Explore
Questions/Comments?Contact Us

A Traditional Korean Wedding

On a plane to Japan in 2014, I got into a conversation with a fellow English teacher who lived in Korea. She’d worked in Japan with JET—basically the Japanese equivalent of EPIK—and was currently teaching in an area outside of Seoul. We compared life in the countryside to that in the city, and the amount of national pride that went along with them. In rural Japan, her colleagues had invited her to events that would allow her to experience traditional Japanese culture. In Seoul, she and her co-teachers mostly hung out in Gangnam, eating Western food and shopping. 

My experience has been similar. Living in Donghae, my co-teachers invited me out to hike with their clubs or join their families on vacation so that I could better get to know Korea and its culture. In Gangneung, my co-teachers are busier. When we get together, we go to a trendy coffee shop or eat Italian food for our department dinners. There’s a different meaning for younger generations when it comes to defining Korean culture.

Then there’s Mr. Shin, one of the senior teachers at my school. Earlier this month, he invited me to the wedding of his friend’s daughter, and—just like two years ago—my tangential connection to the bride allowed me to attend her big day.

1 - Parade

The ceremony was held at the Gangneung Confucian School, which is right next to Myeongryun High School in the center of town. The first part of the wedding ceremony happened in the parking lot outside of the complex, where a traditional Korean marching band (for lack of a better term) led the bride’s procession. The bride was carried in a gama, a kind of wheel-less carriage, to the entrance, where she met her husband and the band played around her. I was almost struck breathless as I saw the bride go past. The guests were pretty impressed with it, too, and crowded around the couple with their phones and cameras. 

2 - Crowd

(The bride is in red hanbok with the black headdress, next to the tall man in the blue-green robe at the center of this picture. Out of respect for the privacy of the guests, I’ve tried to avoid showing people’s faces.)

After that we went into the courtyard at the center of the complex, where the bride and groom met and performed the ceremony. The bride’s parents sat on one side while the groom’s parents sat on the other. In the middle was a table filled with common offerings—dried persimmons, dates, and rice cakes. Two people held the ceremony. One, the man in the white robe, announced the steps of the ceremony in the an Korean language, which is based on Chinese characters, while the woman next to him explained it in modern Korean. I suppose it’s kind of like a priest giving a ceremony in Latin and having someone speak the translation in English. Note the very traditional plastic tarp to fend off the possible rain. 

3 - Ceremony

The table in the middle was half-red, and half-blue. The red symbolized the bride—also marked by her red robe—while the blue represented the groom. Mr. Shin explained during the ceremony that the red and blue motifs express a balance or harmony that should be attained from the union, rather like the concept of yin and yang. 

I tried to keep track of the steps of the ceremony so that I could properly explain it, but I might have mixed up some of the details. The gist of it went like this:

First, the bride and groom wash their hands in a small bowl, to symbolize how they are washing off their old lives. Each of them lights a candle on their side of the table. The bride’s candle is red, while the groom’s is blue.

Then the two of them bow to each other three times to show their respect. At every step in the process, the bride, who was wearing an elaborate headpiece, was assisted in the bowing process by two older women who stood to either side of her. The groom, who was a foreigner, didn’t bow as deeply, but that might have been because his traditional hat kept falling off.

The last section of the ceremony that I can remember is, ironically, the part with the alcohol. As part of a traditional ceremony, the bride drinks makgeolli, a kind of Korean rice wine, from two cups. One is her own, covered with a red braid, and the other is the groom’s, covered with a blue braid. Then the groom drinks from his cup and the bride’s. Mr. Shin said that alcohol is typically served at major ceremonies like weddings or funerals.

He also told me that the spoon typically used to serve makgeolli was originally made out of a gourd that had been cut in half and hollowed. The significance of the makgeolli ladles at a Korean wedding ceremony is that the two halves of the gourd will again be united in the couple’s marriage.

Makgeolli12

A bowl of makgeolli with a typical serving spoon. Image source here.  

Once the makgeolli has been consumed, the bride and groom stand together and bow before both the bride’s and groom’s parents. Then they turn and bow to the guests, and the ceremony concludes. The whole thing took about 30 or 40 minutes. Mr. Shin and I delayed our trip to the dining room to chat with some of the other guests, and the courtyard cleared almost immediately. The guests were already piling into the hall for lunch by that point.

4 - Dining Hall

5 - Food 1

We had pretty traditional Korean food for lunch, all of which was delicious. The only oddities were the bell peppers, broccoli, and grapes, which probably wouldn’t have been available in ancient Korea at the time. (Not that you see me complaining.) The main course was noodle soup, which was also symbolic. At the end of a person’s birthday in Korea, it’s traditional to eat noodle soup, because noodles are long and imply a long life. And apparently, if you eat noodles at a Korean wedding, it means you’ll get married, too. 

6 - Food 2

By the time we’d finished eating, most of the guests had left and the cars had disappeared from the parking lot outside the complex. We took a moment to look around the school, since I had never seen it before. Apparently this is one of the best-preserved Confucian schools in Korea, and many Confucian scholars from China come to Gangneung to visit this place. After Mao Zedong brought the Communist Party to power in China, he erased most traces of Confucianism from the country. As a result, Korea, which had taken on Confucianism as a result of its long relationship with China, is now more Confucian than China, where Confucius was born.

Before we left, I had a chance to meet the bride and groom and congratulate them. They looked a little tired, but very happy. Although I don’t know them well, I wish them happiness and a bright future together. Thanks for letting me crash your wedding, you two. 

7 - Carriage

The bride’s carriage, set aside after the start of the ceremony. 

Gangneung's Cherry Blossoms

I had a friend in Donghae who said the nice thing about living in Korea is marking the seasons by the flowers in bloom. Early April kicks off the flowering season, which debuts with Korea’s most impressive specimen: the cherry blossom.

Every year Gangneung hosts the Gyeongpo Cherry Blossom Festival, and almost every year, the blossoms at Gyeongpo come either too late or too early for the celebrations. Cherry blossoms are fragile; many people have tried to pick off a souvenir branch only to watch it wilt before the end of the day. To compliment things, the festival’s location, Gyeongpo Lake, is not the most reliable place to see blossoms because of its prominent rainfall and high winds during the turbulent month of April. 

This year was different.

1

On the Saturday of the festival, the weather was sunny with a slight breeze. The crowds were insane. When I rode my bicycle the festival grounds, I had to get off and walk.

