Wonderland: an ESL misadventure. Published by Lulu for $7.95.

Aussie in Seoul Simon moved to Seoul in June 2005 to work in a five star hotel. His blog is currently showing his pictures from his trip to Italy.

Rost in Transration was a great title for a blog but Erin seems to have created a new blog and then stopped posting.

Queer Eye Korea Lots of pictures of male swimmers if you like that sort of thing here.

Korea, travel, Babes, Politics is how the nomad describes his blog on the Korean list. 'A Kayaker's journal of traveling, living abroad, Korea, and some personal thoughts' it says on his site.

Life and Seoul Brian and Patty Breuhaus blog about their life. He is a journalist.

Gusts of Popular feeling Matt has some very interesting posts on the history of Seoul. The latest one has a lot of photos of Seoul as it was in the 1930s and 40s.

Snapshots from Korea by EM Herbert. She has recently arrived and teaches English.

Kimchi loving canucks Does what it says on the tin. Matt and Hannah teach English and live in Uiwang, south of Seoul, with their 2 year old son.

Korea Pop Wars Mark Russel has notes on entertainment, culture and more. Including regular lists of the month's box office returns.

Suddenly Susan This is a link to a blog from MetroPolitician's blogroll, but you have to be invited to read it and there seems to be no way of contacting her. I'll try emailing Michael again.

Well that's enough for now. There's a few more I've looked at that have stopped posting now or moved back home which I have omitted. Still 167 on my list to go! In the meantime, best get on with real life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Yang Yong-eun beats Tiger Woods

I normally skip over the Sports news section of the newspaper very quickly but this story caught my eye. Yang Yong-eun a South Korean golfer beat Tiger Woods in Shanghai to win the HSBC Champions tournament on Sunday. Well done that lad, $833,000 better off too. I particularly liked his comment :

"It's just such a big moment in my life right now I can't explain it in words," said an overjoyed Yang. "Now that I've won, I want to play a lot of tournaments overseas— in Europe, the United States and Japan. I want to compete against the best in the world, now this gives me the chance."

Here's a picture of him courtesy of Yahoo / AP:

For a country that is so obsessed with golf it is a surprise there are not more internationally known golfers, but then as I have no interest in golf, maybe there are.

Having written that, and now done the research, it seems Korean lady golfers are doing very well indeed: Se Ri Pak, when she was 21 in 1998, won both the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Championship and the Women's U.S. Open (she was the youngest player ever to do). More details on her and her friends on the SeoulSisters website.

There are few golf courses in this country but plenty of huge driving ranges, the green netting is visible from a long way away and all the gyms have special golf rooms where you can practice as well. I'm sure there is a Korean equivalent of CaddyChicks too.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Day trip to Incheon

Keen for a day out at the seaside, but not too far away, we settled on a short excursion to Incheon. The station is at the western end of metro line 1 and it took an hour from our apartment.
Arriving at the small, almost deserted, station we found the tourist information office. There are two different city bus tours, one takes the ferry across the bay to the island where the main Seoul international airport is located. The other one, around the local city area, was just about to depart. So, for a mere 1,000 won each, we joined a bus full of Koreans for the one and half hour sightseeing trip.

The first half of the tour was around the Port of Incheon South Korea's second largest port after Busan.

The Korean bus driver kept up a commentary which the rest of the bus seemed to enjoy, sadly he did not make any allowances for us two foreigners. I assume he was giving some statistics because there were lots of satisfied exclamations. Sadly bypassing the New Songdo City public information hall we passed the Incheon Landing Operation memorial Hall at high speed. The bus stopped at Neungheoda and we had 15 minutes to stretch our legs and walk round the tiny park, feed the fish and admire this establishment created out of an old aeroplane:

It seemed to be deserted whether it was a restaurant or club or something I don't know.

Arriving back at Incheon station we wandered round Chinatown and Jayo park before getting a taxi to Wolmido which is the seaside promenade area. It's like Blackpool or Brighton with Hangeul! But rather than fish and chips all the restaurants sell sliced raw fish. After long deliberation we settled on one with a sea view and ate a huge a amount of food. Quite unexpectedly we got some of these little wrigglers:

They don't get much fresher than that. They are very chewy indeed, a bit like chewing gum, and you have to be careful to swallow them without them getting stuck in your throat. I made sure they had completely stopped sucking before swallowing.

