Tagged: Seoul

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S.Korea’s Biggest Ever Evacuation Drills

Mass evacuation drills were conducted in the capital city of Seoul, South Korea yesterday in preparation for another possible attack coming from their pain in the ass neighbors to the North. While many South Koreans and foreigners living in Korea alike have gotten used to the sound of war drums beating, the day’s evacuation drills offer a grim reminder of how divided the Korean peninsula really is. Images below courtesy of the Associated Press.

Seoul Lantern Festival 2009

Polish up on yer chop-sticking, bow from the waist, and don’t forget to take your fucking shoes off because 2010-2012 is Visit Korea Year! That’s what I learned on our second trip to Seoul last year when we stumbled upon a very large, sugar cone-like plastic swirl across the street from City Hall. This turned out to be the beginnings of a lantern festival. Approximately fifty highly ornate paper lamps lit their way down the center of Cheonggyecheon Stream as the water calmly rushed beneath their plywood platforms. We were struck by how difficult it must have been to assemble and run power to these contraptions in the middle of the water.  Maybe this happens every year around November 13th, or maybe we just got lucky. English brochures were not available. In memory of happy times, here are a few of the pictures we took. Enjoy!

Seoul Namsan Tower

Namsan Tower

Namsan Tower, more commonly known as Seoul tower, is one of the most blatant over the top rip-offs I’ve found in Korea. We went there on a Saturday night. It was balls hot, so we took the cable car up to the tower entrance in Namsan Park; 7000 KRW for a two-way ticket. It seemed half the city had the same inclination, so we had to sweat it out in line for about 20 minutes. The other half of the city, it seemed, was waiting in line to ride the elevator up 200 meters to the tower observatory. We took our place at the back of the line, which cost an additional 8000 KRW. Waiting in line for another 30 minutes or so, we finally got to the top of the tower, and the view was hazy. BUT, it was an interesting experience nevertheless. Getting back down from the observatory was a kick to the mettle if there ever was one. The line for the down elevator stretched completely around the observatory deck… twice. We were lucky to make it back down in time for the last cable car. Had we missed that, sparks really would have flown. Bottom line, approach this hot spot of tourism with caution.

Seoul part 3

Gyeongbok Palace Seoul South Korea

Gyeongbokgung in Seoul

Due to mechanical errors on the part of Delta Airlines, visitors did not end up coming to Korea this past weekend, but we said ‘what the hell’ and went to Seoul anyways. It was our third trip to the World’s second largest metropolitan area, and this time we decided to visit Gyeongbok Palace. Originally constructed in 1394 by a General whose name I cannot pronounce, Gyeongbuk-gung was Korea’s center of government and royal housing. It has since been destroyed (and rebuilt) several times, and is now shadowed by many modern high-rises. Being the palace in Seoul, I expected it to be really amazing, but all the restorative construction and security cameras took away from the history a little. The ‘Changing of the Guard’ ceremony was a nice touch though. A guard wails on giant a war drum, and into the crowd march a fresh set of traditionally dressed castle guards to relieve those currently posted at the palace entrance. Pretty cool stuff.

Inside Gyeongbokgung, Seoul, South Korea

Inside Gyeongbokgung, towards the back

In comparison to the Forbidden City in China, which we visited just last month, Gyeongbuk-gung seemed identical in architecture and layout. Gyeongbuk-gung, however, was much less crowded and more open to exploring; there were a lot of fences in China. We got to the palace via a 20 minute subway ride from Gangseo — Line 9, transferred at Yeouido to Line 5 and rode that to Gwanghwamun Station.

Standing above two Korean women on the subway who were looking at a brochure for “dream care” eye surgery, the train jolted slightly and Erica bumped a man in a suit. In perfect English, he asked where we were from and some other typical blah blah. “I am office worker for Samsung. Do you like Samsung?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “My computer monitor is Samsung”. He laughed, and very politely excused himself by saying, “I am very drunk, and will go to drink more.” “I couldn’t even tell,” I responded. “This is our stop anyways”. Making our way up from the wormy catacombs and into the brisk Friday night air, we immediately noticed a Korean man passed out kneeling in an alleyway with his ass straight up in the air. It was then she said it, “I need to start writing about these things in my journal so I know they really happened”.

Seoul Korea Metro Map – English

Metro Map of Seoul South Korea

Visitors arrive from the United States this coming Friday, and it looks like I’ll be busing up to Seoul for a late night rendezvous. “You can get to our hotel via Line 9 of the Subway.” Great, I’ll just do a search and figure out where to go in advance. Come to find out, nine out of ten Seoul metro maps you can find online are illegible, incomplete, or just plain non-sense. Using google.kr, I finally found this 2010 map of the Seoul subway; hi-res, up to date, and in English!

seoul, take 2

In Korea, if you want the price lowered, you say “ga ga joosayo”. Hahaha. I think this is hilarious, and apparently so do some Koreans. The one time I used “ga ga joosayo” this past weekend at a jewelery store, the clerk flat-out laughed in my face. Then she called over the manager, repeated the phrase in a mocking tone, and he too laughed in my face. Did I just ask for a blow job? Only after the manager caught his breathe did he knock off 5000 KRW. Confused? Yeah me too.

Navigating our way through the spaghetti pile of subway stops and transfer stations was much easier the second time. We sat next to a Korean teenager on our first train from the Express Bus Terminal to Sinseol-dong. He was noticeably red in the face and, as they say in New England, right fackin’ pie-eyed. He ran off the train at the next stop, and puked in a storm drain next to a very well-dressed Korean man violently kicking a vending machine. Nobody seemed to notice except for us.