2

While I’m grateful for the business that the cherry blossom and coffee festivals brings to Gyeongpo, the thing I love about the neighborhood is how quiet it normally is. We’ll see how it looks during the Olympics

3

There isn’t much in terms of food or merchandise available at the festival grounds. Most of it resembles what you’d find at the Dano Festival in the summer. The obvious draw, of course, is the blossoms, though I’d advise drivers to park a fair walking distance from the grounds and make their way to the festivities on foot. The blossoms spread all the way around the edge of the lake, so if you park somewhere along the beach, you’ll enjoy a nice walk to the fair and back.

If you arrive in Gangneung when the blossoms haven’t yet flourished at Gyeongpo, you can find plenty more in other parts of town. I’ve marked them (loosely) on the map below. Don’t forget your camera!

Gangneung Map

I’ve arranged the routes here so that a drive through Gangneung could take you through most of them. A bike would easily take you to most of these, with the exception of C and D, which are hilly. If you’re up for it, you can walk most of it in a couple hours. Gyeongpo is a longer trek, but more than worth it when the weather cooperates.

Here’s a breakdown of the routes:

A. Sorol-Ro in Taekji

5

Sorol-Ro isn’t the only street in Taekji with blossoms, but it’s a prominent one and easy to find. To really appreciate the blossoms in Taekji, it’s best to park somewhere and meander the side streets on foot for a while.

B. Gyeongpo-Ro between Ojukheon and Gyeongpo Lake

6

Take Gyeongpo-Ro out of Taekji headed north toward Gyeongpo Lake. This road zigzags, and it’s meant to be taken slowly. Bicycling on the street or the sidewalk can be difficult, so a walk would be the better option.

C. Surigol-Gil behind the Sports Complex

7

This is a long road, and my photos from here don’t do it justice. Surigol-Gil might not be as well-known as some of the other streets, which makes traffic a little clearer, but it’s a difficult route if you’re planning to ride a bicycle. There is one big hill that sits in the middle of Gangneung, and, unfortunately, this street is on it.

D. Yulgok-Ro between the Moroo Library and HomePlus

8

(I don’t have a picture of this street in bloom! This is another one of Gyeongpo-Ro from last year.)

This road, which moves from the Sports Complex area toward downtown, acts as a bit of a bridge between neighborhoods, but it also has a nice line of cherry blossom trees along the way if you need a little more pink and white on your tour.

E. Jebang-Gil by the Namdaecheon Stream

9

Downtown Gangneung is mostly concrete slabs and fast food joints, so there’s not much to see in terms of natural beauty. Pass through downtown toward the river, however, and you’ll find another nice road with cherry trees. There’s a bit of an uneven pedestrian trail on the side of the road. Sadly, the bike path beside the stream is a little too far from the car road to view the blossoms up close. 

F. Gyeongpo Lake

This doesn’t need much of an introduction at this point, does it? 

10

G. Heo Nanseolheon / Heo Gyun Birth Home

13

It might not be immediately obvious, but off the south side of the lake is the birth home of Heo Nanseolheon and Heo Gyun. When all the blossoms are out, it looks like the trees are covered in snow.

I’ve mentioned Heo Nanseolheon and her brother before, but since that post I’ve learned that most people in Gangneung are skeptical as to whether this was their proper birth home, or something that was constructed later to draw tourists. I have to agree with the suspicion; a wooden 16th-century house is hardly durable. We are, however, certain that the two of them were from Gangneung, and their home might have been somewhere in the area.

There’s a popular song by the Korean band Busker Busker called Cherry Blossom Ending (벚꽃 엔딩), which is set during this time of year. Although the music video is upbeat, I’ve always thought that the melody and lyrics had a kind of sad, nostalgic tone to them. People play this song a lot around this time of year. 

 

The wonder of the cherry blossom lies in how ephemeral it is. Fragile, changeable, and painfully beautiful, they act as a reminder of life’s mutability. Don’t blink—you might miss it.

14

Cherry Blossoms in Yeouido

Spring in Korea means cherry blossom season! These small, pink flowers are all the crazy. Groups of trees can be found anywhere but to see rows of them, you’ll have to go to special places. Last Saturday I went down to Seoul to see them. I also wanted to see the drama-famous Han River so I went to Yeouido. I took the subway to Yeouinaru station and went through exit 3. From there, the river is 2-3 minutes away.

DSC04225

Street vendors were lines by the cherry blossom trees. People were selling chicken skewers, ddeokbokki, cotton candy and stands alcohol.

DSC04227

The day I went, the weather was foggy but I could still see the Han river. What was surprising to me was that the area smelled like the ocean. haven't visited any big rivers before but I expected them to smell like freshwater areas.  DSC04245

There are paves areas to walk or ride your bike by the river. A lot of people that day were on tandem bikes! It looked like fun but I had to pass--my coordination wouldn't let me try something that adventurous so soon~

DSC04251

There were also food trucks, and little shops with handmade goods. A lot of vendors were selling similar things but if you walk around the river, you'll find something new. 

DSC04257

Overall, I would definitely recommend coming to the Han river more than once. Depending on which part of the river you go to, you'll always find something to do or a nice place to relax. 

(Some) Great Cafés in Gangneung

If you like slow-roasted, hand-drip coffee, Gangneung is the place to be. I’m quite a fan of the coffee shop culture here, so I spend a lot of my free time checking out new places to write and enjoy a cuppa. 

Though I can hardly say that this is a comprehensive collection of great cafés in the city, these ones are special to me. I attempted to cover a fair geographic range in this guide, but also tried to focus on places that are easily accessible via public transportation.

I’ve included the price of an Americano at every place in order to give an idea of general cost. Some cafés offer only coffee and tea, while some have food items; I’ve attempted to distinguish which is which. 

 

1. Terarosa Forest Café

 

TF_Outside

Terarosa is a luxury coffee shop chain that, as far as I know, originated in Gangneung. It also has branches in other parts of Korea; their website lists locations in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province, Jeju and Busan. Of the branches in Gangneung, their Forest Café across from Sacheon Beach is the most lauded.

TF_Inside again

Although it might seem like an expensive purchase, Terarosa does offer a nice ambience. It’s a great place to go alone or with a friend. 

What they serve: Coffee, tea, juice, lemonade, milk, dessert items like cheesecake and muffins 

English menu: Yes

Price of an Americano (hot): 4,500 won

Hours: 10 AM to 11 PM Mon.-Sun.

Stamp card: Being discontinued on 31 March 2016.

TF_Drink

Pictured: Earl grey tea with lemon cheesecake. 

Address: 강원도 강릉시 사천면 산대월리 158-4

Directions: Take bus 312 or 313 to the stop Sandaewolri / Soonpo (산대월리 / 순포). Walk across the street to the café.