Friday, November 10, 2006

International Students not mixing

I saw this headline in the Joong-ang yesterday

Foreign students not integrated enough

and then today I see this on the BBC website

Foreign students 'do not mingle'

Students found living costs were higher than expected
Foreign students at British colleges say they rate their courses very highly - but most do not mix with the locals.

It seems students the world over are not mingling!

Getting the Kiss off from KISCOM

I've tried several times in the past to access the North Korea News agency website KCNA, having seen links for it in several places. Each time I got a screen like this:

which I'd not really paid attention to. I had assumed that either the site was down, or it had moved or such like.[ I wonder how long the Japanese are going to host it for them?] I finally got around to putting the Korean text through the Google translation tool which did a reasonable job and came back with this:

You connects the site at law to be including the illegal contents which it forbids, the connection against a corresponding site was intercepted to inform, it gives.

This management passes by the mind of information communication ethics committee in request of the charge agency and it follows lawfully, in the telecommunication enterprising law and a thing which will be intercepted with the cotton lower part field star charge agency and there is a doubt fact regarding hereupon and about under meaning of a passage it gives it wishes.

Together for information cultural window month which is healthy request it gives you active cooperation.

Now I didn't quite get all of that, but it seems this KISCOM bunch want to stop me accessing the site. When I mentioned it to Richardson at DPRK Studies, from where I had followed a link from one of his regular North Korea in the news posts, he pointed me to the National Security law. It doesn't explain much, however he did suggest a couple of proxy sites Atunnel,Btunnel etc, which one can conviently use to annonymise one's IP address. Wikipedia has a bit more on the subject.

To paraphrase Francis Urquhart: 'You might think that works, I cannot possibly comment'. But why do the South Koreans not want me to hear that 'him oop north' has just published his father's 65th volume of collected works? (not yet available from North Korea bookshop but vols 1 to 44 are), or that he visited a stock farm?

North Korea is not surprisingly one the 13 countries on the Reporters without Borders blacklist for suppressing freedom of expression on the internet, I wonder how closely they looked at South Korea?

Here's hoping I will be back for another post next week and not reporting from a South Korean prison.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Koreans Demonstrating

Here's something you see in Korea all the time: Demonstrations.

Every couple of days, sometimes everyday, you see around town, police buses and policemen standing around with shields and helmets in groups. Usually you don't see the protestors as they have not arrived yet. Demonstration organisers have to give notice to the police of any demo they are planning. We have seen them get violent only a couple of times. Normally the protestors all just sit or stand in the road and listen to speeches.

This one today was larger than average with a stage built and several lanes of the road cordoned off. Sometimes there is just a small portable stage on the back of a truck and some speakers.

Here is a little experiment of a video I took of them protesting this afternoon in Yeouido on the road in front of the National Assembly building.

They are still going on now at 19:30 and I can hear them from the apartment even with the windows closed to give you an idea of how loud it is!
Sadly I have got no idea what they are on about. Any ideas?

UPDATE: I've been told one of the signs is for the Korean Health and medical workers Union
who have a webpage in English.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Birdwatching Korean Style

I discovered there is birdwatching fair on at Cheonsuman so I decided to take a trip there. The website made it sound easy to reach, so I started my journey on a local bus at 9am. Continuing on via the metro I arrived at the Nambu bus terminal and bought a ticket to Seosan for 6,800 Won. The buses run only once an hour. Whilst killing time with the free information terminal I discovered that bus 461 goes directly to Nambu from our apartment, which may make it quicker to get to in future.

Arriving at Seosan bus terminal at 12:40 I bought a ticket to Ganwoldo. (I'd prepared this time and had some Korean text to show the ticket seller) A friendly local pointed out the correct bus stand to wait at (Stand 17, it's labeled Buseok in Hanguel) when I asked. I tried a 'Bulgogi Burger' set meal from the fast food outlet Lotteria at the station. Suffice to say, I shan't be eating one of those again.

The bus trundled south until I eventually spotted the signs for Ganwoldo; I saw the white tents I assumed held the fair and saw the helium balloons in the sky used to indicate events, so I buzzed to get off the bus and alighted at 14:00. Approaching the white tents I realised they were empty. Continuing round the headland I saw a temple on a small island and observed hundreds of small stalls selling fish and seafood.

