Less than 12 hours left in Seoul

Yes, I know I got behind in my blog.  I know the last day I posted was the day after the disappointing DMZ visit.  We have of course done a lot since then, but I’ll do my best to sum it up.

Friday we left for Gyenjou.  (I may have spelled that wrong but at this point am too tired to look it up.)  Our first stop was a fortress (which I would also have to look up) where we practiced Korean archery.  I am not a great archer.  I managed to hit my arm with the strong not once but twice, and consequently have a huge bruise on my left arm.  (It’s getting better, but a day or so ago it was nasty looking.)  We then visited several more Buddhist temples, and went to Hyundai Heavy Industries, which was interesting.  We saw some huge ships being built. 

We were only in Gyenjou through Monday morning.  Then we took a long bus ride back to Seoul.  Our bus broke down along the way (we were traveling in two) but luckily they got it fixed and we got back to Seoul by 6pm on Monday evening.  Today we had free time up until 2.  I did some last minute shopping, grabbed lunch, and then we had to clean up for our evaluation sessions, closing ceremony, and closing dinner.  We got a fancy certificate, a CD with pictures on it, and a DVD will be on the way.  (They showed us the movie they made at the closing dinner, it is hilarious and unfortunately not one I think that you can show to students.)

On our last night in Seoul about 14 of us went to some place and sat around and talked for awhile.  A few of us didn’t stay too long (there were still people there when we left) but I’ve got the earliest flight out I think, those of us going to Atlanta leave at 10am.  The airport is an hour and a half ride from here, so we’re getting on the shuttle at 6:48am tomorrow morning.  It’s already 11:30pm and I still have to double check my bags.  (Which I hope they will let me take home with me, they may be too heavy.)

I know this blog is very short in details compared to previous ones, but at this point I am ready to come home.  Most of the people in the group have said the same thing.  Many of us are tired of Korean food and can only think about getting to our favorite restaurants once we get back.  I also am tired of chopsticks, though I am glad I learned to eat with them.

This was of course a wonderful experience, and I don’t think we could have asked for a better group.  We all got along well, there were few problems, and we had a good time.  I hope to keep in touch with quite a few people from this trip. 

I would certainly come back to visit Korea, Seoul is a very interesting place and there is so much to see, I know I barely got started.  But for now, while I am most appreciative for the opportunity, I just want to come home and eat a big fat hamburger.  Or chicken alfredo.  (With a fork.)

Museums

Today was our last day of lectures.  We had one on Korean education and Korean literature.  Then we had a quick 45 minutes for lunch before boarding the bus for the Korean National Museum.  There are 3 floors to this museum, and two exhibit halls on each floor.  We had an hour and a half to look through this museum.  They give you an audio tour guide, but mine didn’t work very well.  Not the audio part anyway, but I could still read what popped up on the screen at each exhibit so I just did that. 

They have a ton of stuff in this museum.  Art, Buddhist sculptures, old scrolls, and artifacts from the neolithic and paleolithic eras.  An hour and a half was not enough time in this museum.  I had to cut short the Archaeology Exhibit Hall, and I flew through a lot of the Art Exhibits so I could make it back to the bus on time.  I do not know what they were thinking bringing 48 history teachers to a three story museum and giving us a time constraint. 

After the National Museum we went to the War Museum.  This was not that interesting to me.  There were a lot of models, and part of the museum was set up like a refugee camp and just made me think of a very depressing Coleman’s.  The museum was not devoted to the Korean War, but all wars that Korea has been involved in.  Some things were interesting, but I would much rather have spent this time at the National Musem.  (We had two hours at the War Museum.) 

After the second museum we had the option of going back to our hotel, or going to Itaewon, which is the “foreign” district we were told.  There was definitely a great mix of people there.  Lots of shops, little alleyways that went off in every direction, and tons of vendors.  We ate at a Subway and then did a little window shopping, but I didn’t find anything I had to have. 

Itaewon was where we ate dinner last night, at Hard Rock.  So we knew how to get back to the hotel on th subway easily.  We did stop at the Lotte Mart at Seoul Station, which is the Korean version of Wal-Mart.  It’s huge and you can find everything there.  They have escalators that you take your shopping cart on to get to the second floor.  I did pick up a pack of batteries that I needed for the camera since I’m on my last set. 

We had a little difficulty checking out.  Apparently there are certain things that you have to check out on the second floor, and certain things you have to check out on the first floor.  (None of us understood this.)  Heather waited in line downstairs, only to be sent upstairs to pay for something, and then be sent back downstairs to pay for her second item. 

After this we finally headed back to the hotel.  We leave tomorrow for Andong, where we will spend the night, and then it’s off to Gyeonju for two nights.  So I had to pack everything up tonight so that it’s ready to go by 7:30 tomorrow morning.  We’re leaving at 8 so I’ll have to be up early.

But for right now Pirates of the Caribbean 2 is on, so I think I’ll finish that before bed.