 

If you can’t make it to Sacheon, there’s a Terarosa branch in downtown Gangneung:

TD_Outside

TD_Counter

What they serve: Coffee, tea, bread, dessert items

English menu: Yes

Price of an Americano (hot): 4,500 won

Hours: 9 AM to 10 PM Mon.-Sun.

Stamp card: Being discontinued on 31 March 2016.

Address: 강원도 강릉시 임당동 74-4

Directions: In downtown Gangneung, walk down the Culture Street (문화의길) from the main road, Gyeonggang-ro (경강로), northeast of the post office but southwest of the McDonald’s. The nearest bus stops are Hana Dae-too Securities (하나대투증권, southbound) and Shin-young Market (신영극장, northbound). Most buses ride through these stops.

 

2. Coffee Sun 

S-outside

Image1

Located in Taekji, the university neighborhood, Coffee Sun is a popular place for college students to hang out. It has a laid-back atmosphere, quality menu items, and notebooks on every table that exist for customers to doodle in. Some people come here to study or read, but others come to catch up with a friend. 

What they serve: Espresso beverages, tea, sandwiches, homemade gelato, and dessert items such as cheesecake, cookies and scones

English menu: Only for some items. However, staff generally speak English well.

Price of an Americano (hot): There is hand drip coffee, which is 5,000 won. Other espresso-based items (such as lattes) are around the 4,500 won mark.

Hours: 9 AM – 3 AM Mon.-Sun. 

Stamp card: Yes

S_Drink

Pictured: Latté. 

Address: 강원도 강릉시 교동 1843-6

Directions: Go to the Kyodong / Taekji neighborhood and head toward WA Bar. Coffee Sun is just behind it. The nearest bus stop is Gureumdari (구름다리). The 206, 207, 227, 230, 230-1, 302, 308-1, 312, and 315 buses all ride in this direction. 

 

3. Café Dalli

D_Outside

D_4

Café Dalli is has the menu of a dessert café and the interior design of an art museum. It’s popular and offers a lot of seating, but I’ve never been there at a time when it’s crowded. You can chat or read, but it’s hard to do either when you see what’s available on the dessert counter. All the cakes are incredible, but the banana chocolate cake comes highly recommended.

What they serve: Espresso beverages, tea, juice, macarons, caramel apples, cake

English menu: No

Price of an Americano (hot): 3,500 won

Hours: 8 AM to 11 PM all week

Stamp card: No

D_Food

Pictured: Chamomile tea (brewing) and carrot cake. 

Address: 강원도 강릉시 율곡로 2836

Directions: From the large intersection outside the HomePlus complex, take the road going north (in the opposite direction of the river). Café Dalli is about a block away, across the street from the bowling alley. The nearest bus stops are Kyobo Life Insurance (교보생면, southbound) or Shin-young Market (신영극장, northbound). Most of the local buses ride through here. 

 

4. Kikrus 

K_Outside

Anmok beach has so many coffee shops that you could walk into whichever suits your fancy and be pleasantly surprised. If your exploration time is limited and want to enjoy one all-encompassing coffee shop, though, I’d go for Kikrus.

What they serve: Coffee, non-espresso beverages (e.g. smoothies, shakes), breads, sandwiches, salads, and desserts.

English menu: Yes, but only for drinks (not desserts)

Price of an Americano (hot): 3,000 won 

Hours: 9 AM to midnight on weekdays; 8 AM to 1 AM on weekends

Stamp card: Yes

K_Desserts

Pictured: Coffee flatccino (sic—a kind of shake), chocolate ganache cake, and fig torte. I swear I did not eat this alone.

Address: 강원도 강릉시 창해로14번길 48-1 (견소동 1)

Directions: From Gangneung Harbor (강릉항), go north along the shore past the public restroom (on your right) and the white, blue-roofed café called Santorini (on your left; also recommended if it’s not crowded). Kikrus is a large gray building almost directly across from the southernmost edge of the beach. The nearest bus stop is Anmok Jongjeom (안목종점), but the best stop is Anmok (안목), which is also the name of the beach. Many bus lines end at this stop.

 

 5Café Kyodong 899 (교동899)

Outside1

Inside5

What they serve: Coffee, non-espresso beverages (teas, fruit juice drinks), yogurt, muffins, cake, cookies

English menu: Not displayed, though it might be available if you ask

Price of an Americano (hot): 4,000 won

Hours: 10:30 AM – 10 PM (summer)

             10:30 AM – 7 PM (winter; closes slightly earlier on Sundays)

Food

Picture: Latté. 

Address: 강원도 강릉시 임영로 223

Directions: The nearest landmark is the Moru Library. Walk south from the library on the street farthest to your right and continue about a block down. Before the next intersection, you should see a small fenced-in courtyard with a coffee shop (past the café with the black façade just a little farther up the street). The nearest bus stop is Gangneung Jay-eel High School (강릉제일고). You will walk uphill to the café from this stop, on the left side of the street.

 

Honorable Mentions:

A. Ffuntoday (sic) Underground Comic Café (뻔뻔지하만화다방)

Manhwa

This was a tip from a friend who loves books. Seeing as I can’t read much Korean beyond the survival level, I wouldn’t typically go to a café where you pay to read comics, but I do like finding a nice quiet place where I can read or write outside of the apartment. The first time I came here was in the middle of a sunny summer day, and there weren’t many people. The second time I went on a rainy evening after school hour, and it was stuffed. Your results might vary, but it’s worth checking out.

What they serve: Coffee, non-espresso beverages, soda, chips, snacks, instant ramen

English menu: No

Price of an Americano (hot): 3,800 won (N.B.: prices of menu items are different from their listing)

Hours: 10 AM – 1 AM all week

Address: 강원도 강릉시 경강로 2106 경일플라자

Directions: In the building where the downtown Lotteria is, head to the basement level. The café is clearly marked. Make sure you switch out your outside shoes for indoor slippers in the lockers out front. There are separate lockers for women (여성) and men (남성).

The nearest bus stop is Kyobo Life Insurance (교보생명, southbound) or Shin-young Market (신영극장, northbound). Most of the local buses ride through there. 

 

B. Café Andromeda 

Andromeda

Not only does Café Andromeda have this awesome space theme, but it also offers items that I haven’t seen in other cafés. The beverage servings are small, but of high quality, and the atmosphere and comfy chairs are perfect for a quiet read or a long chat.

What they serve: Coffee, non-espresso beverages (the chai tea latté is great), wine, paninis, bagels, honey bread 

English menu: Yes, for the names of products (but not their descriptions)

Price of an Americano (hot): 3,500 won. Most other drink items are around the 5,000 won mark.

