Journal 30: Day 1: Arrival to Korea


Day One: Arrival

[1320]

Just flying into Korea in the daytime is amazing. You begin to feel, by the sight of all the mountainous formations jutting up from the carpet of green farms and fields, that you’re about to enter into a Japan-esque countryside where people weave bamboo threaded clothes and there are serene waterfalls around every turn. And while I have yet to see them, I’ve only seen a small part of Seoul. And even at that, I spent most of this time navigating the maze of allyways and streetside nooks trying to find my hotel.

Intricate Web That is the KTX

The first stop was Incheon, where the plane landed. Then I boarded a bus that would take me into Seoul. The last light from the sun was burning the same side of all the buildings in the distant city into a dramatic yellow hue. The expectations that I had for the city streets was not quite met, though, as I almost immediately got onto the subway system – which required tackling a massive, intermingled web of underground rail lines servicing a city of 10 million, known as the “Korail.”

The Four-Tier Subway System

But once in the Gwanghwamun District, where I would be staying, the buildings and their proximity to each other looked much like the urban regions of Ha Noi, Vietnam. I was headed for the Banana Backpackers Hostel, planned so that it would be down the road from a huge, city-preserved palace wherein people live as they did hundreds of years ago. But when I arrived at the address in the book, I found that it was blanketed behind a wall of debris-shroud and under full, reconstructive renovation from bottom to top. Scaffolding surrounded every inch of it.

 So, diving back into the Lonely Planet’s offerings of places to stay, I wound up heading just a few alleys east and a one block north to the Korea Guesthouse which, by way of mostly luck, was cheaper, had free breakfast, shampoo/soap, laundry and wi-fi and closer to the palace. In fact it was almost directly across the street. And so things were already looking up. Throw in a couple of nice new people and there I was enjoying my first evening in Korea.

 So, going back over my day, I have accomplished much. This morning I awoke in Taiwan packed and ready to go, boarded Kaohsiung’s MRT system to the Taiwan High Speed Rail which dropped me off two hours later right at the second terminal where my flight would be departing an hour later. And after only a slight misunderstanding about my carry-on tripod (which, nowadays, must be less than 25cm to be carried onboard; making it more of a large, aluminum daddy-long-legs than a tripod), I was aboard flight OZ712 to Korea. The plane landed at 5pm on the nose (excuse the pun), and I have since covered 40km on buses, 5km on subway track, at least 2km of flat, careening alleys and three flights of stairs to find me here in my bunk writing the first journal of my Korean visit.

 As for my first impression of the people; well, I knew that public drunkenness was accepted here, but I didn’t think that at 7:30 on a Thursday night would have me dodging vomit on the sidewalk and watching laughing, stumbling couples falling all over one another. It was, to use a pun, staggering. But that, in a sense, is what I came to see here; the Real Korea.

 And speaking of what I came here to see, tomorrow I will be riding the hostel’s bike all over the Guanghwamun and Jungno Districts to see lots of new sights. On the list: the Korea International Art Fair (kiaf.org) at the COEX Convention Center; the Seoul Medicinal Herb Market Festival (you know, with a title like that, it’s got to be good), full of Shamanist ceremonies and spiritual consultations; the Seoul Drum Festival (drumfestival.org), full of international enthusiasts who find lots of different ways to make noise; and at night there’s even a “Seoul By Night” walk which takes three hours and goes all the way up to the North Seoul Tower where I plan on getting spectacular views of the city (55cm tripod included).

 But for now I will go grab a bite at the spicy pizza joint I saw on my way here and then enjoy my first night’s sleep in Seoul.

Day Two: The Walled Fortress

 

Okay, so my illustrious plans of visiting all the months-long festivals was quashed when I was lying in bed reading about a walled fortress built in the late 1700’s King Jeongio of the 22nd Joseon Dynasty. He built the wall around the then-center of Suwon’s city, Hwaseong, in order to move the capital 40km south from Seoul. Unfortunately, the people’s will, and his untimely death, had a lot to play in keeping it in its current location.