A Great Disappointment

It is monsoon season in Korea.  We’ve been here a week now, and today is the first day it’s really rained.  There have been a few days where it has been kind of cloudy, or has sprinkled a bit.  But today poured down rain.  Almost all day. 

This is a disappointment because today we went to the DMZ, which was one of the things I was most looking forward to.  The first thing we did was go to Observation Post Dora.  A ROK solider gave us a briefing on the area.  We saw nothing but clouds.  Couldn’t see Propoganda Village or anything.  They did have a model of the area, but I wanted to see the real thing. 

We then went and saw a bizarre video on the DMZ that was pure propoganda.  Our guide said it was made during the last presidency, and it maybe changed soon by the new president.  (Maybe after the whole mad cow fiasco is over.)  We had a few minutes to look through the museum, and then we headed to Tunnel 3.  This is the third tunnel that was discovered.  They are infiltration tunnels dug by the North Koreans.  Tunnel 3 is the one that came closes to Seoul.  When they discovered the American and ROK forces found their tunnel, they painted the walls black and tried to say it was a coal mining tunnel, not an infiltration tunnel. 

You aren’t allowed to take pictures in the tunnel.  I’m not sure why, since the North Koreans already know what it looks like.  You have to wear a hard hat.  It’s a pretty small tunnel.  I am not that tall, about 5’4″, and I had to duck in a few places.  (Our guide told us the average North Korean soldier is/was 5’1″.  They’re smaller because of poor food supplies.)  We have two guys on our trip who are pretty tall, one is 6’5″, and the other is an inch or two shorter than that.  I’m sure it was rough on them.  To get to the tunnel, you have to walk down this long very steep hill.  Then you go into this small damp tunnel and walk aways down until you get to where they’ve blocked it off.  You can see into this little room at the end, and then you just turn around and walk back.  Coming back up the long steep hill at the end of the tunnel is not fun, and I count that as my cross training workout for the day. 

After the tunnel we headed to the Joint Security Area.  You have to wear a badge, and you get a security officer as your guide.  First you get a briefing and watch a short video.  Then they take you on a tour of Camp Bonifas (named after one of the guys who died in the Axe Murder Incident in 1976.)  We saw the most dangerous golf course in the world.  Then they took us to the JSA buildings.  You walk through the building on the southern side of the dividing line and you can go out the back of the building and look across into North Korea.  There are guards who stand there all the time.  There are several blue and beige buildings directly on the dividing line.  The blue buildings belong to the ROK and the beige buildings belong to the North Korean forces.  Whenever there is a tour group, ROK forces have to stand guard for protection.  So we stood at the back of this building (all crowded under the overhang, since it was pouring) and took pictures.  There was one North Korean guard on the front steps of their building, and I believe one looking out of a window with binoculars.  That’s what it looked like at least. 

Then you go into the building where they hold talks.  There were about 24 of us in a group, and we crowded around the table in the middle where talks are held.  I was on the far side of the table, which is in North Korea.  So for about 7-10 minutes today, I stood in North Korea.  There are two ROK guards in this building whenever there is a tour.  All guards at the DMZ are black belts in tae kwon do or judo.  They stand in a modified tae kwon do pose and wear sunglasses.  This is to look intimidating.  They are very intimidating.  If we had tried to walk past either guard they would have grabbed us.  These guards are also the most patient people in the world because everyone took a picture in front of one.  I did bring my Marine Corp Marathon shirt, and I wore it when I took my picture near one of the guards.  So I’m standing in North Korea near an ROK guard in my shirt.  I hope the picture turned out well. 

After leaving North Korea we took a short tour of the rest of Camp Bonifas.  We saw the monument for the Axe Murder Incident, and the Bridge of No Return, which is where people had to choose whether or not they were going to North or South Korea afte the war, and whichever side they chose they could not ever go to the other side. 

The Bridge of No Return was the last stop.  I doubt any of my pictures turned out, since it was still pouring down rain and with wet bus windows it was hard to see anything, let alone take a picture.  We visited the gift shop after that, and then headed back to Seoul, which was about an hour and a half drive. 

Visiting the DMZ was still a great experience, but everyone was really disappointed that we didn’t get to see much. 

Once we got back to the hotel a few of us decided to go to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner.  We took the subway which is very clean.  And very cheap.  A ticket was only 1,000 won, or a buck.  There was no wait at the restaurant, and we got seats right away.  The food was good, the music a little too loud but that’s ok.  I got a cheeseburger and fries (it was so good) and they had a hot fudge brownie sundae so I got that as well.  Dessert is not a big thing in Korea, and that’s one thing everybody misses. 

After dinner we looked around in the shop and then hopped back on the subway to head back to the hotel.  We have an early day tomorrow, we’re leaving at 8:30 for Yonsei University.  Our last two lectures are tomorrow, and then we visit a couple of museums in the afternoon. 

This evening was really fun, we had a good time at dinner.  The DMZ was good too, we all just wish it could have rained on any other day but today.