Hours: noon to midnight Mon-Sat; 1 PM to midnight Sun. (Closed on the first and third Sundays of the month)

Address: 강원도 강릉시 교동 1860-5

Directions: In Taekji, on the north side of Gyodonggwangjang-ro (교동광장로), go behind the first row of shops and walk toward the easternmost part of the street. Look for the blue-gray sign. Café Andromeda is next to a small parking lot. The nearest bus stops are Hyundai Ee-cha Apartments (현대2차아파트) and Ju-gong Sam-cha “A” (주공3차A). The 206, 207, 227, 230, 230-1, 302, 308-1, 312, and 315 buses all ride in this direction.

May 2016 Update: Café Andromeda is no longer at this location; the shop owner hopes to relocate near the bus terminal in the future. Keep your eyes peeled!

 

C. Brick and Brown

Lego

A Lego-themed café. You can sit and enjoy the models on display or play with sets (kept in separate plastic boxes) at your table. Go here for the novelty or the inexpensive food. This place is pretty busy on a weekend, but takeout is available.

What they serve: Coffee, tea, fruit smoothies, personal pizzas, desserts (brownies, muffins, ice cream, cake)

English menu: No

Price of an Americano (hot): 2,500 won

Hours: 9 AM – 10 PM (all week?)

Address: 강원도 강릉시 신대학길 42 1층

Directions: Turn left around the corner from the Lotteria in downtown Gangneung and walk along the wide side-street. You’ll see the three-story Café Teddy (a teddy bear-themed café). Turn right here, and Brick and Brown will be on your right.

The nearest bus stop is Kyobo Life Insurance (교보생명, southbound) or Shin-young Market (신영극장, northbound). Most of the local buses ride through there. 

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

March marks the start of the Korean school year, which brings with it a whole ream of alterations.

Teachers come and go with regular frequency in the public school system. There’s a 4-year cap on the number of years they can stay at a specific school, and another limit to how long they can remain in one school district. I suppose part of it is to keep teachers on their toes instead of letting them get stuck in a routine, but I think it’s also to ensure that one school can’t hoard all the highest-performing teachers (or get trapped with all the lowest-performing ones). Needless to say, the bigger cities in a province have a shorter allowance of teaching years, whereas more rural areas are open for longer periods of time. Gangneung’s cap is set at 8 years, though you’re free to transfer to a nearby district and return later.

And, just as with EPIK teachers, most Korean teachers don’t receive word of their placement until about a week before they’re supposed to start teaching there. This means that there’s usually a mad scramble to get in and out of apartments as everyone changes schools. My predecessor at my previous school left EPIK to start searching for a university job. His description for the experience was fitting. “It’s like a big game of musical chairs,” he said. “Once the contracts are up, everyone jumps to try and find a new place.”

I’m not sure why all of this gets done at the last minute (unless I want to blame Korea’s culture of procrastination), but that’s the way that it goes. As the new students come in, so do new teachers, and some of the other teachers switch—or are switched—out. One of my co-teachers had a baby last month, so she’s out of school for the year on maternity leave. Another co-teacher was transferred to the local arts high school, where he’s teaching English to musicians, actors, and painters. I’m sad to see them go, but it’s part of the experience at a public school. It’s only my previous school, which was privately-owned, that was the exception.

1

Pay no attention to the Iron Man figure atop the shelf... 

With a new school year underway, I also have a new desk. Until this semester, I’ve always been stationed in a school’s main office, with easy access to the IT assistants, unlimited boxes of copy paper, and a women’s bathroom almost right out the door in an all-boys’ school. I’ll be honest—I was sad to see it go. My colleagues explained that I was relocated to the smaller second teachers’ office so that I was closer to my classroom, which is on the third floor of the next building.

I’ve soon found a lot to like about my new setup. It’s much smaller than the second office, and therefore better-controlled by the air conditioning unit. (Not that it mattered much toward the end of the winter break, when my desk-warming sentence was lightened to a couple hours in the morning before lunch.)

I’ve also been positioned next to two of my English-speaking co-teachers, so it’s easy for me to ask them a question about whatever special event is planned for the day. With new office-mates and incoming teachers, we had three school dinners in my first week so that everyone could get to know everybody.

I’ve even started coming to terms with my new schedule:

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

1: 8:40 – 9:30

Class

Class

 

Class

 

2: 9:40 – 10:30

Class

Class

 

Class

Class

3: 10:40 – 11:30

 

Class

Class

   

4: 11:40 – 12:30

   

Class

Class

 

Lunch

         

5: 13:30 – 14:20

Class

 

Club Activity

 

Class

6: 14:30 – 15:20

     

Class

Class

15:20-15:40 Cleaning

         

7: 15:40 – 16:30

 

Class

Class

 

Class

After school

   

Extracurricular

Conversation

Class

   

First- and last-period classes are some of the most difficult to teach. In the morning the students are all exhausted—be it from studying late at cram school or playing video games until 3 AM—and at the end of the day they just want to get the heck out of school. After-school classes have started up already, so the mass exodus at 4:30 on the first day has become a bit of a sad drizzle. I only teach my extracurricular class once a week, for which I’m paid overtime, but my colleagues usually have classes four days a week after hours.

The break between 6th and 7th period is for the students to clean the school. I think it’s one of those character-building activities left over from the old Japanese educational system, but I’m not sure how well it works. Usually the students just sort of mop dust in circles and run away early for an extra five minutes of free time. This year, the students who clean my classroom are really sweet and work hard.

2

Speaking of my classroom, I’ve been put in charge of the English-language books from the school library. They’ve been removed from the catalog, so the students are free to borrow them whenever they like and for however long they please. When I first arrived at the school, I was impressed with the variety and quality of the reading material available. Some of it is probably too difficult for most of the students, but whoever put it together clearly knew what he or she was doing.

The weather has been appropriate for March. When classes began, we’d hit a bit of a warm spell. I started washing my winter clothes and hanging my big, thick comforters up to dry. Then I left the classroom at lunchtime one day to see this:

3

Being as close to the sea as we are, this kind of sudden, wet snowfall is common around this time of year. Almost all of it disappeared after a day, but it’s happened at least once more since then. We seem to have come to the end of it now—knock on wood—and the blossoms have already started to open up.

4

So the seasons turn, and the time keeps moving forward. My quietest first-year classes become the most raucous as they get to know each other. My lessons never plan themselves. My friends complete their contracts and leave Korea for other adventures. Meanwhile, I, too, start tightening my belt in preparation for things to come.

As the expression goes, “It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply.” But I think it’s mostly a blessing. 

