Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mokpo & Jeju

During the Kim & Lee post-intensive-classes week off, Taylor and I decided to go to Jeju Island for an indetermined length of time. After days of fruitless attempts at planning flights and visas to China or Japan, and due to the fact neither of us had much money, we decided on Jeju because it's easy and cheap and part of the Republic of Korea, so visas and a multiple entry stamp for my passport weren't needed.

We took the train down to Mokpo, a port city at the bottom of South Korea, and we made our way to the ferry terminal where we were unfortunate enough to have missed the ferry by two minutes. So we ended up staying a night in Mokpo, but it was pretty cool because there was a sizeable hill littered with pagodas and other tourist-friendly structures, and the view was awesome at the top (see above), so not too bad of a day. Mokpo itself seemed to consist of nothing but motels, fish markets and places to buy fishing equipment. The fish market smelled terrific. Additionally, there was also a very lewd poster for a questionable event that clearly involved homoerotic dancing and plenty of alcohol, and what made it even more sinister was the fact that it was presented entirely in Hangul, so really there was no telling what you were getting yourself into. It seemed completely out of place for a simple port city, but I suppose they have to get their kicks somehow after a hard day of gutting squid. Mokpo photos below:

We took a giant ferry the next day to Jeju Island, which took about five hours to get there. It was similar to a British Columbia ferry, except it had several mini karaoke rooms in it (aka Noraebang) that these old Korean codgers were just going nuts at inside. It was really entertaining to walk slowly past the rooms and see the elderly party of drunken old men singing terrible, terrible Korean pop songs. At Jeju we went to a lava cave (which contained the largest known lava column in the world, photo below) and it had a good cave vibe to it, lots of dripping water and shiny rock walls. The hordes of Korean tourists prevented the Journey to the Centre of the Earth feel from really setting in, but it was still neat. We went on a hike the next day and also found a small temple in Jeju city which was worth a little look around. The manji symbol is quite common in Korea as a Buddhist symbol, but they make special effort to use left-facing swastikas to differentiate them from the Gestapo. So don't be alarmed when you see the giant Nazi drum in the next few photos:

I was REALLY tempted to ring the enormous bell but I figured that would be pretty disrespectful. I bet it would have been really loud though.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Seoul Tower & Korean Folk Village

Last weekend Jagjeet and I decided to go to Seoul Tower, located on the peak of this enormous hill, which we decided to walk up. It was actually a pretty cool walk despite the fact we ended up circling the mountain in its entirety before we clued in that we weren't actually gaining any height. After a further gruelling half hour or so we finally got to the tower.

I mean, it's pretty cool-looking at all, but we paid 10,000 won to get to the top of this thing and it didn't occur to us that the visibility might have been less than stellar. We essentially paid ten bucks to experience a 30 second elevator ride and an extremely disappointing view of Seoul. It's about half the height of CN Tower too, so it's really nothing special. Verdict: don't bother.

The Korean Folk Village in Suwon was not too bad. There was a group of us that went and it was pretty nice, lots of good little Korean thingies for presents etc. Also there was an awesome Korean game that consists of a plank of wood that two people jump on and try to make the other one fall of. It's like a see-saw that you stand on, with the added excitement of possibly breaking your face upon your defeat. This theme of innocent childhood games turning into potentially crippling experiences is a common theme in Korean culture.

So basically we hit up two of the most touristy places we could think of in Korea. Neither of them were all that stupendous, but there are some reasonably mundane photos for you to look at if you're clamouring for some more photos. Also, it was Taylor's birthday last night, so we decided to go to a dance club called Crazy Duck which is apparently pretty popular with foreigners. Well, I liked it.. and I'm foreign.. so 100% of the surveyed population agrees with my hypothesis, at least. Photos below (see Seoul Tower looming in the distance in the first one):

Right.. I should probably explain what the deal is with the fenceful of locks. At Seoul Tower you can buy pairs of stylised padlocks, which are supposed to represent everlasting love, and you lock the padlocks together on a fence and then you keep the key for yourself (supposedly as a memento of the beautiful moment, or if you break up and want to remove the lock at some point?). It's pretty sickly but I think Koreans are into that kind of stuff. Some people bought about 20 of them and arranged them into a heart shape on the fence. It's pretty bad. More photos, from the Korean Folk Village: