Monday, October 27, 2008

Cirque Du Soleil

Last night I had the opportunity to see Cirque du Soleil. Right now, until November 15th, Alegría is performing by Seoul Sports Complex. When we bought our cheap seats (77,000 won apiece) we thought we were going to be on some high up balcony seat with a terrible view. We were amazed to find, when we walked in, that the circus tent was very small, and while we had a side view we were quite close to the performers. That being said, there was a pesky pole in our way that made it difficult to see things going on when they weren't center stage. We found our way around that though by moving our seats up to the 110,000 won seats during intermission. No one seemed to care since there were several rows of unsold seats. From there we had a spectacular view of the action.

They had quite a few acts, trapeze artists, people doing flips and jumps on beams, crazy strong men doing flips and jumps, hoolahoop girls, acrobats etc etc etc. Plus clown acts between each act.

One particularly notable act was these two women who twisted and flipped around each other like they had no spine. You can see a picture of the above, they are the two small women with blue hair. It was only slightly creepy.

Yea, another post about North Korea...

I can't help but be memorized by North Korea. I wasn't even looking for information, but I stumbled across this link on someone's blog and it has some amazing photos from DPRK. Here is the link to the photos, but I'll throw a few on here that I particularly like. Of course it's provided by I love them... that was my homepage for many years.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

National Geographic documenary about North Korea

As I've mentioned before, I'm just completely fascinated by North Korea. I stumbled across this documentary on YouTube. It's not long, it has 7 parts. It only takes about half an hour to watch. It's definitely worthwhile.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Smog... yuck... *cough*

Up until the past week/ week and a half I've been very impressed by the low level of smog in the air in Seoul. For a city of 11 million people the air has been remarkably clean. Not to say that it's like being out in the wilderness, but I've certainly been in smaller cities with much worse pollution. Or I thought that until this past week. It seems as though a thick layer of smog has settled over the city with no intention of leaving as far as I can see. I was sick this past week, as were most people at work... and the smog didn't make me feel any better. Or is it more than a coincidence that everyone started getting sick as soon as the air quality took a nosedive with the won?

Here is a side by side comparison of a view out of my window last July, and a view out of my window today. Granted, it is a little cloudy today, but I can't even tell where the clouds begin and the smog end.

If you don't believe me, here is another picture from Olympic park yesterday. I was trying to get a view of the gate from the hill, but you can barely see it it's so smoggy. This is far from downtown too. Oh, and it was NOT cloudy yesterday.

Olympic Park

On suggestion from my friend and mother who were here visiting last week, we headed over to Olympic Park this weekend. This was the location of the Summer Olympics that were held in Seoul in 1988. The park is very big and very big... for a park in Seoul at least. It was nice to get out of downtown for a little while. The air wasn't SO smoggy. There's lots to see at the park. Supposedly there is an Olympic museum and an art museum, but we didn't even go to see those. We were entertained enough by just walking through the park.

The Olympics brought a lot to Korea. It ushered in a new era of democracy, encouraging the military dictatorship that had ruled the country for many years into electing a president. This was kind of the hope of bringing the Olympics to Beijing.. in hopes that it would bring more democracy. But no such luck. Though, I do think that the Beijing Olympics did one good thing. It made China face thier horrendous air quality issues. I guess the Olympics brings different improvements to different places.

The flags of all the countries that participated in the Olympics.

Lots of Korean parks have exercise equpment like this. Usually you see ajummas (women in thier 50's and 60's) using these sort of things... they are usually in much better shape than me. Here it was mostly kids using it as if it were a playground.

I've found that Koreans have a affinty for strange sculptures and outdoor art. The city is full of it, and Olympic Park seems to need one always in view of where ever you are standing. Here are some more examples.

What is it? We're not quite sure... but it is nice to see grass in Korea... especially grass that you're allowed to walk on....

Again... what is it? Art... I don't get it...
This was the most perplexing of any statues we'd seen yet in Korea. Giant thumb. Any ideas of the siginfigance?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Song from dance class

I recently started to take a dance class here. It's all in Korean so it's kind of difficult, but not that bad. Monday and Wednesday is hip hop class, Tuesday is Belly Dance, and Thursday and Friday are "Club Dance". Club dance is a class where you basically learn the steps to some of the popular Korean songs. Here is the music video of the pop song we were dancing to last week:

The song is called Hey Mr. Big by Lee Hyo Ri (이효리)

Sorry for the inundation of K-pop lately... it's my newest Korean culture interest. If you're not interested, just skim over all these youtube video posts.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The strangest music video I've ever seen....

Nobody by the Wondergirls:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Where's my money???

No, no, I'm not getting screwed by my hagwon. I'm getting screwed by the economy instead. When I signed on for this job last may, they offered me a salary of 2.1 million won/ month. On May 16th, which is more or less around the time that I signed my contract, that was worth $2,024 USD. So, for 12 months, I figured I'd be making about $24,000 USD. I figured if I could save half of that, I would be able to pay off the great majority of my student loans... And life was good.

