18 July 2009

Trip to 수원 (Suwon, South Korea) on 18 July 2009

Source and photos: http://horizons.free.fr/seikatsu/eng/memories/2009-07-18_kr-suwon.htm

화홍문 (Hwahongmun) at 화성 (Hwaseong fortress)I walked through 수원 (Suwon, South Korea) on 18 July 2009 to see 화성 (Hwaseong fortress) in company of François, who had come for the week-end. Although clouds threatened to waste our visit, the conditions were pleasant, and the rain fell only on our way back to the subway station.

After eating tasty 냉면 (cold noodles) at the station, we walked through the city then strolled three hours along the fortress wall, starting at 팔달문 (Paldalmun i.e. South gate) and finishing at an outdoor market, with a tea break on the way. I was surprised by the views, which exposed Korean-looking buildings, churches, and tall and low modern buildings, including apartments decorated with harmonized scenes such as riders jumping from a building to another. The fortress is well-maintained, the explanations are clear, and the path is long but easy. This UNESCO world heritage site must be really exciting with a clear sky.

I enjoyed the refreshing atmosphere, and the tiring walk offered a perfect pretext for relaxing chats while drinking tea or chocolate.

11 July 2009

Trip to 청주 (Cheongju, South Korea) on 11 July 2009

Source and photos: http://horizons.free.fr/seikatsu/eng/memories/2009-07-11_kr-cheongju_unbo-house.htm

Mysterious corner at 운보의 집 (Unbo's house) I discovered 청주 (Cheongju, South Korea) on 11 July 2009 thanks to my local colleague 남규 (Namkyoo), who wished to show me the house of 김 기창 (KIM Ki-Chang) aka 운보 (Unbo), a Korean painter notably known for drawing 세종대왕 (Sejong the Great) on ₩10.000 banknotes. A grey sky accompanied heat and humidity, a usual mark of the rainy season in South Korea.

After eating my best sushis in the country so far, 남규 (Namkyoo) drove me, his wife and daughter to 운보의 집 (Unbo's house). I appreciated the garden, compact but not overloaded, designed with talent and well maintained. I contemplated landscapes weaving nature with man-made artefacts and lotuses floating over miniature ponds carved in rock statues. I was surprised by the presence of numerous bonsais, which I solely associated to Japan, before admiring the artist's paintings at the gallery, enjoying his simple but deep colorful style. A few minutes away, we stopped the car near a long wall painted with scenes of the four seasons then again to face impressive sculptures made of junk, including an easily-recognizable version of the manga robot マジンガーZ (Mazinger Z). Finally, we visited 청주 고인쇄박물관 (Cheongju early printing museum), which exhibited ancient artefacts and documents and exposed history using automata.

This day in good company was exciting and stimulating, and I only regret that my Korean language abilities were insufficient to chat with my colleague's young daughter.

22 June 2009

Trip to 안동 (Andong, South Korea) on 19-22 June 2009

Source and photos: http://horizons.free.fr/seikatsu/eng/memories/2009-06-20_kr-andong.htm

Entrance of 도산서원 (Dosan Seowon) I travelled to 안동 (Andong, South Korea) for the first time on 19 June 2009 to meet my local friend 장우 (Jangwoo), and hike nearby. With the rainy season just starting, the weather was capricious but–as usual–I was lucky for the hike. Nevertheless, the sky broke loose on departure day...

The first evening, we ate Korean food prepared by 장우 (Jangwoo)'s mother, strolled at the local dam, and played a few billiards games. On Saturday, we visited 도산서원 (Dosan Seowon), a famous academy displayed on ₩1.000 banknotes, then dodged rain drops to see the 12m-tall 제비원 (Jebiwon) statue of Buddha. While mom was asleep, I experienced my first Korean nightclub then a karaoke with 장우 (Jangwoo) and one of his friends. The nightclub confused me much as the dance floor was smaller than the space for tables and seats, and as the staff moved customers around, guiding girls to the tables of guys, while the huge stage alternatively featured disc jockeys, female musicians, and a male stripper! Bewildering :) Still energetic on Sunday, 장우 (Jangwoo), one of his cousins, his mom, and I hiked four hours among the trees of 주왕산 국립공원 (Juwangsan national park) under an oppressive sun; the highest peak called us but dark was coming too fast for a full climb.

The stay was pleasant and entertaining; despite our diverse activities, I strangely feel that I fully enjoyed and relaxed everywhere. Maybe there is a lesson for my life in the capital? Anyway, I plan another trip in the region to visit folk villages and attend the famous local mask festival held every year in September-October.

06 June 2009

Stroll at 국립서울현충원 (Seoul National Cemetery, South Korea) on 06 June 2009

Source and photos: http://horizons.free.fr/seikatsu/eng/memories/2009-06-06_kr-seoul.htm

Prayer before the tombs of 박정희 (PARK Chung-Hee) and 육영수 (YUK Young-soo) at 국립서울현충원 (Seoul National Cemetery) I first visited 국립서울현충원 (Seoul National Cemetery), located in 서울 (Seoul, South Korea), with 숙현 (Sook-Hyeon) on 06 June 2009 to observe Korean life on 현충일 (Memorial Day). Numerous civilians and soldiers walked the alleys of this huge cemetery under a bright sky; many paying homage to 육영수 (YUK Young-soo) and her husband, the ex-president 박정희 (PARK Chung-Hee), assassinated in 1974 and 1979. I was flabbergasted to see whole families gaily picnic among the tombs as I cannot imagine French people doing so but was told this is a normal way to commune with one's kin in South Korea. The vegetation and hills contributed to a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere while providing some intimacy.

After seeing atrocities displayed so gloomily (see Post 17 May 2009) at 독립기념관 (Independence Hall of Korea) in 천안 (Cheonan), this uplifting experience made me feel closer to the local population.