Living La Vida Loca

Today was a busy day.  We had three lectures in the morning and early afternoon.  So we were off to Yonsei University first thing this morning for a lecture on Korean culture, and then East Asia’s Rise.  After those two (which were both very interesting) we had our lunch break.  We had 4 restaurants to choose from, just like the other day.  Elsa and I were going to go with Kim to the Japanese place.  We needed to stop by the bank too, so we asked Kim for directions.  She said we had to go to one off campus, and it was a little farther away so if we waited for a few minutes she’d get everyone who was eating settled and translated for, and then take us to the bank.  We took a bus to get there which was neat.  It was a green bus, so it was a neighborhood bus and was very small.  Each side only had 1 seat. 

Once we got to the bank, Kim checked all the ATM’s looking for a global one for Elsa.  I had cash and needed to exchange it.  We went upstairs to wait.  You have to take a number at the bank and watch closely for it to pop up on the screen in the front because if you’re not fast enough they’ll move on to the next one.  To exchange money you need to fill in your name, the amount, and passport number on a little form.  Then you put the form,  your money, and your passport in a little basket on the desk.  The teller takes it, counts the money, prints a receipt, and then puts your new money back into the basket. 

I went downstairs to find Elsa and Kim, who were still looking for an ATM.  None of Elsa’s cards worked.  So we had to get her a number and sit down to wait again for a teller.  She was very upset, and our lunch was almost over.  She finally got called up to a teller and changed her money.  We were already late for the lecture and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet.  Kim took us to a Mexican place, and I got a burrito, Elsa got a taco.  We can’t tell anyone though, because I guess we’re really not supposed to go to places like that.  (Well, I guess at least the grad assistants aren’t supposed to take us to places like that.  They can’t stop us if we go on our own.)  It was a delicious burrito and I even ate the onions and what I think were a few jalapenos with no complaint. 

We wound up being 35 minutes late for our third lecture.  I was very sorry we took so long, but that didn’t last long.  The last lecture was on the rise and fall of Daewoo, and it just didn’t interest me.  I heard a lot of people say they had a tough time with it too.  And I didn’t even have to hear all of it, so I was lucky.

After the lecture we went to see ‘Jump,’ which was a martial arts comedy performance.  The actors (?) were all very good and it was a hilarious show.  Two people from our group were chosen to be volunteers and got up on stage.  We couldn’t take pictures in there unfortunately, but that’s understandable.  They’re jumping around and flipping and throwing punches and kicks, so it wouldn’t be good to blind them with a camera flash. 

Then most of us opted to go to a baseball game.  The baseball stadium is right next to the Olympic Stadium which was cool.  We were rooting for the Twins.  The other team was the Wylverins, both of them were Seoul teams.  So the stadium we were in was the home stadium for both teams.  Our team won, and I think they were the underdogs too.  (4-2.) 

I have not been to many baseball games in my life, and never a professional one.  So I don’t really know what is different and what is the same.  I don’t recall ever hearing about cheerleaders or dancers at a baseball game, and there were at this game.  And they danced almost the entire game.  People cheer constantly, the sides are trying to out cheer each other.  When your side is up to bat you really don’t sit down or stop shouting. 

We did have a hilarious moment.  One of the local adult beverage companies sponsored something called the Kiss Cam.  They would put you on the huge tv and you had to kiss.  Well they flashed to two people in our group who of course, are not married and had not ever met until last Thursday.  We all got a kick out of that, but then they flashed back to the game, so they didn’t have to kiss.  A little while later, they put them back on the screen and called them down the little stage they had set up.  A representative from the local adult beverage company brought them an entire case of their adult beverage.  So they handed them out and then sat back down to watch the game.  Awhile later, they flashed them on the screen again with the Kiss Cam back up!  They kissed each other on the cheek and we all got a big laugh out of it. 

But the evening didn’t stop there.  On the bus on the way back Gio started karaoke!  There’s a flat screen tv at the front of the bus.  The first song was Bohemian Rhapsody.  We had a blast with that.  A few more people sang, they did Shout, a couple of guys did a duet of Sweet Caroline, and Elsa ended the night with Living La Vida Loca.  It was awesome. 

Today was really fun, after we got past that last lecture.  Oh!  At the baseball stadium, we had to get dinner.  Elsa and I made a beeline for Burger King.  (As did most of us.)  I cannot tell you the last time I had a Whopper or the last time I even set foot in a Burger King, but it was great tonight. 

Tomorrow we’re going to the DMZ.  No shorts, sandals, or torn looking clothing.  We have a briefing in the morning, then lunch, and then we head out there.  I think tomorrow is an early night, it looks like after the DMZ we head straight back to the hotel, and should be here around 6pm.  So hopefully tomorrow I can get out and explore or shop in some new places.  There are still lots of people I want to hang out with, and there’s still a ton of stuff to do, and now only about a week to do it in.