Nevertheless, this UNESCO-listed heritage fortification is impressive. Complete with observation towers, command posts, innovative entry gates at the cardinal directions, fire beacons and many other advanced items, the wall spans up hills, crosses waterways and spans 5,744m from start to finish. Most of this has had to be restored due to everything from age and weathering to earthquakes and North Korean invasion. That’s what I will be checking out today.

 On the way:

 The need for sunblock is fast approaching as I sit and wait for the train to deliver me to Suwon. And I am thinking of the perfectly good tube of 35-SPF sunscreen sitting in my bag at the hostel. I got up thinking I had plenty of time to get to the city before the hottest part of the day – also the worst light for photography (but wound up getting there at just that time). But was mostly not worried about the sun because, by the looks of the morning gloom and thick overcast, I was sure there would be no problems walking around in what looked like mild weather. In fact, I didn’t even think I would be able to make use of my camera, the light was so bad. But the sun peaked through at around 10am – just as I disembarked the final bus from the train station at the south gate of the fortress wall.

 But before getting into that, I wanted to talk about what I have been noticing about people; I boarded a subway that, all of a sudden, broke into the street level and even crossed the Han River, eventually becoming a full-fledged train. And I really got a good feel for how Koreans interact – and not just with each other, but with foreigners, too.

 irstly, they pack in like sardines when they have to board crowded subways or buses. They will even face the person seated in front of them and never even look at that person (as they’re likely busy watching a movie on their iPhone). It’s a strange kind of closeness. It like either no one seems to mind or they’re purposefully attempting to deny themselves the acceptance of having someone that close in proximity that they need to do something to disengage from the situation. I, on the other hand, was given plenty of room – for some strange reason. Even in a crowded subway, I couldn’t help but notice that no one wanted to be in my “bubble.” It was a situation where someone could say, “You can’t swing a dead cat in here without hitting… [an Asian or whatever]” and actually be wrong about that statement. I had plenty of room. Eventually I thought that I just smelled really bad. But I had just taken a shower and I had been on an air conditioned train all morning. So I can’t imagine what else it might have been. I guess I’m just super bad-ass and everyone knows it.

 The other cool thing about being me on a subway is that I am tall. Now, I am no germ freak. But there’s no denying that I get a little queasy when I think about how many hands touch handrails, doorknobs and, of course, the bracing bars on trains. But probably the only great thing about being 6’4” in a country designed for pigmies is that I can reach all the way up to the very top bar that nobody else can reach. So that has to be germ-free, right? Score!

The Pocket Vest Patrol

Anyway, on the subway-turned-train, I also noticed that there seems to be a lot of middle-aged and older men wearing pocket-vests. And that was reaffirmed today. It’s like the main staple in men’s attire here. I am not even sure that they put anything in the pockets. They all just seem to take on some unspoken responsibility of initiating themselves into the ranks of elderly fashion icons by way of a look that most closely resembles an army of pole-less fishermen.

I can’t lie; I am sporting one, myself. But mine is functional. I have lenses, memory cards, lens cleaners, and personal items stuffed into every nook of my pocket vest. And I will even admit that I look really funny walking around like this. I am full-bearded at the moment, and with my camo-fest, military bag and camera slung around my neck it kind of makes me look like either a Vietnam-era photographer, a pirate, a lumberjack or a mercenary. But, then again, I have on shorts which must tie the entire thing together in the one last-ditch effort to add tragedy to comedy. All told I look like a red-bearded light bulb in urban camouflage uppers and boney knees.

But there’s something different about their getups. They look like they’re all on their way to the biggest catch of their lives. And there are no fish hooks in sight. No bait. No proverbial fishy smell emanating from them. Nothing, other than these funny little vests that they all rock like there’s a sale at Eddie Bauer.

On a lighter note, though, I have noticed that they dearly love one another. All sarcasm aside, the men really dote on their wives. Boarding the subway, they move with their arms in front of the woman in an effort to stave off any mistaken back-step by someone already on the train and bumping into them. Then, when seated, they take out a fan from their pocket and fan cool air onto the lady as they talk to other passengers. It’s really mushy and, dare I say, sweet.

