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3 posts categorized "Travel"

12/15/2010

Randomness Around Seoul and A Trip to Seoul Zoo

Next up, a summary of my random wanderings around Seoul. As some of you may have noticed, I tend to travel around Seoul a lot on foot just because I'm bored and I think it's the best way to see the city (how much of the city can you see when you're stuck in a subway?). Seoul has a lot of random sites to see, but one of the most interesting places I think people should visit is Bukchon. Bukchon is a hanok styled area within downtown Seoul where there are several traditional styled Korean houses. If that isn't enough for you, how about the fact that one of these houses was used in the recent drama Personal Preference? Of course, the giant sign with Hanja/Chinese characters on it isn't there in real life, but the front of the house is.

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But what of the special things in Seoul to see? Well, there's one sight that won't be here when the next batch of CIEE study abroad students come to Seoul, and that's the box that's been replacing the admiral's statue in Gwanghwamun. Admiral Yi's statue was taken down in November for cleaning, and in it's place, a "changing room" was installed. By popular vote, the Seoul city government decided to keep it there instead of replacing it with a photo of the statue while the real one was being repaired. The statue will be back in its original place by the end of December.

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Keep in mind that at this time, the weather was still relatively cool but still pleasant. It was nothing like the frigid weather we're having right now. Before the cold weather set in, I also made a trip to the Seoul zoo over in Seoul Grand Park at the southern end of Seoul.

There were various animals at the zoo, some that you might have expected to see and some that you might not. The usual animals, such as lions, tigers, wolves, rhinos, elephants, were all there. There were also various marine life, insects, and birds. However, the most surprising thing I saw was a skunk on display, especially since back home, skunks tend to be pests that sprayed my dog at least once a month.

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That last picture is just one of the many scenes that could been seen around Seoul Zoo. The zoo is built into the side of a mountain and has so many areas with nice sceneries. I think I went at the right time since the winter was about to set in but a lot of the trees still had the red leaves hanging on.

The fun part about that day was on my way back, I met one of the 떼 members on the subway. It was interesting since we were about an hour's ride away from Sinchon, and yet we somehow found each other on the subway. Actually, I saw him on the subway as it pulled into the station but I wasn't sure if it was him. I had to call a few of my friends to get his number, and then I called him to make sure I wasn't going to make a fool of myself on the subway. Turned out it WAS him, so I sat talking to him for most of the trip back to Sinchon.

The next post will be about the Thanksgiving dinner that CIEE put together for us. I have several videos from that day, so I will attempt to upload them onto Youtube before posting the next blog entry. Please stay tuned!

11/17/2010

First Half of November, Yet Another HUGE Post!

It's been a while since I last blogged. It's mostly because during the last two weeks, I've basically dedicated my entire free time to a club called 떼 (pronounced "tte"), but I'll go into that later. Since I last blogged, a lot of other stuff happened as well. Starting off, events related to the G20 Seoul Summit.

As some of you in tune with politics may know, Seoul was selected as the sight of the G20 Summit (which was held just last week). Along with all the heads of state and the increased police presence in the Seoul area, there were several special events planned for people in Seoul.The most interesting one for students studying abroad might be the annual Asia Song Festival held in Seoul (named the G20 Concert this year). Performing artists included BoA, Rain, Kara, 2AM, Beast, 4Minute, Nine Muses, Teen Top, Rainbow, Lee Seung Chul, E.via, Bie the Star (from Thailand), Jane Zhang (from China), Joe Cheng (from Taiwan), AKB48 (from Japan), and Michael Wong (from Malaysia). The energy at Jamsil Olympic Stadium that night was just amazing! So many international stars brought to one location; of course this was going to be a concert to remember! To make it even better, the entire concert was free for foreigners. A donation of 1000 won (less than $1) nets you a Let's Go music single CD, a G20 branded blanket, and a glow-stick. Not bad considering the CD itself was sold later on in stores for over an equivalent of $5. All the lighting, music, fireworks, and crowd spirit made this a memorable night. Imagine when each artist came up to sing, and everyone in the stadium were waving glow-sticks to the music!

