Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sam-il, 90 Years Later

The last time I put in a day of work at school was Fri., Jan 23, and even that was a half-day, since it was 'camp'. Doing the math, I see I have had five weeks of vacation time. I think I made good use of it, at least in terms of travel and sightseeing, though you can judge for yourself by viewing my posts starting at 'Well-Being Hair Salon'. Enjoy.

OTOH, I didn't complete the Great American Novel--hell, I didn't even begin it; I didn't make much headway in studying My First 100 Words in Korean; I spent far too little time working on lesson plans ('course, I always tell myself I will, but I never do); I didn't lose fifty pounds, either.

Sunday, I'm meeting Steve W, back from italy, at Gecko's Terrace for a cosmopolitan brunch and a last farewell to Winter Break (join us if you like, I'll be arriving between 1:00 and 1:30). I gotta clean the bathroom first, though.

Sunday is also March 1st, which in Korean is 'Sam-il' 삼일, literally 3 - 1. There is a main road called Samilro, Andy teaches at Samil High School, etc. This is because March 1st is an important date in modern Korean history--but apparently not so important anyone gets a day off, even though it's rather like July 4th is to Americans--the origins of a homegrown Korean revolution against Japanese colonial rule that began at the turn of the last century.

March 1, 1919, a group of "patriotic ancestors" as they are described at Seodaemun Prison gathered at a teahouse near Tapgol Park to ratify their declaration of independence, sparking protests over the next few months during which thousands of Koreans were killed and tens of thousands detained by brutal Japanese occupation forces.

Y'know, all things considered, it's very difficult to view Japanese behavior in the twentieth century without outright disgust. They were bastards right up there with Hitler's SS, to a man. And the fact that they still can't bring themselves to properly admit it, and offer meaningful apologies to those they've wronged, is disgraceful. Japan has more vile shit to fess up to than the United States, even!

Anyway, Sam-il marks a kind of beginning for Korean democracy, the forced transition away from monarchy that ultimately led to the freedom movement of the late 1980s which resulted in the end of the (more or less) benign military dictatorships that ruled after the Japanese were expulsed at the end of WWII.

And finally, Sam-il represents the last day of vacation before I start back to the daily grind.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My School Schedule

Or not.

Vacation draws to an end, so I thought it would be a good idea to hook up with Main Co-teacher Hwang and find out what is on my plate this semester--or at least the order of courses. (Get it?) We arranged for me to have dinner tonight with his family, but my hopes for information were quickly dashed--he didn't know. So, fine, I'll find out on Monday, the first day back at school.

We ate dinner at a restaurant across from their apartment complex called Jjigae Ae 찌개 애, literally 'I love jjigae'. Jjigae is stew; we had two kinds of stew but also samgyupsal--my fondness for it is a fact known throughout the peninsula. I had never had either type of jjigae but both were really good. Here are Hwang's lovely children:

The Hwang children
I brought back from China an ox-horn comb for the girl, and a small-size plush baseball bat with a Panda head on it for the boy, who eats, sleeps and dreams baseball--heck, he's wearing his uniform in the picture. I also picked up some enormous and tasty strawberries at the market, which made a fine finish to the meal.

All well and good, but the fact remains that I have no idea (well, not much of an idea) what my schedule looks like with only three days before school starts. Welcome to Korea!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Yeouido Park and 63 Building

Natioal Assembly building, seen from Yeouido Park

UPDATE: 1) See this post for a recent visit to SkyArt, featuring a Picasso exhibit: 63 Building and Picasso.
2) See this post for upgrades to Yeouido park and a slideshow showing the progression through the seasons of the year: Changes at Yeouido Park.

Yeouido 여의도, which roughly translates as 'island of wishes', is the location of Seoul's CBD and National Assembly (domed building above). There is also a large park splitting the island in two. The south tip is famous for the 63 Building, reputed to be the tallest in Korea--though it is outranked by both the Samsung Tower Palace 3 and Mok-dong Hyperion I Tower A.

Yeouido Park: Long and skinny, divided into three sections, this is a nice place to while away an afternoon, with nature areas, walking trails and bike paths (and bike rentals--or inline skates or rocker boards, if you prefer). Clockwise: Park sign at southeast entrance; one of many magpies attracted to the grassy field; carp pond; a carp in the carp pond; intrepid explorer Gavin walking through the traditional Korean forest; the Palgakjeong pavilion at the highest spot in park.
Yeouido Park Yeouido Park
Yeouido Park Yeouido Park
Yeouido Park Yeouido Park

King Sejong Statue: King Sejong 세종대왕 was the third emperor of the Joseon dynasty (1379-1450), and is rightly revered for many intellectual achievements. Though probably most famous for developing Hangeul, the phonetic alphabet still used for Korean language, sundials, water clocks, and even the first rain gauge were developed during his reign.

King Sejong statue at Yeouido Park
This monument takes note of these achievements with replica rain gauge (which I previously mentioned here), sundial and (I guess) water clock on three corners; there are also tile stele commemorating episodes from his life. It's not the Lincoln Memorial, but it's a nice niche.
life of King Sejong life of King Sejong
detail, back of King Sejong statue

Here is an image I took of a working water clock at the National Palace Museum next to Gyeongbokgung. It is full size, and was shot from an observation room on the next floor up:

63 Building: Me, with the east view behind, then northeast, north, and west. The long green building in the west view is the Noryangjin fish market.

