Friday, May 30, 2008

North Korea

A brief history lesson from Wikipedia: "In the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Korea, which ended with Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945, the Soviet Union accepted the surrender of Japanese forces and controlled the area north of the 38th parallel, with the United States controlling the area south of this parallel. Virtually all Koreans welcomed liberation from Japanese imperial rule, yet objected to the re-imposition of foreign rule upon their country. The Soviets and Americans disagreed on the implementation of Joint Trusteeship over Korea, with each establishing its socio-economic system upon its jurisdiction, leading, in 1948, to the establishment of ideologically opposed governments.[11] The United States and the Soviet Union then withdrew their forces from Korea. Growing tensions and border skirmishes between north and south led to the Korean War.
On June 25, 1950, the (North) Korean People's Army crossed the 38th parallel, with the war aim of peninsular reunification under their political system. The war continued until July 27, 1953, when the United Nations Command, the Korean People's Army, and the Chinese People's Volunteer Army signed the Korean War Armistice Agreement.[12] Since that time the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has separated the North and South."

Ok, now that you know the background, it's time to visit the most heavily guarded border in the world. Technically, these two countries are still at war, with just an armistice agreement, not an actual peace treaty. Thousands of people die each year trying to cross the DMZ (From the North going to the South). The tour I went on is kind of a little disappointing. The DMZ is about 4 km wide and I didn't really get to go super close to the North Korean side because... I was on the South Korean tour. If I want to go to the JSA (Joint Security Area... where you actually get to see North Korean Guards), there is a few days of a waiting period where they do a background check and whatnot. Sohee can't go there without a 2 MONTH waiting period. Not many South Koreans go to the JSA.

I first have to let you know that there isn't many pictures of the real cool stuff because basically, the ROK (military police) will smash my camera if I snap a photo in the wrong place.

So we head north arrive by train (cost only 1.50 cents for an hour and 10 min train ride) in a town called Imjingak. It resides just below the DMZ and it wasn't wasn't what I expected. It was flashy, very tourist like, had an amusement park with all these rides for children. You can ride the "peace train", shop at all these tourist outlets (you can buy North Korean alcohol, merchandise, a piece of the DMZ fence, and get North Korean currency). We went to the "Freedom Bridge", which used to be called "Bridge of no return". Basically, people just send out wishes of Unification on this bridge:

This is the last passenger train to have gone to North Korea from the South. They are currently building tracks to go all the way again, and the South side is already built.

In fact... why don't we go on those tracks right now. Because both countries want unification (even though it is quite impossible right now), they have already built railroad tracks to someday carry passengers to and fro. Here is the train station sign... A little blurry, but the left arrow says "Pyongyang"... the capital of North Korea.

Here comes the train to the DMZ!!!

So now we are in the DMZ. There is one town of about 500 people that live in the DMZ. Because these people are not technically citizens of South Korea, they don't have to pay tax or go into the 2 year mandatory military service. One of the first things you notice is that there is razor wire fence EVERYWHERE! It's to keep people from crossing but more importantly, this is because any place beyond the roads and farming (they actually farm rice there too) is a land mine field. Scary! I couldn't take pictures of this, but I was warned not to wander off (in Korean, then translated by Sohee). Taken on the train... this is one of the many military posts along the DMZ:

While in the DMZ we toured one of the tunnels. South Korea discovered 4 tunnels built by North Koreans. The purpose is believed to be an invasion route for the North Korean army, although the North has denied this and told them it was for coal mining. It's an obvious lie and in the tunnel you can even see black spray paint that they used to try and cover it up. More information at :

I went to the 3rd tunnel. I wasn't allow to take photos in the tunnel. So here is one outside the tunnel. Everyone has to wear helmets because the tunnel is about 5'8. Custom fit for Asian size. I suppose.

Outside the tunnel, there is a museum with a few artifacts from the DMZ, we watched this 15 min presentation that was really interesting... but, it basically unification propaganda by the South on how the DMZ now represents "peace" and all that. I wasn't really buying it.

Then there were more Unification type ornaments everywhere. Here is a good one:

Yeah, I'm pushing the world back together because Communism and Democracy go really well together. :) .

We then headed to a military base where you can actually view North Korea. Photographs are tricky here, because I am given a line. If I step over the line and shoot a couple of frames, those military dudes will bust my camera.

It was extremely cloudy that day, and because we are above sea level and kind of in mountain areas, I couldn't get really good photos. The picture below is the tallest flagpole in the world... It's in North Korea and bears the North Korean Flag.

Ok... So you can't see anything. Let me try again.

Yeah, it just looks like a foggy pole and you can't even make out the colours of the flag. Well just look at this then...

