Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Korea: Busan (aka Pusan)

Ahh, Pusan. I don't know if it was the unexpectedly nice hotel room with a view of the sea, or the resort-like area of Haeundae Beach where we were staying that felt like Hawaii, or that the rainy season  was ending, or just that we finally stopped packing too many things into the day...but ahhh. Pusan was heavenly.
The first night we strolled down the boardwalk toward the Westin, which is perched on a cliff, and around Dongbaek Park over wooden walkways, suspension bridges and stairs until the Gwangan Bridge and Pusan skyline came into view. Folks were jogging, families playing, it was just a completely different vibe from the rest of our trip.
Heading the other direction on the boardwalk we made our way to "Raw Fish Village" (which I'm sure sounds more romantic in Korean) for some extremely fresh sashimi.
and some other things that we didn't exactly recognize.
The next morning we went to the Jagalchi Fish Market to see where all the seafood comes from.
I have no idea how these buckets of hooks work...
but they certainly get the job done.
We've got pictures a plenty of all the fish being sold at the nearby fish market. I will include those in the next installment about markets and street food.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Korea: DMZ

On a particularly dismal day, we made our way (with tour guide and driver, in a minibus) up to the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.  The weather seemed somehow appropriate to the subject matter as we learned about the many families that remain separated by the barbed wire and heavily guarded border.
This bridge is where prisoners of war from each side were exchanged. It is called Freedom Bridge and also the Bridge of No Return, I guess depending on which way you are traveling on it.
There are several very long infiltration tunnels built by the North Koreans in order to make a surprise approach under the border. So far four have been found. Who knows how many actually exist. We took a tour down into the Third tunnel, but only after donning the appropriate personal safety protection. 
We couldn't take any pictures inside the tunnel itself, but here is the story we were told: Apparently the North Koreans first denied digging the tunnel, but the South pointed out the direction of the dynamite blasts as proof of which side it came from. Then the North said, "OK, but we were just mining for coal" and pointed to the thin layer of coal that had been smeared onto the walls, but the South pointed out that there wouldn't be any coal in the solid granite through with the tunnel travels. Finally, when the North found out that paying tourists were visiting the tunnel, they admitted they built it and demanded their cut of the tourist dollars.
But despite these stories of aggression on the part of the North and the lines we couldn't pass and the armed military personnel that we needed to obey, there was this additional message of hope and eventual unification. A little amusement park was even built at a time when relations were particularly good.
Of course no destination is too somber to avoid having a selection of kitschy chocolate souvenirs...
...and some mascots. seriously.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Korea: Gyeong-ju

After a few days in Seoul, we made our way via fast train to the UNESCO World heritage city of Gyeong-ju. Our hotel was near the Bulguksa temple, which was originally built in 528AD and has been restored/rebuilt numerous times, most recently in 1973.

At Bulguksa temple there is a compound with multi-storied pagodas...
and pretty gardens.
And nearby is shrine built into the mountain, called the Seokguram Grotto.
You can't take any pictures in the grotto, so I am going to steal this one from the web:
We spied this clever inverted pagoda building on the bus ride back into town.
Our last stop was the Daeneungwon Royal Tombs. Ancient emperors were buried in these elaborate boxes with heaps of jewelry and riches and then covered with stones and a mound of dirt shaped into a steep-sided hill. This area is the site of a half dozen tombs, only one of which has been excavated so far.
One day was all that we really needed in Gyeong-ju. From there we took a quick and very cheap bus to Busan, also known as Pusan.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Korea: Seoul

Our trip of the month for September was a 10-day excursion to South Korea. SK is only a 2.5 hour flight from Tokyo, so we couldn't be this close and not check it out. We took advantage of several Japanese holidays held in the same week and snuck away. We visited three cities, ate tons of food and saw lots of fun, quirky things. We couldn't possibly fit all the photos into one blog post, so we will break it up into about five. Here we show some more traditional shots taken at places within Seoul, where we stayed the majority of the trip. Here we are in front of ChangdeokGung Palace (constructed in 1405), a world heritage site and one of two huge palaces in Seoul.
At the ChangDeokGung, a performer in traditional costumes exits with her helper, avoiding the mud.
Here is the gate to the other palace in town, Gyeongbok, built in 1395 and destroyed by the Japanese in 1592, rebuilt in 1865 and then torn down again by the Japanese in 1910.
In the area between the two palaces, up in the foothills to the surrounding mountains, is a collection of traditional Korean house called hanok. This area, called Bukchon, also has an awesome shopping street filled with boutiques in eclectic styles and tons of coffee shops. Korea has a very thriving coffee house culture. In addition to every chain store, there were also numerous independents, all of which stayed open nice and late. Sometimes you could see up to five coffee shops in a row, filled with people. You wonder how they could all stay in business, but at ~$5 for a cappuccino, I guess it makes sense. 
On one of a handful of rainy days, we went to the National museum. It was hard to capture just how huge this complex is (and still fit in the lake and cute pagoda).
Big airy space inside. Interesting collection.
This is apparently a coffin made of clay. Never seen anything like this.
Tranquil buddhas.
In the center of the city, near the big river, is a park on a hill, upon which sits Seoul Tower.
We rode the cable car up to the top of the hill.
Great views of the city from up in the tower.