Sunday, April 13, 2014

Springtime in Gwangju

Spring is here in Gwangju, and it is lovely. For the last two weeks or so, the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom.

Last Sunday I went to the Gwangju Spring Flower Show at the Kim Dae-Jung Convention Center, which luckily is only about a 25 minute walk from my apartment. This is an annual flower show that I had heard about the last two years, though this was my first year actually going.

The flower show was quite nice, and mostly consisted of this huge convention area that had been turned into an indoor garden. There was even a small pond with a fountain that had been built in the middle of the carpet. There was also an area in which individuals were able to display and showcase unique flowers and plants they had grown.

Outside the show area:

I really enjoyed the flower show, and definitely recommend it for anyone interested in going in 2015. 

This past weekend I went to Pohang to visit Jaeyun for two nights. We really just had Saturday to spend together (I got there late Friday and left Sunday morning), but we had a very productive day on Saturday. We walked to downtown Pohang, which was several miles from Jaeyun's apartment, and after spending time there shopping around and eating some snacks, we walked farther along the water to the Bukbu Beach area. We went through the port area with all the fishing ships.

 We saw several fishermen mending nets and whatnot, and I wanted to take pictures of them but felt like that would be indiscreet. At the beach area we went to a delicious seafood restaurant and ordered grilled fish. When it came out it was actually EIGHT grilled fish! They were all absolutely delicious and we stuffed ourselves.

We are so cute!

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 2014 Trip to Seoul Day 2

On Sunday, Jaeyun and I got up and walked over to Itaewon for breakfast. We had decided upon a brunch place called Suji's, which is considered one of the top brunch places in Seoul. We got there around 10:45am and had about a 20 minute wait to be seated. The food was delicious- I had an eggs benedict with smoked salmon and Jaeyun had a turkey sandwich.
This restaurant is apparently extremely popular. When we left around noon, there was a line of maybe 40 people waiting in the lobby going down the stairs and out the door outside. We spent about 45 minutes walking around Itaewon in the day time, and checked out an English bookstore called What the Book, where I bought a used copy of Frankenstein. We left Itaewon and walked about 15 minutes away to our main item on our Sunday itinerary- the Korean War Memorial.

The Korean War Memorial is not just a memorial- it is a huge museum devoted not just to the Korean War but to Korea's military history going back thousands of years. I was extremely impressed with the place. Outside are two famous statues. One is called the Statue of Brothers:
I don't know the name of the other one but it looks like this:
Here are some close ups:

The actual museum building was huge, and outside were probably hundreds of military tanks, missiles, aircrafts, etc.

The museum inside is absolutely huge. I learned quite a lot about the Korean War and about Korea in general. For example, initially, the north came very close to winning the war, and had taken control of almost all of South Korean except for a small southeastern corner. At that point, the UN got involved and something like 17 countries sent troops to help South Korea (88% of the foreign troops came from the USA). They succeeded in pushing back North Korea all the way to the Chinese border, so the country was almost united, but when they got really close to the Chinese border the Chinese kind of freaked out and sent troops to help North Korea, and then the fighting line got pushed back to the 38th parallel. Also, I learned that South Korea did not want an armistice- they wanted to keep fighting until the country was united. The armistice was signed by Kim Il Sung and members of the UN- no South Koreans were present at the signing. 

We didn't take many pictures inside the museum. Here are just a few:

After spending several hours at the museum, we made our way to the bus terminal and got buses back to our respective cities.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March 2014 Trip to Seoul

On March 8-9, Jaeyun and I took a quick trip to Seoul. This trip was prompted by the opening in November of 2013 of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. This museum has been highly touted in Korea, with the hopes that it can rival the MoMA in NYC and the Tate in London. Going to this museum was the impetus for our trip, but in planning I quickly added on other locations I wanted to visit.

Jaeyun and I met up in Seoul on Saturday around 11am, and after a quick lunch at the gigantic bus terminal, we made our way to the art museum. It was cool, but kind of a let down for me. The first two galleries were my favorites, as they contained large paintings from around the 1950s to contemporary times. Many of these paintings were political in nature, and reflected the Korean War, or the economic struggles in South Korea during the second half of the 19th century, or the political struggles during that time with different dictators. Many paintings weren't so explicitly political, and there were a couple that had the quintessential "looks like the painter just threw a bucket of black paint at a white canvas and called it art" look to them, though many of the paintings were extremely impressive. Unfortunately photography was not allowed in these two galleries.

The other galleries weren't quite as impressive to me, and featured more 3D art or multi-media art. There was a room set up with different microscopes in which you looked at things like sand through a microscope. Of course the museum added to the atmosphere of the room by dimming the lights and having big projections of bacteria and stuff all over the walls.

 There were several film-art type projects, such as the one pictured below which featured a story line of an individual who constantly ate instant ramen and bemoaned the loneliness of their life while eating the instant ramen.

There was an art piece called "Home Within a Home Within a Home Within a Home Within a Home" or something like that, which was kind of cool. It featured a large 2 story western house (modeled specifically after one the artist had lived in in Rhode Island for a while) made out of this blue-ish translucent cloth. Inside that house was a traditional Korean house made out of the same material. This exhibit was cool because you could "enter" the house and look at it from the inside.

The museum also had a really cool project comprised of plastic and wires and lights that detected motion around it and slowly moved when there were people nearby. 

 These plastic wire things behind us would raise up and lower down. It was really cool. It felt like the whole creation was alive.

