Vacation to Seoul South Korea – Day 10 – The End

Our final day was February 3. It was also New Years Day in South Korea and almost everything was closed. The streets were empty as we strolled our city observing the quietness and remembering the bustle of our previous week here. Restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and coffee shops had all taken the day off.  Our hotel accepted our payment, we grabbed a bite to eat at the local convenience store, and took the shuttle to the airport because we knew that everything there would be open.

We had about 6 hours to spare, so we had our final meal at a Korean restaurant at the airport. We both chose to have bibim bap. The little black cauldron filled with meat, rice, and veggies came steaming to our table. Its contents were deftly pinched by our dextrous fingers wielding chopsticks for the final time. We had a delicious side order of seaweed soup and a tall thin 8 ounce can of Coca Cola. It was all very satisfying–especially the ability to use the chopsticks.

Our experience here was wonderful. We found the people to be polite and the food to be excellent. Mass transit was very modern and easy to use. There was a lot to see and do despite it being the middle of winter. Communication was the biggest obstacle, but we made it through every situation without a hitch.

Our son loves it here. He has a good job with good pay and good benefits. The internet keeps him connected with family and friends in the States. He knows many other teachers who are sharing his experience in different schools throughout this foreign land. He would like to continue to teach here or he could move on to teach in another country if the opportunity arises. Only time will tell.

We had a bit of trepidation over our travel plans because it was snowing back in Michigan. The entire Midwest was in a state of emergency as we read reports of O’Hare Airport in Chicago recording the most single day snowfall in history. My biggest fear was having our flight cancelled because the Detroit Airport was closed. My second biggest fear was having to dig my truck out of a 10 foot snow drift with my bare hands. Neither of these things happened as our flight was smooth and actually arrived early, and our truck pulled right out of its outdoor parking slot without an issue.

The 90 minute drive home from the airport was uneventful. It was good to be away on vacation, but it was better to be home. Our house and our guests were well cared for during our absence and many future reservations were taken to keep us busy over the next 6 weeks. We will visit Chris again, wherever he may be, and we will take on the adventure with the spirit we so enjoy.

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Published in: on February 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vacation to Seoul South Korea – Day 9 – The DMZ

It was the most beautiful winter day to end the Korean calendar year. Today, February 2, was Korean New Year’s Eve and the temperature was above freezing all day. It was a great day to take a tour of the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone).

But first, a brief recent history of Korea: The Joseon Dynasty ended Korean Monarchy in the early 20th century. The last king of Korea died without an heir while the Japanese overtook and occupied the country. Korea was under Japanese control until the end of World War II. Basically, Korea was 2 uneducated states not knowing how to rule themselves when they gained their independence. North Korea was influenced by the Communist Russians and Chinese, South Korea was influenced by the Capitalist Axis Powers. Both states co-existed for about 5 years when the North invaded the South trying to force them into Communism. This started the Korean War that lasted for three years with Super Powers supporting both sides. The war never really ended: an armistice was declared and the 2 states were separated into North and South by a line that roughly follows the 38th parallel. A fenced-in de-militarized zone running 2 kilometers in each direction from the line was declared a “no man’s land” separating the countries whose borders are heavily guarded on each side. The people of both countries hope for reunification, but the Monarchy of the North refuses to relinquish their power.

The DMZ has become a tourist attraction for people traveling in South Korea. It is an educational tour that teaches about this country’s history, the horrors of war, and the dream of reunification.  There are many areas where cameras are not allowed so photos of the more interesting stops are unavailable.

Our group of about 20 English speaking people from around the world were picked up at various locations around Seoul and hosted by a Korean woman named Angel. Our first stop was at the Freedom Bridge where thousands of POWs (Prisoners of War) from the Korean War were exchanged and brought home. A rusted steam locomotive riddled with bullet holes was salvaged from the waters of the DMZ and put on display as a relic and reminder of the war. There are countless ribbons attached to the fence surrounding the area containing messages of peace for the near future.  We moved on to a gallery where a film of the war was shown.

We continued on to tour the “third tunnel”. During the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, four tunnels were discovered. They apparently were infiltration tunnels that could allow tens of thousands of North Koreans to invade the South in just an hour. The tunnels were discovered by accident, and only the third tunnel is open for public tours. The tour begins with a surrender of recording devices, the wearing of hard hats, and a half mile walk down an 11 degree sloped tunnel. This leads to the actual tunnel that the North Koreans had dug for the invasion. I had to stoop throughout the additional half mile walk to near the 38th parallel. The air here is in short supply and the constant stooping makes it a bit of an uncomfortable journey. After a quick look around, the trek through the low ceiling cave began and finished with a half mile hike back up the 11 degree incline.

