Sunday, July 26, 2015

Adventure Time: Part 3

It’s been quite a while since I posted about my adventures around Korea, so I have lots to catch up on! This time I'll take you through Daegu, Busan, and Seoul.


83 Tower

While the 63 Building is a famous landmark in Seoul, Daegu has its own 83 Tower overlooking E-World, the city’s main amusement park. (Just a note that while I have taken the stairs both up and down the 83 Tower on separate occasions, I also found out the hard way that it’s not technically allowed.) The 83 Tower includes several restaurants, an ice rink, a photography exhibit, a lookout room near the top, and a bungee-jumping platform for more daring souls. But most interesting is the “trick eye” museum within the tower, where you can pose in front of paintings on the wall that are specifically meant to look 3D in pictures. While making weird poses was embarrassing at first, I quickly loosened up and had a pretty awesome time. 



Rose Garden

Something I really like about Daegu are the random gardens, parks, and hiking trails scattered around the city, which the government does a wonderful job of keeping maintained. I had passed by the Daegu Rose Garden several times on my way back from various hikes, but I got lucky when I decided to pay it a formal visit in the middle of May. The garden was in full bloom and was filled with more varieties of roses than I even knew existed, some of which were almost as big as my hand and put traditional Valentine’s Day roses to shame. Although the garden was very crowded with families, couples, and selfie-takers, it’s definitely something I’d want to see again.


Suseong Lake & the Airplane Cafe 

This picturesque lake, now accessible by Daegu’s awesome new monorail*, is surrounded by mountains and is the home of random small parades, a basketball court, a huge fountain, and dozens of duck boats. (I have yet to ride one.) I’ve been told that it’s even prettier at night. However, I’m more interested in the large passenger plane parked nicely beside the lake that has been transformed into the Snow Factory, a full dessert cafe. The inside is sleek, modern, and even has its own balcony with palm trees (though I’m fairly sure that wasn’t part of the original plane). While the desserts are overpriced, it doesn’t matter because you’re eating ice cream in a giant plane. End of story.

*A note about Daegu's monorail: It’s definitely the cleanest, smoothest, and most futuristic-looking public transportation I’ve been on, and it’s just as cheap as the normal bus or subway. But the coolest part about it is that all the windows turn opaque when it passes by an apartment building to give the residents some privacy. And the transition back to transparency once it’s passed the building is amazingly fast. Pretty neat, right?


Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사)  

Rub this Buddha's belly
and you might be granted
a son! You can tell it's been
rubbed quite a lot.
This sprawling, colorful, and intricately designed temple in the coastal city of Busan faces the open water and is truly gorgeous in the afternoon light, despite the hundreds of people milling around and ruining its serenity. What struck me the most was the vast number of big-bellied Buddha statues scattered all over the place: stone statues, huge gold statues, mini porcelain statues. I was also surprised that, despite the temple's transformation into a popular tourist destination, some people were still earnestly trying to pray and pay their respects. 

On a side note, I’m still a bit startled when I see the symbol for a Buddhist temple on a map or on the side of a building. Although these temples were built way before WWII, their symbol still looks like a Nazi swastika in reverse. The effect is slowly fading the more I see it, though. 

Buddhas everywhere!

Lantern-covered ceiling
of a temple room

Golden piggies of wealth

Gamcheon Culture Village

I had seen pictures from friends of this very colorful "culture village" in Busan and decided to check it out myself. Located at the top of a small mountain, this place reminded me of the rows and rows of brightly colored villas one might see in Italy. I took the harder route and chose to walk up the steep but well-paved streets instead of riding the bus. Before I even reached the main village, I got to explore the Biseok Culture Village on the way up. While less touristy and not as well-known, it was filled with the same kind of old, slightly run down but brightly colored houses. Some of them had paintings on their stone walls that were very detailed and truly beautiful. 

Wall painting in Biseok
Culture Village

Ajuma flower pots!

    Each step was a different "book."

The Gamcheon Culture Village was much busier and was so high up that it was noticeably colder and we were almost in the clouds. (It was overcast that day.) It was filled with touristy places like food stands and expensive art stores. However, it offered a really awesome view of the houses below, along with some unique artwork that also boasted many vibrant colors. People do actually live in the village, so there were occasional signs reminding us to keep quiet and respect the residents.

All the black dots in this
sculpture are actually the
bottoms of beer bottles.

We followed this little guy
up the mountain.

                      This iconic fish is made of all
                    different handmade plaques.


Directly before the hell that was Winter Intensives, my coworkers and I got one of our rare 5-day vacations for the New Year. Once again the tickets to other countries were sky-high, so a couple of friends and I decided to spend several days touring around Seoul instead. Here were some highlights from the trip:

-Gyeongbuk Palace (경복궁) is easily one of the most famous landmarks in Seoul. By chance I was able to witness the changing of the guards outside the palace gates, which was quite a long affair. After enough staring I finally decided that the guards were wearing very convincing face masks to make them look, I don’t know, more ancient?


