Before I started my research in Beijing I made two weeks of holiday in South Korea and Taiwan. In case you are planning on going to Korea, plan ahead. I was writing exams two days before I left so I ignored it, and then I wasn't able to schedule a DMZ tour or a visit to the massive shipyards of Samsung or Hyundai Heavy Industries.
The first place I went in Korea is Seoul. Seoul is a really cool huge city, and I spent a few days there.
2011-04-30 Look, an American company in Korea. I don't know why Chevy sells the Aveo, as the Gentra is manufactured by Daewoo, and is the original car.
2011-04-30 It's not nerdy if you recognize some of these names. Actually, it is.
2011-04-30 A trip to South Korea is not complete with some Starcraft. I think I was on TV, however I looked like an idiot because I didn't understand the announcers.
2011-04-30 The first day in Seoul was quite rainy (spent mostly in the mall where the Starcraft matches were held).
2011-05-01 The Korean War Memorial Museum is pretty awesome in Seoul, Koreans are terribly proud of the homegrown forces defending the nation, and the technologies on display are some of the most advanced and most practical in the world. Here is the American made P-51 "Wild Horse".
2011-05-01 Another cool feature of the War Museum is the large number of captured North Korean vehicles.
2011-05-01 In case you were curious, there was in fact war in Korea before the Korean War (a lot of it, in fact). This is a scale model of a turtle ship used to defend against Japan, which is not very similar to the Age of Empires model. I don't know why a video game would portray anything falsely.
2011-05-01 I took a wrong turn off the metro, and ended up at Gyeongbok Palace. It is quite the massive compound.
2011-05-01 Inside Gyeongbok Palace.
2011-05-01 The National Folk Museum is next to Gyeongbok Palace and free to enter, so I investigated. These poles are Jangseung and Sotade, guardian poles which mark the boundaries of villages.
2011-05-01 Koreans eat food too!
2011-05-16 Another cool pool with a building!
2011-05-16 This is the streets outside of my hostel, which look quite similar to many other streets. Notice the little pop up tents where people are eating, they are everywhere. They are really cool but the only problem is that you are supposed to eat at them, which makes it a little awkward when you are alone and can't speak the language.
2011-05-02 On my last day in Seoul I decided to go to the N Seoul Tower, which is located on Namsan Mountain in the middle of the city. My brilliant navigation and map reading skills told me to exit the train station and walk towards the tower I see in the distance. Which usually brings me to a wall which I have to walk around, which gets tiring.
2011-05-02 Here is a scenic lookout on my hike up to the tower. Of course I chose to go on a day with low visibility, so the city really dosen't look too impressive in this photo.
2011-05-02 Also at the lookout, is this sign which is telling me that the air is polluted. Or I assume, as I can't read it. Still kinda disheartening that the scale at the bottom of the sign goes nowhere close to the recorded value. I don't know why the sign was located half way up the mountain, warning people away from climbing said mountain.
2011-05-02 Lots of stairs involved with this climb.
2011-05-02 At the top (where a cable car runs to... such a better idea) there are walls of these locks. They are locks of love, with little messages written on them by couples. I got out of there fast, as there were too many couples reminding me that I'm touring by myself.
2011-05-02 I took some random side path on the way down. Look at all the flowers! Between the pollution and the pollen, you could really feel the air.
2011-05-02 LEGO! I should have eaten at this restaurant.
2011-05-02 I walked across Namsan Mountain, and figured I'd walk around to return to the train station. However, it seemed as if I can only walk up hill.
2011-05-02 I picked this up during all of my walking, it was quite tasty. It tastes like unflavored Gatorade, which is exactly what I wanted.
After Seoul I accidentally ended up in Daejeon (I meant to head to Daegu, but I must have bought the wrong ticket). This is the sixth largest city in South Korea (1.4 million people), however it feels pretty small. The first couple of hours I thought I was in Daegu still, and was incredibly frustrated with my map and guide book.