 And while they treat their wives like queens (I am only assuming that they are their wives, by the way), their dogs aren’t so lucky. First off, no matter what the sex or size of the dog, they all shave their pooches to look like male, dominant lions – manes and all. They do this in Taiwan, I’ve noticed and, like Taiwan, none of the dogs are any larger than small poodles. But what’s more surprising is that at the first hint that their little yappers are about to bark, they slap them ruthlessly. Then, just seconds later, they scoop them up and coddle them like little babies. I can’t imagine what this would be about other than to assume that it’s in an effort to reassure them of how loved they are by their dedicated (but firm) masters.

 Whatever the intentions, the expression on the dogs’ faces undoubtedly convey a sense of confusion and shock as their tiny doggy brains sink deeper and deeper into a hugely developed love-hate complex – not knowing whether to bark for the only affection they’ll get, or keep their trap shut for fear of a merciless whack on the noggin.

 etting off the bus from after the train into Suwon, I continue to notice nuances specific to these people. Stopped at crosswalks and intersections, I see that Koreans never jaywalk and rarely speed through red lights. And this is even if there’s plenty of time to walk across and no other cars are in sight. This is a far cry from the rest of the Asia I have seen. In most other places, you’re lucky if you’re pulling through on a fresh green light and not get T-boned by a pimple-faced teen on a moped.

 Now, perhaps this is because they love law and order. Or it’s because there’s symmetry in their society that acts as a sense of control and civility. Possibly they are just a patient, tolerant people. Or maybe it’s because they respect one another enough to simply wait. But I suspect not.

 I think, rather than any or all of the above, it’s because everywhere you look – and I mean EVERYWHERE – there are cameras peering out over the masses undoubtedly forming a video matrix of coverage that would require alien technology to decipher. There’s no getting around the exposure to these menacing eyes, which are surely equipped with the latest in face-recognition software and vigorously poured over by the thousands of Asian emissaries comprising the nameless entity known only casually as the Korean “Big Brother.”

 Whatever the case, their need to observe is a little on the obsessive side. And it’s not hidden in any way. I even saw a camera in the men’s room of the subway far beneath Seoul’s streets. I’m not kidding. After my third and final jiggle, I turned to see a single, prying eye that gave me pause in a way I’ve never experienced in the restroom. And believe me, there have been plenty of awkward moments in suspended bathroom duties in my day.

 Walking further, another trend that keeps reappearing is the nonsensical teen (and younger) T-shirt logo. Ubiquitous is the fashion sense of teens at basically the same time, I am noticing, that strange new concepts emerge all the time – and without reason or in any noticeable pattern. But this one is particularly amusing.

 Now, I am not sure because I don’t know the maker. But it’s possible that these seemingly random words may be the calculated scribblings of some Asian inside joke; or simply the first words that came to the mind of the screen printer just moments before the first shirt was cast; or, in drunken moments with friends the night before going back to work at the design shop, napkins were passed, words were added and BAM! New Shirt Idea! The only evidence either way is whether or not their strangely coordinated verbiage is spelled correctly. That’s the only giveaway – and then only in the drunken napkin concept.

 The sayings on these shirts are things like “Good Time Speed Love,” and “Happy Forever Peanuts,” or “I really, really please.” I couldn’t imagine a pattern or system of design that would be able to come up with such random but popular emblems on which today’s T-shirt fashion is based. I grew up when the “Shit Happens” and “Have a Nice Day” T-shirt craze was afoot. But then, these relics in American history probably never made it very far over here. And even if they did, it would probably still translate to something like “Excrement Takes Shape in Occurrence,” or “Make Yourself Gratitude Afternoon.”

