Souvenirs you can buy in Seoul

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Itaewon is the place every tourist goes to.   The regular foreigners avoid the place life the plague…. Well,  not the young and drinking crowd.   None of us way good here,  who are truly interested in culture,  like Itaewon. It’s loud,  rowdy,  and full of drunk westerners. Still,  on occasion you find yourself there because it ends up being the most convenient place to meet up with people.   It does have an ally high concentration of restaurants,  some of sick you won’t find anywhere else.  I guess it’s an OK place if you are feeling homesick because you can get your fix of  McDonalds,  Burger King,  KFC,  Outback,  Subway there.  Plus a million other street stalls to buy over-priced ‘Korea shirts’ (as it was shouted to me once).   Here is a fine example of such great things you can buy there.

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Seeing a show…Miso (Smile)

Sat night we went to see a play.  Miso, which means smile in Korean.

My inlaws came to Korea to visit.  We only had 4 days so what we could see was somewhat limited but enough to give them a good taste (no pun intended) of the country.  We saw some temples, some fortresses and some of the good tourist places (we avoided Itaewon like the plague).  Sat night we went to see a play.  Miso, which means smile in Korean.

It seems that my wife reserved tickets for Sunday.  Luckily we were able to change them.  We got the back row and then the pre-show started before we were in our seats.  As a permanent show, it is popular with tour groups. So it want surprising to see a whole bunch of Chinese tourists waiting to see the show.

What was surprising was to sere them sitting in the seats we just purchased. Then refusing to move saying “stay together” as the Chinese chick indicated to the row in front of her. So we get one if the staff who had to continuously and insistently ask them to move. Ooh the howels of protest that brought. Seriously. Theses people just literally decided that the seats at the back were better and moved there, then proceeded to argue with the theatre staff on why they should be allowed to stay. It was pathetic.

And just to clarify, we weren’t the only ones who wanted the seats we paid for.

Eveeeentually they moved. Not without some dirty looks, to wit I returned equally. Then later on, when they were finally seated down near the front, when ever one of them turned back, I smiled at them and waved happily. Welcome to the truly capitalized world Chinese tourists! Where we sit where we paid for and not move around on a whim.

Yes indeed, I smiled, just like the play name.

 

Buddhist Temple Stay

I have been fascinated with various spiritual beliefs for quite some time. I have studied many of them and last weekend I had the chance to experience, if somewhat peripherally, some Zen Buddhism. It was quite the experience and extremely physically taxing but we will get to that in a bit. I went with Adventure Korea and a group of about 30 of us. Only five of us were guys.

Walking up to the temple, you are greeted by some very handsome fellows.

One of these days I will find out what the deal is with them. I had forgotten to ask.

Once we arrived, we were given ‘temple clothing’ to wear. Pants and vest.

Buddism is serious business!  :)
Buddhism is serious business! :)

One of the first activities was doing 108 bows while making a prayer necklace at the same time.

Start with this:

And for every bow, add one wooden bead to the string.

End up with this:

Sure it looks great and possible even simple, but the effort it took while doing so was killer. Here is a video of a Korean doing only 3 full bows.

Now, in the video he did it only 3 times. Our group did it 108! Each time we added a bead to the necklace. I was sore, I was sweating, my hands even began to tremble while trying to put the thread through the hole of the bead but I got it done.

A little later we then went on a guided tour of the grounds. Now, what you need to know about Korea and this post are two things. First, Korea has lots of mountains. Second, Temples are built on the sides of mountains to be closer to a natural surrounding. So, when I say ‘tour’, I meant to say ‘Lets climb a bunch of steps after you just killed your legs doing 108 bows.’. Sigh. Still, I did that too.

What you see here is the main temple (middle) and three stupas.

From that grand repository of knowledge that is Wikipedia:

A stupa (from Sanskrit: m., स्तूप, stūpa, Pāli: थुप “thūpa”, literally meaning “heap”) is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, typically the remains of Buddha, used by Buddhists as a place of worship.

The Stupa in the background (closest to the Temple) is pretty old (hundreds of years, don’t recall exact time) and the one to the left is fairly new. The new one purportedly contains some of the ashes of the Buddha. The Elephant one we weren’t told anything about.

There was a monk ringing a bell. Don’t know which ceremony this part was for but it was interesting.

Seeing as I am a meatarian, I did not participate in any of the meals. Yes, that meant I missed out on part of the experience but such is life and donuts. I am what I am :) After dinner we had a talk with some Buddhist monks.

Then it was lights out at 9pm because we were getting up at 3! For me, this was the most difficult part. Not the getting up but the going to sleep! I had the hardest time and slept only in pieces. At one point I was awake and thought, ‘geeze, gotta be after 1am by now’, I looked and it was only 11:14. Dammit. Well, eventually slept enough sporadically and got up at 3am with no issues. We put on our temple clothes, having taken a shower the night before, and all filed over to the morning drum ceremony. I took a short video of this but seeing as it was 3:30am, there was no light int he sky so all you will see is black and maybe the odd flash of someone taking a picture.