We stayed at two hostels, one in Sinseol-dong called Backpackers Korea (or something very close to that) and another near Hongik University called Hongdae Guesthouse 2.0. Nicknamed the “Yellow Submarine”, the Hongdae Guesthouse is managed by a middle aged Korean man named Henry. He looks like John Lennon, really, he does. For anyone looking for a cheap hostel at a great location in Seoul, look no further than the Yellow Submarine; 17000 KRW a night to stay in a newly renovated town house (carved up like a frat house) just a 15 minute walk from the ridiculous night life near Hongik University. The employees speak English and are VERY hospitable. Please enjoy.

Coming home from the 2009 Seoul Lantern Festival, we stopped at a bar called Texas, which oddly enough served mainly European beers — except for Sam Adams and Honey Brown. Don’t waste your time at this bar, unless you enjoy pissing your money away on skunk beer and second hand smoke. It was late, so we waved down a cab for a ride back to the hostel. Upon telling him were we were looking for the Yellow Submarine, he drove away immediately. Poor choice of words I think. No matter, the alley was awash with taxis. Another cab pulled up immediately, but when we tried to get in, the doors were locked. “Where are you going?” he said in perfect English. Hongik University Subway Station? “Yes I will take you there for 15,000 KRW.” The previous cab ride had cost half that amount. “We’ll just walk.” Confused, the cabbie rolled up his window and drove away. A third taxi driver pulled up… and the doors were not locked. As he raced us down the two four-lane road towards Hongik Station, he started frantically pushing he buttons on his GPS and made a few rather obscure left turns into alley ways and gas stations. It became clear to us that this cabbie did not know where he was going, or he was trying to rip us off by running up the meter. Either way, we wanted out. One of us said, “Yogeeyo”, which in Korean means “drop me off here asshole”. Lost somewhere in the general area of our hostel, there was only one solution; booze. Cackling like hyenas in front of a gas station as we ripped butts and mixed soju with beer, the Koreans passerby’s were magnificently unimpressed. It was then I said it; “I love this city.”

The DMZ Tour at Panmunjeom Joint Security Area

There have been two Korea’s since the end of World War II; The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North) and the Republic of Korea (South).  This past weekend on our trip to Seoul, we toured a small part of the Demilitarized “buffer” zone (DMZ) between the two countries. It was Friday he 13th, and just days before the front page headline was North and South Korean Warships Exchange Fire. Really though, it did not seem like a big deal.  They run tours through the Joint Security Area at Panmunjeom all the time, and we were just one of at least 10 other tour buses passing through that morning.

A highway built for 1001 cattle

As we drove along the river just outside of Seoul city, our tour guide mentioned that South Korea used to have a real problem with North Korean spies sneaking through the forest and swimming down river to infiltrate Seoul. “See the mountains?” she explained. “They are naked because we cut down all the trees and put the barb wire in this river. Now, there are no more North Korean spies.” Her next story was about the highway itself. Former CEO of Hyundai, Chung Ju-Yung, apparently stole a cow from his parents before fleeing with it to South Korea. With the money he got from selling the cow, he was able to get his start. After decades of success, Chung decided it was time to give back what he had stolen. He arranged to have 1001 cows sent across the DMZ and into North Korea as payment (with interest). But there was no major highway leading to the DMZ, so Chung had to build one first. The length of highway with which we were traveling was originally built for this purpose. I’m not sure how true this really is, but it makes for a good story.

Freedom Bridge

Freedom Bridge. Was this used in that James Bond movie with the guy that had diamonds in his face?

The Joint Security Area in Panmunjeom is not actually in the Demilitarized Zone, but on the South Korean border of it. Our guide explained that tours within the actual DMZ were possible for 47 nationalities only. However, last year a tourist was shot near the Bridge of No Return, so viewing of that area has been suspended.

Kaesong City

Kaesong City, North Korea

North Korea

As close as we could get to North Korea.

The most interesting portion of the trip was walking through the Third Incursion Tunnel at the Joint Security Area. North Korea had been digging tunnels under the DMZ as planning for what I presume would have been a massive invasion of the South. The first three tunnels were discovered in the 1970’s. The first tunnel was discovered by accident by a South Korean patrol, and North Korea responded with machine gun fire. Knowing that the North was tunneling under the DMZ must have made South Korean officials shit them selves.  The fourth tunnel wasn’t discovered until 1990.  According to a North Korean Defector, there are probably 20 tunnels, and one of the jobs of the South Korean military today is to continually drill and comb the DMZ for these. They must also sweep the wooded areas surrounding the DMZ for land mines. Our tour guide mentioned that Korean soldiers were “disappointed” to be given this job. An understatement, I’m sure. Anyways, tunnel 3 is 490 feet underground and will take a visitor 150m into the DMZ. The remaining 1000 meters or so has been thoroughly blocked from accessing. There was not enough room to stand up straight or fully extend my arms.  Imagine all the poor bastards who broke their backs building the thing in preparation for a day that would never come. Now, instead of advancing the revolutionary cause, their hard work helps line the pockets of South Korean tour companies.

Dorasan Station

to Pyeongyang

Our last stop on the tour was a state of the art train station. Abandon and never been used, Dorasan Station is the single rail link between North and South Korea, built in preparation for the fabled reunification of the peninsula. A mural above the lobby shows two hands stretched towards each other with a bright future in radial focus — the dark past gradually fading away.