Me on 63 Building Observation Deck, 60th floor
View from 63 Building Observation Deck, 60th floor, looking northeast
View from 63 Building Observation Deck, 60th floor, looking north
View from 63 Building Observation Deck, 60th floor, looking west
In addition to amazing views of metro Seoul, the 63 Building observation deck offers "SkyArt"--well, not so much offers as requires, since you have to buy a SkyArt ticket in order to get up here. Advertised as "the highest art gallery in the world" it has a couple of interesting pieces among the dreck, notably this Andy Warhol:

Andy Warhol's Moon Explorer Robot
Gotta love the giant snails, too; and what's the world's highest art gallery without flying pigs?

Lee Kyu Min, giant snails sculpture
Choi Suk Un, flying pig painting
The 60th floor provides other amenities, including a "Thrill Deck" whose mirrors and prisms will make you dizzy ...

Thrill Deck
... SkyFun, a children's play area ...

SkyFun play area
... and the SkyArt Cafe, where we sipped a couple of beers at reasonable prices before heading back down to terra firma.

SkyArt Cafe

Monday, February 23, 2009

Traditional Village Tour, Bugaksan

The image above more or less sums up my visit to the hanok traditional housing area above Insa-dong with Gavin and his co-teacher Mr Rhou--the juxtaposition of ancient and modern. This is Mr Rhou, whom we met up with after our tour of Gyeongbokgung:

Mr Rhou in Insa-dong
The streets in the ancient, walled areas--dating from the 1500s, earlier in some cases--are narrow and winding. Note the traditional, heavy ceramic tiles:

Here I am taking a break on a weird but awesome bench:

The walls in the hanok are impenetrable, the only clue to what lies behnd them is the gates. Mr Rhou, who grew up near here, tells us many of these homes are owned by high government officials, CEOs and the like.

Mr Rhou then took us on a white-knuckle drive up the Bugaksan "skyway" above Cheong Wa Dae to an observation point overlooking Seoul at a restaurant called A Walk in the Clouds. Below are views to the south, then the east, then the north. Too bad it was a bit foggy on Sunday.

We finished off the day with another new experience for me, a dinner of bosam, which is boiled pork and pork belly, with a healthy side of kimchi. The pork is on a steamer plate and is reheated at the table via a sterno pack. Quite tasty.

Bosam at One Halmoni

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gyeongbokgung and Changing of the Guard

Aussie pal Gavin arranged to meet me today for a visit to Gyeongbokgung, the main palace of the Joseon dynasty, literally 'shining happiness palace'. It was first built in 1395, and after its completion the national capital was moved to Seoul. Its main gate, Gwanghwamun, is the one that was burned down by a deranged individual last year.

Gav was running late, but I was just in time to catch the changing of guard. (I actually caught it twice, so I have photos from two angles for your viewing pleasure.)

Changing of the Guard at Gyeongbokgung
Changing of the Guard at Gyeongbokgung
Changing of the Guard at Gyeongbokgung
Changing of the Guard at Gyeongbokgung
Changing of the Guard at Gyeongbokgung
Changing of the Guard at Gyeongbokgung
Changing of the Guard at Gyeongbokgung
Posing with Guard at Gyeongbokgung
After the obligatory photo op, it's into the palace, which is actually very like the other two I've visited, Changdeokgung and Deoksugung (3 down, 2 to go--well, 3 if you add Unhyeongung). In essence, there is a main function hall, or throne room; sections for the king and king's servants and concubines; sections for the queen and her followers; a section where the king and queen can, er, get together; entertaning area; and ponds and gardens for relaxation, contemplation and reading. Here is Gavin posing in front of Geunjeongmun, the gate that leads to Geunjeongjeon, main throne hall. Below it are details of Geunjeongjeon:

Gavin at Geunjeongmun
Detail of Geunjeongjoen
Detail of Geunjeongjoen
The following shots are of features of the grounds at Gyeongbokgung, including the tile roofs, the reading pavilion in the middle of its own pond, and the entertainment pavilion Gyeonghoeru. This pavilion was reconstructed in 1867 and is "the largest elevated pavilion in Korea", whatever that means. It also "manifests the Oriental philosophy of the universe. The three bays at the center of the elevated floor symbolize heaven, earth and man, and the twelve bays outside them symbolize the twelve months of the year [or thirteen in some years, you know]. The outermost 24 columns symbolize the 24 solar terms that mark particular astronomical or natural events of each year."

Gyeongbokgung has something I haven't seen at the other palaces I've been to in Seoul--kid-friendly activities. You can rent child (or adult) sized outfits for picture-taking ...

... trace woodcuts of palace guards in uniform ...

... or even pose behind one of those plywood cutout figures where you stick your face through.

Of course, yours truly would never do something so touristy, or as Gavin put it, "at the height of poor taste."

Me as Sumunjang, Commander of the Gate Guard