Thursday, December 31, 2009

National Museum, Revisited

My dad and I got a later start than usual today, and I think it's because we're both feeling tired from a week of sightseeing. No worries though... we were able to Skype with loved ones back home which was a real treat.

Given that -8C (17.6F) was predicted for today's high, it seemed like a good day to focus on indoor activity. With that in mind, we targeted the National Museum. I hadn't been back since October, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I'd like to go more often as it's such a beautiful + elegantly designed space with an exhaustive permanent collection. Had a ball snapping loads of pictures while pretending to work for Architectural Digest:



Afterward, we headed to Dongdaemun Shopping Center which was in full swing. Bought some souvenirs and caught a few hip-hop dance contests. Then, onto dinner to ring in the New Year. We opted for traditional Korean barbecue, and the meal was both good and interactive (tending to the meat and vegetables on the grill).


It's nearly midnight here, and I'm blogging from my warm bed; the thought of being outdoors in the current 12F temp seems like madness. I'll follow local custom and make a bigger to do over Lunar New Year. For now, however, I'm celebrating 2010's arrival with a solid night's rest.

Cheers to you, and Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The trip to the DMZ was amazing, and I highly recommend booking through the USO after today's experience. We left promptly at 7:30am and drove for about an hour to Camp Bonifas. At the base, we met US military personnel who guided us through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). We were only allowed to take photos in a few areas, so although I saw many fascinating things, I can't share them all with you.

Those of you who have gone on the tour may recall the atmosphere of heightened tension in Panmunjeom where the Joint Security Area (JSA) is located. Here, we stood about 100 meters away from North Korean (KPA) soldiers; it was sobering to say the least. Fortunately the Republic of Korea (ROK) soldiers and US military police were on hand for our protection. 

If you look very closely, you can see a KPA soldier in the background. He's looking at us through binoculars:

After this adrenaline rush, we headed to an on-base museum to learn more about the historical events and context. From there, we hiked through the Third Tunnel -one of four tunnels dug by the KPA to infiltrate Seoul and the surrounding area. This particular tunnel is about 150 meters below ground and nearly 5,200 feet long. Amazing to think that it's a real tunnel and not a Disney attraction. Both the walk down and hike back up were intense.  

Unification of the countries is the hope of many. Here is a sculpture symbolizing the sentiment: 

Were I not so energy-deficient after today's activity, I'd elaborate on my DMZ impressions and discuss the rest of the day; however, I cannot remember the last time I felt this tired. In short, I am deeply grateful for the countless blessings in my life and the abundant freedoms + privileges I enjoy all because I'm an American citizen. It is only by Grace that I was born in the United States, and today was a pointed reminder of how incredibly fortunate I am. The contrast between the comfortable existence I've had all my life and the oppressive environment across the border was stark and vivid. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Prison Visit

We covered a lot of ground today, both historically and geographically. After touring my school and meeting my colleagues, we headed north to visit Seodaemun Prison History Hall. The preserved space depicts atrocities committed by the Japanese against Korean nationals (both men and women) who fought for independence from 1908 - 1945. It was difficult to walk through the prison halls and not be overwhelmed by emotion. I took many pictures but probably will wait before posting the graphic ones as they're very upsetting. For your reference, here a few images:


Afterward, we walked around Gwanghwamun Square which is a major center of activity, perhaps even the soul of Seoul. Of course, there were some photo ops...

So much to see and do, and yet the cold quickly became a determining factor in curbing our sightseeing for the day. Not to worry, we have a very early wake-up call tomorrow as we're headed to the DMZ... stay tuned!   

Monday, December 28, 2009

Allons a France!

Today was supposed to be a mellow day, and yet somehow we expended a lot of energy. Worth it though -I finally made it to Paris, by way of Seoul.

There's an enclave of French ex-pats who reside in a neighborhood about 30 minutes from my place; the area is called Seorae Village. I'd read about it before moving here and since then have been curious to visit. Glad I did.

The neighborhood appears to be very compact -there's a main street about 1/2 mile long with a few alleys and side streets. In that space are many coffee shops and several French-Italian restaurants (side note:  we only saw four French people, two men with their daughters, so I'm thinking that many residents went home to France to celebrate Christmas; will check back again in the New Year). The sidewalk bricks of the main street are in blue, white, and red in tribute to the French flag:

Lining the main street are several French flags paired with Korean flags:
Many fun, and funny, signs in the area; here are a few:


We had lunch at a fabulous restaurant, La Trouvaille. It was a European-style bistro, and the meals were excellent -delicious and artistically presented. I will definitely go there again.

We finished off our time en France with a coffee and pastry at Paris Croissant -a local chain which has Paris Baguette beat by a mile... probably for the best that there's not one near my apartment.

From Seorae Village, we walked over to Shinsegae Department Store. It's the Harrod's of Korea (with multiple locations) and quite impressive. I am the new owner of a sporty, down jacket (thanks, Mom + Dad!) and am certain to be much warmer as I gear up for another 2-3 months of winter.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Snowday

Serious snow day! So much more fun to walk around in freezing temperatures when the snow is falling and covering the city in a white blanket. Today, things looked prettier and felt more serene, even if we did pack in a full day of activity. 

My dad and I toured Hyehwa this afternoon and had pizza at my favorite place, Di Matteo's. I enjoyed making a couple snowballs for two sisters who were have a snow fight... in the picture below, it looks like one of them is about to tag me!


From Hyehwa, we went onto church and enjoyed a great service. I am really blessed to know some very fun and warmhearted people from there. Can't imagine living here without their friendship.

Next stop after church:  COEX -the mega-mall near my apartment. I was in search of a sporty, down jacket but couldn't find quite the right match. My dad was a terrific sport, however, and I think he got an even clearer picture of the lengths women will go to in order to find the right one -apparel, mate, etc.

Our final stop was dinner at my favorite neighborhood spot -BBQ Chicken. Their fried chicken is just so darn good, and tonight's experience proved no exception. Once again I am exhausted and am now starting to brainstorm ways to incorporate scheduled relaxation into my Seoul routine...  

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saturday Wipe Out

An action-packed day, and I'm wiped. We started out in Insadong where we met my adopted Korean family. They treated us to a wonderful lunch at a fantastic restaurant in a refurbished traditional home. The food was very good and aesthetically pleasing, too.


After lunch, my dad and I visited Gyeongbokgung Palace for a quick tour. It was unbelievably cold, and while we didn't last long outdoors, we walked briskly and were able to cover much of the grounds.



From Gyeongbokgung, we walked to Samcheong-dong and had coffee and waffles -quite the trendy food combo right now, and that neighborhood has an abundance of cafes serving it up; I counted at least a dozen, but there's probably more. After waffles, it was onto the flagship Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong to check out the food halls -they are expansive and always bustling. I forgot to snap pics because of all the commotion...

Afterward, we headed back to my neighborhood and ate dinner at a place known for its fresh noodles. They were delicious and hit the spot. I am now exhausted and ready to fall asleep.

(As fun as today was, the best part was getting to see and talk with tons of family on Skype -love you all!)