First Day in South Korea

IMG_0719                                                   IMG_0734                                                     IMG_0737


Traveling to South Korea

I left my home of Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday, February 20th. I took a two hour plane ride to Chicago where I had a 5 hour layover. After the 5 hours of waiting, came the major haul a 14 hour plane ride straight to South Korea. I arrived in Incheon at 5:30 am on Monday February 22nd. It was so weird that since South Korea is 14 hours ahead of EST I ended up completely skipping Sunday the 21st and time traveling straight to Monday. The plane ride itself was fairly smooth, and I was able to sleep most of the time. They fed me two meals one toward the beginning of the flight and one towards the end of the flight. 

 

Arriving in South Korea

When I finally arrived, needless to say I was exhausted. There is no amount of sleep on a plane that will give you real rest. It took about an hour and a half to get through immigration and get my bags. Once I got my bags I exchanged a small amount of money so that I had a little bit of spending money just incase my credit cards ever gave me trouble. There was someone waiting for me at the pick up area with my name written on a piece of paper. It was a hour and a half taxi ride from Incheon to my new home town of Suji-gu. I assumed that soon after arriving in Korea I would be taken to my new apartment and given the day to settle in. But nope! They took me straight to my school. I was able to take about 30 minutes to change my clothes and freshen up then it was straight to starting the work day of observing the teacher who I would be replacing. 

First Day of Work

The first day was exhausting as I had just come off a long plane ride and was still unpacked with my luggage all sitting in the lobby of my new place of employment. Although exhausting, the first day was really wonderful. All of the students were so sweet and my supervisors were very understanding that mentally I was not completely present. There was lots of coffee involved in this first day. 

IMG_0759 IMG_0755

I finally got to sleep!

After a long day of traveling and observing, I was taken to a hotel where I was finally able to sleep in a bed. It took almost a week to actually be in my place of residence because the teacher whom I was replacing had not moved out yet. But the hotels that I stayed in were quite nice. That very first night I was so sleepy it was 7 pm Korea time and 5 am back home when I went to bed. The hotel I stayed in had a sandwich bar where I was able to get slices of ham, cheese, and lettuce. This was my very first dinner in Korea and even though it was simple, I was very thankful for it as I did not have the energy to go out anywhere for a real dinner. I quickly ate my ham and cheese and immediately fell asleep for the next 12 glorious hours. 

 

Please say tuned for the upcoming blogs about my first week and other exciting discoveries in Korea.

<3 Ames 

IMG_0757

Chinese New Year in Taiwan

 

Taiwan-map_edit

Map source

I spent 8 days in Taiwan, and no more than two nights in one location. The itinerary looked like this: 

Night 1: Taipei

Nights 2 and 3: The Sun Moon Lake

Nights 4 and 5: Taichung

Night 6: Jiufen

Night 7: Taipei

Night 8: Taoyuan (by the airport)

Normally I like to park down in one place for a while, so I was a little weary toward the end. On the other hand, I saw quite a lot of the country.

Early on the morning before I flew out, there’d been an earthquake in Tainan, shutting down all trains south of Taichung. It didn’t change my travel plans or hamper my safety, but it meant I spent more time checking the reports while I was in transit. As a result, I didn’t realize the extent of the damage until I got back to Korea.

2

News about the earthquake on the bus to Nantou County.

Not speaking the local language was a problem in some cases, but not in the ways I’d thought. I was a little overwhelmed by how very little I could understand; in Korea and even Japan, I can understand enough of the language to get by. Lost in the middle of a major national holiday and unable to communicate, I sometimes felt like a deaf-mute at a party I hadn’t been invited to.

Thankfully, Taiwan is full of really sweet people who will step in if they notice a visitor in distress. I can’t count the number of strangers who randomly translated something for me, gave me a recommendation for a cool local site to visit, or helped me find something I was looking for. Every time I spoke to someone, I felt like they wanted to make sure I had the best possible experience in their country.

3

My first stop, the Sun Moon Lake, was worth the trip out. I figured a lot of things would be closed on New Year’s Eve—the day I arrived at the lake—so I thought I’d prefer to spend some time outdoors and walk around. I spent New Year’s Day walking to Wenwu Temple and sitting outside with some milk tea and a notebook at a café by the Bamboo Gardens on the lake’s north side. My goal was not to work too hard. I think I succeeded on that front.

4

Wenwu Temple. 

5

A café with exactly the view (and minimal crowds) I’d been looking for. 

The next stop, Taichung, was intended to be a place to park for a little while en route to Taipei, but proved to be worth a visit in its own right. There’s a lot more green space and varied architecture in Taichung in comparison with Taipei. I spent much of my time walking around and admiring the scenery. 

6

Since I had more unstructured time in Taichung, I tried to see some unique local sites as well as some of the more typical “Taiwanese” sites.

The first thing I did when I arrived was take a bus out to the Rainbow Village. It’s not really a village, proper, but rather a small army base. The entire thing was painted over four years by one man, and now it’s become a popular tourist attraction. Try to see it if you can!

7

8

9

Being the art museum enthusiast that I am, I’m also going to plug the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, which presents a remarkable collection of contemporary Taiwanese art. I especially liked the collection of art from young Taiwanese artists, which focused on the theme of dreams.

10

Above: Building on the Tree by Ma Chun-Fu. I don't think this one is part of the gallery on dreams, but it looks like it could have been. I was obviously on a Studio Ghibli kick. 

Taichung is where I explored Taiwan’s food culture. There are a couple unique spots for this in town, including... 

Chun Sui Tang’s original restaurant, where the bubble tea craze began:

12

Tasty, but a little overpriced. They spoke English, though.

Miyahara Ice Cream is across the street from the main train station, and not far from where I was staying, so I had to check it out. If you go, you’ll recognize it by the long line. The servers expedite the ordering process for you by handing you a list of the ice cream flavors to help you choose your dessert:

13

(Just so you know, 180 Taiwanese dollars is about $5.50 USD.)

You might notice there’s a large variety. For example, these were the types of chocolate ice cream available that night:

14

My final concoction was one scoop of Venezuela 72% dark chocolate, one scoop of Kumquat lemon, a piece of cheesecake, some sliced bananas (on the opposite side of the bowl, I swear), and a monkey-shaped New Year’s cookie in a waffle cone. It was delicious. 

15

Of all the recommendations I had from my friends who’ve been to Taiwan, I was told every time to visit a night market or two. Even though things seem to open pretty early in Taiwan, the Taiwanese obviously have a prominent night culture as well. When do these guys sleep? 

16

I was a little concerned about visiting the night market alone, being female and obviously from out of town. I didn’t bring anything valuable that I didn’t need with me, but there wasn’t very much for me to worry about. If anything, I felt welcomed by strangers waiting in line, who struck up conversations or recommended particular food items. These are some of the things I sampled:

17

Above: stinky tofu. You can smell it from up the street.

18

So-called wax apples. (Yes, they’re edible.) Pretty tasty!

18

Imagawayaki, a custard- or sweet red bean-filled treat brought over from Japan. It’s like boong eo bbang

20

My personal favorite: fried mushrooms. The picture does not do it justice.

Go to the night market for dinner, and sample everything to your heart’s content. Thank goodness you do a lot of walking between stalls!

After Taichung I made my way north of Taipei to Jiufen, a mining village that has become a popular tourist attraction. It came to my attention when a friend of mine informed me that the spirit world in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away was partially inspired by the narrow, winding streets of the old town, which still bear traces of their former life as a Japanese colony. Since I knew it was a popular attraction, I went there on a weekday. On a national holiday, unfortunately, it didn’t make much of a difference. This was the view en route to the guest house: 

21

In Jiufen, I fell in with a couple of tourists from mainland China. We wandered the rainy streets, tried snacks from some of the vendors, and then holed ourselves up in a tea house to wait out the bad weather. Once the skies cleared, the view got even better. We decided to go exploring.

 

23

We found the Ah Mei Teahouse, famous for having supposedly influenced the Spirited Away. There weren’t any baths nearby, but there was a flood of Korean tourists.

To appreciate Jiufen without the crowds, stay overnight and get out early in the morning. I promise you won’t regret it.

  24-2

As much as I loved Jiufen, the rest of my trip was still waiting for me. I left rather early from town and made my way back to Taipei. There’s far more to do in Taiwan’s capital than I would ever have had time for in two days, but I did my best to mix tourist obligations with the things I actually wanted to see.

At the recommendation of another friend, I took the gondola up to Maokong to have a fancy tea set and take in the view. I whiled away the afternoon drinking tea, writing, and people-watching, which is basically how I’d like to spend the rest of my life. Taipei was especially hot, even in February, and it was great to escape the heat and the crowds.

26

I went to the equally-crowded Taipei 101 out of obligation, but unfortunately didn’t know Taipei well enough to be able to appreciate much of its night view. I had a better time getting to know Taipei when I walked around to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, where I could watch groups of college kids practicing their dance routines and see pairs of runners getting in some exercise once the temperature had cooled.

27

Before Taiwan was even on my travel radar, I’d read about 24-hour bookstores in Taipei. Do I need to tell you what I did next?

28

It was such a relief to wait in line to go up the Taipei 101 and know that I wouldn’t have to hurry out to Eslite before it closed, because Eslite never closes. I went in around 8 PM and found it full of customers crouched in corners and on steps, reading whatever books weren’t sealed in plastic wrap. The Dun Nan branch of the store has a pretty nice selection, even if you can’t read Chinese characters. I had fun looking at translations of some of the texts I know, and flipping through the art books.

29

Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, translated into Chinese.

30

An art book of the storyboards from the original Star Wars trilogy.

While I was in Japan, I bought some Haruki Murakami books (translated into English) as a souvenir for my trip. I’d been hoping to do the same for an undetermined Taiwanese writer, but didn’t have much luck on that front. The closest I got was the two-volume unabridged translation of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which I’d love to read when I’ve got the time, but even one book from the set would have been too expensive for my backpacker budget and too heavy to carry home.

At 8:30 PM, a wave of customers swept in. I stood in line and watched a young man with a pile of books sift through his red pocket (New Year’s) money and see if he had enough to pay for everything he was going to buy. I’ve bellyached about the state of reading in Korea before. Taiwan rekindled the spark of hope in my dark, smoldering heart.

32

My last morning in Taipei was a mad rush to see some last things, including a trip out to the National Palace Museum (nice collection, but far, far too crowded to really appreciate the items within), before I rushed out to my hotel in Taoyuan for the night. It was an early flight back to Seoul the next morning.

So much happened in such a small space of time that I feel like I’m still processing my experience in Taiwan. What is there to say? I was impressed by how many kind people I met, and how welcome I felt there—even though it was pretty obvious from people’s reactions to my presence that they don’t often get solo, obviously-foreign female travelers over the New Year holiday. But that meant I had a better view of Taiwan: a little big country with warm, down-to-earth people. I hope to go back someday.

33

Preparing for the Olympics

On my very first day as an EPIK employee, on my very first bus ride out to the east coast of Gangwon Province, I heard about the Olympics. We made a pit stop in Pyeongchang County, and our provincial coordinator proudly announced that this sparsely-populated stretch of mountain region would be hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics. 

1-Pyeongchang Rest Stop

Let it be clear so that no one flubs it like Mr. Sapit, who accidentally wound up in North Korea en route to a United Nations conference: Pyeongchang is a small town in Gangwon Province, South Korea. Pyeongyang is the capital of North Korea.

Since my first day, the Olympic fervor has only increased. It became even more prevalent when I moved to Gangneung, where many of the facilities intended for the games are being built. In Gangneung City Hall, right next to the live camera footage of Dokdo, is a countdown clock announcing how many days remain until the start of the Games. At the time of this post, that number is 725. 

There’s also a countdown clock outside of the HomePlus shopping center in downtown Gangneung, and several signs and monuments around Gangneung and Pyeongchang, just in case you didn’t know what was going to happen. Sometimes I get a little annoyed hearing about it all the time, but I also think it’s cool to see the way a city prepares to host a major international sporting event.

Countdown_cityhall

Olympic Rings

PC_ad

Above: the countdown clock in Gangneung City Hall, Olympic rings by Gyeongpo Beach, and murals under a bridge in Hoenggye, Pyeongchang Province. 

With such large plans, it’s obvious that some parts of the city would change. There are more stadiums, for starters. Two of the skating rinks are going up on the southwest edge of Gyeongpo Lake, and other facilities are being built around Gwandong Catholic University.

SS-image

Above: the projected design for one of the speed skating facilities. Below: Another speed-skating rink, as seen from Gyeongpo Lake. 

Stadium_Lakeside

For that matter, I see more luxury hotels along the beachfront. When I arrived, the shining white Seamarq (sic) hotel was just being completed.

Seamarq

Now another one—the Skybay—is underway. The plans for it, which are posted outside the construction site, look pretty... unique.

Skybay_plan

Skybay_whywhitepeople

Prospective future travelers. But where did all the Koreans go?

There are other parts of Gangeung that have changed a lot even since my arrival in Korea, when I would come to the city on a day trip out of Donghae. Many pieces of “old Korea” around town have started to disappear, to be replaced with shiny new facilities like makeup shops and cafés. And while locals and expats alike celebrate the new, a little part of me mourns the passing of the old.

