So I spent the past week or so in Korea and took lots of pictures.
(all pictures are thumbnails — click to view fullsize)
Bongeunsa Buddhist Monastery
The first stop we took was the buddhist temple across the street. No, really, it was LITERALLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM OUR HOTEL.
Probably the most mindblowing part of the whole thing was this entire temple complex, right there in the middle of a busy city. I don’t really have much commentary on these pictures, because to be honest what can I say, not being Buddhist.
Here was rice and offertory candles for sale just before entering the complex. This wasn’t a museum, but a functioning temple.
As you can see the Buddhist view of swastikas isn’t the same as ours.
People were actually in the middle of services during our visit, which kept me from going picture happy inside the temple buildings. I mean, wandering in the middle of a church service and firing off flash bulbs just seemed rude. Still I managed to get a few shots from outside.
There were these paper balloons everywhere. I found out later it was because it was Buddha’s birthday this week.
The centerpiece of the temple complex is this huge Buddha, that looked about 5 or 6 stories tall.
Bongeunsa’s website (which is all in Korean) is here.
Afterwards we were off to attend meetings at the NCsoft home office. Interestingly, since Seoul is so short on space, the NCsoft garage uses an elevator instead of ramps.
While waiting for our host to park I asked someone how many floors of this building NCsoft took. He told me, sounding somewhat abashed, that NCsoft took up 3 buildings, but only took up a few floors on this one.
Ads for NCSoft games on a building under construction next door. NCsoft was literally almost everywhere I looked in Korea. The “Korea Times”, one of Seoul’s two English-language papers, had an editorial by someone at NCsoft explaining why bots were bad in online games; it seems that earlier NCsoft had won a court decision against manufacturers of botting programs and it was covered unfavorably by the local media. In a mall I found a small boardgame shop that had this Lineage 2 boardgame.
Even more freakily, while waiting for a subway I saw this TV ad for Lineage 2.
PC rooms (baangs)
PC rooms looked to be everywhere in Seoul. They were easy to spot from the English “PC” letters in the sign. Many of them had ornate dragons and the like and looked like they were, well, holes in the wall. I never actually made it into a hole-in-the-wall PC room (which is no doubt for the best given my poor Korean) but here’s a shot of one in an upscale mall.
This ad was everywhere in Itaewon, but I never actually found the PC room it was advertising. It literally was the only thing I was looking for in Itaewon.
The same mall had a demo room which I think was used for professional Starcraft tournaments.
Even the Inchon Airport had a PC room. Here’s a shot of me catching up on message boards and Korea’s version of Diet Coke.
Korea’s subway is extremely efficient, inexpensive and clean, if crowded. Still I’d recommend visitors to Seoul use cabs instead; they’re almost as inexpensive as the subway and you see a lot more of Seoul.
There are a LOT of TVs in the subway. In Seoul for that matter. It seems like no matter where you go in Seoul there is a TV somewhere broadcasting. Definitely added to the entire “Blade Runner” feel of the place.
Some more subway scenes:
The kids in the subway tended to move in tight clumps, even when there was plenty of room.
Here’s a guy on rollerblades and a suit. You laugh, but after a day on the subway he made a lot of sense to me!
Public restrooms: free. Toilet paper for restroom: not free. (Thus the vending machine.)
I was thirsty, but not that thirsty.
I wasn’t terribly fond of Itaewon. It struck me as Tourist Seoul; there were a LOT of American tourists and servicemen there. A huge US Army base was nearby, with concertina wire along the walls and patrolled by humorless Korean soldiers in black uniforms and truncheons as large as (and about the same shape as) two handed swords.
I couldn’t pass any of these shops without a hawker out front yelling at me in broken English. Most of them were selling suits. “Want to buy a suit? Almost like free!”
I’m told Itaewon is more exciting at night, but I was also told by others that the sort of excitement Itaewon is known for isn’t really recommended for married men. The sort of thing that regrettably pops up anywhere US servicemen do. Yay for diplomacy. Hey, look, local restaraunts! (Outback in particular is really popular in Seoul, as is Bennigan’s and TGIFridays.)
So as you can probably tell Itaewon kinda depressed me so I started wandering off.
Right about here I realized I had no idea where I was.
Yay for transit maps!
Unlike Itaewon, there weren’t any tourists in Nandaemon, at least while I was there. Nandaemon was fascinating; hundreds and hundreds of tiny little shops selling mostly clothes, music, or food. The shopkeeper would sit outside and watch the world go by; there was little if any hectoring of passers-by like at Itaewon.
Lots of food stalls in Namdaemon. I ducked into one stall/diner and was quickly greeted by the proprietor, an old woman; despite her speaking absolutely no English and my speaking virtually no Korean, she quickly figured out what I was asking for and brought me a Coke – IN A **GLASS** BOTTLE – and a Korean-style metal drinking cup. I sat in the diner stall and spent the next half hour or so watching the world pass the market by. It cost me 2000 won (about $2) and may well be the best Coke I ever purchased.
The proprietor of this shop, an old man, tried to chat me up and realized about two words in that I wasn’t really the target market for his turtle soup ingredients, so instead he just smiled and vigorously shook my hand. I felt bad for the guy; they looked like nice turtles, I guess.
