Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, 서울, is the capital of South Korea.  Officially it is the Seoul Special Metropolitan City and home to over 10 million people.

The Seoul metro area has 25,6 million people.  About twice the entire Czech population lives just in Seoul!  It's the largest city on the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul sits on the Han River and was founded over 2,000 years ago in 18 BC.  The city eventually became the capital during the Joseon Dynasty in 1897.  When Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910 the city was renamed Gyeongseong until following the city's liberation at the end of WWII.

Seoul was destroyed after the Korean War.  Efforts were put in to building a modern city and today Seoul is home to around 20% of the population.

The Seoul Olympic Stadium opened in 1984.  It was the main stadium used for the 1986 Asian Games and the '88 Olympics.

Sangam Stadium is the Seoul World Cup Stadium and opened in 2001.  The stadium was designed to resemble a traditional Korean kite.  It is the second largest stadium in Korea after the Olympic Stadium but it is the largest football-only stadium in Asia.

Seoul Olympic Park is the city's largest park and it too was built for the '88 Olympics.  It was interesting to see flags flying for countries which participated in the '88 games but no longer exist like Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union.  The World Peace Gate celebrates the spirit of the Olympic Games and under the gate is an eternal flame.

The old city hall building was built in 1925.  In 2008 it became the Seoul Metropolitan Library when the new city hall building was built behind it.

Myeongdong Cathedral, officially the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, was completed in 1898.  It is the largest Catholic church in the country.

Lotte World is the world's largest indoor amusement park.

Lotte World Tower opened in April 2017. At 554,4 metres (1,819 feet) it is the 5th tallest building in the world.  There are great views of the city on the 117th and 118th floors.

DDP is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and it is located in the fashion district.  It opened in 2014.

The Dongdaemun Gate, officially the Heunginjimun Gate, was built in 1396, remodelled in 1453 and rebuilt in 1869.

The Namdaemun Gate, officially the Sungnyemun Gate, is the largest of the eight stone castle gates in the city.  It was first built in 1398 and rebuilt in 1447.  The gate was destroyed in a fire in 2008 and was reopened in 2013.  The gate is listed as Korea's National Treasure #1.

Namdaemun Market is open 24-hours and it is the oldest and largest traditional market in the city.  It dates back to 1414.

Mt. Namsan is 262 metres (860 feet) tall and is home to Namsan Park which has nice views of the city.  On top is the N Seoul Tower.  It was built in 1971 as the country's first general radio wave tower.  It is 236 metres (774 feet) tall.

The National Theatre of Korea was the first nationally managed theatre in Asia.  It opened in 1950 and hosts the National Drama Company, the National Dance Company, the National Orchestra Company, and the National Youth Theatre.

The Blue House is the executive office and the official residence of the South Korean president.

The 12.23 Fountain honours Admiral Yi Sunshin and the 23 battles he fought using 12 warships.

The Sejong Centre for the Performing Arts opened in 1978.  It is the largest arts and cultural complex in Seoul and is home to the biggest pipe organ in Asia.

King Sejong was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty who reigned from 1418 to 1450 and the man who created the Korean alphabet.

There are 115 museums in Seoul.  The National Hangeul Museum opened in 2014.  The museum is dedicated to Korean orthography and takes up four floors.

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History opened in 2012.  There are four permanent exhibition halls, plus a children's museum covering the 19th century to the present.

Seoul's Gangnam District is the third largest and fourth most populated.  This is the posh part of town and is considered the Beverly Hills of Korea.

The War Memorial of Korea was opened in 1994.  The museum used to be the South Korean Infantry Headquarters and has over 10,000 items on display.

Gyeongbokgug Palace was built in 1395.  It is the largest of the city's five grand palaces and was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty.  People wearing traditional Korean costumes get free entry to the palace but the kicker is that the rental fee is more expensive than the entry ticket.

However, there were still lots of people in national dress and many kids wanted to take photos with us and try to speak English. I felt like a K-pop star with groupies.

There is so much to see and do here that in a few days we were only able to scratch the surface.  I can't wait to come back.

Monday, October 16, 2017

DMZ Tour, South Korea

On Thursday we took a guided tour to the DMZ (demilitarised zone).  The DMZ divides the Korean Peninsula almost in half and separates North Korea and South Korea.    The DMZ was established in 1953 by the Armistice Agreement at the end of the Korean War.

The DMZ is 250 km (160 miles) long and 4 km (2,5 miles) wide.  While the zone itself is demilitarised, both sides of the divide are heavily militarised.  It's safe to say that this is the world's most dangerous border.

Our first stop was at Imjingak Park at Paju, about an hour's drive north of Seoul.  Imjimgak is 7 km (4,25 miles) south of the DMZ and this is the closest that a person can get to the DMZ without clearance.

The Bridge of Freedom used to be a railroad bridge across the Imjin river which was used for repatriating POWs and soldiers from North Korea.

The Peace Bell weighs 21 tons.  It was dedicated on 1 January 2000 in hopes of welcoming the 21st century as when reunification will finally take place.

Mangbaeddan was declared a UNESCO Memory of the World in 1983.  Every year, especially on New Year's and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) people come here to pay respect for family members separated during the Korean War.

Our next stop was to the Dorasan Korail Station that used to connect Seoul and Pyongyang.  It opened in 2002 and is 2 km (1,25 miles) from the border.  The station has been renovated but it is strictly for show as no train as run to North Korea since 2008.