In my first year, when I went to the Dano Festival with my co-teacher and his family, we passed through an alley between some shops and the train tracks, which were elevated above the pedestrian level on a concrete wall. The market was narrow, cramped, and dark, and covered with tarp. People were shouting, food was prepared under suspicious conditions, and there was a general vibe of chaos. At the same time, I found it charming. It hearkened back to a time when all restaurants were little shacks like these, run by regular people who remembered your face. Over half of this area has been cleared out, and the feel of the place is very different now. 

Luckily, I’ve managed to take pictures at some of these locations before they were destroyed. Other images in this post were taken from the street view mode on Naver Maps, a Korea-based search engine. According to the time stamp in the corner of the images, these are from October of 2014, and have yet to be updated as of this post.

The old street market downtown, before:

Street View Market Entry

and after:

New Market Street 2

Just down the road, the street by Pogyodang-gwaneum-sa (포교당관음사), a temple in downtown Gangneung, has opened up, and the buildings next to it are gone. Here it is then:

Temple_street_Naver

And this is now:

Temple Street

The biggest change in the downtown area, which has greatly impacted the look of the neighborhood, is the absence of train tracks. This is the street outside HomePlus. Before:

Old Bridge_Naver

And after:

Former Bridge

The Gangneung Train Station doesn’t exist anymore, but it’s still a bus stop and point of reference in town. I have a feeling they’ll be rebuilding it as they work on the Seoul-Gangneung train line, which looks like it will cut through Pyeongchang. As a result, the countryside is changing, too. 

 

PB284866

Tunnels under construction between Bongpyeong and Jangpyeong, Pyeongchang County.  

In the midst of all these changes, one thing is certain: Korea is going to look quite different once 2018 rolls around.

I can’t say how the country will pull off its role as an international host during the Olympics. I don’t know how the locals will respond to the sudden influx of short-term foreign guests—or how those visitors will respond to the locals. Maybe Korea will become more open to different cultures, or perhaps things will go back to the way they were once the last guest has left. Yongpyeong Ski Resort in Pyeongchang County hosted the Korean National Winter Sports Festival last February as a sort of trial run for 2018. The people in Gangwon Province seem to be taking a lot of time and care in their preparations. 

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I was thinking of Pyeongchang. Sochi’s facilities were lampooned with an embarrassing amount of glee by the media upon its arrival in Russia. Some of the complaints were downright childish, and yet conditions in Russia are similar to those of Korea. Plumbing in both areas often isn’t strong enough to process toilet paper, so most people throw used toilet paper in a wastebasket. Some places don’t have clean tap water. Moreover, this isn’t unique to Korea or Russia. I hope the international media feels at least a small amount of shame for having come down with such scorn upon a nation where life is just a little different. With any luck, they’ll be in a better mood in two years.

As always seems to be the case with these international events, the big question is what the community will do with these facilities after the Olympics end. The train line, at least, will remain, which should be good for Gangneung’s tourism industry. I wonder if it will build itself up to the status of bigger Korean cities like Busan or Daegu

In the midst of plans, promos, budget cuts and trial tours, there’s one implication that I have trouble shaking. These changes around Gangneung and Pyeongchang seem to suggest that a local culture can’t be valued by international visitors unless it has morphed itself to meet international (and vaguely acultural) styles. As much as Korea’s quirks and strange workplace rituals frustrate me, the feeling results from my poor compatibility with Korean society rather than Korea’s lack of civility. In living where I have, I’ve seen a part of the country that most of the world has never known—and, I’m afraid, may never know again.

Picture of the old market

An image of the old street market in downtown Gangneung.

The Joys of Deskwarming

T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month,” but in Korea, February can be pretty brutal. It’s only late January, and I’m weary of the whole season. This is the time of gray snow (or no snow, if you’re unlucky), the desire to be free of long underwear, and an awful lot of desk-warming.

“Desk-warming” is the non-technical term for an EPIK teacher’s obligatory office time when classes aren’t in session. This means the teachers have to come to school even when there’s no one to teach. It’s in our contracts.

 WHAT2

In theory, the purpose of desk-warming is to encourage both Korean and EPIK teachers to engage in career-building training and prepare lessons for the upcoming semester.

 Cloudy

Most of the time, though…

 Stare-at-my-desk

Then there’s the weather. Gangneung has suffered a nasty cold spell for the last two weeks, and with the school buildings being as badly insulated as they are, my Raynaud’s has kicked into high gear.

Literally frozen

I try to tell myself that desk-warming is one of those quirky cultural differences that I’ll be able to accept, but never truly understand. Sadly, it’s not as dissimilar to the U.S.’s long, unproductive work hours as I’d like it to be. Except in Korea, I’m at school and working on Christmas Eve. Sort of like... 

 1993602

There’s plenty of other English-language material floating around the Internet about this. Some people broadly address the topic of how “Korean Workers Show [the] Lowest Productivity in the OECD, Despite Long Overtime.” The raw statistics are easy to find; you can see the breakdown of data from 2012 (since discontinued) for yourself here.

Two listicles from non-Korean perspectives discuss the dilemma in greater detail here (“Seven Reasons Why Korea Has the Worst Productivity in the OECD”) and here (“8 Reasons Why Korea has some of the longest working hours but low productivity in the OECD”).

In imitation of the above, I’d like to touch on the points with which I strongly agree:

1. The Hierarchy

Most Korean teachers who are just starting out receive a ridiculous amount of work as a form of socially-enforced workplace hazing. Some of the new teachers at my school teach up to 27 hours a week. (For reference, my contract puts a maximum at 22 teaching hours before I get overtime compensation.) The older teachers generally have less work, especially if they’re using the same teaching materials each year. Because they’re older, it’s also considered more appropriate for them to relax, since they were overworked when they began their own careers.

I imagine it would be difficult to change this system because it would lead to someone missing out on the “easy” part of the job. If everyone takes fewer hours and shares the workload, then those people laboring in heavy overtime now would work more than younger teachers in the future. (I’m not in any way saying this kind of thinking is okay.)

2. The Value of Appearances

Korea has a culture that concerns itself heavily with looks—and I mean that with all its implications. In addition to seeing young (and not-so-young) men and women check their hair in a reflective surface at every possible opportunity, living here means that the concept of “saving face” is of great significance. An office isn’t considered hard-working if it isn’t always up to something work-related. The best way to make a place look respectable? Give it a bunch of silly tasks to keep it busy. 

3. All That Alcohol

As I’ve addressed, working in Korea means that you spend a lot of time going out and imbibing with your colleagues. These dinners almost always happen on a weeknight, which means that those people who were face-deep in their liquor on Wednesday night will come to work on Thursday morning hung-over. Obviously, this impacts their performance.