So after breakfast we went hiking. It’s not like my legs were near mush from the 108 bows already, this put me almost over the edge! 500 stairs up the side of a mountain. Sure, it was beautiful but man was it killer.

I thought going up was hard! Going down proved to be the worst for me. We didn’t go down the steps, instead we went down a paved road (dammit, why didn’t we take THAT up!). What was hurting me the most was my thighs, nothing else. So going down which muscles do you use to stop you from falling forward? That’s right, your thighs! The road is purely steeped at some ugly angle like 30degrees. That is when I discovered a way to get down the mountain without having to stop for 5 mins ever single step. I walked backwards. My things were only used minimally and my calves did the bulk of the work. So, I literally walked backwards down the mountain. Yeah, I was the last one down but I made it and didn’t collapse/roll all the way down at least.

After we got back we had a ‘lotus lantern’ making event. Essentially a paper cup with tissue paper glued to it. That didn’t go so well. I had more glue on my fingers than on the cup. The paper didn’t seem to want to stick to the cup so well so after 20 mins I gave up. Many others were making absolutely stunning looking ones but mine was looking rather sad. We also got a visit from KBS (A local TV station) who was filming for a TV show. We knew about this before hand so it was OK. When they came in, there was a famous Korean Actor that came with them. Never heard of him but I decided to get my picture taken with him any ways.

It’s a little amusing to hear that when he was walking up to the temple, all the Koreans were pointing and exclaiming who he was. He walked into our room and no one batted an eye. He was a nice enough guy and some people got interviewed for the TV show episode. Hopefully I’ll be able to see that episode. I didn’t get in on the filming but I would be in the background somewhere :) His name is Hwang Bum Sik.

After that we packed up and headed home. On the way back we stopped at a ‘hermitage’ place. I was told there wasn’t much walking. They lied.

I only prayed that all the escalators were in service for the subways I had to take home. Home. 3 flights up steps up. I texted Bharati to meet me downstairs so she could grab my backpack off of me.

All-in-all, it was a good trip, met some very nice people and would recommend it for anyone.

You can see the whole album here.

The Contest Winner! And a new City: Daegu

In March I posted a mini-contest to see who could interpret some Korean characters and what the English word was. This is the word.

Korean Word

The word is bus but pronounced bus-uh. In general, Korean words always end in a vowel so English-based words, for which there is corresponding Korean equivalent, get some added sounds. Learning the sounds of each character is pretty easy. I can read quite a bit of Korea but my comprehension will take a while yet :) Still, it is useful for the ‘konglish’ words like bus :)

Here is Shawn opening the parcel.

The box looks like it had ah been in ah some kind of ah Tsunami AH! The cardboard just fell apart. ( as you can tell ah I am writing ah this with a Korean accent …..AH)
My CHOPSTICKS ah… how nice, thank ah you very much! Enjoy da picture ah.

Enjoy them well Shawn!

Ok, onto Daegu.

The city bills itself as the ‘Colourful City’. Well, we weren’t disappointed. Although I find all the cities here very colourful. I will apply this ‘colourful’ term to the types of things I see here. As mentioned before, and pretty much common knowledge, Asians tend to copy till they figure out who they are instead of trying to be popular like the Western stuff that influences their young people. So when I see a posted for a Korean James-Bond type of movie, I immediately took a picture of it.

Of course the ‘walking mascots’ are very popular for promoting some product or event too. Don’t ask me how Winnie The Poo is connected to anything in Korea though.

There are many different shops in this area. Korea has done some great things in designing their downtown cores. They block off streets and cobblestone the whole place. It makes for wonderful shopping experiences and a cool place to hang too.

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso

So tell me, is this t-shirt from a good artist or a great artist?

You probably don’t need to answer that…

Remember when I wrote about Coffee in Korea? Well, if a massive 3-story coffee-house doesn’t prove that Korean’s love coffee, nothing will!

A few blocks away and this same chain had another 2 story place as well!

Click to see all the albums.

Nami Island Trip

Our adventure continues with some video and pics from our excursion to Nami Island.

First the train.

The first, and obvious, is the cartoonish character. The whole culture over here seems child-like in advertising. Soft and/or bright colours and a lot of cartoonish characters. It’s kinda like re-living 50’s advertising in such a modern setting.

The next thing you’ll notice are the two vertical black marks on the door. I couldn’t get a picture of the front of the train but it seems that either there are a lot of paint layers and they are cracking, and by layers I mean the type of layers you’d find when looking at a 50+ year-old house that has 20 layers of paint on it and peeling. The front of the train looked worse. The train itself was very comfortable and quiet. So it’s not like the trains are falling apart, far from it. The seats even reclined and you had curtains and coat hooks with tons of leg room. So traveling anywhere of significant distance is pleasant. They even have a lady with a food cart that goes around selling snacks and drinks. Really smart people here.