So anyways, we then ate some food then went home. I took a photo of the train station in the DMZ. George W. Bush was here in 2002 when this station was finished being built. As of now, you still can't take a train into North Korea. Even though it indicates everywhere that someday you will be able to take this train to London. Yeah. That won't be for a while.

So at this station, you can also get your passport stamped. It's not a North Korean passport stamp, but more of a DMZ stamp indicating you are in the middle of nowhere. The top stamp indicates that the train goes to Pyongyang.

The tour was a little disappointing as I didn't get really close to the North Korea. I think I'll go on the JSA tour next time without Sohee so I can get some photos of North Korean Guards. I also want to pick up some North Korean Soju (alcohol), currency, and some other touristy stuff.

By the way, some of you might ask if I actually can go to North Korea. Yes, I can. But I have to go through China. It has some cool and exciting things to see, and maybe someday I'll even go, but when you get down to the nuts and bolts... It's not a pleasant place to visit. You should see this guys blog about it...

Anyways, I was very humbled by this experience. It's hard to believe that I was in Seoul enjoying the night life, the freedom the safe streets, advanced technology, etc.... and just 1.5 hours north is a 3rd world country where people are starving on the streets and getting executed publicly for practising religion or saying anything bad about the gov't. It is quite bizarre and extraordinary that something like this exists in our world... a 3rd world country resides right beside a 1st world and neither side can do anything about it.

So, It will be exciting to go back on the more "Dangerous" tour. But for now, I gotta go to Thailand. I leave in 4 hours. GTG!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Downtown Seoul and Cheonggyecheon at night

Yesterday, we explored downtown and Cheonggyecheon. Seoul is absolutely gorgeous at night. The pictures below will prove it.

There are actually about 5 different "downtowns", but this one is in the middle of Seoul. Before going out and exploring, we stopped for a couple of beers at Wa bar. This bar is super nice and has beer with ice in the middle of a few tables:
The first beer I chose was "Hite". The 2 big domestic beers here in Hite and Cass. Cass is probably the most popular and it tastes really good. I wanted Hite because I haven't had it since I've been here. You can get Hite in Vancouver, but I haven't seen it anywhere on the prairies.

They also had this area where you have your own little acrylic neon tall box thing to put all your beer caps in. Then, everytime you drink there, you put your bottle caps in. They sorta have that back home too, but this is set up all pretty and whatnot:

Then explored around the streets for a bit. They were packed. It was Sunday, and Sunday is usually the busiest because it's the only day off for people. (They don't get Saturdays off). The whole place is lit up with neon signs. There are bars, kararoke rooms, pc rooms, pool (the game) rooms, and a whole lot of street vendors.

Sohee stopped for a bite to eat at this vendor. Chicken on a stick. It was sweet and spicy. Yum.

We then headed over to Cheonggyecheon. Essentially, this is a small canal that ran through the middle of the city. It previously ran underneath the streets, until one politician thought it would be a good idea to expose it to beautify the downtown. So, the street is cut in half and the canal runs through the middle. It's pretty cool. I honestly have so many great photos of this place, it's really hard to pick just a few.
So, walking through, there are trees, shrubs, stone paths, stone bridges to get across, small lit tunnels, waterfalls, etc. It's simply gorgeous and something you have to experience.

Waterfalls along the pathway...The main waterfalls ...


Lights along the pathway...

Fountain thingy's...

I know there's a lot of pictures here, and that's because I can't upload anymore pictures to flickr right now. I reached my limit there for this month already! haha.

So then we decided to go home. Before hitting up the subway, we stopped at the Samsung Building. This is Samsung's main headquarters. It's really big but not actually super big compared to some of the other buildings, but what makes it more amazing is this glass "floating" platform at the top (the lit up area). There is a restaurant up there, but Sohee says it costs about 100 dollars a person... yah, we won't be eating there. The picture's a little blurry. I needed a tripod.

I also took a little video of it. The quality is not the greatest because it's a digital camera video.

Here is a daytime shot from a week ago:

Anyways... That's it for now. Take care!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Seonyudo Park & Korean BBQ

Hey all. Yesterday, Sohee and I went to Seonyudo park. This park is actually an island in the middle of the Han river. It was actually really cool. In a city surrounded by chaos, it's cool to see a park like this. Here is a photo of me on the island with the city in the background. This is just before entering the actual park area.As soon as you enter, it has a counter indicating how many people are in the park. It was cool until I figured out it wasn't that accurate. There is this metal platform that when you step on it, the LED counter goes up. Well, unless you enter in the wrong way, or if you step on it twice... It was pretty much just a guesstimate. I didn't take pictures of that, because I'm stupid and I forgot. Anyways... Once you get in, there's lots of grass (rare in Korea), rocks, trees, flowers, waterfalls:, museum exhibits, a small pirate ship (yeah, I'm not kidding), cherry blossoms, and a small bamboo forest. Here is 2 pictures of us in the bamboo forest...