Then it was on to the the Dora Observatory for our glimpse in to North Korea.  Each Korea maintains a peace village on their respective side of the border.  Gaeseong is in South Korea and in the 1980s the government built a 98,4 metre (323 feet) tall flagpole.

The North Koreans responded by putting up a 160 metre (525 feet) tall flagpole, the fourth tallest in the world, in Kijeongdong which is the village just north of the border.

The bright blue buildings in Kijeongdong were built in the 1950s.  It seems that the village is just for propaganda.

Here are some photos of soldiers out on patrol.  

Since 1974 there have been four North Korean infiltration tunnels discovered by South Korea.  The third tunnel was found in 1978 following a statement from a North Korean defector.

The tunnel is about 1600 metres (5,200 feet) long and 73 metres (240 feet) below ground.  The tunnel slopes down and would have allowed up to 30,000 soldiers and light weaponry per hour in the event of a sneak attack on the south.  There's no photography allowed in the tunnel.

After lunch, we headed to the War Memorial of Korea.  It's a museum that used to be the South Korean Infantry Headquarters.  It's rather large with over 10,000 items on display.

There are a number of indoor and outdoor exhibition halls.  Outside are several monuments and military vehicles on display.

The original plan was to visit the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom which is controlled by the United Nations.  Due to the recent tensions between North Korea and the USA, there are military drills so all visits were cancelled for the week.  Too bad because that's the visit that I was most excited about.  Oh well, now I have another excuse to come back to South Korea.  Here's a short CNN video I found on YouTube that talks about the JSA.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Korean Food

There's no excuse for going hungry in Korea.  We've been living off of Korean food for over a week and have loved it.  Lots of rice, vegetables, meat and plenty of kimchi.

Overall, eating out in a restaurant is pretty inexpensive.  And yummy street food is even cheaper.

Most menus here are only in Korean but some have pictures that allow you to point.  When you go to a restaurant you will be given cold water for free.  Korean chopsticks are metal but most places will bring you a fork if you need one.  The best thing about Korean restaurants is that you will not be bothered by waiter or waitress.  Every table has a call button that you press when you want a server to come over.  Otherwise they will leave you alone.  Why don't we have these everywhere?

Every meal comes with banchan which are tasty small side dishes that you are given for free.  They are placed in the centre of the table for sharing and they come with unlimited refills.  At a minimum you get two but some places give up to six or eight different items.

Kimchi at the street market
In Korea, a meal isn't a meal without kimchi which is cabbage fermented in a brine of salt, ginger, garlic, scallions and chilli pepper.  Besides cabbage kimchi there's also radish and cucumber kimchi.  The average South Korean eats 18 kg (40 lbs) of kimchi every year.  Kimchi was included on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

At traditional restaurants is where you'll get Korean BBQ where meats are cooked on a grill in the centre of the table.  The meat is cooked and then scissors are used to cut in to smaller pieces.  You put the meat on a lettuce leaf or a perilla leaf, with thin sliced garlic, gochujang (chilli pepper paste), onion in sesame oil, and kimchi.  Kind of like Korean fajitas.

Bulgogi is marinated beef that is sliced thin or shredded.

Galbi are pork or beef ribs.

Samgyeopsal is pork belly.  The best is the Jeju black pork version.

Mandu are steamed, boiled, pan-fried, or deep-fried dumplings.

Jajangmyeon are fried noodles with black bean sauce.

Kimbap is the sandwich of Korea.  It is seaweed wrapped around rice and various ingredients like egg, carrots, radish, cucumber, plus either ham, cheese, tuna, or bulgogi.

Bibimbap is rice topped with an egg, veggies, and gochujang.  It is served in a bowl, mixed together and eaten with a spoon.  Dolsot bibimbap  is served in a warm stone  bowl with a raw egg that cooks against the sides of the bowl.

Jjigae is a thick soup or stew that is often served in a boiling bowl or pot at the table.

Gochujang jjigae is chilli pepper paste soup.
Budae jjigae

Kimchi jjigae is kimchi stew with pork or tofu added.

Sundubu jjigae is soft tofu stew and a raw egg is added at the table to the boiling bowl.

Budae jjigae is "army base stew" that contains Spam and instant ramen noodles.

Tteokbokki is the ultimate street food.  It is a finger-sized sliced rice cake and fish cakes served in chilli pepper sauce.

Japchae is a noodle dish with beef and vegetables marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil.

Soju is a clear distilled drink made from rice, wheat or barley.  The alcohol content can range from 16,8% to +50%.  You can sip it or do shots.  Not quite slivovice but good.

You might not think of fried chicken as Korean food but there is nothing better than Korean fried chicken.  Oh so good and never greasy.  It is served with mu which is a sour pickled white radish that's been cut into cubes.

Donkatsu is a Japanese dish but can be found in many Korean restaurants.  It is a deep-fried pork cutlet.  Basically Korean řízek.

Jeon are savoury pancakes made from a wheat-based flour then then fried.  There are many different varieties.

Pajeon are made by adding long strips of spring onion to the mix.

Patbingsu is shaved ice with sweet red beans and condensed milk.  Granola and ice cream are added along with fruit.

I did try the raw octopus in Busan.  It was fine but no where near the top of the list of my favourite Korean foods.

In Gangnam we stumbled across a Czech pub but didn't try it.

There are a couple of places in Brno that have Korean food.  I'll need to give them a try because I'm already missing my daily serving of kimchi.