Friday, April 23, 2010

Dad's visit - Day 2 : The DMZ

The DMZ trip was a full day ordeal. We were up early and at the USO offices by 7:00 in the morning. We were then loaded on a bus and took the almost two-hour trip up the the Demilitarized Zone, which stretches 5 km north and south of the border.

After switching busses at the 5 km mark (only certain vehicles were allowed past the gate), we went to Camp Bonifas for the briefing. From there is was off to the Joint Security Area. The JSA is the site you see in most of the pictures - the buildings right at the front line, where the two sides have soldiers that just stand there and stare at each other.

Soldiers stand half protected by buildings, in case someone starts shooting. You can almost spot the North Korean soldier at the top of the steps on the left.

ROK soldier in the JSA.

Then we were off to Checkpoint 3, which is surrounded on three sides by North Korea, and which also gives a good view of the enormous flagpole in NK's Propaganda Village :

View from Checkpoint 3.

The giant flagpole in Propaganda Village (one of the tallest in the world).

On the way to the next stop, we rolled by the Bridge of No Return, where, at the end of the war, prisoners were given a last chance to return home.

The next stop was the 3rd Tunnel. There have been a number of tunnels that have been found that run from the North toward Seoul that could be used to invade. We were able to go down into the tunnel, and it was quite a hike. Once in the tunnel we weren't able to go too far in, since we're a little taller than the average Korean.

Map of the tunnels, since no cameras were allowed inside.

Wood carvings near the tunnel.

Our last stops were at the Dora Observatory and the Dorasan train station. We had to stay behind a line to take pictures, and it was cloudy, so we weren't able to get great pictures. The train station has been open for a few years, and it's all ready to go once they open up the border between the North and South again.

After the long day, we spent a while wandering around and trying the street food in Myeongdong (the downtown area). As many times as I've gone, it was the first time I had eaten so much, and so much great food.

The final installment should be up some time soon - hopefully sooner than this one!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dad's visit - Day 1 : Prisons, Palaces, Museums and Baseball

I had a great time when my dad came to visit - so much so that I'm going to have to post pictures in installments so they aren't too huge.

On Friday, we tried to fit in as much history as we could. We started at Seodaemun Prison, which was an important site during the Japanese occupation in the first half of the 1900s. It was interesting to see some of the (very graphic) representations of what was going on, since it's not something I knew much about.

After that we headed over to one of the old royal palaces - Changdeokgung. The trees were just starting to bloom, so it was very nice :

Changdeokgung has one of the largest palace grounds, including the "Secret Garden," which is a huge section of nature on the side of a mountain :

By the time we finished at the palace it was just after noon. Then we went to the War Memorial Museum, to prepare for our next day's trip to the DMZ. The whole Memorial area was ENORMOUS. I was shocked - I was expecting a building, and maybe a monument or two, but it's huge! Outside there are a number of monuments, a huge plaza area, and a ton of war 'things' - ground vehicles, airplanes, missiles - just about everything you would need in a war.

Inside the museum, they have a complete history of peninsula - from the earliest humans to various dynasties and conflicts, to the War, and even information about Korea's involvement in other conflicts (like Vietnam).After that, we headed toward the baseball stadium. But, on the way, we took the opportunity to do "Doctor Fish." In a nutshell, you stick your feet in a pool of fish, and they eat the dead skin from your feet. Here's us trying it :

I couldn't stop freaking out, and we ended up only using about five of our twenty minutes. Dad called it "unnatural," but the strangest part to me is that this all happens in a coffee shop-type place, so there's food and drinks and then you're supposed to have fish eat the skin from your feet. Ick. But at least we tried it.

Our last stop on Friday night was the Twins baseball game - the LG (electronics) Twins vs. the Doosan (construction?) Bears. Teams are all named after companies, and both the Twins and the Bears are based in Seoul. It was a good game. The fans of Korean baseball are very participatory - there are chants and cheers for every player and situation, cheer (and chant-) leaders. We had great seats right in the front row on the first base line.

Dad watches the game with his new Korean friends.

The Bears fans cheering

Next up : The DMZ/JSA

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

After complaining so long about having nothing to do, I finally got what I wished for.

Last week was extra busy - with a co-teacher on vacation I had extra classes. In addition, I've had a terrible sinus/infection thing that just won't go away. Then on Wednesday I took a massive, flailing fall while teaching a class. I ended up spraining my ankle (and putting on a big show for the kids). I've focused a lot on getting better, and the recovery has actually been quite fast.

It's good that it's been a fast recovery, because there are only two more days until Dad gets here! We've got a lot planned for the short time - we're going to a baseball game (the "Twins"), the DMZ, and then we'll come to Chuncheon for a couple of days. I'm really excited, and not just because I'm taking a vacation day on Friday.

I have also finally nailed down my first solo vacation. From May 1-5 I'm going to go to Hong Kong (with a day trip to Macau). It will be an experience, going alone, but it should be fun.

It is also finally getting warm here - 50-60s during the day. I'll be able to send my winter jacket home with Dad with no problem!

I hope everyone had a happy Easter!