Can someone with photoshop skills please edit these so we are both in the picture? I'll get you a neato present from Japan, Korea or Thailand. :)

So anyways, after walking around for a bit, we stopped at a soda pop machine for a drink. Sohee got iced tea, and I got... well, a can of sweat. haha... I don't think this drink will take off in Canada:
Actually, Pocari Sweat is a popular drink here. It's non-carbonated and kinda tastes all citrus-like. Not like sweat at all. Here is me tasting sweat for the first time:

While I have this photo up. I might point out that the view was awesome from here. I got a little view of this:

Sohee looks unhappy, but she was doing her nails so she wasn't really paying attention to my weird antics.

So, anyways. After that, we walked around some more and came to the pedestrian bridge. This bridge is super dope and apparently it lights up at night. It has this curve to it so the big boats can pass underneath it:Exiting the park, it had this rad layout of water and stone path. It also had this island thing in which I had to make a risky jump to get to:

After that daring attempt. I had to have a moment of zen.

So, then we left. In the evening we decided to go out for Korean BBQ. There are millions of these places all around Seoul. It's basically a normal restaurant with a grill in the middle of all the tables. There are a ton of side dishes that you get for free. It's rad.

You basically take the grilled pork, dip it in the red sauce or beige sauce, add a side dish like (rice, kimchi, etc), and then put it on a piece of red leaf lettuce or thin sliced radish (the radish is different here. It's actually a little sweet, and a lot bigger in circumference (that's what she said). It's the white thing in the top right of the photo above.). Anyways, after you put all yer fixins in there, it should look like this:

Then you roll it up, and shove the whole thing in your mouth. Like this:

Freaking Fantastica~~~! It is seriously amazingly good. With this, we also got Soybean Tofu soup. This is common to have because the grilled charcoal stuff causes cancer and the soup is supposed to be an antioxidant or something. They always try and stay healthy.

The green bottle pictured above is Soju. The famous Korean liquor. For those who don't know, it is fermented sweet potato, and is the most popular drink here in Korea. It is about 20% alcohol, and is the reason a lot of people here stumble around the streets. You can get a bottle of that in Regina, but it costs about 14 dollars and you can only get it at the plains (of all places!). We had two of those bottles and it's the reason why I have a headache today... lol! Anyways, with everything together, this meal only cost 22 bucks all together. You don't have to tip here, which is awesome. We went to a Korean BBQ restaurant in Calgary last year, and this same meal cost $60! It's a steal here, though. :D

Anyways. That's it for now. Peace and take care.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lotte World!

This last weekend, we decided to go to Changsuk's house (Sohee's brother, Jack). He lives with his wife and son in this really nice neighbourhood. His neighbourhood is a little more upscale and is quite expensive. His condo is really small by Canadian standards, but everything is really new and fancy inside much like those New York apartments you see. Anyways, the purpose of the trip was to go to Lotte World. He pretty much lives across the street this place.
Lotte World is an amusement park. It was really cool, but unfortunately, it was raining, so we limited to the inside activities. We'll likely go back when it is not raining, cause all the super rad rides are outside. I found out that I had a 50% discount from my Korean bank card. (I setup a bank account here). So, I got in for 17 bucks. Gives me access to the park and all the rides. Not a bad deal, cheaper than a movie and popcorn. They hose you inside though, because everything is really expensive in the park. One of the first things you'll notice about Lotte World is that is that some of the elements seem quite similar to a very famous amusement park in the US. See if you can guess which one.

This ride is called "Drunken Basket". Haha. I thought this was a place to take families.

Basically, the baskets spin around like familiar ride at a famous park.

First thing we did was this log ride. It was fun, but the lineup was kinda long, so we only did this once.

We then went outside to see if anything was ridable. Well, shortly after this nice photo of Jack and I, it rained super hardcore; monsoon style. We only had 2 umbrellas for the 5 of us, so we decided to go back in.

Then watched this marching band play a few tunes. Every member of the band was a Korean girl in a short skirt. Awesome.

Then we went on the rollercoaster "The French Revolution". It was pretty rad. It was fast, went upside down. Fun Ride. I don't have any pictures of it, but I found a few on flickr, and here it is for your convenience:

Then watched a parade. It was more for kids, but it was pretty cool. It had all these weird people dressed in weird outfits. Theme was Masquerade.
Then ate some Dippin' Dots .

Then Merry-Go-Round. Scary!

Something Canadian.... Lotte world also has an indoor skating rink.

After all this, we were kinda tired and decided to go home. We'll definetely have to come back when it is not raining, because the insane rides are outside. Stay tuned for part 2 of this series.