What a month May has been! I knew it would be a busy month as it's the last month before Korea becomes a sauna, plus it was a month of holidays with 2 extra days off!!
The first holiday of the month was Children's Day which fell on a Wednesday (which is a great day of the week to have off!). Because it was Children's Day, on the Tuesday at school we played games with the kids. We played picture bingo with most of the classes, which the kids loved and was a lot of fun for me too. Then with the older classes we played some different games. The whole day was a lot of fun, and didn't feel at all like work, so it was an unexpected bonus in an already short week.
TRADITIONAL PERFORMANCE AT YANGJU:
On Children's Day itself, I went to Yangju with Jong Sool, Sarah, Grace, Sunny and Jin Sun. In Yangju was a huge arena set in a park area and this was the location of a Traditional Folk Festival which is what we went to see. Before the performance started we had a picnic lunch and a walk around the park area. The first place we went to see was a table set out in the arena which was part of a traditional ritual. The table was full of food and in the centre a cows head!! It was a little strange! We also had a look at the masks that were layed out behind the table, which were the masks to be used in the traditional performance.
Outside of the arena were many stalls offering different things. There was one stall where you could try on the traditional clothes and masks, so we had some fun trying on some of the masks. There were also many stalls where you could make various things, like paper flowers and candles and paint your own masks, but these were all very busy. We then had a walk around the park area where there was a giant swing and a Korean seesaw (you stand on it and jump!) and several carriages which were actually mini libraries, all of which were set in a wooded area which was very pretty.
Soon it was time for the performance to start and the first thing that happened was a lot of praying (and other rituals) in front of the table of food. Once people had prayed they gave money, some of which was stuffed in the nose of the cow's head!
The actual traditional performance was a play, performed with masks to show the characters and also using a lot of percussion. Unfortuantely there was also a lot of talking, so I didn't really know what was going on, and after maybe an hour Jong Sool suggested going for a walk around.
First stop was the mask painting, where me, Jin Sun, Grace and Sunny had great fun painting our own mini mask which we then made into a necklace. I decided to use all the colors that were available and it ended up looking like something a 5 year old had done, but I had fun!! Then we went for a walk around a small (one room) museum before heading home for the day.
SEOUL GRAND PARK:
This month I finally got around to going to the zoo. I had read about Seoul Grand Park and the zoo and it all sounded very impressive, but I wasn't prepared for the actual sight when I first arrived. The backdrop to Seoul is mountains, and the surrounding area of Deokjeong is mountains, but here at Seoul Grand Park you are almost in the mountains. They are just everywhere and so close, it really was an amazing sight on exiting the subway station.
The whole area of the park is huge, with an art gallery, a theme park and the zoo all in the complex. From the subway station I walked about 1km to the zoo entrance and paid a whole ₩5,000 (£2.50) for entrance to the zoo and the dolphin show. I spent the whole day walking around the zoo which was probably one of the best zoo's I have ever been too. There were so many animals and the lay out of the all the exhibits was really well organized, plus the whole area was so beautiful with ponds and gardens and trees all around, as well as the mountains. There were so many people there that seemed to just be there for a picnic and to enjoy the weather, and not actually see to the animals, which I guess is not a bad idea considering how cheap it is to get in!
WHERE HAS ALL THIS STUFF COME FROM????
This month I had a sort out of all my stuff in the apartment so that I could send home any excess weight as it's so expensive to go over weight on the plane home! It was quite an effort to get everything down to the post office, but as usual once I was there it was so easy to get it all sorted and sent home. I knew there was quite a lot of stuff I wanted to send home, but I ended up sending home 36kg!! How I have gathered this much since I have been here I have no idea!! But it only cost ₩98,000, which is less than the cost of being 2kg's over weight on the plane, so well worth getting organized early!
LOTUS LANTERN FESTIVAL:
The Lotus Lantern Festival is an annual event which starts in the day with lots of events and performances in one of the main streets around Jongak station. Then in the evening is the main event, the Lotus Lantern Parade. Around the parade route was a number of paper lanterns all lit up and they were really detailed characters, so it was fun to walk around and see all the different lanterns while waiting for the parade to start.