I was dejectly returning towards the main road along the track on the other side of the headland, when, rounding the corner, I finally came across three huge tents, large banners saying 'birdwatching fair', several buses, a large car park and a few people milling around.

I looked round the displays, they had an impressive collection of stuffed birds and a number of very good photos of wild birds, labeled in Korean and English and also including the Latin names. I then heard an announcement, which I guessed to be about the imminent departure of the birdwatching tour advertised on the website. I quickly purchased a ticket for 5,000 Won and hopped onto the coach. The other 14 participants, including a small group of girls who seemed to recognise me from the bus down from Seosan, were issued with binoculars and we set off.

The land behind the embankment that the main road runs along, has been reclaimed from the sea and consists of acres and acres of rice fields on which thousands of birds were feeding. The coach drove slowly down the gravel track between the fields for 30 minutes, with the lady tour leader keeping up a constant commentary and pointing out various things. We stopped at a simple straw shield beside the estuary and were allowed off the bus to see the large flocks of geese on the mud flats. In the distance was a small group of spoonbills.

(Sorry the photo is so poor!) After only 10 minutes we were herded back on to the bus and continued north along the estuary before crossing the river and returning at the same speed until finally arriving back at the fair site at 16:30. There were plenty of birds to see, including grebes, herons, egrets, ducks, geese, and moorhens but, because the bus did not stop again I was unable to closely observe anything at all! However everyone seemed to really enjoy the tour and whatever the leader said, kept them interested for the whole trip. When we got off the bus I showed her the page from the field guide with the brown geese on, but it was still not clear to me exactly which of the four species we'd seen in such large numbers.

I asked her when the next bus back to Seosan was: 18:00. After I expressed my dismay she immediately indicated that she was going to Seosan and volunteered to give me a lift. She did not speak a world of English so conversation on the journey was impossible, but I was extremely grateful for her kindness.

I bought a bus ticket back to Seoul. [I still don't understand why you cannot buy return tickets in Seoul]. I saw a bus ready to depart but the ticket collector saw my ticket and would not let me on. After a minute or two of confusion I understood that for an extra 3,000 Won I could get on it as it was an express bus. Great, I thought, home in less than the two hours it took to get here. WRONG. Friday evening is also heavy traffic day it seems. After 2 hours 40 minutes we finally arrived at Kangnam express bus terminal. On the bus the TV was showing YTN (the Korean equivalent of CNN) and amonst other things I saw footage of goats being rescued from some flooded country three times. I finally arrived home at 9pm. All that for 10 minutes in the field with the binoculars! Next time, I think we will try hiring a car from Seoul and driving down there.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Photos of the Tripitaka festival

After 'The Bat' corrected my English and polished a couple of the sentences on yesterday's post (she is an English teacher after all) she complained that I had not added enough photos to show you more of the atmosphere from the weekend. So here are a few more.

These are some of the monks from the temple, including several female monks on the right, though it is hard to tell.

This one taken was taken at the temple gates:

This is one of the procession almost at the very end, carrying the tablets into the temple storage building.

I've just uploaded them to flickr as well, but they are not visible yet as my account has to be moderated. I've taken over a thousand photos since we've been here. While most of them are not worth the disk space they are saved on, there are some reasonable ones. So, do you want to see more photo on this blog? Please let me know via comments or email.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Korean Tripitaka festival at Haeinsa

As earlier indicated we went on a templestay trip to Haeinsa near Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang Province to visit the temple and see the festival. The group consisting of approx 60 people of many different nationalities set off by coach from the Jogyesa temple in Seoul.

We arrived in the afternoon and after a very good lunch we went to the temple
to receive our monks' robes and learn how to conduct ourselves around the temple; how to perform the Ju-doo (half bow) and the Oh-che-tu-ji (full prostration) and how to hold our hands in hap-jang and cha-soo. We then took part in the evening Yebul (ceremonial service) and followed the other monks in the ritual.

The evening activity was making lotus lanterns, gluing crepe paper petals onto paper cups. A simple activity which the group enjoyed a great deal; the variety and skill displayed was varied and impressive and it was very difficult to judge which was 'the best'. The men stayed in one hall and the ladies moved to another hall for the night. The electric ondol (underfloor heating) kept us warm and the blankets and padding were comfortable. Lights out at 9pm.