 But, back to the walled fortress: Entering Hwaseong Haenggung, or Hwaseong Palace, it seems like Suwon’s 400 years of dynastic history-turned-shopping-Mecca wasn’t quite what the originators had in mind. Of course I am speaking from the liberal mindset of green living and conserving of our consumerism and they may well have loved the idea of using this historically important region as a central location for doing just the opposite: consume, consume, consume.

Some nice handicrafts at the Jungju Market

One side note was that I was happy to see handicrafts.  There weren’t many and what they did have lacked that pizazz that I am used to.  But nevertheless, I was liking the beads and pottery shops that old folks made together.

 Whatever the case, the word “wall” certainly embodies this place well. Since wherever you walk there are walls and walls of everything from designer watches and lady’s handbags to handicrafts and home furnishings, it just looks like another Bangkok. I am beginning to wonder just how much perfume the average Asian person can handle. The clothes that line the walls of hangers, hooks and harnesses also weird me out.

It seems that no matter how different young people try to look from everyone else, they’re still abiding a certain hidden agenda by the designers – and therefore wind up still looking the same. I mean, ultimately, there are only about 50 or so different fashion statements made with each new trend and everything that young people wear is simply an offshoot of that trend. And that begs the question, what independence do they gain in attempting to free themselves from the shackles of those who would clothe them in uniformity when it is they, themselves, who kick and scream to be the first in line to volunteer their hard earned money to do just that?

 It seems so foreign to me, today’s fashion. Women wear very unflattering hip-boosty-things with frilly, blouses. And the men wear these ankle-tight suit pants with pointy, leather shoes and shiny, button down slicks below kitschy low-cut cardigans and a Ken-Doll hairdo. And this is supposed to represent the coming era in the way of masculine threads?

 I have had the same travel shoes for six years. The same clothes for at least that many years. They’re functional, comfortable and I don’t find myself embarrassed to be seen in them. So why would I replace them at the rate young people do these days? I suppose I have always felt this way. I used to work at a thrift shop when I was in high school and wore clothes that I got from there – and I wore them well after high school. I found that to be a very independent addition to my lifestyle. Firstly being able to support myself at that age, but also keeping that idea of sort of a non-conformist, silent rebellion as I did (though much of my rebellion was anything but silent). But these are the things I think about when I travel, I guess.

 And speaking of that, why not get back into the point of this journal? So there I was noticing different things about Koreans when I was stopped in my tracks by this little oddity just off the major street a block or two from the South Gate. It was this great little mini-temple tucked away from the hustle and bustle but still packed well inside of it.

Palace outside the South Gate

Upon approaching the intricately painted and designed “Old-World” houses, I noticed a Tao monk just looking at one of the paintings on the outside of the building. He invited me up to talk with him and I found out that he spends three hours each day looking at that painting. It was his favorite. His teacher painted it – and built the house to which it was attached. But in watching him view it, it would seem that it was his first time ever seeing it. He was made so excited to talk about it – about new things that he saw in it every day. The way the hair swayed on the warrior; the tiger’s gaze at the warrior; the wind playing at the bamboo leaves in the background. There was always something new, he would say, that he simply didn’t see before. And since these monks aren’t known for their drunkenness, I wondered how, in such a simple painting, nor memorizing every detail after staring at it for three hours every day, was even possible. But I let it pass as I listened to him continue.

I slowly approached the entryway of the main temple and noticed lots of signs with Korean lettering and some costs notated next to them. And I thought that I might be charged to enter and take pictures. But as I walked up to the entrance, I was bowed to deeply by the ladies in the foyer and given these genuine smiles that I have come to love and admire when hanging around monks and those who support them. Each time I see that warm face and smiling set of eyes that seems to come from a place we in the west have simply never taught our children the capacity to understand, I know that I could never be a monk because the envy, alone, that I feel for that peace would keep me from the peace and trueness I see in them.  

Nevertheless, the ladies offered me in and I didn’t want to be rude, but holding cameras, lenses, packs and the like would have prevented me from gracefully untying my shoes to enter this holy place and I declined. And to my surprise, because they were bringing me in to drink cold water because they saw my poor white ass in a sweating frenzy, they brought it out to me instead. It was all I could do to keep from hugging them. So I slurped graciously at the water and asked to take photos of the monk’s quarters and, along with a swarm of questions about myself and who I was and where I was from, they allowed me entry to the entire facility.

