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!


Sunny said...

Loved the blog, look forward to seeing both of you once you're in town. We should plan some drinks and you can tell us some stories and off course so can Sohee...I bet she's got some she would like to share as well.


Anonymous said...

Fkin A buddy awesome trip.

today is like the last day im on the phones.

Gimme a call if your bored