Friday, July 4, 2008

Gyeongbokgung, Namsam, & JSA

Ok. So this is my last blog entry from Korea. Tomorrow, I go back to Canada. I may write a couple more entries as I start to remember more things and sort through my thousands of photo's I have taken.
Gyeongbokgung Palace

As you may know, South Korea does not have an King anymore. When the Japanese invaded in the late 1800's, the royal family was killed. They occupied for many years until the Japanese left after they were defeated WW2. Then that whole Korean War thing happened. When they finally gained independance again, it was modern times and the days of King's and Queens were over. Now, it's a tourist spot. You can read up more here: .

We were lucky to see the changing of Guard (night & Day guards). These dudes all have these rad beards (glued on probably), and various ancient weapons (ninja-like swords, bow and arrows, spears, axes, spears with an axe at the end). According to Sohee's dad, these guards are actually trained in handling these weapons. I didn't believe it until I went to Namsan tower (more on that later). There is also a marching band with traditional drums, trumpets, and other instruments of Korean Heritage. So, after the changing the of the guard, there is a little time for pictures with these peeps. Here is me beside a guard. I'm a little timid.

He then convince me to join the day guard because of my unique Canadian Kungfu style.

Namsan Tower

Next, Sohee, her dad, and I went to the largest structure in Seoul. The Namsan Tower (also called the Seoul Tower), is not a super tall tower like the CN... but they built it on top of a Mountain. The tower is 236.7 m (777 ft) in height (from the base) and counting the moutain, it's 479.7 m (1,574 ft) above sea level. Basically, they built a slightly larger than Calgary tower(190 m) on a mountain... Genius, I say. There are two ways to get to the tower. You can take a cable car, or you can walk up. So, in this trip, I have climbed two mountains. This one doesn't take that long to get up (45min), and it's all concrete steps all the way up.

When you get to the top, you are treated with some amazing views. Unfortunetely, it wasn't a clear day and smog was all over the place. We didn't go up the tower, it didn't seem worth it because it wasn't a clear day and our vantage point of the city was good enough.

Closeup of the tower. Yes, that's a bird flying by... On the 4th observation deck, there is a rotating restaurant. I someday want to be that rich old guy that takes his wife up there for anniversaries n' such. For now, Sohee will have to deal with the ghettoness of us climbing a mountain and viewing a smoggy city.

Oh, and at the top there was some ninja guy slicing up some straw (Random). He's probably training to be a Palace Guard.

Not far from Namsan mountain is this transformer guy. I'd like to say that this is their police force here, but that level of awesomeness is not believable even to a small child.

JSA (Joint Security Area)

You can either call this section JSA or North Korea part 2. If you read the previous North Korean blog, you know that my tour was quite restricted, because it was intended for South Koreans. The JSA tour involves going to the area where your safety is not guaranteed. Basically, you are taken right to the border, and a little bit across into actual North Korean soil.

Once again, the tour stresses on when and when you can't take pictures. You have to remain with the group at all times and basically getting babysat the entire time. Which is ok, because I don't feel like getting shot or stepping on a land mine.

When you get to the DMZ part, a ROK (republic of korea, aka south korea) is assigned to your bus. They check your passport and run it against their list of people on the tour (I had to apply 2 days in advance to take this tour). We then get on board a military bus (looks the same as our other bus, but might be bulletproof or something) and head towards JSA. This area, believe it or not, used to be free roaming to both South and North soldiers, but as you can guess, a defined border was put into place to lower tension (people and soldiers died). The most famous part here are these blue and grey buildings which are used for negotiation talks between the North and South:

The border, as you can see below is heavily protected. The concrete slab is the border. The North Korean soldiers are right beside it.

We actually get to go inside the building. In the building, there are 2 ROK soldiers in their Taekwondo stance. In this photo beside the ROK, I am actually across the border... in North Korea.

If I pass that door, I'd be in the hands of the North Korean army. But I won't be able to pass...the ROK soldier will beat me down... for my own protection. I know the below picture isn't me, but the tour was rushed in here. I didn't have time to get my photo taken with both ROK soldiers.

So yeah... I'm on the other side... in North Korea. Here's the proof:

So as luck would have it, there was a North Korean tour going on at the same time. Yes, you can tour the North Korean JSA from that side as well. It's from a Communist prospective, obviously. Believe it or not, their tour is less restrictive. They are allowed to make faces, point, and make gestures towards the south. We basically have to be invisible on our side. The reason behind the different rules is the UN rules verses the North Korean rules. North Korea's way of taunting or something.

My awesome camera gets a close up of these dudes in action. Notice the one nerdy white dude.

The last part of the tour, we went to a nearby town for a bite to eat. After the meal, we got a performance from a North Korean refugee musician. He was actually really good.

After his performance, I stopped for a photo and he was very nice. I'm glad to have met this very unique and special person.