 These questions about myself, while identical to those I’d been asked at the entry point of several places so far here in the part of the country so close to the paranoid North Korea, were not the same at all. What I mean to say is that while the words were the same, the interest was much different. These ladies didn’t often see white guys interested in seeing culture. The most they ever see of westerners is their backsides as they are on their way to the shopping centers and clothing malls. But here in this little villa perched into a tiny space of the city, there questions were fashioned with a sense of interest in who might come to see them instead of their well-priced consumer goods. It was beautiful. And of course I am including the artistry engrained in their craftsmanship and artistry. But I am also talking about the interaction that I shared (and have always seemed to share) with temple volunteers of the Buddhist inclination.

 This experience, in my best Asian description, is empty. But not empty in the way westerners think of the word. I don’t feel saddened or let down or that I have lost something in the interchange. Instead, I feel empty in a way that I felt after I left the Tiger Cave after a three-day retreat. I was an empty cup – waiting to be filled with my new experiences having accepted, learned from and let go of all my previous experiences.

Stairs to the fortress wall

After moseying the grounds, I bowed as well as a slightly Buddhist-knowledgeable westerner could bow and was on my way. Two blocks down and I found myself at the palace walls. The entry to the South Gate wall is about a block to the west (or left, if you’re facing it). And I’m not gonna lie; it looks intimidating. But, as all mountains look from the top, it wasn’t that bad. I think I counted only about 264 steps to the top of the first corner lookout tower. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t sweating like a glass of iced tea in Georgia.

 I’d have thought that this nice climb and great view would have been adorned by lots of young people. But I didn’t see a single person within 20 years of my age. I was the junior of every person I met. There were so many older couples just taking their time walking the almost 6000 meters of this rock wall, strolling along and looking out to either side; giving adequate time to soak in all that view had to give them and then turning to look in the other direction.

 Upon cresting the next lookout tower, there is a tourist information center, small shop and bathrooms. Once seated and gulping down another water, I regained composure, sopped up all my sweaty parts and relaxed a bit. Then I went to the bathroom. And it was at the sinks that I met Kim Cheol Hwan. At first, he was just a nice, older guy that smiled and wished me a pleasant day while I was rinsing out my perspiration-soaked handkerchief. But when I walked outside, I saw that he’d stood there waiting for me – the only thing visible on his face as my eyes adjusted to the sun was this big, crooked-toothed smile under a fedora.  

He followed me up to the wall again and as I walked, he explained all the details of the palace: it’s history, how long it took to build, when it was threatened by natural and human-stimulated disasters – everything any top rate guidebook would tell you about it. He just kept talking. In fact it took several handshakes, thanking him for his time and goodbyes for me to realize that I would have him with me no matter how far I walked or at what speed.

 

But it was alright. It was nice to have someone around who loved to hear himself talk. At times I think he was smiling more out of some supreme sense of satisfaction from his own words than for my comfort alone. So to have someone do all the talking and I just shoot my photos and jot something down every once in a while; it was nice.

At the beginning, I actually attempted to engage in conversation with him. I’d ask him, “How many times have you walked around this wall?” He’d reply, “Three times a week.” I’d chuckle and ask, “Okay, how many weeks have you worked here?” And he’d reply, “Every week.” I eventually let it go and gave him the stage for the next two-and-a-half hours as my impromptu guide.  

The wall itself was not as impressive as when you actually climb down to see it from the enemy’s perspective. Now that’s an intimidating view. From up top, you can look around the city below and see how things used to be, drifting back 300 years and picturing ox-driven carts and palace guards slowly making their rounds; the merchants in the markets selling fish and hand-made goods. Still today, looking at the way the markets work – the workers selling goods while sitting on the ground with their fish wriggling in buckets beside them – it’s not a far cry from the way it probably was. And therefore it’s easy to understand why taking on the challenge of repairing and maintaining this great wall is so important to maintaining a link with the past.