The parade itself was a mix of marching bands, groups of people carrying lit lanterns and large floats with huge paper lanterns. The huge lanterns were amazing, and the volume of people carrying the small paper lanterns was impressive in such a relatively small area along the parade route. It was very colorful and fun to watch for a while, but after about an hour I decided to call it a night and head home, as it was just more and more of the same. It was a really good night and I'm glad that I went to see it, but an hour was enough for me!
The second holiday of the month was Buddha's birthday and it fell on a Friday so it meant a long weekend, which was a treat!
The Friday was a beautiful sunny day so I headed back to Olympic Park to see it in the summer (the last time I went was in the winter and it was covered in snow). The whole area was so different, so green and beautiful and so busy with many people out in the park playing games and just enjoying the sun.
I took a walk up one of the hills in the park along one of the many walking trails, which meant I could then look down on the park area and really appreciate it all. It was particularly nice walking higher up when I got to the lake area and I could look across to the lake and the main gate and of course the mountains in the background. It also prompted me to try out the panaramic function on my camera, which worked out pretty well, with some good shots around the lake.
It was just a really relaxing day, enjoying a walk in the sun, but I'm glad I got to go back in the summer and see the park so green and full of people.
On the Saturday of the holiday weekend I booked on a trip to the DMZ. My original tour to Panmunjom was cancelled as it was too dangerous given the current tensions. Instead I was offered the tunnel tour which visited the 3rd tunnel, the Dora Observatory, Dorasan and Imjingak.
The first stop was the 3rd tunnel, which is the 3rd tunnel found (of 4, so far) built by the North for a surprise attack on Seoul. We got to walk down the tunnel up to the walls that the South had built to prevent the North from using the tunnel. The first wall had a small window that you could look through (from behind barded wire) and see the next wall (there are 3 walls and we were told land mines in-between). It was quite an experience being down in the tunnel, which was about 2m x 2m and in particular seeing the walls appearing blocking the way.
The Dora Observatory was where we could look out on the DMZ and North Korea. The day was quite foggy, but we could still see across to the propaganda village on the North side of the DMZ. This is a village built by the North to try and convince the world they are a prosperous country and also because the South has a small village inside the DMZ with a small number of farmers living and working there. The North's village however is completely empty, with no-one living there, hence this is refered to as the propaganda village.
Unfortunately we were not allowed outside to the binoculars to look out further onto the North, but given the foggy day it was unlikely we would have seen anything more than what could be seen through the glass inside the observatory.
Dorasan is a train station and it is the last station before the train crosses into North Korea, something that is only done with supplies to the joint industrial area of Kaseong. Inside the station were also 2 pieces of railway line, 1 signed by George. W. Bush and the other by the South Korean president, plus plaques detailing the speeches made by each when they visited Dorasan in 2002.
The last stop was Imjingak, which is a park area for anyone, but in particular for those in the South who still have family in the North so that they can be close to them (as close as possible) on special days when families gather together. The park area was huge and was really busy, but the area that I went to was around the memorial altar and the freedom bridge.
The freedom bridge is a wooden bridge that was used to exchange prisoners at the end of the conflict. I got to walk along the bridge to the end which was blocked off by barbed wire and a military guard post.
Also, in the same area was an old steam engine which was blown up during the conflict, which was quite interesting to see. The whole area around here was surrounded by barbed wire, which really meant you couldn't forget where you were and how close you were to the DMZ and the North, in what otherwise could largely be any other park area.
MMMMMM PUB DINNER:
This weekend, the last in May, was speaking test weekend for me again, but Jill was coming into Seoul so I went to meet her for a pub dinner at Gecko's in Itaewon. It was a nice treat and a good excuse to get out on a weekend I usually spend in the apartment writing up the seemingly endless number of speaking tests, and a good end to a great month!!
That's about it for May. June I expect to be a pretty quiet month as I get ready to come home at the beginning of July, and with the weather getting increasingly hotter. Right now the weather is beautiful, but another few weeks will see the awful summer sauna start and being outside more than necessary will become an effort.