August 3, 2012
by Tia Uchiyama
It seems my peers have chosen to write about our adventures in Seoul in a rather serious manner. And for that reason, I hope you won’t mind that I’ve chosen to speak more casually and frankly about my experiences in Seoul.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Korea before coming to study in Seoul. But I also don’t feel like I experienced much culture shock. Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with Eastern culture through my studies at USC, or maybe it’s just because I adapt well (ha-ha). When I looked over our schedule before departure, I had no conception of where these places were or what they entailed. I knew a little Korean from my friends, but not nearly enough to get around. I felt nervous about being able to communicate and navigate an unfamiliar city.
I was surprised to find so many non-Korean restaurants around the Hongdae and Shinchon area. I’m not sure why I was surprised, necessarily…
I had ridden a subway before, so the act itself didn’t bother me. But because I didn’t know anything about the geography of Seoul, I was gripped rather hard by my fear of disorientation. I checked, double-checked, even triple-checked the maps before boarding; my eyes nervously flickering between the moving map and my USC friends. Though after I made my first trip to Myeongdong solo, I started to feel more confident riding the subway.
If there were one thing I had to pick out from Seoul as my number one, it would have to be the public transportation. It’s very affordable—to the extent of being considered “cheap,” often only around 1,000-won, or maybe 1,200-won for a trip across the city. To give you an idea of how ridiculously inexpensive this is: it costs $2.50 in Hawaii to ride the bus one-way. Taxis are also much cheaper here, and infinitely more abundant. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an empty taxi driving around in Hawaii (save for the more tourist areas), whereas you could probably catch a taxi anywhere in Seoul. The 50,000-won travel allowance we were given so graciously by our sponsors was more than enough to go wherever we wanted, whenever.
by Caroline Koo
This week, our group visited a living and breathing historical museum: the Korean Folk Village! The Korean Folk Village is a recreation of a traditional village from the late Chosun Dynasty. It preserves the past and promotes a feeling of authenticity by allowing visitors to experience what it would have been like to actually live in the village and walk through the streets of the Chosun Dynasty period. As soon as we walked into the Village, we were greeted with red and blue flags that signified a warm and welcoming gesture.
Posters of historical dramas and movies that had been filmed at the Korean Folk Village were everywhere. It was easy to see that Hallyu clearly has a great effect on the structure of the Folk Village. It was interesting to note how Hallyu, the symbol of Korean popular culture, has even extended into the context of the historical representation of Korea through media.
August 2, 2012
- by Anna Pazderski
The first thing that triggered my interest in South Korea was its dance scene. While Korea is known for its Hallyu stars who dance to their songs, I have also heard praise for its break-dancing scene and hip hop world. So, when I came to Korea, one of the first things I wanted to do was somehow take part in this side of Korea.
I took classes for two weeks at a studio called EZ Dance, right next to Ewha University. I will remember my experience there for the rest of my life. It was unlike any other. The whole process was unique from the start, from my friend helping by being a translator to entering the studio and needing to put on slippers.
July 30, 2012
By Jennie Lee
Last week, we went to the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Compared to the National Museum of Korea, which we visited our first week, the tour we received this time was very short and incomplete. We only viewed some works in the photography collection, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The exhibition was on Images of Silence and its four themes were: desolate landscapes, space of absence, absence of communication, and death—eternal silence. As we went through the gallery, the more dark and eerie the subjects of the photographs became. In a way, these photographs of silence seemed to be a reminder of how Korea has constantly been silenced during the past century of colonization, intervention, and dictatorial rule.
To start off this week, our last week in Korea, we visited the N Seoul Tower. Used as a communication and observation tower, it is located at Namsan, or South Mountain, in Seoul. It is commonly know as the Namsan Tower or simply Seoul Tower. When we arrived, I was surprised to see a banner over the entrance saying that the Tower was voted the #1 tourist attraction in Seoul. It led me wonder why it was and made me anticipate the tour even more.
We took an elevator up to the observation deck. Instead of focusing on the view of the Seoul landscape outside the windows lining the walls, I could not help but be distracted by the gift shop flagrantly in the middle of the deck. Next to it there was a postcard station to write postcards and send them in a mailbox. On another floor there was a cosmetics shop, and on the ground floor, there was another gift shop, which even sold K-pop goods.
July 24, 2012
by Joann Park
Jeju Island was definitely one of the highlights on our program. Everyone was excited to see the paradise of the east, and once we got off the plane we were pleasantly surprised with SUN!
This sustainable volcanic island had been a tourist hotspot—especially for honeymooners—for a long time. On our way to our hotel we saw countless hotels, hostels, motels, etc. My Korean aunt told me after Japan’s tsunami incident, a huge influx of tourists had been flowing into Jeju. On our trip we especially saw a lot of Chinese tourists–many of the souvenir vendors were fluent in Chinese as well.
Upon our arrival, we were introduced to Dolhareubang (old grandfather stone statues), the official mascot of Jeju. You could see a characterized version everywhere..on posters, banners, and more! It is said that if you rub the nose of the statue, you will be blessed with a son.
July 23, 2012
by Shoko Oda
Friday, July 13th—Our tour today was slightly different. Much of our tours so far focused on viewing various locations in Korea, such as the urban Seoul and rural Kangwon Province. We also gazed our eyes upon ancient artifacts and art in museums and galleries. However, the tour today shed light on one of the most discussed political issue of today: the North and South Korean divide. On Friday the 13th, we took a trip up to the Demilitarized Zone (known as the DMZ) and Panmunjom, where we were able to see the Joint Security Area (JSA) under strict surveillance of our tour guide, as well as American and Korean soldiers.
The tour started with a rather surprising appearance by a small, middle-aged woman who the tour guide introduced as a North Korean defector. She was present at the tour to provide us with answers that we might have about North Korea. The lady explained to us that she defected with several members of her family as they found no hope left in the North; they first fled to China, then to Thailand, before arriving in South Korea and legally obtaining citizenship there (which, according to the tour guide, can be obtained by defectors after months of investigation and an education period). We were most shocked when we found out that she had left her husband in the North; her husband was a government official, which made it even more risky for him to defect. Unfortunately, she had lost all contact with her husband after the North Korean authorities took him into custody. She has no idea if he is alive or not to this day.
As the tour guide explained, there are about 8 million Koreans who are separated from their families due to the divide—the guide herself explained that her father’s family could not flee to the South and thus remained in the North. Due to the lack of communication methods between the two sides, her family is still unaware if her father’s family is still alive in North Korea. This appearance of the North Korean defector and a tour guide who was personally affected by the divide definitely changed the tone of the tour to a rather more serious one, as we were confronted by the fact that many Koreans who lead ordinary lives are affected by such political strife between the two sides.
Much of the tour was, in my opinion, hybridized to portray the border as rather calm. As I conversed with others, it became clear that we were all extremely surprised how ordinary and unmilitaristic much of the things seemed before arriving to the DMZ and Panmunjom. The Dorasan station, which connected the two railroads between North and South Korea and once was under operation, was very modern and clean; the tour guide emphasized that the station will definitely be used if reunification were to happen in the near future, shedding a light of hope upon the abandoned train station.
July 20, 2012
by Mai Nguyen
Nestled on over 300 acres of quiet land on the outskirts of Seoul, the KOFIC Namyangju Studios (남양주종합찰영소) is the center of South Korean film production today. Like many of the other sites we have visited in South Korea, the Namyangju Studios is a proud testimony to both the rich history and bright future of the South Korean film industry. While its museum and set exhibits attest to the great achievements of the South Korean film industry so far, the sound of painting and hammering on new film sets is a reminder of the many great productions that are yet to come.
Unlike other places we have visited in Seoul where guides have had to share with us stories and history to help us realize the significance of each site, the Namyangju Studios spoke for itself. As we toured the outdoor sets of the JSA, a traditional small Korean village, and the Choson Dynasty’s royal living quarters, then later the indoor special effects filming room, Film Culture Museum Center, and Props and Costume Room, we were able to see and experience for ourselves the significant role of the Studio in the rapidly growing Korean film industry. Of the exhibits we visited, the JSA set and the Culture Museum were perhaps most notable.
The Namyangju Studios complex is home to the famous set used in the 2000 film J.S.A.: Joint Security Area (JSA). Scaled to 80% of the original site, the JSA set is almost an identical replica of the real DMZ’s (De-Militarized Zone) Joint Security Area in Panmunjeom (판문점). Although cardboard cut-outs of soldiers posing in the middle of the JSA create a comical scene, it is still eerie to stand on the steps of the recreated North Korean Panmon Hall and overlook the JSA from the “forbidden” side. While the soldiers and threat of danger are absent from Namyangju’s JSA set, there is still a solemnity and tension that lingers in the atmosphere here. After watching JSA (2000) and visiting the real Joint Security Area in Panmunjeom, we are also able to better appreciate the freedom of walking on both sides of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that divides North and South Korea. Although the set is considered a front region because it is a tourist attraction, understanding the history of the JSA let us experience the tour of the set with a feeling of authenticity that is not usually common for front regions.
July 11, 2012
by Grace Dewson
Departure to Kangnung
This weekend we packed up to head to Kangwon province, the Mecca of hallyu tourism. This trip constituted the film and drama themed portion of our itinerary.
After many rainy hours on the bus, our first stop was at this posh hotel restaurant called “Abbey Road” at the base of Seorak mountains. As one could guess, the menu is named after Beatles songs and the décor reflected a modern take on British interior design with framed pictures of the most famed albums of the 60’s/70’s British Rock era. Some people mentioned the identity crisis of the place, noting how it is a British-themed, seafood pasta restaurant in the middle of rural South Korea. This could be a result of local and international interests of Korea clashing at once. During the course of the trip, I have noticed how there is rampant physical idolatry of famous figures. Everywhere we go, the face of a Korean pop star cannot be avoided. Even at this rurally located restaurant/hotel, they had gold-framed pictures of famous Koreans who have stayed at their hotel for others to admire. In this particular case, the local cuisine of the area was mostly seafood, creating the strange result we were presented with. Perhaps because I was expecting to eat more traditional Korean food, especially considering we were nowhere near Seoul, I was a bit puzzled but I would learn it wouldn’t be the last time I’d feel that way. The arbitrary thematization of rural locations was disorienting, and at times conflicted with my own expectations of particular destinations.
Despite hopes that the rain would shift away, when we arrived at Mt. Seoraksan, it was pouring. Even with a rain jacket and an umbrella, I ended up with soaked legs and shoes. Our portion of the tour involved us taking a cable car up since it was the second highest mountain in South Korea. Within our car, there were both elders and young children anxiously anticipating going up the mountain. Before we left the station of the cable car, we were greeted by another huge billboard of 2PM happily prancing in outdoor gear. It seemed rather out of place to have a random advertisement in a natural setting and forced me to compare it to the many ads we have seen in Seoul.
To be quite frank, I don’t think much would have prepared me for the hike up the mountain. With heavy fog, and rain flooding over most of the stepping stones, I could barely look at my surroundings if I didn’t want to end up on my face (most especially when coming back down). Once we got to the top, I was so relieved to finally make it and breathe the crisp air, yet I was somewhat disappointed because we couldn’t see very much due to the fog. But that’s the gamble that you take when visiting natural spaces; nature isn’t going to move out of the way for tourism.
July 10, 2012
By Anna Pazderski
We spent the first week in Korea visiting Kyongbok Palace, Insadong, Seodaemun Prison and the National Museum of Korea. In the bustling and ever-changing, modern Seoul, there is a feeling of time being frozen in these historic places. These places are an interesting contrast to the modern buildings of Seoul.
Kyongbok Palace was surprisingly large, and today there are around 30 buildings in existence. However, in the past, there were around 500 (WOA!). Stepping into the palace compounds, there is an interesting juxtaposition between the palace and the surrounding city area. After an exciting taxi ride, the palace grounds were quiet, and felt empty because they were so large. I was constantly looking up to see the roofs of the palace buildings. The guide explained to us the significance of the type of roof and color, the similarities and differences between Korean, Chinese, and Japanese traditional roofs. We were also shown the Queen’s and King’s separate quarters. During the day males and females were not supposed to enter each other’s quarters. The palace grounds also used to house the Government General Building, the seat of the Japanese colonial government. In class, we discussed the act of colonial mimicry and gender as a “performance.” We applied these ideas to a film about the Japanese colonial era named “Modern Boy.” However, it is interesting to wonder about the actions of the males and females in ancient times. Being segregated most of the day, what of their actions in their gender roles were a “performance”?
By Isobel Brown
Urban modernity. That was my initial impression of the city of Seoul subsequent to leaving Incheon Airport in South Korea. Countless skyscrapers and contemporary buildings loomed over the city, with glittering neon lights serving as stark yet lovely contrasts to the raven dark night sky. The traffic on the roads was overwhelming, with cars packed tightly next to each other like pieces of sardines. The streets our bus whizzed by were vibrant and bustling, adorned with assorted vendors and restaurants selling a variety of exotic cuisines. During the entire journey to Ewha University, where our group will be staying at for the next month, I kept my eyes resolutely glued to the scenes outside my window, anticipating what sight might appear next. The city seemed so energetic and full of life that I wondered if I would be able to explore all it has to offer in the span of four weeks.
However, although at first glance Seoul seemed to be an epitome of modernity and innovation, certain prominent historical locations continue to be crucial landmarks within the city. For instance, Kyongbokgung, one of the largest royal palaces built during the Choson era, is representative of the traditional architectural style utilized during its time. It was truly quite intriguing to observe the juxtaposition between the traditional Choson architecture of the palace and the various modern skyscrapers and office buildings surrounding it. It almost felt as if the palace still belongs in the Choson period, while its surroundings continue to shift and alter with time. There were also other local sites, such as Buddhist temples and shrines, which stood out amongst all the other contemporary buildings. However, I felt as if they add another layer of depth and intrigue to the city of Seoul. It demonstrates how, despite its modernity and technological advances, the city still perceives certain traditional values to be incredibly important.