Since May, as we all know... the US economy has gone from bad to worse. The Korean government had a huge portion of thier pension funds invested in Lehman Brothers... and we all know what happend to them. Since that day, the Won has been falling. Every morning I turn on my computer to and see the headline on the Korean Herald telling me that the Won is falling lower and lower.

My mom was here visiting me this week, and I figured it would be a good idea to send home money so I don't have to pay the transfer fee. Well, I took 700,000 won out of the bank.. .I though maybe I would loose $60.00 or so. I didn't bother to do the math... I knew it was bad. But when they handed me $560.00, I kind of wanted to cry. It would of course figure that the won would start tanking as soon as I got here.

That was yesterday, when the won was at a 77 month low. Today I opened the Korean Herald to see that today it is at a 10 year low. I suppose it's a good thing I did convert my money yesterday rather than today... That means that today, my salary that they will pay me on friday will be worth: 1,506.

Let's put that another way. $1,000 won, which we generally call a dollar (because it usually is about a dollar) equals only .72 cents today. Yesterday it was worth 0.78 cents and last week it was in the 0.80 range.

That's enough to make a grown woman cry.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

North Korea Blog

I am often fascinated by the idea of North Korea... it is a society like none other in the world. I stumbled across this blog about someone who spent some time there.. I wish they wrote more about their experience, but the pictures are interesting enough for me to be captivated again... here is the site:

Monday, October 6, 2008

DMZ.. aka... that time I crossed over the border into North Korea...

This past weekend we finally went up to the DMZ. This was one of the most surreal experiences of my life, and certainly the closest I ever want to come to war. I joined the USO tour, which provides the best and cheapest tour of the DMZ. The first stop on the tour in Panmunjom, which is the Joint Security Area (JSA). Here there are buildings belonging to both North Korea and South Korea/United Nations Command. Each building rests on top of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) aka the actual border between the countries. I entered one of these buildings... and got to *technically* stand in North Korea.

This is a picture of two Korean soldiers on the South Korean side of the border at Panmunjom. They stand at Taekwondo ready position (?). When you get a good look at it... it's pretty intimidating.... As you can see, one soldier is almost completely hidden behind the house. This is to avoid snipers/ being shot at. Very encouraging...

This is inside one of the buildings belonging to the United Nations Council. Down the center of this table there are microphones for recording and translation purposes. This also marks the North/ South border inside the building. So... standing here I would actually have one foot in each country. I actually stood on the North Korea side of the inside of this building for a good 5 minutes or so... I know it's not much... but it still kind of blows my mind a little...

This is called Freedom House. It was originally constructed for reunions between North and South Korean families separated by the war. Unfortunately it has not yet been used for it's intended purpose.

This is a post marking the North/ South border. The border is only marked by white posts every 10 meters or so, and a rusted sign every so often that says something to the effect of: don't cross the border unless you feel like dying today. Korean and English posted on one side, Korean and Chinese posted on the other side. This sign is so rusted though, you probably couldn't read it if you wanted to.

The next stop on the tour was the Third Tunnel of Aggression. This is a tunnel discovered in 1978 which went under the DMZ and surfaced about 44 km from Seoul. Four tunnels have been found that cross into the country, although they think that about 17 exist in total. Again... very encouraging.. Anyway, at the Third Tunnel you can walk down to the tunnel and see where they drilled. It's a long way down.

The last stop on the tour was Dorasan Station. This station is the last station in South Korea. There is now a train that goes from South Korea, though this station into North Korea, to the Kaesong (Gaesong) Industrial Region, which is just 10 km across the border into the North.

Kaesong Industrial Region is a small area where South Korean businesses are allowed to set up factories. North Korean employees are not allowed to see their South Korean bosses. Employees are paid $60 USD per month. $55 goes to the government, and so they are paid $5.00 per month. Sounds bad? This is actually a dollar or two more than the average North Korean. The workers here are the best of the best. These jobs are usually given to people retiring out of the military, since they are the most brainwashed (sorry, that's biased... let's call it patriotic... same difference in my opinion). How do they survive on $5.00 a month? Well, the government provides everything. That's Communism for you.

Ok, I'm forgetting the order of the day... it was a few days ago now that I went... we also made a stop by an observatory where you had a great view of Kaesong. Now I know that there are (were?) tours of Kaesong (the town) and the Kaesong Industrial Area. The idea of North Korea fascinates and scares me at the same time. When I bought my guide book to come to Korea, I was actually more fascinated by reading about North Korea than about South Korea and Seoul where I was actually going. You actually can go to Pyongyang, but you need to go in from China. The only recently started to allow South Koreans and Americans in the country. There was a tourist area for South Koreans (that Americans could visit as well) in Kumgangsan which would be for overnight visits. This abruptly came to a halt when a Korean tourist was shot here this past summer. As far as I can tell, there are still day trips to Kaesong, and as far as I can tell, Americans are allowed in. The idea of going into North Korea frightens me to no end. But, once I could see it over the border, it was more tangible. Not like walking off the earth with no return. I think that if I ever get the opportunity to visit Kaesong, I should take it. How many westerners can say that they've been to North Korea? Besides, when else would you ever get the opportunity to see what the world would be like without the existence of capitalism and globalism? The thought is just sort of mind boggling.

