Maybe not the best of news, but I guess the incident yesterday is an example of the situation South Korea has been in since the Korean War (even if it doesn't feel like so). So, for those of you following the news recently, you probably heard that North Korea had fired artillery at Yeonpyeong Island (an island far off the coast of Incheon, along the western side of South Korea). Before anyone starts to fret, I think this is a perfect situation that demonstrates how the people of South Korea are dealing with it.
First, I think we should start with the facts in chronological order. South Korea held military exercises in the disputed waters near the island (North Korea believes the western naval border is farther south than what the UN had drawn following the armistice). North Korea sends a warning letter but South Korea continues to hold military exercises (though all live firings were towards the southern direction). North Korea begins firing rounds at the military base at Yeonpyeong Island, killing 2 marines and 2 civilians and setting areas of the island on fire. After South Korea fired back several rounds, the crossfire stopped. And now the global community is talking about politics.
Anyways, even though most of us students have been getting numerous phone calls and Facebook messages from friends and family asking how we are and sometimes going as far as telling us to get on the first flight out of here, there is a general feeling of safety here still. It seems that sometimes, the media (especially foreign media) tend to blow the situation out of proportions. For us students, we have more of this mindset: "Yes, we understand there has been fatal firings between the two nations. Yes, we know that we are all still in a war zone. However, we also know that North Korea is known to make these sorts of provocations and usually doesn't follow up on it." CIEE had elaborated on this during a North Korea lecture about a month ago, which provided us with an insight into the workings of the North Korean government.
Essentially, we know that North Korea cannot afford to fight a war because it will definitely lose. Why would the dictators of North Korea fight a losing battle when they can at least keep the status quo and hold onto their power for a little longer? In order to do so, they just need to make a threat every now and then to keep foreign aid coming in exchange for "promises." The nuclear tests, the sinking of the Cheonan, and the occasional cross-border firings all seem to just be ways of reminding the world that North Korea still exists.
To give an insight into the situation among Yonsei students, I can say that everyone is going about their daily activities as usual. The conversations going on typically do not wander towards the firings, but just towards normal things in our everyday lives. I almost didn't find out about the firings until someone else had brought it up in Korean language class. I guess after living here for several months, most of the international students have also begun to realize the reality behind the war situation.
I guess I should just end with this, we are safe here in Seoul. If the above argument was not convincing enough, then here's a more material argument. We have the protection of South Korean and the United States forces in the immediate area (specifically, about 10-15 minutes away at the Yongsan military base). We also have an alert CIEE director and assistant that notify us of any occurrences. We have also all been briefed by the US Embassy upon arrival in Seoul on the procedures in the unlikely event of any dangers. But these are all precautionary measures. It is highly unlikely that anything will happen.
Now that I'm done with this, I have several reports to write and homework to finish. At the current moment, I'm behind on reports to hand in to my home university and also to the CIEE office for cultural reimbursements. I am also trying to write my final paper for one class ahead of time so as to free up my last weekend in Korea for a trip to Busan. I also need to do some more online shopping on Gmarket. For those of you coming to South Korea, you should get introduced to Gmarket as soon as possible. It's like the Korean version of Amazon, where you can buy all sorts of clothing and concert tickets (among other things). Shipping is usually free and you don't have to deal with the stress of shopping at Dongdaemun (you'll know what I mean when you go shopping there for the first time). Anyways, I'm just trying to take advantage of my remaining time in Seoul. I have concerts scheduled to go to every remaining weekend (JYJ, YG, and Beast concerts), I have pending trips to Incheon and Busan, and I have a few more shopping trips planned. MUST GET EVERYTHING DONE!!!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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...
Here's an interesting way of working around the building site.
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.
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.
Here's a few of us with the Korean students partially dressed up in our performance costumes.
Try to spot the 6 CIEE students in this picture.
Here are links to the videos taken by the Tte club during our performance:
Part 1: http://tvpot.daum.net/v/28350653?lu=flvPlayer_in
Part 2: http://tvpot.daum.net/v/28351024?lu=flvPlayer_in
Part 3: http://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.
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.
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).
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.
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)!
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!