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The following is just the music video for the theme song for the concert, entitled "Let's Go."

 

Towards the end of October and the beginning of November, Yonsei University's image changes dramatically as the seasons change. Walking through a majority of Yonsei University is basically like walking on a nature hike. Yonsei University has so many trees lining almost every road, with even a park set in the middle of the school.

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Here's another image of a spot in Yonsei University a few weeks later, when the different shades of autumn have begun to set in.

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Every semester, CIEE joins together with one of the clubs on campus in order to hold a Habitats for Humanity event together, where CIEE students go with Yonsei students to the countryside and help build houses. This time around, we went to a building site in Daejeon (대전). The first night was basically a bonding night where we huddled around a campfire with the Yonsei students, talking about random things and getting to know each other. The most interesting person that night was a Yonsei student whom some of his friends called "the drunken one" or the "firefighter" (or "fire maniac") because he loves to drink and was also playing with the bonfire a lot. The night ended with the telling of scary stories. We noticed that only CIEE students were left by 3 in the morning since all the other students had gone to sleep. Haha, so our stamina for staying up at night outlasts theirs!

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That night was freezing, and to make it worse, the house we stayed out ran out of blankets. Because I was out with the other CIEE students listening to stories, some of us had to sleep with just our jackets to keep us warm. The morning wasn't any better, since it was essentially freezing. Once we got to the work site, we were given breakfast and then put off to work. Our job was to cut boards to cover the insulation, plaster over nails and holes, and install the frames lining the walls. Although it was a bit boring, having other people doing the same job you were doing helped a lot. When I talked to some of the Yonsei students afterwards, I found out that some of them had slacked off and gone to a secret resting place to nap. No wonder some of them were never found around the house at times. Anyways, the amusing part was when we were supposed to leave. The supervisor refused to let us leave until we finished the day's work, but after going through the house for 10 minutes, we reported that they hadn't bought enough materials for us to continue building anyways. Needless to say, he finally let us head back to Yonsei University (which was a couple hours' drive away).

Of course, I don't think Yonsei students were the only ones messing around...

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Here's an interesting way of working around the building site.

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Here's the only group picture of that day. The person that took this picture also had to take pictures using other cameras as well, so he just kept tossing them into the brush behind them when he was done in order to free his hand for another camera. I got lucky since my camera was the last one he used, so he didn't toss mine into the brush.

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As I had mentioned before, the last two weeks were extremely busy for me (and 5 other CIEE students) since we had joined a club called 떼 that performs a Korean traditional dance and instrument set called pungmul (풍물, I hope I got that right). Normally, practices are two hours long on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but for the two weeks before the performance (last Saturday), we had 3 hours of practices daily and at least 4 hours on weekends. All this led up to us knowing nothing about the four instruments (kkwaenggwari, jangu, buk, and sogo) to us knowing how to play each somewhat well. Although it was tough work, I think it was worth it in the end. Our performance went off well and we got to make tons of Korean friends within the club too.

Here's essentially what we had to do, without the singing. The following video is of the seniors performing their dance, which is very similar to what the rest of us had to do. The overall performance consisted of the seniors' act, a long skit, and individual performances from each of the four different instruments. I was playing 소고 (sogo), so I had to perform in the last two acts consecutively (SO TIRING!!!).

 

Here's a group picture that Tte took right after the conclusion of our performance, after we had changed out of our costumes.

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Here's a few of us with the Korean students partially dressed up in our performance costumes.

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Try to spot the 6 CIEE students in this picture.

