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.
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 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.