Stone Mason’s Signature

Cheol Hwan would talk about the inscriptions on some of the rocks and tell me about how they could read the stone-cutters name and how he’d honored his supervisor by including him above his own name. The stone mason of the West Gate was named Pbak Sang Ghil. In fact the West gate was quite impressive in how that mason acted as the architect in its design. The gates, of course, are the weakest point of any walled area. Therefore, they must be fortified the best. Sang Ghil’s design was to have a half crescent outer wall constructed so that battle-rams and large garrisons of men couldn’t have a running go at breaking down its doors, and still have the ability to let in friendly sentries and villagers. It’s clear by this construction that many assumptions can be made about the time, my guide said. He indicated that trade was very important and that because it was such a big village for its time, it was a central hub for much of this trade and therefore these doors saw much action in letting in traders and keeping out traitors (I had to).

It also indicates that there was a lot of coordination in attack and defense tactics. Each wall which faced a different direction had a different assemblage of flags on it. The west flags are white (for the white lion), the east flags are blue (for the dragon), the south gate was red (for the snake) and the north gate was black (for the turtle). Based on how these flags were arranged, and how the battalions were ordered to station them, they could organize an assault in minutes – shooting arrows and pouring boiling liquids down through cleverly placed gun-ports in the walls.

It was quite a thing to see. And I think that I am most proud of having completed the entire wall in mid-day heat. It was a lot to do, but after I finished, I traveled up through the city that I’d just circled and found a nice little place to eat. And it began to remind me of something I hadn’t thought about in a long time: my experiences walking around little villas in Central and South America.

I would escape the heat in these little, fan-cooled cafes and swallow some sweating glass of whatever before the waiter even left the table in order to have him bring another as soon as possible. I’d learned to order lots of small waters or lots of ice in a glass because I’d only finish half the large water before it was warm again – making me disinterested in carrying it with me any further. Then I’d look over the entire menu at least three times before finally settling on chicken and rice with some variety of sauce or spice on it. Then, once both my stomach and circulatory system are satiated, I’d sit back and look out into whatever dusty town I was in and admire the diversity of the place for some new and different reason (even though many places are quite similar in that part of the world).

But there I sat in that little restaurant sucking back waters and eating my chicken with spicy barbecue sauce (and rice) and thinking of all the places I’d been and things I’d seen that ultimately brought me here and that will undoubtedly take me further until I have so many places in my memory that I cherish for little to no reason at all. And I will probably still be thinking of how I love the simplicity of it all and how I want it to continue.

Day Three: First Eye Blind

 

[The shot above is from the base of the Nangsam Tower in Seol.  You will have to read the next blog to see more like it as I spent the night on the third day climbing up to it.  Hope you enjoy them next time!]

So whatever aspirations that I had for seeing the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) today have been put to bed as this morning I woke up with an all-too-familiar face-seizing pain in my left eye. In Thailand I injured my eye one drunken night on the beach in Khanom (blog about my Thailand misadventures will be updated shortly) and that’s left me with the recurring trouble that I woke up to this morning. Basically put, I removed a small piece of my eye that never properly healed and every so often the patch of tissue that didn’t regrow correctly dries out over night and when I open my eyes in the morning, it rips back away from the affected area and causes a considerable amount of pain – not to mention it leaves me with the requirement of remaining in my bed laying absolutely still until the pain recedes enough for me to open it without tearing up incessantly.

 And so I had to reschedule the trip for tomorrow morning. Luckily it gave me the day to finish my journaling and to visit the local Hanok village that I wanted to see which is right across from the hostel. I am paid up until tonight anyway, so what I think I am going to do is just pack up in the morning and bring all my things with me to the DMZ and leave from there to the east coast to visit this little fishing village that I read about.

