Monday, November 09, 2009

Seoul 'Soul of Asia' Photos and News

At Gyeongbokgung Palace with Julian's co-teacher, Joe.

We've been to Seoul more than usual in the last month. Jules and I went up for Clint, a South African friend of ours' birthday a few weeks ago.
Then, last weekend, we were in Seoul on a trip organised by EPIK, our employer here in Korea.

I must say I am impressed that they organise these kind of trips for us: it's a great opportunity for us to meet and network with other teachers and of course to learn more about Korea. And of for them to get us to write 3-page essays which they can presumably flash around as and where they need evidence of us having a good time and learning about Korean culture etc ! :) But we had fun!

There was quite a bit of overlap in the places we visited - unsurprising as they are amongst the top tourist attarctions in Seoul.

Gyeonbokgung Palace
: this is one of the big, restored palaces in Seoul. It was originally built in 1394, in the Joseon Dynasty (the most recent of Korea's Dynasties), but has of course suffered at the hands of the imperial Japanese colonists and been rebuilt and refurbished numerous times. The palace has large grounds with various compounds and living and entertaining quarters scattered about, one of the most impressive being the King's entertaining house, which is bult in a pond. I enjoyed the palace and taking pics of the pretty traditional Korean buildings and structures. It's a huge place and it would take much more than a few hours to understand and appreciate its importance. We also saw a changing of the guards ceremony on our way through which was interesting as the 'guards' (they're fake, just for show) were dressed in traditional dress which was nice to see. There was also a traditioinal performing arts festival going on which was interesting to see.

N'Seoul Tower
is a large tower on Namsan Mountain in Seoul. It provides great views over the city...which would be enjoyable weren't it so crowded and full of tourists taking pics of themselves with the view in the background. Funny how we all feel compelled to do that kind of thing - I'm also guilty. Almost feel like "I might just have regrets if I don't take that 'iconic' picture now, so let me take it just in case!"And of course all the couples writing love messsages on little tiles to display on the wall. There was even a man propsing to his girlfriend!

Gwanghwamun Plaza is a 'revitalised' part of the city which means it has recently been refurbished and touristied and commercialised. The city has recently erected two statues of Korea's most famous historic figures: King Sejong the Great (who supposedly single-handedly invented Hangeul, the Korean alphabet in around 1490) and Admiral Lee- Sunshin (who supposedly almost single-handedly won every single battle he ever fought, against Japan of course, and invented Korea's famous 'turtle' warships). These are surrounded by pretty, bright flower beds and musical fountains and once again hordes of people taking pictures! Gwanghwamun is the island in the middle of one of the busiest streets in downtwon Seoul. It is also conveniently near 'The Body Shop' and 'Kyobo Books' two big-city shopping highlights for me!

Insandong Market is a street in downtown Seoul which prides itself in being a part of the 'arty' district in Seoul. There are some traditional Korean arts and crafts on sale, but infirtunately, even here the kitch and commercialised tourism and souvenirs is making a mark. It does have a great atmosphere though and some lovely quaint cafes etc. Even Starbucks (that great all-American coffee shop) has been forced to write the name of tehir shop in Hangeul - Korean script to maintain the traditional feel of the place. We tracked down an Indian Cafe where we were more than happy to partake in a hubbly (=hookah in American English).

We also went on a
DMZ Tour with the EPIK trip. This is something Jules and I have been interested in doing for a while: the DMZ is the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, and one can take oragnised tours of some of the significant buildings, monuments etc. in that area. It is a strange place: we had chatted to friends of ours about going on a tour, but they had said they were not interested as they were convinced it was all just voyeurism (the non-sexual variant).

Well, I wanted to see for myself, and I did. They were right: it is voyeuristic, and commercialsed and actually, bizarre. When one thinks about the suffering that happened in the Korean War, which the DMZ is a result of, and when one thinks of the suffering going on just a few kilometres north of the DMZ, in North Korea, then the rampant tourism commercialism and kitch-on-sale happening on the South Korean side of the DMZ is quite simply tasteless.

It's a pity, but my tour of the DMZ left me disturbed and confused: do South Korean people really want reunification with the poor North or is it just for the 'image' that they say so? Jules also wrote about our experience on the DMZ tour, probably a bit more eloquently than I have, so have a look

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