So, these are photos and text about my trip to the Koreas using my annual leave for spring break. I went over and hung out with my friend Mari (don't let her fool you into writing “Mary” by flashing fancy-pants birth certificates in your face) Borovicka in Seoul and thereabouts, mostly eating, looking at objets d'art, and talking about how in Korea they do it like this, but in Japan they do it like thiiis. So, anyway, here's how it started:
Pretty exciting, eh?
In my experience, the first thing people ask about when you get back from a foreign country is, “How was the food?” To that end, this collection begins with a photomontage of things I ate or, at least, could have eaten had I been so inclined. The key difference between Japanese cooking and Korean is that Japanese food is meant to be seen and Korean food is meant to overload your mouth with flavor, or failing that spice. I agree with the Wikitravel's assertion that it, “would take a determined man to starve to death in Seoul….” The food is crammed with flavor and sold on every street corner. So, if you're hungry and in East Asia, I recommend South Korea.
South Korea seems to have even more funkily translated or otherwise amusingly emotional signs than Japan, a feat which I find oddly impressive. Here are some of the stand outs, including a couple where I show off and pretend to read Japanese.
Here's the first place I went on my own. I first checked out the museum, which explained a bit about all the royal people and what they were into, then wandered around the palace grounds. These palaces are pretty big. I'm used to Japanese temple compounds, where there are usually just four buildings laid out close together. Here, there are a ton different rooms to hold all the different royal hangers on.
This museum was pretty cool. They had some pottery and such and explained about the Korean alphabet using painfully amateurishly translated English. I think you might have been supposed to pay, but I was never asked to, perhaps because I used the children's museum side entrance.
South Korea seems to have a lot of protesters downtown at any given time. I'm not really sure why, but I always saw someone downtown being mad about something. Also, the police have wicked looking riot gear. It makes you remember that democracy in South Korea is still pretty new.
I spent a lot of time in South Korea looking at art in museums, and particularly celadon pottery, since one of my co-working teachers read some sort of Newberry winning book written in English about pottery in Korea and sent me on a mission to learn more. My conclusion? It's green and more technically perfect than Japanese pottery, which is more about adding soul through imperfections.
The trick of the War Memorial is that it's not a memorial to the Korean War, but to Korean war in general, going back thousands of years. Of course, the Korean War gets biggest mention, but they also have long sections about ancient clashes with the Japanese and more recent peacekeeping missions in the Middle East. It will take you a while to just physically move through the museum, and after a while, you may have the urge to go quickly through the rooms and hurry on to the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Center on the other side of town, but then you miss the opening of the show anyway.
The Insa-dong area is pretty fun. They have a lot of touristy shops where you can buy gifts to send back home, or just give to your coworkers out of a sense of social obligation, as the case may be. There are also a lot of little galleries where you can see people's art projects on display. Cool, cool.
This park is by Mari's school. It's pretty cool. It has an anti-Communist monument that she says single handedly turned her away from Bolshevism. Not bad at all. Also, they have a lot of free exercise equipment for old people to take advantage of.
This palace complex is actually two palaces connected by an overpass for pedestrians. It's even bigger than the first one I went to. It just keeps on going, and you can start to feel lost after a while. It looks pretty cool though. At one part, I heard a Japanese tour guide woman telling some people, "This stone path is the holy route used by the King. I don't step on it, 'cos it's scary." I laughed, because I just finished walking all the way across the it. Later, I hit my head. Coincidence? Almost certainly.
OK, so apparently due to the “Sunshine Policy” and whatnot, it is now possible to take tours of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Not only that, but it's possible to go to a Joint Security Area (JSA) in the DMZ that's controlled by UN nations together with North Korea. Not only that, but it's also possible to go to the North Korean side of the DMZ line, putting you a solid 5 feet into actual, factual North Korea. Mari and I did this. It was awesometacular. The guides do a lot to scare you into not making the North Koreans mad. It's probably partly for show, but it's also partly true, that they could shoot you, and the diplomats would just smooth it over and bribe your family to stop a war.
After North Korea, we hit up karaoke with some of Mari's friends. It wasn't as good as a real Japanese karaoke box in terms of song selection, but it was fun to hear people sing in Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean.
With the trip over, and after ever-so-barely managing to not quite oversleep getting to my flight the recommended time ahead of departure, I took the bus from Komatsu Airport to Komatsu Station and the local train back to my apartment. Approximate total travel time: 6 hours, door-to-door. It was a fun week. Rock on, Koreas.