-Insadong is a well-known touristy area in Seoul with lots of small stores that sell old, traditional Korean things, as well as the usual bookmarks and decorated chopsticks that you can find in most tourist shops. One of the most famous sites in Insadong is the majestic statue of Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). He’s known for creating the system of Hangul—Korea’s alphabet—in 1446 to make reading and writing more accessible to the lower classes. Hangul is said to be one of the world’s most logical alphabets because the letters are supposed to mirror the shape your mouth makes to create each sound.

-While the most famous of Korea’s traditional villages is probably the one in Jeonju, Seoul has two of its own hanok villages. Hanoks were Korean houses of the past, with many rooms, lots of open space, ornate roofs, and holes in the floor for toilets (the predecessor to modern squatter toilets). The houses in Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골 한옥마을) were modeled after hanoks from the Joseon Dynasty. Tourists can walk around, look at (but not go into) the various rooms, and take part in traditional Korean games. One of these that I've seen in multiple places is called Tuho (투호), a Hoopla-like game where you throw sticks into a jar or pot a set distance away. It's actually really hard.


A traditional Korean hanok
In one of the hanok bedrooms

One unexpected feature of Namsangol Village was a huge time capsule buried in 1994 to celebrate Seoul’s 600th anniversary. It's set to be opened again in 2394. On the surface is a large stone disk engraved with both Korean and English. I’m very curious as to what’s actually inside it—time capsules are such strange, fascinating things.

-One of the most interesting places we went to was surprisingly the War Memorial of Korea, which is really just a huge war museum. On the outside are dozens of war planes, tanks, and even missile launchers. (A sign in front of one of the model tanks says, “How to operate K-1 Tank: Insert one 500-won coin into the slot. Tank operates for 2 minutes." Who knew giant military tanks were so easy to use?) Inside the museum are various displays, memorabilia, and very realistic models from the Korean War but also from older times. In addition, there are some very touching videos about veterans and the bonds that were formed between foreign soldiers and Korean children during the Korean War.

      Creepily realistic models of
      Koreans learning English
       during the war
           This "teardrop" hanging from the
             ceiling, made of 1300 ID tags, was
             created in remembrance of those
            who lost their lives in the Korean War.

American outfit and equipment
 from the Korean War 

-My favorite part of the trip was our tour of the Secret Garden (후원). This extensive garden is set behind Changdeok Palace (창덕궁), the second palace built after Gyeongbuk Palace during the Joseon Dynasty. The main palace itself is huge, colorful, and a true work of art, but sadly we weren’t allowed inside. The garden behind it used to be exclusively for kings and queens and can now only be accessed by tour. Because it was winter when we went, there was snow still covering some of the garden, which made it very beautiful. The tour guide’s English was excellent and she rattled off facts about the palace and garden like she’d practiced it a hundred times before. (She probably had.) It was definitely worth the 90 minutes and 8,000 won (~$8). I only wish I had taken better pictures!

         Inside the palace

          I'm sure it's even prettier in spring. 

Walk under this small arch
and you'll gain eternal life!

Stay tuned for more adventures from Korea! ~


Rachel said...

Hi Hania,

I'm thinking of teaching in Korea as well this coming fall. Your adventures look amazing and they're definitely making me want to go all the more!

I notice that you say you graduated from college in 2014. Did you start teaching in Korea that next fall (ie August of 2014)? I want to start teaching right away after I graduate (I will be graduating May 2016) and I would like to apply to start in August 2016. However, since I won't get my official diploma until May 2016, I don't know how that will affect my chances of getting in that fall semester. Did you come across this same situation and if so, how did you deal with it? Any help would be greatly appreciated, thanks in advance and keep having an amazing time!

HB said...

Hi Rachel!

I'm glad you've enjoyed my blog. :) Actually I did exactly what you're hoping to do. I graduated in May 2014 and was afraid that it would take too long to get my official diploma to be able to send off a copy for this job. I tried to rush my university's registrar's office so that my diploma would be among the first round verified and released, but I got it a few weeks after graduation either way. My agent got a bit antsy at having to wait but it ended up being fine. I started that August because I wanted to spend the summer at home, but I'm sure you could start even earlier if you got your background check process started in the spring. That in itself can take a couple of months.

Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions!

Teaching in a Korean university said...

I like your list of places to check out! Insadong is definitely one of my favorites and I always try to go there every time I go to Seoul (I live in Busan).

fallaha said...

Enjoyed your reading your blog, you stirred a desire in me to visit this colorful and amazing Korea...