Taking a break from walking around Nami Island.

Art/Music Museum
Art/Music Museum

More pictures around the island.

Calm lake around island
Calm lake around island
Water Fountain
Water Fountain

Interesting wood work.
Interesting wood work.

See all 185 pics here.

On the train home.

On the train ride home, saw a cool shot of a sunset.

And finally, at the subway station grabbed this shot with the moon.

Karaoke & Korea

Karaoke is huge in Korea. So much so that it is to the point of having places that rent out rooms by the hour with large TV screens and speakers, 2 microphones, bright flashing & lazer lights decking it all out. The cost is relative to the number of people going into the room, the more the people, the higher the cost. On Friday night we had 11 people and the cost was $28/hr. Cost per person is rather cheap and it was all good fun. Unlike North American places, you are quite allowed to bring in your own food & drink, in fact, drinking & karaoke are a social norm in Korea. Some people simply went across the street and bought some cans of beer (Case and & Hite) from the corner store. We all took turns singing (except for the 2 Indian guys…who coincidentally were the promoters of beer and buyers of Soju shots). After each song, the computer rated your ability on a scale of 1 to 100. I think the lowest score was 86. I’m am pretty sure the computer was biased and/or tone def.

2.5hrs later, and we were all thinking on moving on. There was talk of going to play ‘electronic darts’ which sounded good but I was getting pretty tired and so what Bharati. So we said our goodnight and grabbed the bus home.

Saturday was a blast. The plan was to go to Itaewon, check out the shops and price out some things we will be buying soon (running shoes in particular). We hopped on the bus at 10am and 1.5hrs later we made it. Along the were a few nice Korea oddities which just _have_ to be mentioned and a regular thing I’m sure in future blog posts…

First up: Mountains. While this pic isn’t the greatest shot, it does give you an idea of what you can see by simply walking out your front door and looking down the street in many areas of Uijeongbu (not to mention pretty much anywhere in Korea).

Besides being a geek, I am also a car guy. While in Korea, I am fascinated by the cars here. The Koreans have evolved their styling way beyond ‘cheap asian cars’ and ones that I highly anticipate owning due to the simply awesome designs. But this picture ain’t about that.

Besides finding it very interesting to see North American cars over here, this one simply has to be shown.

When I was here 3 years ago, I saw a couple of 300C’s and they were all diesels. This one was not and from the sound of the touted up exhaust, it was a 3.5 V6 at best. But the GUY driving it was all tough and with the bumper-to-bumper traffic, he waited back so that he can simply floor it and annoy everyone else around him. It was a painful part of the morning.

Now this I found to be both highly amusing and infinitely practical.

Instead of overpaying some city worker to stand there and warn traffic of the obvious, why not have a fake guy waving people a warning light? Smart idea that I think.

Itaewon is a very large tourist shopping area. With that comes all kinds of street vendors and massive numbers of stores. A friend of mine collects belt buckles and there was one vendor who specialized in them.

These are actually lighters but certainly to raise some questions with authorities when spotted.

Ye Old flask buckle.
Ye Old flask buckle.
A Knife buckle and a skull with multi-coloured flashing eyes.
A Knife buckle and a skull with multi-coloured flashing eyes.

While purveying the many fine wares, I saw this cool hat with a Dragon on it (go figure eh?). When I asked how much, he said 18,000KRW (about $18CDN). I decided it wasn’t worth that much and moved on. I saw the same hat again at another vendor and got told 12,000KRW. That was a more reasonable price so I grabbed it!

Seems to suit me quite well I think!

Of course with all the tourist stores and food, there were bars. This one had a cool Greek name, which should have been an indication of what was to come.

On the side was a more description of who their clientèle is.

After browsing a bit more, we headed on over to Insadong, another tourist showing area. I just had to get more pictures of the Toy Museum. Unfortunately the camera card got full half-way through the store (Bharati hadn’t unloaded the card in a while….). Dave, these pics are for you:

Further down Insadong there were these girls giving out free hugs.

It wasn’t much of a hug really. In Korea, unfamiliar men and women do not hug. It’s very awkward for them and so was this so-called ‘free hug’ that I got. But hey, thought it was rather amusing and decided to give it a shot any ways.

A little later on and the Lantern Festival was underway. I was able to clear out a few pictures to make room for these. Hopefully net year we’ll be able to get more pics of them. You will note that the pictures were taking from above. We were at street level and there was a walkway beside the river. There was a huuuuuge lineup to go down the stairs to the walkway. Maybe we’ll get there early next year to get closer and more pictures.