Archive for the ‘Korea’ Category

My last hike in Korea…

February 22, 2009

…as lovely as the first.




January 23, 2008


Big plans. Go to traditional, historic site (one hour by subway) with good hiking, do good hiking, see important, traditional site, go home, relax at the Manhattan Bar.

Did it happen? Of course! (More or less.)

Slept late. Read about stocks crashing. Worried. Yawned. Wet, grimy snow was falling outside. Crawled back to the womb (under the blankets).

I think I got myself to the “porridge” bar around 10:00, where I had pumpkin porridge. Yum. On the way to Starbucks, I pulled out my camera hoping to catch some Korean women wearing miniskirts in the snow. Oh those crazy Koreans! There was a great opportunity too, as a flock of young ladies popped out a doorway, almost all in minis, with some nice fat snowflakes falling through the air, but I couldn’t get a picture. I wonder who the first Korean to climb Everest in a miniskirt will be.

Onward to Starbucks, where I contemplated being lazy and going home (it was getting late, the weather…). But, no, no; courageous, intrepid me pressed onward (ever onward).

Read the pink Korean Herald on the train. Stock markets crashing, president-elect of Korea under investigation. Presidential candidates in the US accusing each other of being bad people. Giant, Patriots in the Super Bowl (finally, some real news). I wish I had shorted stocks super-aggressively, or at least sold everything. Oh well.

On the way to Namhanseong-san I got mildly lost, couldn’t figure out the difference between the park and the historic site, thought I got off at the wrong station, got frustrated and started getting mad at myself. Getting mad at myself is something I practice often. Or do I do it for real? I’m not sure.

Finally I tried to ask directions from two old Korean men on the street.

* Me: 어디 남한산성?

* Old men: Eh?

I figured my grammar was bad, but if they could understand my pronunciation they would understand my question. So I tried to be really clear…

* Me: (very slowly): 어 디  남 한 산 성 ?

* Old men: (looking at each other) Eh?

Maybe the problem was my grammar. I tried to remember the right endings…

* Me: 남한산성은 어디에 입닉가?

* Old men: Eh?

* Me: 남한산성가 어디에 입닉가?

* Old men: Eh?

Finally I gave up on the idea of making a complete sentence, and just said “남한산성?” while shrugging and looking hopeful. I pronounced it at a normal speed, trying to maintain the unstressed Korean pronunciation. They immediately understood and pointed me in the right direction! Moral of the story: it is better to say one word clearly than three words badly.

My labyrinthitis was a bit of a bleary nuisance while walking back to the subway. Oh well.


Magically, when I got to the mountain, the snow was clean and fluffy and beautiful. No at all like that nasty city snow down the hill. There were lovely spots: bare trees with clean snow lining their branches, snowy rocky hillsides, misty views of nearby snowy peaks.

Back in Ansan: Starbucks, home, snacks for dinner, consideration of being lazy (always!) instead of following the plan to go to the Manhattan Bar (where my plan is to journal the day’s events) , awe-inspiring surmounting of the temptation of laziness, trudge to bar (no more snow), discover they make manhattans with Jack Daniels (gross), pay more for something nicer, and here I am writing this!

Lunch today

January 5, 2008

Squidburger and fries.


September 5, 2007

It’s all about the ancestors. The most Korean of Korean holidays (I think), Chuseok is when Koreans return to their hometowns to reunite with family. They often describe it as a “Korean Thanksgiving.” However, feasting seems to be a small part. The only traditional food is songpyun, a kind of rice cake.

Saturday I went to Yeouido island, in the Han river in southwest Seoul. Saw a nice riverside park with bike/jogging path and great river-view of the city. After it started raining, I wandered over to the underside of a bridge, where a social scene was happenin’. A group of young dudes strumming their guitars gave it a nice atmosphere. As I was watching the dudes, a small, friendly old man walked up to me a started talking in passable English. He gave the impression of possibly being crazy or homeless–or maybe just old and lonely. Why did he pick me? His clothes were a little raggedy and his teeth were orange; his glasses were crooked and not too clean. He did not appear to be hearing voices. I snapped a picture of him in which he is laughing because I had pointed my camera at him; he was embarrassed.


Friendly man

Seoul has some nice scenic spots: buttes, the river, parks, etc. On the other side of the island is an ecological park, which looked good for bird watches (considering it is the middle of a major world city).

Monday I went to Chagdeok-gung, a well-preserved palace compound near Anguk station. Lots of fat camera-lugging Western tourists and traditional Korean buildings. Whatever. There is a large forested area with a lotus pond and a pavilion. I want a large forested area with a lotus pond and a pavilion.

In front of the main entrance, I photographed a “pretty young thing” in a fancy, colorful hanbok, and she chastised me for not asking first. I say “pretty young thing” with just the right blend of sarcasm and sincerity (you can trust me on this).


She is about to scold me for taking her picture without asking first.

