Yes I know it has been forever since I updated the blog. I am sorry, but there is just too much to do here, both in experiencing Korea and school work, but also I am doing a bit of Freelance work to increase my traveling budget. Anyway here comes a overview of my life here. And I really try to write more often in the future.
Lets try to organize this a bit...
There has been a lot of visitors here and of course Andy was here until end of September. Then my parents arrived first week of October. Anna and Janne was visiting Korea and Japan in mid September and Andy's friends Anasha from Brazil spent some time with us. She was exhibiting in the Seoul Biennial and we had some very nice party time with her. Also in October Andy's friend Tiago from Portugal was here and I was showing him around a bit, we saw a local heavy metal band and found a Shisha place.
In school there is me, 7 French exchange students and the Korean students. I have been out with them a couple of times and of course during class you get to know some better, some not so well. A lot of the Korean students have shown their interest to go to Finland for exchange and last week I got to know that 7 students are applying for Taik and only one gets a place. I know four of the applicants and of course who ever gets chosen I will help them out.
In general people are relay nice and helpful here. But it is very hard to get closer to people than that nice and polite side. But the last weeks I been doing progress in friendship specially with a girl called Hyoyo. We been eating dinner, shopping and singing in a karaoke room on our free time:) and had a lot of fun even if the communication in English is not so easy.
But one thing I don't like to much here is that if you are American here you can't get into some bars, or on the markets you get a better price when they realize you are not from the states. It's true that Koreans have a reason to dislike the Americans military presence here, but this attitude is discrimination for me and I don't like it. And it effects me to, because often you are taken as an American until you prove otherwise, and I have been asked for id in the bars...and it's not because of my age. By the way after some Korean bureaucracy I have now a Alien registration card and here it's been good for everything between getting a mobile phone(the Finnish one does not work here) to renting a bike.
When Andy and my parents were here we did a lot of fun stuff...but it also costs to do stuff, so now I am on low budget experiencing :) Here is some highlights from Seoul and Outside.
Mount Seoraksan and Seoraksan national park
On Chuseok which is the local Thanks giving and one of the bigger holidays we did as everyone here, deserted Seoul. Everyone warned us not to leave the city because of the traffic, but we decided to confront the traffic and took a bus to Sokcho a city on the east coast about 4 hours from Seoul. The beginning was a bit slow but in the end we didn't sit too long in the bus. From Sokcho there was an other 30 min bus ride to the national park and it was great. The first day we just went there for the evening and got some information and the next morning we started early to trek up to the top that was 1708 m above sea level. It was hard work and our biggest stress was the question if we would fit into the shelter in the mountains where we planned to stay or would we have to even get down before dark. The shelters was first come first serve and our fast pace up was good because we got a spot in the shelter. After that it was still a hours hike to the top. The park was beautiful and it was interesting to stay in the shelter wit a lot of Korean trekking fanatics. And I can tell you they are crazy about trekking here and have all the newest gear. And even 70 year old people run up the mountain here. We also got to experience the dark side of Korean temper when a fist fight took place in the evening. We where early in bed and up next morning taking an other rout back down, but first we got up the peak a second time. It was not a good choice to get down the other way because there was no bus from there in hours. And the taxi was very expensive 50 000 back to the city. We already tough we would mis our bus back but then a Taxi driver who was on his way to the city anyway took us back for 10 000 (take the 3 zeros of and you get dollar). So our adventure ended well anyway and we got the bus back.
Bukhansan national park
This was the first mountain we climbed and it was perfect day Tripp from Seoul to the 810 m peak with a beautiful panoramic view over Seoul. This is where 70 year old Korean hikers just run past us :) But we followed the hikers as the guide said and got up too.
Biking the Han River
This is my favorite hobby now when I need some fresh air. I rent a bike (3000/h) for a hour or two and just bike along the Han River. They are working a lot on restoring the river side. I have seen the plans and some of the changes are very superficial, but they are making some nice bike and walkways and a lot of green area and that is great. It is very relaxing and beautiful. I just hope it's not getting too cold too soon so I can continue with my biking trips. We also had a lot of fun with Andy trying out a tandem bike and I also love having picnic in the park. If my Korean would be better I would order some food to the park...yes it´s possible and used a lot!
I like the biking so much so one of my projects for school also involves biking by Han river! So mixing pleasure and work.
Cruise on Han River
With my parents we took the boat on the Han river. It was a nice experience but nothing special. I prefer biking more, but this is a good way to get a peak of the river.
Walking by the Cheonggye Stream
This is the stream that Seoul was built by originally because Han river was to wide. But it got very dirty and was even covered by a high way until recent when the area was restored. Now it is a nice but a bit artificial walk trough the core city. Along it there is installation and art and you can walk by it for 10 min or a hour depending on your interest. It is also very popular by Koreans to spend time and can get crowded time to time.
Art & Festival & Museums
Hi Seoul Festival
During October there was Hi Seoul festival here with a lot of cultural program. Whit my parents we got a peak of the opening with classical music and musical music, but we missed the fireworks:( And there was a lot happening during whole October. My favorite was Drum festival showcase where different groups where presenting a small show and it was great. My favorite was a mix of traditional Korean drum performance mixed with kind of Cirque du Soleil and Stomp...with drumming, acrobatics, dance, pyrotechnics etc.
A great media art exhibition that has been in the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMa) the past month and a half. We were there at the opening with Andy, Anna, Janne, Judy and Ken Jannes friend from Korea. We also meet Andy's professor who was exhibiting there and later Anasha and other artist who also exhibited there. I missed the first floor during the opening so I still want to go there one more time.
Seoul Design Olympics
We had a field trip with the class to the Olympic stadium to see the Seoul Design Olympics. A huge expo with a lot of interesting but also boring stuff. The biggest problem was that the things where scattered around and I missed a lot of good stuff because it just took a lot of time to find everything. Seoul is going to be the World Design Capital(WCD) in 2010 and a lot is done for it. Two of my classes here are designing concept that are going to be presented to the WDC-board...and maybe I get back in 2010 to work on them ;) But the city is putting a lot of money on this and it showed on the exhibit. There was also other cities presenting their stuff, and design companies, a competition, student work, designers market, interactive work etc....
A very good museum with a lot of English video clips. We where there with Andy probably for 3 hours and learned a lot about the Korean war. This section was very good. We got very much into understanding the happenings here during 1950-53 so we also downloaded all kind of documentaries about Korean war and also North Korea. The only part that I didn't like about this museum was the part where todays army was presented and it became a American kind of Army propaganda that herofice the military and marines, navy etc compete telling how great they are...urgh!
A old prison from the Japanese occupation time is now change to a museum. Korea was about 100 years under Japanese occupation before end of second world war and a lot of rebels (Korean independents fighters) were tortured in this prison. There was all kind of puppet installations showing how the rebels were tortured, but very lite information in English. When Japan was defeated in Second world war Korea got independent but soon Russians and USA divided the country and took over to develop two different political systems to their occupied areas. The Koreans where not happy about the division and North Korea tried with force to unite the countries and started the bitter Korean war in 1950. During the division a lot of families where divided the war brought a lot of bitterns too. Soon these generations are gone. There has been contact between South and North since 2000, but it is mostly just big plans and nothing real has happened in many years. North is still a very closed country and people here don't want to talk about what is happening over there. Still officially there is a hope of a unified Korea, but who knows if it's ever possible and I don't know if the young generation here really cares. In a way it feels like North Korea is kind of a taboo here.
Still South Koreans knows how to make money on the situation and of course there is tours organized to visit the De Militarized Zone between South and North. We went on the tour with Andy and it was a weird experience. There was not much to see, but a lot of rules and propaganda. We got to visit a infiltration tunnel. During the 70-ties North Korean spies came trough tunnels to the South. Four tunnels where found and now the third one was a tourist attraction. There was also a museum telling about how the 33 North Korean spies who where trying to kill the president of the South were killed in a successful operation by the South. But also there was this weird 7 min documentary/ future fiction where they already talked about how the Koreans where unified and Korea was paradise on earth.... I would call it propaganda. Anyway it was a interesting visit and we had fun watching all the tourist trying to take photos on the zones it was not allowed and military guys deleting the digital photos a minute later.
I have heard that there is some news in Europe about North Korea, but these news are not usually recognized here. But in the on line Korean Times (a English Korean news paper) the news about North Korea are usually about business co-operation or new South Korean factories etc. They are very careful not to provoke North...
I made a tour with my parents to this traditional Korean village. It is kind of a outdoor museum with traditional old buildings etc. A little like Seurasaari in Helsinki. It was a nice way to get some knowledge about the old culture and specially how kimchi is made. Kimchi is a chilly paste cabbage side dish that is served with every meal here. Lucky mere I love it! There was also a traditional drum performance and of course time to take a peak int the souvenir shops. We also got to write a wish on a paper and put it on a rope around a stone. The wishes where burned later and then they should come true....I hope they will!
This is my favorite place in Korea. The Sauna culture is very different here, but a very relaxing experience. The sauna here is a public place and you can spend there hours and it is also open 24h a day. The sauna I visited (several times) is in 6 floors. Like a sauna department store;), a spa, and you get to relax how long you want just for 6000won. You lay down or sit on the floor in the sauna and it is more like a heated room. You can not trow water on the stones, but then again there is rooms where the floor is filled with stones or salt and you can cover your self with them. Beside the saunas there is cold rooms, that we also call Finland rooms. There is a oven kind of sauna that reminds of the "savu sauna"(smoke sauna). There is massage chairs, oxygen rooms, movie room, karaoke room, gym, computer game room, restaurant, sleeping rooms, foot water massage...and the most exotic is the fish that eat the dead skin from your feet....a hilarious experience! Thees areas are common for women and men and you get a orange or pink pajamas to wear there. Then there is a washing area separately for men and women where you are naked. There you find water tubs with hot and cold water, water tubs with herbs, more water massage systems and more saunas. And here the Koreans get really clean because than can spend hours peeling, washing, cleaning, shaving, having masks....A must place to visit!
There is sooooo many areas here to shop. There are the markets. Most known are Nandemun market and Dongdaemun market that is huge. You can buy anything here. But it is not a hassle like in China it is very nice just to walk around and look and you are not harassed by the sellers. There is also big buildings with small shops and on one floor they can just sell underwear and on one floor buttons and on the next one textiles. On the markets you find a lot of crap too but it's just fun to walk around there. And you can make findings, like I bought two winter jackets for 10 000 w (10 $)
My favorite shopping are is Myedong. There is both brand shops but also department stores with small shops where designers sell their own stuff. This is where I bought most of my winter clothes, like sweaters and pants.
Then there are Outlet stores for example in Gasen Digital Complex where you can find all the brands both Korean and global. But I didn't find here anything interesting. If you want to shop electronics stuff there is a Electronics market in Yongsan where I found a hard drive for me to backup all my stuff. And I bought a mobile phone here too, because the Finnis mobile dose not work here, so you have to rent one ore buy one, but you can buy a phone and get a pre paid card only if you have an alien registration card. And near Nandemun you can find a street that sells cameras stuff. And people here have huge cameras whit huge lenses, and it's not so expensive here. Everywhere you go you see Koreans taking photos! Isadong is a nice street where you can get all the tourist stuff, but also nice design items in Korean style and here you get good food too. And there is plenty of underground arcades and department stores in many places.
The thin here with eating and shopping is that some areas you find plenty of shops and plenty of restaurants but then suddenly you can have blocks where you don't find anything. So you have to learn what you can find in what area and then it gets easier ;) Also in restaurants they may just sell on kind of food and bee specialized in it so when you go eating you have to know what you want... luckily I really like the Korean food and I haven't tasted anything bad yet...but I didn't try the Korean hot dog, because it looks really bad!
Okay, here is plenty to reed, so I leave food, school and living for the next time. And soon I promise to get some more photos uploaded!
Hugs from colorful autumn Korea!