Anyway, enough ranting about North Korea. I'm going to bed.

My new favorite song: 하루하루

Well, it took me forever to figure out the name of this song, but I finally found out that it's called Haru Haru (Day by Day) by Big Bang. I seem to hear this song playing everywhere I go. You can listen to it on, but you can watch it here too. You can also find the Korean lyrics, the romanized lyrics and an English translation of the song here:

Friday, October 3, 2008

Korean Folk Village in Suwon

On Saturday we made our way down to the Korean Folk Village in Suwon, a town about an hour south by subway, to Suwon station on line 1. I knew that this was supposed to be very large, but I could not have quite imagined just how large it was. We were there for three hours and I feel like we barely saw half of the village. The brochure states that it is located in a natural environment of 243 acres with more than 260 traditional houses that display the living culture of many different regions of the country from the late Joseon Dynasty. There are also a number of museams here, but really, the houses and performances are enough to keep a person busy all day long.
There are lots of people dressed in traditional clothing doing traditional activities around the village.

I love this country, because it gives me ample opportunities to dress up!!!

Little boys grinding some sort of grain
Traditional dancing performance!

To get to the Korean Folk Village, take line 1 to Suwon station.. it's about an hour from Seoul. From there, go to the Suwon Tourist Information Center. There they will give you a ticket to take the bus to the Folk Village. The bus is free, but it runs on a schedule that only runs every hour or so. So if those times don't work for you, you can take a local bus, though I don't know which bus that is.

선정릉 Seonjeongneung: King Seonjeong's Tomb

Well, I actually tried to get to this park last July, but was unsuccessful in finding the entrance into the park. This time around I actually followed the directions in the guide book rather than wondering and guessing myself. This park is the location for the tomb of King Seonjeong,  grandson of the most famous of the Korean kings during the Joseon dynasty, King Sejong. The tomb itself is pretty cool to check out. It is surrounded by stone warriors and several zodiac animals.

The tomb it self really only takes about 5 or 10 minutes to check out. The rest of our time there was spent exploring the park. It's probably the closest I've come to nature in Seoul. Lots of trees and nice walkways through the "woods". We really were enjoying the birds in the park. We saw several large beautiful woodpeckers quite close, though it was hard to get a picture of them because they blend in so well with the trees.

This photo is of a bird I see fairly often here. I have no idea what it is called, but it is quite beautiful... black and white with beautiful tail feathers.

This park is an interesting place to check out and escape from the constant bombardment of civilization that Seoul offers. Entrance to the park is 1000 won (which, sadly, this week is only worth about .81 cents, but that's a whole other rant completly). You can find this park by taking line 2 (green line) to Seolleung, and go out exit 8. Walk for a minute or two, and you'll find it on your right.

Update 6/24/12 **Wow, found my own blog post while trying to find info on the ACTUAL tomb of King Sejong. I wrote this way back when I was a newbie in Korea and for some reason thought this was the actual tomb of King Sejong. Had this post labeled as the tomb of King Sejong for the past 4 years. It's all fixed now, it was actually the grave of his grandson. See here for the actual tomb of King Sejong. Sorry for the misinformation!**

Staff Retreat

So... our boss decided to treat us to a staff retreat outside of Seoul. While we all appreciated the gesture, they asked us to meet on the other side of the city at 7:20 on a Sunday morning and we were all a bit grouchy about it. But, frankly, when it comes down to it... it's a free trip to see something I would never see on my own, so I tried to look at it in the best way possible. Most of the Korean teachers got out of it, so it was just us western teachers, one Korean teacher and the bosses on a tour with about 30 Koreans. They took us about 2- 2.5 hours outside the city towards the east. Not terribly far from where we were at the beach in Jongdongjin in August actually, though we didn't go as far as the coast.

These pictures are not in any particular order here First stop was the Herb Garden. This was a very nice place to walk around and... basically take lots of pictures. I suppose if you were a plant person you would be much more impressed... I'm sure my mom could have spent hours here, but for most of us it was like a giant photo opp. Of course my camera batteries had to die as soon as we got here, so all these photos I had to steal from friends...

Each section had a theme. There was a bible garden, a Shakespeare garden, a medicinal garden, and and aromatic garden.. among many others.

Our next stop was a sheep farm. The Koreans seemed to be paying a fair amount of money to get into this sheep farm and walk around. Then if you wanted to feed the sheep you had to pay for that too. Whoever owns that farm is making a killing... it was really crowded. Who would have thought someone would go so far just to see sheep. I guess that's what happens when you live in such a giant city.. you are willing to travel far to see that sort of thing.

Last stop was a Buddhist temple. It was very nice.. in the middle of nowhere... very tranquil... as a temple should be I think. The wooden statue above I found there I am quite certain is the goddess Kuan Yin (that's the Chinese name, not sure if there is a Korean name for her). She is known as the Compassionate Rebel and her name literally means "one who hears the cries of the world". Now I don't claim to be any sort of Buddhist expert here... in fact I know pathetically little. But I did try to learn a little bit about this goddess because I bought a scroll with her image while I was in Taipei, because I thought it was really pretty. If you want to learn more about this goddess, this is the best website I've found: