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.

Goyang Foreign Language High School

We went this morning to visit Goyang Foreign Language High School, which is a very good school.  It’s for students majoring in English, Japanese, Chinese, or Spanish.  High schools here are grades 10-12, though they call them 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year.  You have to take a test to get into the school.  We saw a musical perfomance by some of the students, and then had lunch.  The students took us on a tour of the campus which is very pretty and we had the chance to ask them questions. 

Their school day is from 7am to 11pm.  They take 8-10 classes a day.  There is really  no electives, they do some gym in 1st year and art in 2nd year but that’s it.  They have a lot of study hall time.  I’m sure it’s very stressful.  They can only take the Korean version of the SAT once.  They also go to school from 8am-noon every other Saturday.  We left the high school at 2pm, and I couldn’t believe that those kids still had 9 hours of school left. 

They are not allowed to date, or dye their hair.  They wear uniforms, most girls wear skirts although they do have the option to wear pants.  They are really attentive in class, though they goof off in the halls and on the grounds like regular kids.  Most of them speak great English.  A lot of them have lived abroad, many of them in the US for awhile.  One student (I didn’t get to talk to him though) is getting ready to move to Fairfax.  His friend told me he was nervous about it, but the student who is actually moving had gone somewhere else so I never got to chat. 

Students have two  semesters, and the school year begins in March.  They do have sometime off during the summer between semeters, and they have January and February off.  They were shocked at some of the things we told them about American students.  They also could not believe how short the school day is. 

They do have clubs, there are at least 30 at Goyang.  The Saturdays they come to school they go to their clubs.  It seems very stressful and hard on the kids, and we’ve been told several times that the suicide rate among students in Korea is very high. 

Most of them were very nice and talkative and answered all of our questions.  We played a quiz game before we left, we had 10 minutes to ask the students about the Korean education system and then the teachers who were hosting today asked our groups question and we had to answer without help from our students.  My group did not win, but we only missed two questions.

After Goyang, we went to the Korea House which is a cultural center.  We could either take part in a traditional tea ceremony or learn traditional drumming.  Only about 15 women got to do the tea ceremony because they only had a limited number of hanboks, the traditional Korean dress.  I got to do the tea ceremony, so I got to dress up in a hanbok.  Several guys took part too, and they got to wear either light yellow or peach traditional dress. 

Before you can even begin the tea ceremony you have to bow.  A lot.  The bigger your family, the  more you bow.  It’s very difficult and uncomfortable the way you lower yourself and the way you get up.  Lukily we only had to practice it a few times before beginning the ceremony.

About 5 people actually got to make the tea.  Then they served 5 people.  It’s a very elaborate and specific ceremony, you have to hold things a certain way, place them in certain spots, and the spout of the tea pot has to face a certain direction.  You have to pour the water precisely, swirl the cups a in a clockwise direction, it’s very complicated.  It also takes a long time to get just 3 sips of tea.  After you make and serve the tea the first time, then you do it again.  And you can repeat it over and over.  Everyone was kind of glad when it was over, because we were all very uncomfortable on the floor trying to sit the proper way. 

Tonight was our first night with optional excursions.  We could go to th Myeon Dong shopping district, or to N Seoul Tower.  I went to the tower because I thought it would be neat to see the city from up there.  The tower is on a mountain, so it was a good walk up to it and just being up on the mountain gives you a good view.  We had an hour to get dinner before we had to meet to get our tickets.  We went to an Italian bistro (I think everyone was craving something familiar.)  It didn’t turn out to be all that familiar.  I ordered chicken alfredo.  It came in a very thing sauce with onions, and red and green peppers.  It was very very spicy.  But at least I got to eat with a fork. 

We went up into the tower after dinner and it was a great view.  Seoul is just huge and spreads out in every direction.  It was a little hazy, but you could still see enough.  On each window around the observatory they have names of different cities and how far away they are. 

On the floor below the top observation deck are the bathrooms.  It’s important to visit the bathroom.  In the women’s bathroom the sinks are by the windows and you can look out at the city.  In the men’s bathroom the urinals are right in front of the windows.  I know this because the guys told us, but also because they snuck a couple of us in there far enough to peek around the corner.  Those bathrooms probably have the best view in the world. 

After we got back to the hotel, Elsa and I went to Baskin Robbins to get ice cream.  I decided not to get anything, and I sat down to wait for her.  We were sitting there talking when I glanced out the window and all of a sudden there was a huge mass of people walking down the street singing and chanting.  We got up to check it out.  It was tonight’s protest but we could tell right away it was peaceful, not tense like last night.  People were walking and holding candles.  I’m not sure where they were going, we asked a photographer, but he didn’t speak much English.  He did say they were making a big circle though.  I asked what they were chanting, he said they were saying Myung Bak (I may have spelled that incorrectly) out.  (He’s the current president.)  I heard them chanting his name, I just didn’t know what they were saying about him.

This was a huge crowd.  We could not see any beginning or end.  They just kept walking down the street, blocking traffic.  I didn’t see any police, I’m not sure if they were in a differen area or what, but this huge crowd just kept moving.  We were out there for at least a half an hour and the crowd never ended or even thinned out. 

These protests are very interesting, but I think I may skip it tomorrow night to check out some of the other places in Seoul. 

Tomorrow we have three lectures, and are going to see a martial arts production.  Then we have the option of going to the Cheon-gye cheon stream (which we have already seen) or a baseball game.  I think a lot of people are opting to go to the baseball game.  I’m curious to see how it’s different than American baseball games.  I especially want to see what kinds of food they sell.  We’ve been told that if they go into overtime we could be in for a long night, so I hope that doesn’t happen.  But baseball is very big in Korea, so it should be interesting.

No Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House) for us!

We started off this morning with the option to go to a cathedral or the Buddhist temple.  (Actually I started off the morning with a mile and a half run through the park near our hotel.  I ran with a guy from Florida.)  Anyway, then we could go to either one of those.  (Or sleep in if you were so inclined.)  I went back to the temple, thinking it would be less crowded and I could get some more pictures.  There was a 10 o’clock service, and it was packed.  So I didn’t even go back into the temple, but I did wander around the grounds and went back to the giftshop where I bought a few more things.  (It all supports the temple.)

We went to Bennigan’s for lunch, and then had a little free time in that area before we left for Cheong Wa Dae, the Blue House, which is basically our White House.  The plan when we left Bennigan’s was to go up a block or so and get some pictures of the riot buses.  We never made it, because they had all this cool stuff outside.  The Cheon-gye-cheon Stream, which is a big recreational area, runs right in front of Bennigan’s.  So we checked that out, and then there was something going on, there was a band warming up and several tents.  So we went to see what they were.  One was face/arm painting (I got a dragonfly), one was to write letters to anyone in Korea and they would deliver them for you, and one was to make a little cell phone charm.  So we did all that.  Well, we couldn’t write the letters because they wouldn’t be delivered, it was only within Korea, but we did get a postcard.  And they had this awesome booth where you could take your picture and e-mail it to someone!  There were also a couple more screens with pictures and things you could just go up to and touch and drag around the screen.   It was neat.

 After that we had to get back on the bus to go to the Blue House.  Then they told us that we couldn’t go there today because there was a blockade and no one could go in.  So they took us to the Seoul World Cup Stadium.  It was a pretty neat museum, they had some cool exhibits.  You could play virtual soccer or be a virtual goalie.  But since I don’t really care for soccer the museum was only so interesting.  Oh, but we did have our pictures taken and they would impose your head onto a person on a soccer team.  Mine is particularly goofy I think.

After the stadium we went to Changdeok Palace which was awesome.  It was the second palace for one of the kings in the Joeson/Cho sun dynasty I think.  It’s very pretty.  There are a couple of ponds and lots of trees (in certain parts.)  There are a ton of different buildings.  A stone wall surrounds it.  Our group is already pretty large, 48 people, and we had a ton of other people in our tour group.  So you couldn’t really hear what was going on, and they moved to fast to take any really good pictures, so a lot of us hung back a little to take pictures with as few people in them as possible.  Then I broke the rules a little.  We found the bathroom (the old bathroom in the palace, not just a random bathroom) that did not have a sign in it.  I’m sure you probably weren’t supposed to go in there, but I did and got my picture taken.  It’s just a square hole in the floor.  But I jumped (actually was boosted) in there, about 4 people snapped a picture, and then I jumped out really quickly before anyone else came.  It was fun.