Wandering toward Seoul Station to catch the subway home, I stumbled into Seoul Plaza. A performance with an ensemble of traditional Korean drums was pending, so I sat on the grass and waited. It was great! Really positive, physical energy. Lots of musical and physical joy in the performers. It was primal and sophisticated and a lot of fun. I don’t think it was traditional Korean music, it had an almost rock’n’roll spirit and was not at all stately or folksy. Within five minutes I thought “These guys would be good for Renn Fayre,” which shows what aspects of Reed linger with me the most.


July 22, 2007



May 5, 2007

…tends to be excessively poppy. It also tends to imitate Western styles, which isn’t very interesting for me (a Westerner). However, that doesn’t stop it from being fun at times. There is a Web site with many streams of older Korean rock. The stuff from the 60’s is often really good. Here is a song by a woman named Yun Sin-ae that I like. She has a great guttural growl. My Korean co-teacher says she single-handedly popularized the mini-skirt in South Korea. That makes her one of the major cultural influences of the society–Korean women wear mini-skirts in the dead of winter. And given how conservative Korea is in general, I can imagine there was a lot of attitude about a woman going mini in 70’s Korean society.
You can explore the site more by clicking on the calendar. There is some fun music in there.

Here’s a punkish video. I like the music and the video:

Here’s a another rock video. I like the video more than the music.

Koreans, Old & Young

April 30, 2007



Hike in Seoul: Mt. Gwanak

April 28, 2007

Climbed Mt. Gwanak today, near Seoul University. Many people out for a weekend jaunt! Neat that there were so many seniors. Old Koreans are an interesting topic–the culture has changed so much, that I think senior citizens are living members of a past that is starkly divorced from the present. A disappearing era. Everybody was decked out in gear: day packs, hiking sticks (some with ice picks on the end, which is funny), boots, etc. The street was lined with vendors selling equipment and the usual assortment of Korean street food. It had the air of a national ritual or festival. I wonder about the role of solitude in Korean life. The nationalism combined with the population density seem to devalue spending time alone with oneself. This was definitely not a quiet hike in the hoods. But, I was in the middle of Seoul. What kind of wilderness experiences are to be had in Korea?

It’s a poetic time of year. Gwanak is mostly deciduous, although there are scrubby conifers near the peak. Also at the top, somewhere, is a little Buddhist temple, but I couldn’t see it. The peak I ascended boasted a Korean flag, flapping briskly in the wind like a flag should. Most of the trees are still bare, which looks nice when the sunlight filters (what a cliche) through them. The buds on the limbs are ready to hatch–very fat. There are some simple, light purple flowers on some of the bare trees. They were very beautiful against the mostly bare limbs of the hillside, especially when sunlight was added to the mix. It struck me as a very Asian aesthetic–the rough mountain side contrasted with delicate flowers. I think Asian aesthetics often emphasize the contrast between rough and gentle in nature, maybe a Taoist influence.



Top of Mt. Gwanak

At the top were panoramic but hazy views of Seoul. So much bad air around here ! The Koreans blame the Chinese (of course)–yellow dust from Chinese industrialization I think. Many forests of apartment buildings (of course). Some recklessness in the Koreans climbing the rocks. I thought about stereotypes. Koreans (as an average, as an average) are playful and reckless. Their driving is as bad as the Italians. The stereotype is that they are uptight. There are many rules and formalities governing social interactions, but there are aspects of the culture very free from formalities too. They love sports and games of all kinds. And they like to drink.

After my hike, I took the subway to Kaldi’s Coffee shop in Hongdae. So far, the only good coffee I’ve found in Korea. A cup of the good stuff costs 3,000 won (a little over $3).

Korean Nationalism

February 23, 2007

I went to Seodaemun prison yesterday, a museum converted from a prison used by the Japanese during the occupation. It is worth the trip. The wax evil Japanese torturing the wax patriotic Koreans was thought-provoking.

I’m tempted to say it is perfectly natural for a small country like Korea to be nationalistic, but nationalism doesn’t seem to be restricted by size (look at the US).

Virtually all countries have atrocities in their past (Korea seems to be an exception). Japan should apologize for the occupation and “comfort women”; the US should apologize for nuking Japanese civilians, and so on. At what point does it become ridiculous to insist that a nation apologize for past injustice? Should all European countries appologize to Native Americans? Should northern Germans and Danes apologize to the Celts?

In the museum, I kept thinking the Koreans really need to get over the whole Japanese thing. Then I kept thinking there are many living Koreans who lived these events, and want remembrance. I went with my co-teacher, Min-jung, who mentioned that her grandfather is missing part of a finger from the Japanese occupation.



Part of the reason the country seems so obsessive over its relations with Japan and China is that these two countries constitute 95% of Korea’s international history.

I do think it was absurd that so much hostility was directed at Preseident Roh for suggesting the East/Japan Sea be renamed the Sea of Friendship.