2011-05-02 This bridge and river were really handy, as I kept using it as a land mark. I found it impossible to buy a compass in Korea, and only found one at the end of my trip in Busan, despite visiting about 6 hiking stores (hiking stores in Korea consist of trekking poles, windbreakers, and giant visors).
2011-05-03 Here is a meal I ate in the train station, which I selected because it was inexpensive. Eating in the train station is nice and easy because an English menu usually exists and people eating alone is common. I don't remember the exact name of this dish, however it definitely advertised tofu. Heads up if you are vegan or vegetarian, this tofu dish had eggs and clams in it. I loved it, however some people have silly morals.
2011-05-03 The Soju van! One night I was buying something to drink in the local convince store (which are all over the place, both with national brands and small family operations). I went to the fridge, and one shelf was full of these bottles, so I figured I'd try it and the worst thing that I'd get is a beer. However, turns out this is the Korean equivalent of Saki, a rice wine. There is a lot of alcohol in this bottle for a dollar fifty, and it wasn't terribly refreshing.
2011-05-03 Here I am in Uamsajeak Gongwon, which once again involved too much walking to reach (similar to most landmarks I visited). This is a rebuilt Confucian Academy nestled in a forest on the East side of the city.
2011-05-03 The view from the top of Uamsajeak Gongwon, giving a small glimpse of the city Daejeon.
2011-05-03 Here is an incredibly average construction site in South Korea. While you are riding along on the train, you get to look out the window and see apartments shooting up, almost always in multiples of four identical buildings. There are some nice houses in Korea, however most of the time a building looks like it survived the Korean War or is a massive apartment building.
2011-05-03 The motel I stayed in had no wifi, so I spent an hour each day I was in Daejeon in the PC bahng in order to figure out what to do in the city and make plans for the rest of the trip. I had some extra time on my hour left, so I attempted to play some StarCraft II, which I felt was appropriate. However, you cannot login to a Korean copy of StarCraft II with a North American password.
2011-05-03 Ice cream! This one was pretty much what the wrapper looks like, with a waffle running down the center of the cone. Could have used more chocolate.
2011-05-03 Here is a short video looking out of the high speed train. I want to say that the train was going around 260 km/hr when I took this, and on some occasions the train would hit 300 km/hr.
Next stop is the city of Geyongju, the cultural capital of Korea.
2011-05-03 Returning to the themes of not understanding trains and walking too far, I exited the train for Gyeongju one stop too early. I proceeded to walk for an hour into the main city, and on the way in I passed this pillar showing off the Taekwondo championships occurring that week. SCORE.
2011-05-03 Gyeongju is the old capital of the Silla dynasty (57BCE to 935CE), and the city has lots of sights to see based on this fact. In the Daereung-won Tumuli Park you can see some of the nicest royal tombs in the country, and can even enter one. These tombs consist of a large wooden coffin like box to hold the royalty, then fist sized rocks making up the majority of the hill, covered with dirt for grass to grow. However, once you've seen one royal tomb, the rest look very similar.
2011-05-03 Here are some tombs which aren't inside walls which you have to pay to see (my one beef with this town was paying a couple dollars at all of the sites).
2011-05-03 This is the Cheomseongdae Observatory, which is the oldest existing observatory in all of Asia, located conveniently not on a mountain! I really like it.
2011-05-03 Here is the field which you walk along while viewing all of these sights. Gyeongju has lots of facilities for tourists, and for any trip which leaves Seoul I would recommend stopping here.
2011-05-03 Here is the Anapji Pond, which was the location of a large complex. Only a few buildings have been reconstructed, and you can see the foundations of the others letting you know how massive it must have been. The pond is really well kept up, and would probably have been a good place to take a date.
2011-05-03 Here is a non-distorted view of the pond, showing that I was walking through at dusk.
2011-05-03 I tried to take an alternative route back for the night, so that I wouldn't retrace my steps. Well, this bridge definitely existed on my map.
2011-05-03 After dusk I was walking back on of the other side of the field with flowers in it. For some reason there were hundreds of children in the field, which I tried to capture here, but I could not make the camera focus in the dusk. And there were more coming as I exited.
2011-05-03 I stopped at the market on my way to my hostel to buy a snack and breakfast, and I got more ice cream. I figured that this was cheap and has chocolate in it, so it'd be up my alley.
2011-05-03 This is the contents of the ice cream. It is one of the most awkward things to eat. The ice cream is the same stuff found in a fudgsicle, however you can either try to melt the contents with your hands and drink it, or try to bite it. I managed to eat it, however it was way too much work.
2011-05-04 The next day I visited Bulguksa, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which was quite massive and impressive. However, there were swarths of children there, probably all from the meadow last night. The only good thing about children is that they will say hello to you because you are white, so I was able to practice talking a little.
2011-05-04 After Bulguska I hiked up to Seokguram Seokgul (and I should have taken the hourly bus instead). Bulguska was constructed by King Kim Daeseong in honor of his parents, and at the same time he constructed this grotto in honor of his parents of his former life.
2011-05-04 These types of signs were all over the hiking trail. These bears are so much more awesome than Smokey, as they enjoy defying the laws of physics.
2011-05-04 Next to the grotto's parking lot is this bell, which you can ring for a donation. I'm not sure what these guys were filming, however they were trying to make it overly exciting, and looked like a really bad show.
2011-05-04 Here you can see a little bit of Gyeongju (from the bell platform). This photo shows how small of a town Gyeongju is, with few tall buildings.
2011-05-04 This is just outside of the actual grotto. Buddha's birthday was a the next week, which explains any random paper lanterns in the photographs I'm taking. It also is the reason that I had trouble finding accommodation, many of the English as a second language teachers were touring at the same time. Many people assumed I was an ESL teacher myself, and would be confused when I would say I'm an engineering student on holiday.
2011-05-04 Snickers with almonds is awesome.
2011-05-04 Here is the inside of the World Taekwondo Championships. USA was doing really well, however I just watched a handful of matches and never found out the final outcome.
2011-05-04 I can only imagine how you incorporate bingo into pizza.
2011-05-04 I don't know what this is. I think it is some dough with miscellaneous stuff in it, deep fried and coated with sugar. At the same stand I had a corn dog (just without corn meal), both of these items were very common as street food. However, I don't know the name of anything I ate on this trip!
My last stop was Busan, the second largest city in South Korea. If you are a history buff you may remember Busan (or Pusan as the older spelling) was the last city held by UN forces in the Korean War.
2011-05-05 It was nice to be in another city with a proper metro system, and what is even cooler is that the rfid card used for the Seoul metro worked here also! (Along with some other cities and convenience stores, really nice). This is a locker of gasmasks found in the metro, which I can only assume was added after the Sarin gas attacks in Tokyo.
2011-05-05 Busan has a large "Chinatown", with restaurants from all over the world. I found this Russian Texas restaurant particularly funny.
2011-05-05 I wanted to show off the concept of the Duracell Bunny, however the girl (I assume) inside the bunny outfit did not understand me. I tried to get her to move her arms so I could read Duracell, however she just grabbed her chest. I eventually just had to lift my arms over my head, but I found the process very funny.
2011-05-05 This is Haeundae Beach, the most popular beach in all of Korea. If you've seen photographs of a beach covered with parasols, this is it, reaching a capacity of approximately one million in peak season. Way too cold, the only people even wearing T-shirts were Americans, all of the Koreans were in long sleeves.
2011-05-05 This is a food court in Centum City, the largest department store in the world. If you think that ordering in a food court should be easy (prices displayed, national chains, pictures), think again! Many food courts in South Korea have a desk where you order food from, for all of the restaurants (eg. 345 is a Big Mac). You then get a number, and sit in front of a TV until your number is called, and then you go to the restaurant to pick up your food. Way too much talking and reading of menus.
2011-05-05 This is Gwangalli Beach, with the Diamond Bridge in the distance. The Diamond Bridge is supposed to be quite a sight at night; lit up with many colors.