Woken at 2:30am we heard more drumming on the Dharma drum before going into the temple for the early morning Yebul of chanting and bowing. We performed the 108 bows (one for each of the sufferings encountered through the life stages) a physical challenge I managed without too much trouble but one that was too much for some.
Our meditation was done outdoors sitting on cushions on a large stone circle around a sculpture. The walking meditation around the circle in the starlight was quite mesmerising, I was just getting into a trance when we stopped. The atmosphere of calm and tranquility was then completely destroyed when we were told to relax and do what we wanted, so everyone started taking flash photos.

After a simple breakfast of rice and vegetables taken in silence in the temple canteen we heard a lecture on the history of the temple and the Korean Tripitaka. These 80,000 wooden blocks carved between 1237 and 1248 consist of Buddhist scriptures. Designated as a World Heritage artifact by UNESCO. The script of over 52 millions Chinese characters is so uniform from beginning to end that the woodblocks look like the work of one person but experts estimate they were carved by 30 monks.

In the village there were numerous stalls and we had some time to practice woodblock carving, making paper and printing from wooden blocks. The craftspeople on hand to demonstrate were very friendly and keen to let us try out these skills. There were also a lot of wood block prints and carved wooden objects for sale.

In the afternoon we discovered we would actually be taking part in the parade along with hundreds of the villagers and monks. We were given traditional clothing to wear including woven rice straw shoes for those very keen for authenticity. The festival is to celebrate the arrival of the Tripitaka in Haeinsa from Gangwha Island where the blocks were carved. We were each given a replica block to carry.

Luckily they were not as heavy as the real thing which weigh 3-4 kgs each. The simple strip of cloth to carry the block behind the back was comfortable but it was very easy to let the block slip out on the floor. The parade was regularly punctuated by the sound of a crash as another one hit the ground. The ladies balancing the blocks on their head were most unimpressed by our apparent lack of respect for them.

The camera battery died on me at the end of day just before I was able to take a good shot of the real Tripitaka, but luckily many others have already uploaded their photos on flickr here. It is quite remarkable how these wooden blocks have been so well preserved in such a simple looking environment for such a long time. We saw a video which explained how the windows are designed to allow the air to flow around the blocks. The floors have layers of salt, charcoal and lime underneath, which absorb excess humidity during the rainy season in the summer and maintain an optimum humidity level during the dry winter months. It is interesting to note that in 1970 a plan was formed to move the blocks to a modern facility with sophisticated humidity, ventilation and temperature controls. However mildew soon appeared on test blocks stored there and the plan was dropped. Modern science can still not explain why birds do not nest in the buildings nor spiders build webs there. [Though I did see one very small web in a corner of one window.] Lots more information on the Tripitaka here.

It was then back on the bus for the long journey home through the heavy traffic back into Seoul common on Sunday evenings.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Korea National Arboretum

I was looking for somewhere else to go birdwatching and Nial Moores of Birds Korea suggested the Korean National Arboretum (KNA). Consulting their friendly website it didn't seem too difficult to get there by public transport, so I set off on metro line 1 again to the penultimate station on the line: Uijeongbu.
Arriving at the station I searched in vain for the number 21 bus they so casually suggest will take you straight there. After walking around and scrutinising various bus stops I gave in and took the taxi option.
The KNA website also suggests just saying "Soo-Mok-Won" will be enough directions for the driver, not this one. After showing him the picture, various different ways of pronouncing it and some discussion with an other driver we eventually set off. [Note to self: Next time print out the KOREAN version of the 'How to get there' as well as the English] When I pointed out the meter was not running, he told me the price: 20,000 Won. Ouch. Slightly unnerved by this, as it was half the amount of cash I had in my wallet at that point, I watched the countryside go by. Cheered by the sight of a 21 bus, proving they do exist after all, and a signpost for the KNA that the driver pointed out, after around 20 minutes we arrived at a side entrance. He dropped me off and sped away.

The guard at the small shed waved me inside.

The setting of the establishment in the peaceful valley was very restful and I wandered around the sizable grounds. There weren't many people, except in the museum and greenhouse areas.

The museum has a number of large and bright exhibits not just on the many trees and plants of Korea, but also covering paper, furniture, dyes, fungi, history, geology and birds. They had an excellent display case with approx 30 stuffed birds and for each one in turn you could hear their birdsong over the loudspeaker. This would have been great if it wasn't for the noisy hoards of children that would come in waves and snake around each room. Led by an adult the classes of 30 or 40 primary school children would walk through the museum at a fast past with most of the children ignoring the exhibits completely or paying a passing interest. Still, I guess I would have been the same at their age if taken to a museum too.

The birdwatching was good. I saw two species new to me the Japanese pygmy woodpecker and a Japanese Wagtail.

I found the main gate where I should have paid an entrance fee, but I never did find the cafe that several signposts pointed to. I also discovered they appear to have a zoo with tigers, a fact not made clear on their website. But it only seems to be open between 10:30 and 2:30. I would like to go again with The Bat, but for some bizarre reason the arboretum is only open on weekdays!

The bus stopped just outside the main entrance and my U-Pass worked, costing a mere 1,450 Won for the journey back to Uijeongbu. The bus terminated at a small parking space in the middle of the city street with no signs as to where the metro station was, so following my instinct, I continued in the same direction and within 5 minutes was I rewarded by the sight of a sign for the station, which hove into view after another 5 minutes. After retracing my steps a little, to ensure I could find the bus again I looked for a restaurant.

My hunger was satisfied this time at a Barbeque Rib Food Franchise outlet. [Their domain registration seems to have expired so don't follow that link.] I've not seen one before, but the pictures outside it looked good. Pointing at the picture did the trick and I was treated to a small portion of tasty ribs with the obligatory small starter dishes (Cabbage again, pickled garlic, gherkin and that liquid Kimchi again) . With rice and a Cass (beer) it came to 14,500 Won.

For others attempting the same journey try these instructions:
Get off at Uijeongbu, take exit on the east side of the station. There are two roads meeting the main road at this point, you need to take the right hand one. You need to cross the road, but you have to use the underpass and the exits do not have numbers. At the first set of traffic lights, after about 5 mins, turn left, the road should be signposted Jaguem-dong. Walk for another five minutes and the 'bus stop' is on the righthand side of the road right beside a Dunkin Donuts outlet. The number 21 starts its route from here so there might be one waiting. Try asking for "Soo-Mok-Won" or offering 1450. When you get there, after about 30 mins, the KNA is on your right and there is a sign for it, but it should be fairly obvious.
[and if they don't work, please don't blame me, but help with any updates!]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

North Korea and the Sanctions

Two weeks after the, now confirmed nuclear test, the issue is still front page news in South Korea, of course, and still on the front page of the International Herald Tribune.

In the latest development this morning North Korea is now threatening South Korea with something, but it's not clear what:

"If the South Korean authorities end up joining US-led moves to sanction and stifle, we will regard it as a declaration of confrontation against its own people ... and take corresponding measures," the statement said.

Err, hold on guys, you are still technically at war with the South. The end of the Korean war ended in an Armistice, not peace remember?

I don't know what measures they can take against the South. It's not like they have anything South Korea can't get from somewhere else. Meanwhile the iron ore is still being trucked out of North Korea to the ever steel hungry China at the rate of 1,800 tons a day, umm, not going to get rich at that rate. (I can't find a link for that at the moment)

There are two major items the US is bitching about : The tourist centre that is Mount Kumgang and the industrial complex of Kaesong. South Korea is currently dithering about how to handle these two huge investments they have made. It's a tough one, if Hyundai Asan are forced to pull out by the government they will have lost a serious amount of money they have invested in it, but if they carry on, they are possibly funding the North Korean war effort. Likewise with the Kaesong a lot of smaller companies have invested in building factories and employing North Koreans to manufacture items. I don't have any answers but two ministers have resigned over the matter so far.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bukhansan National park, Second visit

I chose a different entrance to the park for my second visit to this park just north of Seoul and I tried to follow the directions for a suggested hike up to Dobongsan from the Lonely Planet guidebook.

Leaving the warm and cosy apartment I ventured out into the chilly autumnal air and caught the trusty 61 bus to Daebang metro station for a line 1 train to Dobongsan station. I had to change trains at Chang-dong as the one I caught did not go to the end of the line. (As predicted in the guidebook it was a 45 min journey from City Hall station.)