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Here are links to the videos taken by the Tte club during our performance:

Part 1: https://tvpot.daum.net/v/28350653?lu=flvPlayer_in

Part 2: https://tvpot.daum.net/v/28351024?lu=flvPlayer_in

Part 3: https://tvpot.daum.net/v/28376354?lu=flvPlayer_in

I did, however, take one day off from practice in order to go to a football (soccer) game in Suwon. Thanks to CIEE's cultural reimbursement program, CIEE was able to cover the cost of the football game ticket for me. Suwon's about an hour outside of Seoul by subway, but I had been planning on attending this game with my friend for a while already. The game itself was fun, but sort of disappointing since the Suwon Blue Wings lost with a final score of 1 to 5.

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The day after our Tte performance, I decided to climb the tallest peak at 북한산 (Mt. Bukhan). It a chilly day, but I figured I should do it soon since I was worried snow would soon start falling in Seoul. Seoul is surrounded by mountains in the four cardinal directions, and I've already climbed three of the four mountains (South, East, and West). Bukhansan (the northern mountain) was all that was left to climb. It took over 2 hours of nature trails and climbing along steel cables to get to the top of the tallest peak (about 836 meters above sea level). The view at the top was spectacular! You could even see as far as Incheon and the ocean. Another peak blocked most of Seoul, but I could still make out Seoul Tower on 남산 (Namsan or the southern mountain). A rescue helicopter was also performing periodic drills around the mountain too by the time I got to the peak.

This is the row of people climbing up the final several meters to reach the tallest peak.

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From the top, hikers had a great view of part of the Seoul metropolitan area as well as seeing as far as Incheon and the ocean (which you can see at the horizon in this picture).

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At that point, I was a little bored so I decided to text two people from the top of the peak: the CIEE assistant director and my language exchange partner. Getting those texts sent out was difficult since there wasn't much cell phone signal at the top of the peak. Heading down, I decided to be lazy and chose a shorter path to an information center (which happened to be on the other side of the mountain range). I thought that walking 1.8 km was better than walking 3.8 km back the way I came. Bad mistake. It turns out the information center was in the middle of the mountain range and I had to run for about twenty minutes down a paved road that started at the center in order to get to a bus stop. I found out later that I had essentially crossed the entire mountain range on foot from west (북한산성입구) to east (우이동), which according to Google Earth was at least 5 miles of mountain roads. My tip to future hikers, NEVER take the shortest way out if you don't know where it goes. I was walking lost for another 2 hours down the mountain, hoping to find some sort of bus stop. Of course, I've realized that if you really want to have fun in South Korea, you have to get yourself lost. Your explorations while you're lost may turn out to be the best experience you've had. I've gotten myself lost so many times before in Seoul that it's let me be able to navigate the roads of Seoul even without a map or GPS.

After heading back into the city, I decided to visit the Seoul Lanturn Festival. This was another event designed for the G20 Seoul Summit and was being held at 청겨천 (Cheonggye River) by City Hall. It consisted of several lanturns built domestically as well as internationally, placed along the river running through the heart of Seoul. I had chosen a bad day to go though, since it was supposedly the last day of the event (before they announced the week extension on the day after). So many people were lined up to walk down to the riverside that I had to wait 20 minutes. The weather was at about 0 degrees Celsius (freezing point) and I only had on a thin jacket because of my afternoon mountain hike. I was basically freezing the entire night. The lanturns themselves were well designed, especially some of the G20 themed ones near the beginning of the river and also the pungmul performer lanturns near the middle (especially since we had just finished our pungmul performance). However, by the end of the hour walk along the river, I literally could not control my hands because they were so cold, so pictures I took then ended up shaky.

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The fun part about being in Korea is all the random activities that we can do as well. Remember the video of my Korean class? Well, we invited our teacher to go to 노래방 (noraebang/karaoke) and dinner and she accepted. I couldn't go to noraebang because I had a group meeting to go to, but dinner was interesting. We ate at an all-you-can-eat meat place that was really cheap considering the amount of meat we got. Just look at the meat we have cooking (well, I think we finished most of it by the time this picture was taken)!