Well, that's it. That was my Journey to the East. I hope you enjoyed it. I'm going home tomorrow. I'll probably post some trivial stuff when I get home. All the important stuff is here, though. All right... peace out. I'll see you on the other side of the pond!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ocean World

On Thursday, we decided to go to Ocean World! Ocean World is a water park located about 2 hours outside of Seoul. Ironically, there no ocean is near by; but it's still cool nonetheless. The whole theme is egyptian, and all the architecture around mimics that style. The architecture does an amazing job, and if we were there just to see that, I'd still be amazed. If you look closely at this picture you can see all the hieroglyphics. There were a lot of people here. It was crazy madness... but I think the more people made it more fun. More on that later. The park is so amazing in so many ways. First of all, the park is wicked huge. Here's Sohee in front of the map:Even if you're a kid and can't handle the madness, there's two kids parks here. One indoors and one outdoors. The kids outdoor one was pretty tame with just these spray things everywhere. The indoor one was pretty neat. It's basically a kids playground with all these things that spray everywhere... but the best part is this huge bucket at the top that being poured with water. When it is full, it dump water all over the kids making a huge "WOOOSHH" sound. I watched that for a while because it was funny to see the kids frightened (yet excited) by this. The kids park also had a wave pool, but it was pretty tame and the waves were super tiny.

There was also a few waterslides, but they were not all that great. I went on one tube ride and it was fun, fast, and very short. The line ups were too big to warrant going again. I only went once.

Another thing that was fun was this toboggan race. It's basically tobogganing on wet artificial turf. If you fall off, it actually doesn't burn your skin... well, too bad. You can't really tell from this picture, but the hill is actually a pretty decent size.

Next up, is Sohee's favourite thing at the park. Thank God for waterproof digital cameras... I love these shots:

Basically it's a river that goes around and you just chill in the tube. Halfway, there is a lovely waterfall, and you go into a tunnel:

The waterfall actually kinda hurts... The droplets are huge.

Oh, did I forget to mention that a huge wave comes every 20 seconds and tosses you around like a rag doll?

The huge wave will send you flying into other people and such. Here's one of Sohee getting tossed around:

So, the main feature of this park is the wave pool.

At first, "I was all, psshhh! Why is everyone wearing lifejackets? Can't they swim?" I soon found out why. This is the most amazing wave pool I have ever been to. Sohee said that this waterpark produces the highest man-made waves in the world (citation needed). For now, I will believe that. According to the website, they can get to 2.4 metres. It's actually kind of scary at first.

Now, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video has to be worth a million:

Yes, it's crazy. 2.4 metres. Everyone gets tossed around like a rag doll. I must say, that all the people make it more fun. Sure, sometimes you get an elbow in the face and get tossed onto an old woman... but the waves are kind of frightening, and when the big sound comes, everyone screams in anticipation. It's kind of like that movie theatre experience when you see a comedy or something. It just makes it more fun knowing you're not alone here. Apparently, I'm somewhere in that video, but with all the people, it's impossible to find me. So, here's a close up... I'm the dude swimming with the wave:

After a while, I figured out that you can almost "surf" the wave if you swim really fast with it. The result is that it feels like you are swimming insanely fast... until the wave topples over and crushes you into the people below. So much fun.

So, I gotta say that this has been one of the coolest things I've done so far... and if any of you every come here, make sure that this place is your list of things to do.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Busan and Japan

Hey all, so for our little honeymoon, we planned a trip to Busan and Japan. By the way, if you want to see pics of our wedding. Click the flickr link on the Right hand side.

From Seoul, we took a train to Busan (pronounced more like Poo-san... 부산). We could have taken one of those super high speed trains that go 300km/hr... but it was a little bit too pricey. We just went on the slower one... but it was still pretty fast (150km).

But before going on, we decided to get some eats at Lotteria. It's a fast food joint here (and also in Japan, as I found out later), but it's a little bit healthier. It also has some Korean influence with bulgogi (korean spicy beef), and kimchi burgers.
I got the rice Kimchi burger. Instead of a bun, it's sticky rice. Also, instead of fries, you get corn. I thought it would be bland and untastey... but it's actually really good. After a while, you forget that you don't have a bun.
When we arrived in Busan, we walked for a long time before finding a hotel. We wanted a place near Haeundae Beach. Well, it then started to rain, so we just grabbed a cheap "love" motel about 2 blocks away from the beach. These motels are actually really nice (marble floors, jet bathtub, big bed, dvd players, etc...) and only cost 50 bucks a night. The only problem is that these motels are setup for young couples (It's common to live at home till your mid 20's), and well... for cheaters. Because of that, I sometimes question the cleanliness of the place. Anyways. Busan in right at the tip of the peninsula of Korea, and has many many Harbors, and a few beaches. The only problem is that it didn't stop raining, so we never got a beach day in our time here. Maybe for the best. Here's a beach day in August:

At night, we tried to find a place to eat. Along the beach, the seafood restaurants were insanely expensive... sometimes more than 150 dollars! Not even close to the Seoul prices. We then stopped a lady walking and she personally showed us an area with cheaper food (and still delicious). It was very gracious of her because the walk was about 30 minutes from where we were.