Following the other hikers through the market outside the station (I've never seen so many outdoor clothing and equipment shops) I came to the ticket booth and paid my 1600 Won entrance fee (approx 90 pence). Turning right at the first path junction I began my ascent. It was a good decision as the path was steeper and much less popular. As it got higher the path became very variable, sometimes very obvious, at other times I am sure I was completely off the path. There were occasional signposts to reassure you of the general direction, but often it was not clear at all where the path went and it was also difficult due to the heavy leaf fall obscuring the track.

The number of hikers, not huge to begin with, reduced the higher I climbed until at the top of the ridge I only met about five or six people in an hour. The weather brightened up a bit but the wind at the top of the ridge was fierce. The light was not very good so the photos have not come out very well. This was the best of a bad bunch but it does show the huge urban sprawl that is Seoul and the number of tower blocks there are:

However there is still not enough housing and they are planning on building a new town.

After three hours hunger, fatigue and strong wind I was persuaded to start the descent. I got fairly close to the top and the peaks were a difficult climb from that point onward. There was a suitable path that led down a different route back through a valley and I arrived back at the ticket booth after an hour and a half.

The wildlife count was not very high: I saw chipmunks again and a couple of squirrels. There were great tits, marsh tits, a thrush, crows, rufous brown doves and the ubiquitous magpies.

Walking down I had visions of a delicious bowl of bulgogi soup, but this was where my lack of Hanguel and Korean let me down. There are numerous restaurants right outside the park so after wandering round I settled on one that looked busy. When the waitress asked for my choice in Korean and I replied in English she smiled and shrugged, she pointed to the first item on the list and I blindly agreed!

The starter dishes were very good. For those not familiar with Korean food you are normally presented with three to five small dishes after you have ordered. In this case it was raw cabbage with mayonnaise, cabbage kimchi, another green kimichi with lots of stalks, a liquid kimchi and a brown bean dish. The main dish when it arrived was a brown bean soup with lots of green leaves that I've had before. It was tasty and very warming after the hike. I finished two of the side dishes and resisted twice getting them refilled, the third time I thought she was just going to clear them away, but she returned with them refilled which is normal practice if you finish a side dish! I've still not figured out how they decide when you've finished the meal and stop trying to refill the side dishes. I ate the refills anyway as they were so fresh and tasty and all this for 6,000 Won. (Less than £3.) Update:I should have read this first.

Suitably refreshed I returned to the metro and slept most of the way home through the rush hour traffic, waking up in time to leave the train at Daebang and get the bus home again. Of course the next day the weather was much brighter and sunnier. Ah well.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Trip to Gangwha Island

I've been a bit late in writing up our weekend trip to Gangwha Island and I see one of the other guests on the trip, Tony McGregor, has written a very good summary of the day in today's Korea Times. It was another tour organised by Seoul Selection and Korea Arts Council, the last in a series of four. We really enjoyed the previous trip to Jeonju and this one proved just as good.

Gangwha island lies at the mouth of the Han river that flows through Seoul. It has been the scene of many battles between the Koreans and invading forces including the Mongols, who invaded 7 times between 1231 and 1258, the French and the Americans. The history of these battles is explained with maps and large battlefield dioramas in the Gangwha History Hall. It's an excellent small museum just the other side of the northern bridge joining the island to the mainland.

It was then on to Chondung Temple, one of several on the Island. It is surrounded by fortress walls and we walked around the perimeter to admire the view and hear of its history. After lunch, also at the temple, we were treated to three traditional musical performances.

I have to admit the Butterfly dance was not one I could really get into. The piercing horn music and the very delicate and subtle moves of the lady's feet were lost on me.

These two guys were good on the komungo and puk (zither and drum).

Yeom Gyeong-ae (Intangible Cultural Property No. 50) sang a romantic and tragic 'Romeo and Juliet' pansori.

The trip was originally planned to be a visit to Songgwang-sa and Seonam-sa Temples in the south of the country, but due to "a dispute between rival monks at Seonam-sa Temple" a change to the event was executed in very quick time by the organisers. Well done indeed for pulling together the day so well. Once again the organisation was spot on. We hope another series will be forthcoming.