August 3, 2012
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.
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.