ROK June 2014

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This blog is a review of my adventures in June 2014. Please read and enjoy the pics of me prancing around Korea with my friends.

First escapade: Suwon.

Suwon is the capital and largest metropolis of Gyeonggi-do. It is approximately 1 hour south of Seoul (19 miles) and is home to a high percentage of the 12 million commuters that Seoul receives 6 days a week. Transportation is super convenient in Korea, so one can choose an express bus or the subway to get there. Suwon is traditionally known as “The City of Filial Piety”. It has existed in various forms throughout Korea’s history, growing from a small settlement in tribal times to a major industrial and cultural city today. It is the only remaining completely walled city in South Korea. As an industrial center, it houses a Samsung Electronics R&D center and headquarters. Suwon is also a major educational center, being home to 11 university campuses.

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Above: Andra, her visiting friend from Minnesota, Lindsay, and I took the Suwon bus tour around the city for approximately 3 hours. Our first stop on the tour, the Mr. Toilet House.

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This has got to be the biggest case of turning a disadvantage into a life’s goal. Born in the outdoor toilet of his mother’s house, Sim jae Duck grew up with the nickname Gettongi (literally, dog sh!t). Sim Jae Duck eventually became the mayor of Suwon city, and picked out a new nickname for himself: Mr. Toilet. He helped drastically improve, regulate and revolutionize the bathroom experience in Korea. Thank God! After helping to establish the World Toilet Association in 2007, this two-story toilet-shaped building was built celebrating the man, the legend, the toilet. He passed away in January 2009, and now that the site has been completed, it’s a full-blown tourist attraction.

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Second stop, Hwaseong Fortress, for a traditional weaponry display and demonstration. The show lasted for over 30 minutes. Here are just a few of my favorite shots.

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Below: I did a lot of research trying to find out information about this golden buddha in the hills and its significance in Suwon to no avail, so I give you this incredible picture with little explanation. It is two stories tall and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Third stop, Hwaseong Fortress gate. The fortress was built as part of a planned city constructed by King Jeongjo, the 22nd monarch of the Joseon Dynasty. It served as the southern gate of the capital city of Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty. The area was a strategic site for military security, and Hwaseong Fortress served as a key site for commerce. Today, Hwaseong Fortress is surrounded by many roads both small and major in addition to the Gyeonggi Provincial Government Building, giving many the opportunity to view the scenic juxtaposition of old and modern architecture. 

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Above: Andra and Lindsay try a few shots at archery.

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The fortress (constructed from 1794 to 1796) was built as a show of the King’s filial piety towards his father Jangheonseja and to build a new pioneer city with its own economic power. The fortress wall stretches for a total of 5.52km and has a great variety of military facilities that’s hard to find anywhere else. Four gates face each of the cardinal directions—Janganmun (north), Paldalmun (south), Changnyongmun (east), and Hwaseomun (west).

Hwaseong Fortress was constructed under the guidance of Yu Hyeong-Won and Jeong Yak-Yong, and is believed to have been constructed very scientifically. The fortress wall was built using Seokjae and Jeondol (bricks) and the holes between the bricks are just big enough to fire guns, arrows, or long spears through in case of an attack.

The Suwon Hwaseong Fortress went through many turbulent times and damage, and in the battle of June 25th, many of the facilities became so damaged that they were deemed irreparable. Even though the fortress restoration initiative (1975-1979) restored many of the sites to their former glory, Paldalmun to Dongnamgakru (an area 491 meters in length) has still not been renovated. The fortress was designated as Historical Monument No. 3 in January 1963, and in December 1997, it was designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

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Last stop on the tour: Suwon Hwaseong Museum.

The museum presents the history and culture of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress and has two permanent exhibition spaces: ‘The Exhibition Hall on Construction of Fortress’ (construction process of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress and the development of the city) and ‘The Cultural Center’ (illustrates various historical events related to the fortress such events held during the 8-day visit of King Jeongjo in 1795).

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Before we retuned to Seoul, the three of us enjoyed 3 different varieties of ‘bing su.’ Bing su is a staple Korean summer delicacy. It includes shaved ice and additives ranging from fruit to red bean paste. The store clerk was surprised that each of us ordered one, given that they come in a size suitable for 2-3 people. Ohhh Korea. Their 2-3 portion size is much like the USA size for one. I ordered the New York Cheese cake with ice cream, saltine crackers and shaved ice. Lindsay had the coffee themed one and Andra stuck to a classic strawberry version.

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One Thursday night after work, the Apgu branch (John, Andra, Brandon & I) ventured north of the river to meet up with Jesse in Itaewon for some spicy ribs and samgyeopsal. Samgyeopsal is a popular Korean evening meal. It consists of thick, fatty slices of pork belly meat (similar to uncured bacon). The meat, usually neither marinated nor seasoned, is cooked on a grill at the diners’ table. Usually diners grill the meat themselves and eat directly from a grill. It is most commonly dipped in sesame seed oil mixed with salt and pepper.

According to a 2006 survey by Agricultural Cooperatives in Korea, 85% of South Korean adults surveyed stated their favorite pork is samgyeopsal. The survey also showed 70% of recipients eat the meat at least once a week. The high popularity of samgyeopsal makes it one of the most expensive parts of pork. South Korea imports wholesale samgyeopsal from Belgium, the Netherlands, and other countries for the purpose of price stabilization as imported pork is much cheaper than domestic. Samgyeopsal is popularly consumed both at restaurants and at home, and also used as an ingredient for other Korean dishes, such as kimchi jjigae.

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Above: After 1 year and 5 countries, I had to say goodbye to my comfy pillows of heaven for my feet. They could no longer be repaired. I had super glued and sown them one back together too many times.

Below: One evening on our way to visit Carly, John and I passed one of the many sock stands in Korea. They are everywhere. Koreans LOVE their socks. I decided to purchase a few pairs for Chris and I. Hilariously, neither John nor I ever considered that the mens pair would not fit Chris (who wears a size 16 shoe). Later that evening as I was bragging about my thoughtful gift, Ellie reminded me that most Korean men have tiny feet (comparable to a women’s size 8). Le sigh. I hope it was the thought that count. I wound up gifting them to my amazing two male coworkers, John and Brandon. haha!

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Above: On a Wednesday before work, I met up with my Korean housewife tutee who had been absent from my life for the past 6 months. She took me out to VIPS, a popular steak restaurant with a fancy buffet. This was my first time having American style steak in 17 months. It was so delicious. The restaurant also had a spectacular range of salad bar, soups, deserts and drink options. In addition to the steak, I had Vietnamese pho (noodle soup) and pat bing su. We grabbed Starbucks after and enjoyed a walk through the park. It was so lovely to catch up on life, food, and experience the steamy outdoors.

Below: One of my student’s magnificent drawings of me. She even got my unintentional ombre hair coloring.

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Below: Night out in Hongdae listening to live acoustic music with Carly (on weekend trip from Taiwan), Jooyea, Tom, John and Ellie.

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Above: Sunday corrections break with Ellie in Carosugil. I’m enjoying this scrumptious version of patbingsu and the cat-themed cafe decor^^

Below: Next to the cafe was a store entitled Hornycat- just one of many English translations gone wrong.

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The final and most exciting June exploit was attending my first Korean wedding!!

The wedding took place in Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul by 1.5 hours. Uijeongbu contains U.S. and Korean military bases, to be used for the defense of the Korean capital. Despite being known for its military presence, the area has boomed into a satellite community of Seoul with shops, cinemas, restaurants and bars, PC bangs and DVD Bangs. There are several mountains that are popular recreational areas for hiking and are frequented by residents living in the Seoul Metropolitan area. This city is famous for its buddaejjigae street food (a soup made with spam and hot dogs), and it was one of the film locations for the popular syndicated TV show M.A.S.H. My limited experience of the city felt clean, welcoming, homey and VERY VERY QUIET.

Featured in the picture below is my Korean friend Areim and her mother who were outside the wedding hall welcoming guests. Areim’s older sister, the bride, was a former employee of Espirit (the company I currently work for and consider to be my family away from home). I was more than pleased to be invited to this, potentially once in a lifetime experience, Korean wedding. Thank you Areim!!

 

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After the inaugural picture with Areim and her mother, I visited the ticket booth to give my donation to the couple in a white envelope in exchange for a meal voucher to be used post ceremony. It is never appropriate for one to give cash without an envelope in Korea, as it would be seen as extremely rude. It is also not customary to give wedding presents at a modern Korean wedding. Instead, guests give money to the couple to help them get their life started.

Most adults live with their parents until marriage (approximately 25-35 years of age) because of the enormous cost of apartment renting or owning, which is outrageously egregious compared to USA standard apartment costs. Although the current generation is racking up credit card debt similar to Americans, Koreans were previously known for their saving abilities. Weddings help to supplement the savings of the parents and the working bride and/or groom’s funds to assist in all the necessary home furniture, appliances, etc. There is no minimum or maximum required donation by guests, but in general a good friend would give approximately $50 and family members, $100.

The next stop was the picture room where the bride sits to be photographed with her guests. I found this part to be quite exciting. I felt like I was waiting to meet a princess. She was one of the most gorgeous brides I have ever seen in my life! The bedazzled gown was rented, as is customary in Korea.

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Above: the Espirit group ready to celebrate!

Below: The bride and groom walk down an elevated runway together. There is no ‘giving away’ of the bride. The couple walked through a cheesy heart bouquet of flowers on their way down the aisle. The gown was so spectacularly grand that someone had to assist her walking up the stairs, turning around, and basically any other movement than one step forward. There was no exchange of vows, just one man speaking. I couldn’t understand anything because everything was in Korean. The bride and groom did not smile throughout almost the entire ceremony until the end. This may have been due to nerves or just traditional Korean stoicism. The groom had his hands in tightly clenched fists the entire time, which is very unusual for Korean army men who are usually required to keep to their resting stance with hands in straight blade form.

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My favorite part of the entire ceremony was when the bride and groom performed bowing or ‘sebae’ to their parents. Sebae is a traditionally observed activity on Seollal (lunar new year), and is filial piety oriented. Children wish their elders a happy new year by performing one deep traditional bow. I am not sure if this activity was exactly sebae, but it was obviously a way for the married couple to give homage to their parents. The groom did a full bow on the floor while the bride took a shallow bow to adhere to the constraints of her wardrobe. 

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After the ceremony was completed, a cart was rolled up to the bride and groom to cut the cake with two swords. Posed pictures were taken during this process. I believe the cake was provided by the wedding hall, along with the cart. No cake was ever served or eaten at the reception. On the walk back down the aisle, the Espirit crew were asked to throw rose petals on them.

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Once the walk down the aisle was finalized, photos of the couple, families, and visitors began to take place. A lot of smiling started to happen too!

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In the very blurry picture below, Bri is featured catching the bouquet. Typically, the bride chooses a woman to catch the bouquet who is planning on getting married within the ensuing 6 months. Bri happens to be getting married in September of 2015, so they kind of broke tradition with timing. The catching of the bouquet, much like the cutting of the cake, was impersonal and very posed for the pictures, but cute and fun to watch nonetheless.

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We weren’t allowed to stay in the wedding hall too long, because the next wedding needed to be set up for. From the walk down the aisle to the end of the photo session, about 45 minutes lapsed. One criticism of Korean weddings is that they are so expensive, but lacking in individualization or personalization by the people getting married and not very representative of the couple as a whole. While I found this to be true, I didn’t really think it was all that surprising. Koreans are ridiculously practical and efficient. Also, this is a collectivist culture with tendencies towards wanting to be similar to peers, not to stand out. What I missed the most was an exchange of personal vows.

After the picture ops, we proceeded to the top floor for a very expansive buffet. I was pleasantly surprised by the seemingly endless choices of food, ranging from sushi, sashimi, rice, noodle dishes, namyeong, kimchi of all varieties, slow roasted meats, tempura, mandu, yukhoe (raw beef), and a desert station. Sorry for the horribly shitty pictures of the food. By this time, I was raging starving so I just chowed down.

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By 4 pm (2 hours total time) we were out the door and on the subway heading back for Seoul. On the way back I met an adorable adjumma who loved my nails and wanted to show me hers! haha.

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Recent reads:

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Information in this blog was gathered from: oneweirdglobe.com, Korea Tourist Organization, and the all-knowing, Wikipedia.

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