2011-05-05 After walking way too far I ended up in this park next to Centum City. A bell made out of speakers is pretty cool.
2011-05-05 Here I am in a super market, and this is an isle of hot sauce. A similar sight dedicated to soy sauce is next to this. If I were living in South Korea buying food from a supermarket would probably save money, however the short term food stuffs I depend on while traveling (such as canned tuna) was too expensive. Also, when you find something new, you can't read the cooking directions. I still don't know what I ate for breakfast the next day, or if I cooked it properly.
2011-05-06 Inside Geumjeongsa park is this Buddhist temple Beomeosa. For once I was smart, and I rode the gondola up the mountain, hiking down 400 meters to see this. The trail had many lanterns along the way for a cool effect, and I think someone was praying, which was projected through a speaker.
2011-05-06 On the ride down the gondola I tried to take a picture of the city, and it turned out ok. You can see how large of a city Busan is from this photo, and it is relatively small compared to Seoul.
2011-05-06 Attached to the Geumjeongsa park is the Marine Natural History Museum, which was actually really cool, with lots of labels in English. This room is really cool, as it is a touching display for blind people. I'm not blind, so I don't know if it is any help or not.
2011-05-06 Charlie Sheen probably owns this restaurant.
2011-05-06 As I wandered around I finally made my way to another landmark, Youngdusan Park, with Admiral Yi Sun-sin standing proud. What was cool was that some sort of festival was going on in this park, however it was mostly lost on me as I didn't understand the language and it was lightly raining (and I left my jacket at home!).
2011-05-06 This is in front of Busan Main Station, with the colors of the lights gradually changing. You can see some performers hammering away in the middle, which gave a cool effect as you walked down the street.
2011-05-07 Here is a monument to water, on same island as the Eulsuk-do Bird Sanctuary. This island is in the Nakdong River Delta, and to access it I walked across the road dam (hence, the water museum). The dam is dynamic so that sediment can escape (river delta and all). It is museums like this which make me glad that I'm from Michigan and will never face a water shortage.
2011-05-07 This park was listed as Olympic Park on the subway map, however it was largely overgrown with construction all around it. I really liked it, as I had the place to myself and it was very shady, I got to read a bit.
2011-05-07 Here is the reason that I waited until the end of my trip to go to Busan, I wanted to see Busan Comic World. I highly advise stopping by if you are in Busan or Seoul during the event. Don't even bother going inside, just looking at all the people outside in cosplay costumes is pretty awesome. What I found the most interesting though, is all of the professional photographers present, this is a serious operation.
2011-05-07 Heavy clouds rolled in as I headed for Dongbaek Island. Haeundae (the name of the beach, but also the name of the city district) literally translates to sea, hill, cloud, and you can see why here.
2011-05-07 Here is a monument to Choi Chi-won , a philosopher who named this area Haeundae. Child genius, reading his life story made me feel inadequate.
2011-05-07 I met President Cho (president of his company) and his wife while I was walking around Dongbaek Island. I spent something like three hours talking to him about the history of the island (there is also the APEC house on the island which we toured).
I rode the KTX into Seoul early in the morning the day before my flight out. So for the rest of the day I attempted to look at stuff which I missed the first time around.
2011-05-08 I wandered my way to where an international festival was occurring. This KIA fuel cell vehicle was parked on the street. I wish I could have talked to someone about it, however I think it may have been just a mode of transportation that day, and not a display.
2011-05-08 This is the source of the Cheonggye Stream, which is a small park in the middle of Seoul. The festival can be seen in the background. MANY nations had tents (or multiple tents), selling ethnic food or asking questions about the country. I could not find the Czech Republic, as I wanted some Czech beer (the information booth was actually confused by the name Czech Republic, I wonder what the name is in Korean).
2011-05-08 This monument is celebrating Korea's position as a leader in innovation, trying to resemble disks.
2011-05-08 I cannot speak Korean, but I can pass in HTML