 I hopped on the poorly out-of-shape bike that the hostel lets the tenants use to ride around town on, and sifted through this amazing little village which still has a few remaining edifices kept in the old way while many of the other buildings have been modernized. It makes for a strange but interesting view into how the times have changed – and the construction with it. Patched into the small network of houses in this area surrounding the village palace are simple but impressive pagodas, shrines and temples that have endured the test of time and have even been made over into classier versions of their older parent-houses. I imagine that the streets have managed to be located along the original arteries they started out to be, because there are old drainage areas and gateways leading out to up-to-date locations of the same points.

 Looking over the tops of some of the buildings reveals large temples and overlooking villas on the hillside. And the attention to plants and artistry has clearly stayed true to the traditional manner in which this area was spawn. And the mix of old a new design was as immediately evident as it was very peculiar looking.

This village is called the Bukchon Hanok and it sits just outside a small but lively palace. In Korean, it means “North Village.” The palace and surrounding area has Seol’s largest concentration of Hanok (or traditional) homes and contrasts its surroundings profoundly. They seem completely out of place as per their bustling passageways. Yet, at the same time, they add such an old timey feel to this little community tucked away amid busier parts of town.

Because of the artsy additions and the fact that many of them have been renovated and made into cooking classes and houses for learning Korean or cultural additives, I get the impression that wealthier people have purchased them under some government guideline that requires them to be used in some light that preserves the traditional ways of life as well as the homes themselves.

Each of these houses has a courtyard (the size varying on whether or not it belonged to a wealthy, or yangban, or peasant family). Each uses natural lighting as in paper walls supported by posts and sliding doors. They all have either a tiled or thatched roof (again, based on upper- or middle-class ownership). And each has a system of under-floor heating called ondol. This area in particular has been saved by a 40-year expat and American member of the Royal Asiatic Society, Peter Bartholomew, who won a court battle with the government which claimed that they were irreparable, unsanitary and ultimately stood in the way of a redevelopment plan for more modern structures.

The Hanok, three and a half decades ago, was 800,000 strong in South Korea, now total only about 10,000. The modernizing of Korea, for all its honorable and environmentally progressive intentions, has overlooked the need for maintaining these roots. Based on the movement to salvage this and many other Hanok villages gave way to the National Trust of Korea. This NGO helps protect the Hanok and other prized national artifacts like them.

 There is a huge movement all over the city, as far as I have seen, in the way of greener idealism. There are recycling bins everywhere you look and litter very rarely blows past on the streets. Another huge example of this is an area called the Cheong-gye-cheon – a removal of an old concreted highway to give way to the river below. It’s essentially a revived oasis in the middle of the city with riverbanks restructured, parks plotted nearby and green pinnacles of technology resembling the city’s dedication to a renewed metropolis.

 At any rate, that’s my third day in South Korea. Tonight I plan on taking a walking tour that leads up to the Namsan Tower and hopefully get some nice shots of the city at night. Then, tomorrow, it’s off to the DMZ where I will hopefully get shot at for doing something stupid and memorable. So if this is the last journal, know I died doing what I love!

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4 thoughts on “Journal 30: Day 1: Arrival to Korea

  1. Linda Garrity here, mother of your friend Colin from Surat-I had recently asked him about you, but am thrilled to see you’re on the road again and chronicling your adventures. What strikes me the most about you is just how observant you are, both of your surroundings and the details of the people you see, as well as your gift for describing these experiences. Always fascinating reading, thanks so much for sharing!

    • Wow, what a nice compliment! I am glad you’re enjoying it. I should be here for only a couple weeks before returning to Taiwan. But while there I will be finalizing the rest of the Thailand journals (from six months ago, UGH). And I will also be putting more photography up on the website, cyleodonnell.com, from Indonesia, Borneo, Taiwan and here in Korea.

      Thanks again and I hope all is going well and that Chicago is finally cooling down from the furnace of a summer that you’ve had there!

  2. sounds like another incredible adventure. I’m always in awe that you can just travel around like you do, meet such interesting people and get so many fantastic photos. have a wonderful time – keep blogging and be safe! Mom

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