At the other end of Namdaemon market was Namdaemon Gate, which is hundreds of years old and surrounded by a bustling city block, which come to think of it is a workable metaphor for Seoul in general.
I had originally planned on visiting the DMZ and poking North Koreans with sticks, but thankfully for the cause of world peace there weren’t any Panmunjom tours scheduled that weekend, so instead I went to the Korean War Memorial. This is a combination monument and museum and is HUGE. It took me the better part of a whole day to poke through it all.
These plinths were much like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. Except there were more names. A lot more. A whole lot more. There were multiple rows of these plinths (I think 4?) and a computer system at the entrance guided people to the plinth of a specific name. A seperate set listed in English the US war dead.
I wasn’t alone in the museum. Apparently several elementary schools were running tours that day as well. The kids often found me (who, more often than not, was the tallest, fattest, and hairiest human being in a five-square-mile radius) more exciting than the exhibits, and would happily wave and shout “Hi!” I at first responded with a cheerful “Annyong haseyo!”, Korean for hello, but from the crestfallen looks when I responded in Korean I realized that they actually wanted to “talk” in English, so instead I responded with “Hi”. Well, actually I would respond with “Hi Hi Hello Hi How are you Pleased to meet you Hi Hi” because I would pass waves of kids all happily waving and shouting “Hi”. One boisterous older boy jumped up and screamed “PEACE!” at the top of his lungs (that’s him in the picture); I don’t know if he was making a political statement or if that was simply the English word he knew. The younger kids were all fascinated with me, but once the kids got to about 12 or so they couldn’t care less. At any rate the kids were everywhere throughout the museum, so you’ll see them in many of the following pictures. Seeing grim testimonials of war surrounded by happy Korean kids shouting “Hi! Hi!” was more than a little creepy, by the way.
The museum opened with these busts of Korean war heroes.
Following that was a medieval history display, including this dramatic life-size diorama of a medieval battle.
This book, if I read the inscription correctly, had inscribed the names of the Korean War dead.
This medieval turtle-ship should be familiar to Age of Kings players.
Next was the Korean War historical display, which was as you would expect huge (in fact taking up multiple floors). A disturbing number of statues commemorated soldiers who bravely commited suicide taking as many enemy with them as possible.
Many of the displays were wax representation of scenes; these displayed North and South Korean war uniforms.
Another large diorama commemorated the annihilation of a school whose students fought back against the North Koreans. One wonders what the kids thought of it.
This diorama represented the liberation of Seoul.
Crossing the 38th parallel – you actually cross it along with the diorama soldiers.
An artist’s rendering of Pyongyang’s liberation. A bit fanciful, as by this point Pyongyang was a parking lot from constant bombardment.
A canteen of water from the Yalu, as presented to the South Korean President.
It’s Seargent Mao’s Lonely Hearts Club Band! Chinese soldiers, for some reason with musical instruments.
In this diorama (again, life-size) representing a “human wave” attack the Chinese are a bit less friendly.
I found the propaganda preserved by the museum pretty interesting.
These pictures with the armistice displays show people protesting the end of the war.
The prior displays were (understandably) fairly Korean-centric; the next section detailed the UN assistance Korea recieved.
I bet you didn’t know the Ethiopian Army fought in the Korean War, did you.
The following sequence, which closed out the Korean War section, had displays of civilian refugees.
The rest of the museum displays dealt with more modern history, such as Korea’s Vietnam involvement…
…and present-day peacekeeping operations.
On the first floor there was a display for kids about Microbes. No, really. It had lots of apparently corporate-sponsored booths and required a seperate ticket. I wasn’t really motivated to learn about microbes, but there was this display which I can only begin to imagine the purpose of.
Outside there was a period-costume procession, I believe a recreation of a medieval wedding ceremony. Oddly the guys in yellow costumes waved at me and smiled as I was taking pictures (sadly I didn’t get a shot of that, it looked pretty bizarre)
And beyond that was an outdoor display of military hardware. And by that I mean a LOT of military hardware. In case of a conflict I’m pretty sure people could just roll on up to the museum and outfit a fairly nasty force.
And beyond THAT was… an ancient monument. I swear, this was the Catch-All Museum Of Stuff. I think this monument was here originally and they just built the museum next to it, so it just got absorbed.
That ends the tour of the War Memorial. Thank you and drive safely. (By the way, almost no one drives safely in Seoul. I think cab drivers take combat driving courses.)
Seoul reminded me a lot of New York City. Or what New York would be, five or ten years in the future, with more polite people and city services that actually worked. When talking to people back home I joked that I was “in the FUTURE!” (thanks to the date line and being a day ahead of the US) but it really did feel that way sometimes. The ubiquitous televisions everywhere (even in cars – being watched by people who should be DRIVING) helped here.
I was only in Seoul for 4 days, and I’m sure there was a lot I missed. But I think the most important experience I had was of simply being totally foreign. I couldn’t communicate very well. It was at times very, very frustrating; usually communication is one of the few things I’m actually good at. But when I managed to break through anyway, like with the diner owner in Namdaemon, it was far more rewarding. At any rate I have a new respect for people here in the US trying to acclimate themselves to a foreign land. It isn’t exactly easy.
Oh and for the record? 14 hour flights suck. Thank you.