I would have liked to have had more time to just sit at the palace.  (Not in the bathroom, by one of the ponds maybe) but after our tour we headed to dinner in the Insadong district.  It’s a huge shopping area. 

Meals here are huge.  I would think the tables would be bigger because by the time they’re done bringing you food, there is no room whatsoever.  There are always lots of side dishes that you share, then you get soups, rice, noodles, meat dishes, and who knows what else.  The food this evening was pretty good, I tried a few more things.  I can’t tell you what they are, but I took pictures of them.

After dinner we got to shop.  It’s a lot of cheap touristy stuff, but you can find some neat things.  This area is more high class than the market near our hotel, so you don’t really bargain in Insadong, but sometimes the shopkeepers will a little bit.  Casey and I were at a counter in one store, she was looking at necklaces and I walked up to look at some jade rings.  I thought the price tag said 15,000 won but wasn’t sure, so I only wanted to ask how much.  I didn’t even say anything and the shopkeeper just turned to me and said “For you, 10,000.”  So I bought them.  I probably would have bought them at 15,000.  I couldn’t go crazy at Insadong though, because I only changed $50 this morning at the hotel, and the rate was horrible.  I spent quite a bit at the temple this morning, and then spent the last bit I had at Insadong.  That’s probably good though, because we still have a long way to go and lots of places to visit.  But I think the plan right now is to go back to Insadong on our last full day here when we have the morning free.  There’s just too much to look at, I don’t think we made it 3 blocks.  There are so many shops, there are tons of stands on the street, and then there are a million side streets off the main stretch.

We could have taken the bus back but several of us decided to walk.  We started with 5, me, Brent, Elsa, Kristin, and our fearless leader Tom.  Then Carol and Jennifer joined us.  I think only Tom knew where he was or where we were going, but that’s why he’s our fearless leader.  We wanted to walk because we wanted to see what was going on.  There are protests every night.  Last night several people went out and reported that they began to get violent.  One of our guys, I think it was Jeff, almost got water cannoned.  I’m sure he got it on video.  I did see the news in the restaurant during dinner, they showed a demonstration in front of the Blue House that was pretty violent, which is why we couldn’t go.  So of course we went to check things out.  The protest the other night was very peaceful, but Tom saw on the news that it got a little violent much later.  They moved the protest to a different street, very near Insadong, it was closer to our hotel.  (Still several blocks down the road, but compared to Insadong it was much closer.)  This protest was very tense, especially compared to the other night.  The people were chanting and yelling very angrily.  Riot buses are everywhere, parked bumper to bumper.  I know there has to be close to 200, if not more.  (Many of them have been torn up, windows busted out, the grates over the windows pulled off, graffiti everywhere, bumpers torn off, all sorts of stuff.)  We watched for awhile, but they began to move more cops in, and it was very early.  (Only about 8:30.)  Then the cops began to push the people, and the yelling escalated, so we moved out of the area.  We stopped to look back and this older Korean guy asked if we were Americans.  Tom told him yes, and he was pretty angry.  He told us to get out of there.  We haven’t gotten that from anyone else, just him.  I didn’t feel like anyone at the protest was angry at me for being an American, but this guy was.  A couple of people were nervous, so Tom led us back to the hotel.  This was pretty difficult, since there were buses everywhere blocking the streets.  We had to criss cross a couple of streets to get around them and back on the main road.  I don’t know if they expected the protesters to move or what, but it was set up very different tonight.  There were many more cops I think, than the other night, and the crowd was very angry.  There were news crews out, but they were in the area where the protests have been the past couple of nights, not near Insadong.  So we don’t know if the crowds are going to move there and the news crews are expecting it or what.  We didn’t stay long and didn’t see too much action, but it was still very interesting.  We met a few people who were headed out to the protest on the way back to the hotel.  We told them to be careful.  I’m sure they’ll have interesting stories tomorrow. 

And that’s it for today.  Tomorrow we are going to the Foreign Language High School to met with some students.  We’re also going to the Korea House, where we’ll take part in a traditional tea ceremony, or a traditional drumming lesson.  And tomorrow night is our first really free evening where we have options.  We can go to a big shopping area or to the N Seoul Tower, which I think is like the Stratosphere.  If it’s not raining I plan to go on that trip.  It’s supposed to have a good view of the city.  Maybe we’ll be able to see the protests from up there!

Day 2

We had two lectures today at Yonsei University.  One on Korean history (a very brief introduction to Korean History,) and one on Korean economics.  I did have to resort to eating my packet of goldfish during these lectures because I was sleepy.  One of our lectureres, Young Ick-Lew is the prominent Korean historian.  The other one is married to a former Ms. Korea. 

When we broke for lunch we were given several options, and each assistant went to one restaurant and you just went with whoever you wanted.  (For meals like this they gave us a food allowance, about 120,000 won, which equals about $120.)  I went to the Chinese place with Elsa and Jennifer and several others.  It was a fancy restaurant and pretty pricey, but we all ordered from the a la carte section so it was much cheaper.  My shrimp fried rice cost 7,000 won.  (As compared to the other things on the menu that ran from 25,000 to 50,000 won.)  After attacking my rice with my chopsticks for about ten minutes, Gio tells us that in Korea you eat the rice with a spoon because it’s not as sticky as rice in Japan or China.   I ended up finishing the rice with my chopsticks just for the practice.  It was a good thing too, we had noodles at one point for dinner and they’re really hard to eat with chopsticks.  A lot of slurping is also involved. 

After lunch and our second lecture on economics, we took the bus to the Korean Music History Museum.  Traffic in Seoul is very scary.  Intersection are huge and confusing.  Traffic is backed up quite often and people do not stay in their lanes for anything.  There have been times when I didn’t think you could slide a piece of paper between our bus and the car next to us.  Once we got to the museum we looked in the very tiny gift shop, but I didn’t buy anything there, I didn’t think I needed any musical instruments.  The museum itself is very small, but the instruments are really pretty.  We only had about 20 minutes to look around before we went to a concert where they played some traditional Korean music. 

I’m pretty sure they played 7 songs.  The last one involved a lot of drums and gongs, it sounded awesome.  Some of the others I think sounded ok, but I can’t tell you for sure because I dozed off.  I am not the only one, many other people dozed off, including one of the assistants.  (But that is why I passed up the protest, visit to the market, and probably a karaoke bar so that I can get plenty of sleep and be ready to go tomorrow.) 

After the concert we headed to dinner which was at a place very close to our hotel.  I can’t remember the name of the meal, but it involved putting lots of vegetables in a large dish of boiling something or other, adding beef (American I wonder?) and cooking the beef then dishing it out.  After you eat the dish with the beef and vegetables, the waitresses come back around and add noodles to the boiling something or other, and then dish that out to you.  I ate the beef, I wasn’t very impressed with all the vegetables, and I really liked the noodles.  But they are hard to eat with chopsticks.  And you’re supposed to slurp them up.  I was told I wasn’t making enough slurping noises.  I guess I’ll have to work on that.  Meals have lots of side dishes, always a soup or two (I tried the pumpkin soup but didn’t really care for it,) kimchi (the spicy cabbage,) and who knows what else  There was really no room left on the table at all.  For dessert we were given a small dish with cranberry juice (or something like it) with two peanuts in it.  It was delicious. 

Elsa and I headed back to the hotel after dinner so I could check on my room key.  Luckily the guy from last night was here again, so I didn’t have to re-tell my story.  He came up to the room to check on the key and they didn’t work. So he let me in and apparently talked to the right person downstairs and they figured out how to fix it.  They just got it working a few minutes ago.

I think I mentioned all the buttons and whatnot in the room.  You have to put your key in a slot by the door to make everything work.  So that means when you leave and take your key, everything shuts off.  Lights, tv, clock, and the AC.  So it’s usually pretty warm when you get back to your room, but it doesn’t take too long to cool the room down.  There is also a motion sensor light that comes on as soon as you open the door, and I just found out when they guy came back to fix the door that these rooms have doorbells. 

I’m going to get up and try to run tomorrow morning before we go back to the temple.  Then we are eating lunch at Bennigan’s and then heading to The Blue House (which is the Korean version of the White House) and to Changdeok (I may have spelled that wrong) Palace.  In the evening we’re going to Insadong, which is a market where you can buy traditional Korean items.  Dinner I belive is on our own, so it will be interesting to see where we wind up. 

One of the professors did mention yesterday that if there are protests near Insadong, we may not get to visit there.  The assistants will have to make a decision when we get there tomorrow.  The protests the past 3 nights have been later, after dark, so I hope we get to go to Insadong because I really want to see what kinds of things they have there. 

Alright, off to bed to catch up on sleep.  One day I’ll remember how to post pictures on this thing!

3 am

I think I’m going to have to break today down into two posts.  We did a lot.

After going to bed at 11:30pm, I did manage to make it up at 3am for the Buddhist service.  We were told it was a 30 minute walk from the hotel.  We were not told it was a 30 minute powerwalk from the hotel.  So I got my cross training workout in today at least. 

The temple is very pretty and very ornate.  There are tons of things hanging from the ceiling and covering the walls.  Three huge gold Buddhas are in the center of the temple.  The doors are huge.  Only the monks enter from the center door, everyone else has to go through the side doors.  You have to take your shoes off, so you need to have socks.  Everyone went in and got mats and found a place on the floor.  Some people followed along with the bowing.  I sat in the back agains the wall with a few other people and just watched.  Before the service starts, people come in and bow 3 times to the Buddhas, then 3 times to the right and left, then one more half bow to the Buddhas.  Then they can start praying and doing their bows.  They need to do 108.  They have prayer beads they use to keep track of how many bows they have done.  (You can tell who was late because they’re the ones bowing as fast as they can towards the end.) 

Anyway, then a monk came in and started chanting and banging a gong.  (Of course, the song “Bang a Gong” immediately popped up in my head.)  He did that for awhile and then a couple more monks came into the center of the temple and conducted the service.  People move around a lot during the service, and come in late or leave early.  (We were told this was because people had to go to work, go home and fix breakfast, etc.)  And when people arrive there is not socializing, they come right in and get their mats fixed and start praying. 

People bring lots of different thing with them.  You get the mats at the temple, but some people brought various types of prayer beads, religious texts, prayer mats, and other similar things.  We didn’t stay for the entire service because we needed to get back to the hotel to eat breakfast (and I was hoping to sleep a little more.)  The assistant who took us, her name is Cedar Bough, gave us some time to take pictures in the courtyard and visit the giftshop.  The giftshop had lots of neat items, I bought prayer beads, a prayer mat (I think anyway), and some bracelets. 

I thought that since I went to this service today, I would go to the cathedral tomorrow, but I think I’m going to go back to the temple.  I want to take pictures without a lot of people in them, and go back to the giftshop.  I wasn’t expecting to buy anything this morning, so I only put a 30,000 won in my pocket just in case.  That was good though, I spent it all. 

We made it back to the hotel around 6:30 am (an hour after we thought we would return) and headed straight to breakfast.  After that I headed downstairs to get someone to let me into my room (key still doesn’t work.  In fact they’re out there working on it right now.)  I thought I would sleep for about an hour, but I couldn’t fall asleep, so I got up, answered e-mails, and dumped pictures from my memory card to my laptop.  So I was very tired today. 

Seoul is very busy all the time, even at 3:30 am.  There were still a lot of cars on the main roads, and many people out walking.  Some protesters were still out when we walked by, and the street was still blocked off.  On the way back to the hotel after the service, around 6:15, they had unblocked the street but there were still about 12 people sitting in the road (they had moved off to one side but were still taking up half of the street.)  Cedar Bough told us they were waiting to get arrested.  Cars, buses, and scooters were swerving around them.

Our fearless leader Tom (who got us to and from the protest) said that he caught the news this morning.  He’s of course not sure what was said, but they showed the protest and it got a little violent later.  People were throwing things at the cops and pushing them.  Luckily this was after we left.  There is another protest tonight, but I won’t make it. 

Another assistant, Gio, said that these protests are unique because there is no Anti-American sentiment.  (This was good for us.)  He said in past protests there were, but not this time.  Someone (though I can’t remember if it was Gio or not) said that the protests are not necessarily just about the tainted beef, but really more about opposition to the president. 

 Oh, and yes, the protests are about tainted American beef.  The South Koreans don’t want to import American beef for fear of mad cow disease.  The protest tonight is supposed to be even bigger than the one last night, but I won’t make it.  I’m not sure anyone else is either, we’re all pretty much wiped out after today, especially those of us that went to the temple this morning. 

 They fixed my key!  I don’t need someone to escort me to my room now!