We went into one place that we thought was a restaurant, but it was a karaoke/restaurant. You are given your own private room with an HD tv and a karaoke remote control. You then can eat and sing, something Koreans love to do here. Here is Sohee singing (She's gonna kill me for posting this!):

The food was really decent too. You get a ton of side dishes. Notice the tambourines in the picture below. I started using those after the first bottle of soju. The big remote at the top is what you point at the screen to choose your song. It's super awesome.
The fish market is also pretty crazy in Busan. There are so many different kinds of seafood. Some just looked liked odd creatures to the Saskatchewan eye.

Also near the fish market is some of the harbor. It's really crappy out in this pic. Not too cold, but rainy and depressing weather. Below, you can see the one of the many bridges in the background. It's hard to tell in this pic, but it's actually really cool and it lights up in many different colours.

Anyways, we couldn't stay out too late cause we had to catch a plane the next day for Osaka. Had to wake up at 5am. That really super fun.


You might be asking why we decided to go to Osaka and not Tokyo. Well if you go to Tokyo, there's not much else except Tokyo. Plus it's crazy expensive there. In Osaka, you are a short train ride to: Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, etc...

So, we hit up our hotel, which is only 5000 yen a night ($50 dollars a night)... not bad for Japan. Even though it was clean, nice, had internet, TV, AC, etc... it was tiny. At first we were a little bit scared, cause well... I'll let the video explain..

So it was a little small. But it was comfy. The first place we hit up was DotonBori. It's in the Namba district of Osaka and is probably considered the Heart of the city. I have to use a night photo first, cause it's the only one I have of the sign. Try not to get confused chronologically.

Some food unique to Japan is Takoyaki. It's fried Octopus balls, and it's amazingly delicious. It was also crazy how they made it. It's just a pan and they keep rotating it into a ball with a large toothpick. This dude was seriously doing 50 at a time and was likely a ninja in his off hours.

We all know that Korea's vice is drinking alcohol. In Japan, not as many people are drinking, but everyone is gambling. It's difficult to explain the below picture, but try and think of it as pinball/anime/plinko (from the price is right) slot machines. You put in some money and you get these metal marble things. You then shoot the marbles (manually or automatically) using the dial on the right. If you win, you get more marbles (AKA: Money). These things are literally everywhere. They even put them in kids arcades, but I didn't see any kids playing them. The honour system actually works here I guess.

At night time is when Osaka really shines. Pun intended. There are even more lights here than in Seoul. The most famous image in all of Osaka... the Glico running man:

This is probably the biggest Indiana Jones poster I have ever seen:

Asashi sign. Asashi is Japanese beer. It's good. You should try it.

Sohee looks so calm in front of the madness of lights and people.

Ok. Next up we went to Kobe. Kobe has a harbor and some pretty cool views. We took a train there (again, just an avg speed train). It all seems like one city, because the trains look exactly like the subway, and there was no way to indicate that we were out of the city (Wheat fields were not present). There was still tall buildings the entire route there. Kinda odd compared to Saskatchewan. lol.

Anyways... To the harbor. There were some amazing views here.

The hotel in the background here is called "Oriental Hotel". Cool architecture, but not a very original name.

But again... the awesome views were at night. Something about the lights reflecting off the water. I don't think I have to explain to much. It was breathtaking...

The next day, we were supposed to go to Kyoto to see some temples n' stuff. That didn't happen though. We heard from a fellow Regina dude that they were closed for construction or something. He suggested that we go to Deer Park in Nara. This is a lot different from the Deer Park golf course in Yorkton. This is a park in the middle of the city and there are a ton of Deer around just chilling and mingling with the people. They are super nice and totally tame.

They sometimes just leave the park and go to the sidewalks and streets. There's a dude selling "deer food" and you can feed them. It's crazy. I was kinda scared of them at first, because I have heard that they have stomped people to death. Plus those antlers don't look so cuddly. But I soon get brave enough to pet one:

Also in this deer park was this crazy high temple. It's probably why the deers are so tame and nice. They are Buddhist monks.

All in all, Japan is an awesome country. The people are friendly, the streets and air are clean, the food is great and there's plenty to see and do. I do have one issue. Transportation is crazy expensive. Even what you think would be cheap (subway), isn't.Maybe I'm just spoiled by the prices in Korea, but I think I spent over half my money on transportation. The Subway in the GOA (Greater Osaka Area) is like 5 bucks for a one way trip... and if you have to transfer lines... guess what, you have to pay again. Not cool. In Seoul, the subway costs a dollar, and you can transfer for free to other subways and buses. So that means that you can ride the subway and bus all day long if you transfer quick enough.

Well that's Japan everyone. I'll end with something funny... and Seoul has this too, but I have a Japanese pic ready. What you see below is the line for women-only subway cars. Only women can board these cars. This is to prevent that old Japanese guy who has had too much sake try the intentional boob graze on a crowded subway. Respect women y'all.