The next stop was the Dora Observatory. This is an area where some civilization in North Korea can be seen with the naked eye. Photography from here is limited to be taken from behind a line that is just far enough behind the lookout wall to make photos poor at best. We were surprised to learn that electricity is in such short supply in the North, that a factory needs to be powered from the South.

We moved on to a train station at Dorasan that is hardly ever used. The South Koreans have constructed a modern facility that they hope will one day be the gateway into North Korea. One day, when the countries are reunited, some of the infrastructure that will allow for a smooth reunification will already be in place in the South. After 60 years of Communism versus Capitalism, the two countries are as different in technology as Silicon Valley and the Amish.  It is said that about 2,000 Northerners defect to the South via water routes every year. Because of their inferior education, qualified jobs are unavailable and many resort to a life of thievery or prostitution.

The ride home was made very interesting by an in-depth conversation with Angel, our host. She gave us great insight and understanding of the Korean culture. She was very candid with her responses to personal, political, and economic questions. It is time spent with people like Angel that makes foreign travel such a delight.

We finished the night with a shrimp burger and cheese fries from the local Lotteria. Getting wasted on soju during the Korean New Year on the night before our flight home did not seem like a very good idea, so we watched some NCIS at the hotel and prayed that the snow would stop to allow us to travel safely on our way home during one of the biggest snow storms ever to hit the USA. I also don’t want to miss the Super Bowl. Go Pack GO!

Paju G&G = Good and Great

Published in: on February 2, 2011 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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Vacation to Seoul South Korea – Day 8 – The River Walk

Finally, an entire day with temperatures above freezing, and what a beautiful day it was. We took the train to downtown Seoul and decided to go for a nice long walk. Chongyecheon is a re-created river that runs through downtown Seoul. It had been covered over by roads several decades ago, and was recently redeveloped and reopened to add nature and display environmental consciousness in the city. It also claims to reduce the hot Summer temperatures by up to 10% near the waterway.

The area is about 30 feet below street level, averages about 100 feet wide, and runs about 3 miles. There are walking paths and vegetation on both sides of the stream, many crossing areas, and man-made rapids to create the sound of rushing water. These features combine to create an escape from the big city. The traffic above must still flow, so there are 22 unique bridges crossing Chongyecheon.  It is difficult to hear the city traffic above the river walk.

We encountered hundreds of people walking along the brick walkways along the banks. The majority of walkers appeared to be businessmen taking a break from work to enjoy nature and get some excercise. We noticed that there were no food venders or picnic areas along the trail. This probably was part of the design to keep the area clean and free from litter.

One area of the embanked walls was covered by a re-creation of what is believed to be the oldest depiction of a royal Korean procession. It includes drawings of over 2,000 figures of people and horses. The long walk in the fresh air created quite an appetite in both of us.

We made our way to another series of outdoor and underground markets with only one thing in mind–street food. We walked past many booths that were selling food we could not recognize, those that we did recognize were unappealing–octopus is freaky. 

Finally we happened upon a lady who was grilling up some sort of egg dish and frying bread. on a small grill. It was big enough to create just 3 sandwiches at a time, and she had a constant line of people waiting to taste her goodies. The pre-prepared egg batter contained onions, garlic, and other vegetables that were fried in a thin layer of oil on her grill top. Our freshly prepared sandwich took about 5 minutes to cook and was served folded and inserted into a paper cup. It was delicious and cost about $1.50.

We continued on to find a whole section of open air restaurants that were creating what appeared to be circles of  fresh corn polenta. It was combined with many vegetables and fried in a thin layer of oil over a large grill top. It was about the size of a small pizza. Heated foil-covered benches surrounded the cooking area so patrons could sit and eat in relative comfort during the winter. Our corn disc was ready as soon as we sat down and served with kimchi plus soy sauce and onions. We ate it with the first wooden chopsticks we have seen since arriving in South Korea. They are much easier to use than the metal ones we find everywhere else. Lunch was great and cost just $4.

Lori began to feel the symptoms of illness that I had earlier in the week, so we decided to call it a day. We made our way back home to Incheon and she napped while I watched movies on television. They show a lot of American movies with original dialogue and Korean subtitles. There are always three movies playing plus what seems like an endless loop of America’s Funniest Home Videos–and they never show the host or the audience, just video after video with commentary by Tom Bergeron.

Lori awoke from her nap and we went out for Korean Barbeque. I am much better at metal chopsticks than I was a week ago, and the hostess did not have to give me any assistance this time. We enjoyed the meal and topped it off with muffins and cookies. Everything was tasty–as usual.

Tomorrow is our final full day in South Korea and features our tour of the DMZ. We will be getting up early to join the masses during rush hour to get to our 8:00 a.m. appointment.

McDonald's Delivers in Downtown Seoul

Korean BBQ

Published in: on February 1, 2011 at 11:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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