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To wrap it up, I think I'll leave everyone with a teaser about what the next post will be (as long as Courtney doesn't beat me to it): Drama Cafe! CIEE took two groups of students to a drama cafe for a photoshoot, where we got to wear costumes from various historical dramas. I was part of the second group, and we had only gotten back a few hours ago. However, drama cafe deserves its own post since there are a ton of pictures to post for that, so I'll try to blog on it later. Stay tuned everyone!

10/26/2010

Korea in a Nutshell...a very BIG nutshell

My apologies that it's the middle of the semester and I've only started blogging. So much has happened recently, including the end of midterms (which coincidentally, is today). I guess I should begin near the start of the semester. This is my first trip to South Korea and my first impression of the country was pretty much "wow, I think I'm going to get lost." Now, keep in mind that I had come to Korea in June for an independent summer program, so I've been here for over four months. You pretty much get used to everything in Seoul after that amount of time: Korean food, the transportation system, the people, shopping, motorcycles driving on the sidewalks (yes, the key here is to dodge and not stand staring at the motorcycle).

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The scene I stumbled upon when I first got to South Korea. My first impression turned out to be the South Korea vs. Greece game during the World Cup. People filled the entire plaza in front of City Hall to watch the first Korean game of the World Cup, even though it was raining. I had no experience whatsoever in this kind of gathering or even in Korean sports culture, but I was cheering with them nonetheless. I got sick because of the rain, but it was worth it. Unfortunately, i was out of South Korea for the other games, and it was raining again during the final World Cup game South Korea played. My friends didn't want to go, so I ended up watching the game with them at a chicken & beer place.

Once CIEE orientation started in August, it was just a whirlwind of activities, one right after another. We pretty much had meetings and trips scheduled every day from the moment we (or rather, everyone else, since I was already here) landed at Incheon International Airport. Now this included a few group lunches/dinners (which are personally one of the best part of the program since you get to eat as much as you want and CIEE covers it), Seoul city tours, B-Boy performances, a citywide scavenger hunt, a DMZ trip, and an excursion to southern regions of South Korea (Jeonju and Namwon areas, for those of you familiar with Korea). Of course, I think the absolute best part of the program is that we were taken overseas to Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara in Japan as part of an excursion to study Korean diaspora...and of course, do some personal exploring! Now that I've whetted your appetite, I'll probably leave individual posts about some of these events in the near future.

For now, I just want to say that midterm week can be either one of the best or one of the worst weeks you can have at Yonsei University. If you've been studying as the class progresses in the semester, midterms week can be a breeze since classes are canceled and you can half study, half party. Now if you've been slacking off, well, you can either stay in your room and cram (which usually results in an okay to great score) or you can continue to slack off and go party (which some people prefer since it's fun and it's Korea). The best way is probably just to balance the two. During midterms week, I took advantage of the cultural reimbursement program CIEE has and went out to about five different performances during the weekends.

First up, Battle B-Boy by Hongik University (about a 20 minute walk from Yonsei's main gate or a 10 minute bus ride and walk if you know where you're going). I think this is one of the top three performances that I've seen in Seoul thus far. Essentially, if you're into breakdancing or anything of the sort, definitely go see the show. It's normally expensive (40,000 won), but I'm pretty sure you can get it subsidized down. CIEE also took us during orientation, but I went again during Korea in Motion. That's the thing, there's so many different festivals and events in Seoul that it's good to be on the lookout. Korea in Motion actually made the prices for almost all shows in Seoul $10 on specific days. Korea in Motion is held once every year, so watch out for it.

I went to Battle B-Boy during the weekend preceding midterms week, so it was a little bit of stress relief for me. As always, I loved their performance. They put out so much energy and show so much creativity that it makes you appreciate the effort they put in. Here's a video that I took at the performance. The great part about the B-Boy show is that they don't mind if you take pictures or videos, in fact, they encourage you too!

 

The following weekend (since our midterms week started Wednesday of one week and ended Tuesday of the next week, this is essentially the midterms weekend), I went to three different shows. I think some of my friends thought I was crazy to spend so much time watching shows instead of studying, but I figured that I had deserved the break after all the work I put in this last semester.

Drawing Show <Hero> exhibits four artists' abilities to make pieces of artwork on the spot using various mediums. From what I can remember, these were the artworks that they made when I was there: a image of Michael Jackson made out of smeared glue on four individual canvas (drawn by artists rotating between canvases) pieced together, a rubiks cube mosaic forming a person's face and a Superman logo on the back (using normal 3x3x3 rubiks cubes), a glue/flour image of a person on a mirror, a portrait of a random audience member done blindfolded, glow-in-the-dark artwork, sand art, and a giant traditional-looking art consisting of bamboo shoots and a tiger done with ink. Although it moved a little slow for me, I understand that you can't really make artists draw any faster than they were drawing. I had to leave early to attend my second show: Drum Cat Concert.

Drum Cat Concert prided themselves on being an all-female percussion group. Although they displayed exemplary skill, the performance itself felt like another drumming concert with no other unique point to it other than an all-female cast. Of course, for $10, it was still worth it to go see it, but I wouldn't have spent the normal 40,000 won to watch the show.

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The after show signing for the Drum Cat Concert. I didn't buy any of the pamphlets or DVDs that others bought for the girls to sign, but I saw plenty of other people buying them.

The following day, I went to watch Fanta-Stick. Technically, this would be my third time watching it because I love the show so much. The first time was as a CIEE special event early in the semester, the second time was a slightly modified show for the Hi Seoul Festival at the end of September. For all those going to Seoul, this would definitely be one of the shows (if not THE show) to watch. The basic storyline is that the gods of heaven gave man a heavenly drum and a woman a heavenly flute. The woman destroys the drum when it begins taking over the man, but is punished to wander the earth as a ghost until the string-family that she belongs to creates "perfect music." The show goes into the conflict between the string family and the percussion family and how two people from each family reconcile their differences (sort of like Romeo and Juliet, in a way). The enjoyable aspect of the performance were the various instruments (string and percussion, as expected from the storyline) and also the other b-boy-like moves.

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Again, no pictures were allowed at the performance, so I guess this is the only picture I got from the event. I managed to sneak in a video, but I haven't uploaded it to anything yet, so I have nothing to show as of yet.

The most recent performance I've watched was Return on Saturday. I'm not too familiar with their history, but it seems that Gorillacrew (which is the performing group) is pretty famous. Although their performance was a bit more refined and skilled than the Battle B-Boy performance, I think I preferred the Battle B-Boy one more for the amateurish feeling they gave off. Videos were allowed for this one, but I'll upload one to youtube later since I haven't had the time to do it already.

As you can see, I've really taken advantage of the shows in the Seoul area. That's not all there is to do here though. I've gone sightseeing in the immediate area and even down to Busan at times, I've gone to several kpop concerts (yes, you get to go see a lot of concerts...sometimes for FREE), and I've gone hiking on a few mountains too.

Emphasizing on the kpop concert, for those of you that like any of the Korean artists popular now (such as Shinee, Super Junior, 2NE1, Kara, Miss A, Beast, MBLAQ, Teen Top, 4minute, 2AM, 2PM, etc.), Korea is a great place to visit during the Visit Korea Year 2010-2012 since the government is sponsoring several concerts free for foreigners. The Asia Song Festival (aka G20 Concert) also brought in international artists such as Jane Zhang (China), Joe Cheng (Taiwan), Michael Wong (Malaysia), Bie the Star (Thailand), and AKB48 (Japan) to perform.

After 4 months here in Korea, I really think that the country is living up to its motto of "Dynamic Korea."

More to come soon!!