School1

School2

School3

There are cots in the teachers’ lounge for people to sleep off their headaches.

Sometimes it’s a little frustrating to see all of this and know that it’s the cause of so much grief. Being foreign, young, temporary, and generally out of the pecking order, there’s not much I can do except console myself at the thought that I get paid to sit at a desk. Since I write, I usually try to use that time to work on a project. Sometimes I do research on a vacation destination. At the very least, I attempt to catch up on some reading. On other days, I’m less energetic. This is one such day. And so, I present… 

~ How to be Part of an Unproductive Work Force ~

Usually, I get to school in the morning with a lot of enthusiasm.

Black Widow

Things get a little easier after some coffee.

Coffee

I read the news for a while.

Babyread

Then I decide I probably ought to be doing something a little more important, like making lesson plans.

Business

After this impulse strikes, I usually remember that my school has switched textbooks on me at the last minute in the past, and that maybe it doesn’t make sense to plan too far ahead until I know what material I’m supposed to be using. 

Han

This is usually when lunchtime hits. Out of session, the cafeteria is closed, so I’m not only spared the experience of eating school food, but free to walk around the neighborhood to purchase something I like, or even go home to cook.

If I have time, I walk to the beach.

Image1

After lunch, I hit a food coma. Productivity diminishes as I digest.

Bored Lilo

(I try not to think about what I could be doing if I weren’t trapped indoors. That path leads to the Dark Side.)

Suddenly it’s 3:00 and I try to accomplish something in the last hour.  

Kermit

At 3:30, the other teachers leave.

Homer

I “work” for another half-hour until I’m allowed to go.

Run-away

And that’s how you get nothing done, all day.

 

Okay, I exaggerate. I do accomplish tasks when I desk-warm. But sometimes I can’t shake the feeling that if I could work out of office, I’d be a better employee. 

Image2

Someday…

 

Sources for the visuals, in order:

  1. How I Met Your Mother
  2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
  3. Office Space
  4. Frozen
  5. A Muppet Christmas Carol (image)
  6. School of Rock
  7. Iron Man 2
  8. Coffee and Cigarettes
  9. Reading Baby Meme
  10. Mulan
  11. Star Wars
  12. Lilo and Stitch
  13. Kermit typing
  14. The Simpsons
  15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The Seoul Art Museum Smorgasbord

This is part 2 of my post on museums in Seoul. Since I realized last time that I spend a lot of time visiting art museums (one of the things I miss most about the Twin Cities), I decided to write a separate article about great places to view art in South Korea’s capital.

 

1. Seoul Museum of Art

SMoA1

Cost of admission: Free

Hours and directions here.

The Seoul Museum of Art is in the center of the city and is just a short walk from the City Hall subway station. Always free, with exhibits that rotate intermittently, it’s a great place to stop by if you’re in the area. One exhibit is permanent: a collection of art dedicated to Chun Kyung-ja, the “eternal narcissist.” The official museum website shows a sample of her work here.

There are many galleries inspired by different themes. A lot of the pieces I saw on my last visit were made of moving parts and coordinated to music.   

 

It seems like a small museum, but you can spend a lot of time here!

SmoA2

This is statue of a rose bush is on the street outside the museum. You can use it as a landmark.

 

2. Leeum Samsung Museum of Art

Leeum1

Cost of admission: 10,000 won

Hours and directions here

Located on the east side of Itaewon, the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art is one of those museums where the building itself seems to be part of the exhibition. Gorgeously designed and well-arranged, the gallery includes artwork from Korea’s past as well as its future. The standard admission covers two large galleries: one of Korean traditional art and pottery, and another of modern work.

I probably wasn’t supposed to take pictures, but I snuck a couple. 

Leeum2

Leeum3

Leeum4

The final photo is of the hallway from which you exit the first gallery. It might be my favorite room in the museum.  

 

3. Daelim Art Museum

Dae1

Cost of admission: 5,000 won (adults)

Hours and directions here.

The Daelim Art Museum is a nice, upscale gallery that hosts one featured exhibit for a few months at a time. I’ve only gone there once to see a collection of photographs by Linda McCartney, but I was impressed enough with the visit to recommend it here. 

The exhibit was well-displayed, and the curators made good use of the space to highlight certain photos. The pictures were grouped on three floors, with a small alcove for video interviews with the rest of the McCartney family to talk about Linda’s work. It was easy to appreciate her unique style.

Dae2

Dae3

Dae4

I mostly took pictures of the rock stars she photographed, but the gallery paid a lot of respect to her work photographing everyday people she encountered on her travels.

 

4. 63 Square, Sky Art Gallery

63-1

Cost: About 15,000 won

Hours and directions here.

The 63 Building is the most recognizable skyscraper on Yeouido Island, just off the Han River. At the top is an art gallery, which features rotating exhibitions. When I visited there was an exhibit inspired by fairy tales. I’m interested in folklore anyway, and I found some unique points of interest in the gallery, which was sometimes classic, sometimes experimental, and sometimes a little strange. But the real highlights were the large windows that offer a view of the city from all sides. I arrived just before sundown, so I got a chance to view the city as it transformed at night.  

63-2

63-3

63-4

 

Honorable Mention: Soma Museum of Art / Olympic Park

Oly1

Cost of admission: 3,000 won for the museum (the park is free)

Hours and directions here

Olympic Park was built to host the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and has since been recycled as a leisure and art park. Music fans know the park as a famous concert venue, which hosts many different festivals throughout the year. The park was built on what was originally a Baekje fortress, though little remains of the structure today.

Pictured above is the impressive World Peace Gate, which meets you as you come out of Mongchontoseong Station (line 8). In addition to the Soma Museum of Art, the park hosts the Seoul Baekje Museum and Olympic Museum, though I haven’t visited these and cannot comment on them.

The Soma Museum of Art has a rotating collection, which is fair for the 3,000 won entrance fee. When I visited, the theme of the gallery was water. 

Oly6

Oly7

If you’re not interested in paying for modern art, you could walk around Olympic Park and admire the sculptures and architecture. Everywhere you look, the park is like a work of art. 

Oly3

Oly4

Oly5

The tourist office at Olympic Park also offers a “stamp tour,” in which visitors collect a paper passport from one of the tourist offices at either end of the park and walk to different noteworthy landmarks on the grounds. Upon finding one of the stops on the tour, search for a green box with a metal press inside, clamp the “stamp” onto the passport, and continue until you have collected all nine. When the passport is complete, you can approach either of the tourist information centers and collect two free Olympic Park-themed postcards. In my opinion, any excuse to walk around the park is a good one. It’s almost like you’ve left the city, even though you’re still in the middle of it.

Oly2

Keep Me Updated