We spent about 2 hours at the art museum. It was cool, and I'm glad we went, but I wasn't incredibly impressed with it. Maybe in a few years once it's been established and opened longer it might be a bit more impressive.

After leaving the museum we made our way to the National Museum of Korea, which I loved. The property the museum is on is really nice, and the building was equally impressive from the outside and the inside.

There was a nice small pond and pavilion in front of the museum:

 The view from behind the museum. You can see Namsan Seoul Tower on the hill.

Inside the museum:

The museum is quite huge- we didn't realize the scope of the place beforehand. It makes sense for it to be so big since it is the national museum. I think if we had understood beforehand how much there was to see, we would have planned our visit there on a day in which we weren't doing anything else. It was fairly mentally and physically exhausting to visit it after the art museum.

The museum has 15,000 pieces on display, and covers three floors. There is also a separate building for a "special exhibit", which we didn't even have time to see. We spent about 3 hours at the museum and were really rushing through things. Since we went in the late afternoon, we were under pressure to get out before they closed. Also, we were both super tired and getting hungry. The galleries in the museum include: prehistoric and ancient history, medieval and early modern history, calligraphy and painting, sculpture and crafts, a donations gallery, and a gallery with pieces from all over Asia. Additionally, as I mentioned, there was also the "special exhibit gallery" which we didn't even have time to visit.

I really enjoyed the National Museum. It is probably the best organized museum I've ever been to, and had arrows and signs to help you make your way around so you didn't miss anything. There was a very nice natural flow to the design of the building and the exhibits, so it was easy to mark your progress and see how far you've come, and like I mentioned it made it very easy to see everything and not accidentally miss anything.The main lobby like section of the museum had big windows and lots of natural lighting, and everything was so clean and uncluttered. There were also a few cafes strategically placed inside the museum, and we took a short break at one point for some coffee and ice cream.

Jaeyun took a lot of pictures (most of the pictures on here from this trip were ones he took), but of course I can't put all of them up here. I'll just put a few to try to give a representation of all you can see there.

This was cool- it's an old Korean map of Asia. You can see the Korean peninsula on the right, and Japan south of it. To the left of Korea is China, and on the far left you can see India.

There was a very impressive gallery of Buddhist statues.

This is a Hellenic helmet that is thousands of years old (circa 800-700 B.C.E.). It was given to Sohn Kee-Chung, the first Korean Olympic gold medalist. He won the gold in marathon at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. At the time, Korea was a forced colony under Japan, so Sohn Kee-Chung had to compete under the Japanese flag, and his medal counted for Japan's medal count. This helmet was supposed to have been given to him in 1936, but the the gifting of the prize was blocked by the Japanese. The helmet was then put in a Berlin museum for 50 years. After a Greek newspaper somehow intervened, the helmet was finally given to Sohn Kee-Chung 50 years later, in 1986. Now, you can see the helmet here at the National Museum. Pretty interesting story, huh?

We left the museum around 7pm, and got a cab to the small guesthouse we had booked, called Sun City Hostel. The place was quaint and cute and owned and operated by a very friendly man who told Jaeyun he used to live in Gwangju. After we checked in and put our stuff down, he recommended us walk the 15 minutes or so to Itaewon for dinner. Itaewon is the "foreigner" district that sprung up decades ago around the US military base. Itaewon is to Korea what Chinatown is to New York, though perhaps a bit different because Itaewon isn't quite as ethnically specific. Itaewon has scores of restaurants featuring cuisines from all over the world (including American chain restaurants like On the Border and Taco Bell), Seoul's only Islamic mosque, English bookstores, and dozens of foreign doctors, dentists, and other professionals. Itaewon is also well known for "Hooker Hill"- a red light district that is popular with the soldiers at the army base, and "Homo Hill"- a section with bars and clubs for the LGBT community. I had been to Itaewon once before, but Jaeyun had never been there. The walk there from our guesthouse was nice, and once there we choose to eat at a Thai restaurant called Wang Thai. The food was delicious and it was nice to sit down and relax after a busy day.

We left the restaurant around 9pm with one more place on our itinerary to go to for the day- Namsan Seoul Tower, also called N Seoul Tower. Namsan Seoul Tower (so named because it is on Nam mountain) was built in 1969 as a communications tower, but opened to the public in 1980. It is now a major tourist attraction in Seoul and is the highest point in the city. At night the tower is illuminated with blue lights. The cab driver we had when driving to the tower said we can take a cable car or a shuttle up the mountain to the tower, and he recommended the cable car. When we got to the cable car station and bought our tickets, we found out there was a 40 minute wait. Finally, we got absolutely jam packed in to the cable car and were taken up the mountain. Once at the base of the tower, we had to wait again to go up the elevator to the observation deck. The observation deck was packed with people, and had some gift shops. I enjoyed the view from the top, but Jaeyun didn't seem too impressed. We had to wait again to go back down the elevator, and then again to take the cable car down. Additionally, it took us a while to get a taxi back from the location to our hotel. The whole thing, which I thought would just take about an hour, took about 3.5 hours due to all the waiting. It made sense for it to be busy- it was a major tourist attraction on a Saturday night in a city with 20 million people.We just didn't really think about that before hand. 

At the base of the tower:

At the observation deck:

I'm certainly glad we went to the tower- visiting it had been on my "Seoul bucket list" for a really long time. However, I have no inclination to ever go again. Jaeyun wasn't too impressed and mentioned his experiences with the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Space Needle in Seattle were much more impressive.

We got back to the hostel around 12:30am, and had a really good night's sleep.