25 May 2009

Trip to 경주 (Gyeongju, South Korea) on 22-25 May 2009

Source and photos: http://horizons.free.fr/seikatsu/eng/memories/2009-05-23_kr-gyeongju.htm

Rest house at a distance at 남산 (Namsan) I travelled to 경주 (Gyeongju, South Korea) for the second time on 22 May 2009 to visit 불국사 (Bulguksa temple), which is a UNESCO world heritage, and hike at 남산 (Namsan) with Olga and Yerbol, two friends studying in the region. Clouds hovered over the region but the weather remained pleasant.

I appreciated the local historical assets and traditional ambiance but was surprised by the distances: one may see much with a bicycle in two days. However, I was slightly disappointed as I expected older, bigger and more numerous touristic sites because several Japanese friends had compared the city to 京都 (Kyoto, Japan); Koreans indicated that the area would be markedly more attractive had Japan not damaged or destroyed so much during wars and occupations... From another perspective, I also enjoyed unique coffee shops, delicious restaurants and, as we kept on bumping into acquaintances of Olga and Yerbol, a countryside atmosphere in which all people seemed to know each other.

The air, ambiance and smaller crowds agreeably contrasted with my everyday life in 서울 (Seoul, South Korea). For newcomers, two or three full days seem appropriate to discover the historical sites and enjoy the city, with one or two additional days for hikes. I will gladly return there to complete my visit and explore 남산 (Namsan) from another side.

17 May 2009

Trip to 천안 (Cheonan, South Korea) on 17 May 2009

Source and photos: http://horizons.free.fr/seikatsu/eng/memories/2009-05-17_kr-cheonan.htm

Panorama with 겨레의 탑 (Monument to the Nation) at 독립기념관 (Independence Hall of Korea) I travelled to 천안 (Cheonan, South Korea) for the first time on 17 May 2009 to visit 외암민속마을 (Oeam folk village) and 독립기념관 (Independence Hall of Korea) in company of 진영 (Jin-young) and 현진 (Hyunjin), two locals. The weather was warm but unfortunately cloudy most of the day.

I enjoyed the trip much as I had never visited a traditional village in South Korea before; it differed in many respects from 白川郷 (Shirakawa-go, Japan), which I visited in 2006 (see Post 06 August 2006): buildings are lower, roofs flatter, and walls along paths more numerous. As for the memorial hall, it was impressive for its hugeness, the beauty of some buildings, the peacefulness of the natural surroundings, and for troubling historical presentations including torture scenes and human-scale models of executions of Koreans by Japanese soldiers. Such crudeness reminded me of 서대문형무소 (Seodaemun Prison, South Korea) in 서울 (Seoul), something I have never witnessed in public spaces outside South Korea.

13 April 2009

Stroll at 여의도 (Yeouido, South Korea) on 12 April 2009

Source and photos: http://horizons.free.fr/seikatsu/eng/memories/2009-04-12_kr-yeouido.htm

Cherry blossoms before a skyscraper at 여의도 (Yeouido) I first walked in 여의도 (Yeouido, South Korea), a part of 서울 (Seoul), on 12 April 2009 to enjoy its famous cherry blossoms. Although the peak had passed, the streets were beautiful, and the blue sky greatly highlighted the flowers. Moving to 여의도 공원 (Yeouido park), I got greeted several times in English by Korean children, who then asked whether I was American, which is unsurprising as most white guys in the country must be American soldiers; the kids looked pretty confused to learn I was French! However, the young adult who accosted me to offer an Easter egg and invite me to join a Christian group was not unsettled by my nationality. Later, I started wondering what spontaneous contacts to expect from women and elders in the capital as well as from all kinds of Koreans in the countryside... Beyond the social sphere, the park itself was enjoyable, with a beautiful statue of 세종대왕 (Sejong the Great) and specific ambiances associated to each area.

Since my move to South Korea, it was my first time to actively visit the capital and reflect upon life here while observing children, families, couples, small and huge groups of friends, and a few elders. People visibly enjoyed their afternoon with diverse activities, infusing the park with peacefulness and liveliness. The nearby cherry trees reminded me of Japanese spots but the open spaces of 北京 (Beijing, China) (see Post 28 July 2007); the greetings from smiling kids, however, had a unique touch.

28 February 2009

Hike at 북한산 (Mount Bukhan, South Korea) on 28 February 2009

Source and photos: http://horizons.free.fr/seikatsu/eng/memories/2009-02-28_kr-bukhansan.htm

Hikers resting near the top of 백운대 (Baegundae peak) I hiked 북한산 (Mount Bukhan, South Korea) for the first time on 28 February 2009 with 재호 (Jaeho) to enjoy fresh air and surprising views at the highest local peak. We quickly reached the national park by bus from 길음 (Gireum) subway station, hiked three hours to 백운대 (Baegundae peak), lunched at the top, and left by a shorter path closer to 미아 (Mia) subway station. Patches of ice and snow remained but the warm air and clear blue sky favored tee-shirts; I only regret the haze veiling 서울 (Seoul). We hiked through forested mountains, followed the ancient fortifications of 북한산성 (Mount Bukhan fortress), and observed the capital from several perspectives. The closest paths were crowded both ways, and reaching the peak without the metallic cables would have been challenging; only healthy adults free from acrophobia should follow this path. Sandwiches at the top, under the South Korean flag, were a treat.

Since my move to South Korea, I frequently scrutinized the mountains from 남산 (Namsan), a hill at the heart of the capital, wondering how the view would be from the opposite side. From our path on 북한산 (Mount Bukhan), the haze mainly revealed the north of the city, and I was surprised by its extent and organization, notably its blocks of identical buildings. Now, I look forward to seeing the city center from a hiking path facing south.