a day in Yeouido

The 63 Building is a Seoul landmark. When it was built, the skyscraper was the tallest building in South Korea and the tallest outside of North America. Those distinctions are long gone, but the 63 Building remains an icon.

The tower is quite recognizable due to its golden exterior. Although that color does not come through in this photograph, the building serves as a nice  backdrop for a peaceful day on the Han River.

I saw some fireworks…

Last weekend was the 2011 incarnation of the annual Seoul International Fireworks Festival. It was a 90 minute show performed by three national teams (Korea, Portugal, Japan). Danielle and I found a nice vantage point to take in the festivities. Overall, it was an impressive performance. Lots of ooohs and aaahs from the spectators.

Here are some photos from the night…enjoy!

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sentinels

South Korean soldiers protect the country's border with North Korea

 

Danielle and I took the USO tour to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) separating the two Koreas. The South Korean soldiers stationed along the border are the cream of the crop. According to the tour guide, they must be expertly trained in at least two martial arts, expert marksmen, above average intelligence…I think you get the picture.

They stand in a modified Taekwondo stance with fists clenched staring into the North behind mirrored aviator-style sunglasses.

I managed to take this picture while our tour group was heading out of one of the blue buildings seen in the first photo.

caught in the act

During our time in Korea, we’ve stumbled upon several street performances, cultural demonstrations, and parades. Here is a sampling of the pictures I took at these events…

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umbrella

I haven’t had a great deal of experience with rain; heavy, unrelenting rain that is. I found myself in some torrential downpours during my time in Central America, but in those cases I was usually near or on the beach, wearing a swimsuit. That rain was not a problem.

Things are different in Korea. I find myself at the tail end of the monsoon season with an extra piece of rain gear, one that I am not accustomed to carrying. Yup, an umbrella. Now, most of you probably don’t know this, but until recently I had a strict “no umbrella” policy (all be it a not very public “no umbrella” policy). Living in Korea has forced me to rethink my umbrella hating ways.

I seem to remember using these rain protection devices as a boy growing up in Poland, but that was many years ago. My life in Colorado had taught me that being rained on was not so bad, and if you really couldn’t handle it, put on a rain jacket. The umbrella was never part of the equation. Which brings me to present day.

I attempted for a while to bring my Colorado non-umbrella ways to Korea. Things started out fine, sure I’d get misted on now and then, but it wasn’t anything this Colorado boy couldn’t handle. Danielle had acquired a rather inexpensive umbrella at a convenience store in preparation for the rainy season. I did not. Soon, it became apparent that a raincoat was not the ideal rain protection for the hot muggy summer rains of Korea. Sans raincoat, I found myself migrating under the cover of Danielle’s umbrella.

The evolution continued, and more often than not I found myself sharing an umbrella meant for one, with Danielle. The inconvenience which accompanied, only reaffirmed my hatred for the round, wiry torture devices. Half the time one of us was getting rained on, and I simply hadn’t acquired any sort of umbrella skills. I just didn’t know what I was doing.

Maybe I saw the writing on the wall, but as time went by I sensed myself warming up to the idea of wielding an umbrella, if only as a necessary evil, a bi-product of my too-hot-for-Korea raincoat.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. Danielle and I had gone away for the weekend to celebrate her birthday and enjoy some hiking in Soraksan National Park. As luck would have it we were greeted there by some of the heaviest rain we had seen to that point in Korea. After a day of rain-soaked hiking, a Korean style buffet, and some Paris Baguette cake, we turned in for the night. The next morning, we awoke to some rather pleasant weather. By the time we made it outside though, things had significantly deteriorated.

It was now pouring and becoming abundantly clear that in order for both of us to navigate the city streets in this rain and remain moderately dry, it would have to be with two umbrellas. I seem to remember an ultimatum given to me by Danielle that day. Something along the lines of “If you don’t get yourself an umbrella, then you can walk by yourself in the rain.” Apparently, she too was tired of sharing one umbrella. A quick trip to a convenience store and there you have it. On a Sunday like any other, I became a first time owner of an umbrella. Danielle’s pleas and “suggestions” had fallen on deaf ears long enough.

Eager (I think) to take my new umbrella for a test drive, I stepped outside in the storm, opened my umbrella, and almost instantly had it turned inside out by a strong gust of wind. Did I really expect any other fate for my new accessory? This unfortunate event had seriously undermined my umbrella’s structural integrity, rendering it susceptible to more such occurrences in the future. Great! And so began the umbrella period of my life, now entering its second month of existence.

I ┬ámust say the umbrella kept me reasonably dry that day and has many days since then. The umbrella has become something that I bring with me any day that offers a threat of rain. A necessary evil, I guess. Although I’m not fully “on board” with “the umbrella”, I have changed my umbrella hating ways. I even upgraded my umbrella to a new model, one that opens at the mere press of a button and has blue tooth capabilities. Okay, maybe I made the last part up, but it really does open up with the press of a button.

While I have warmed up to umbrellas, I can’t imagine using them as frequently as many Koreans do. Here, for many, it is a year round accessory. In addition to its traditional purpose, the umbrella is used to fend off sunshine and falling snow. Do I see myself adopting the umbrella as a multi-season weather deflector? In short, no. But I do see its benefits when used on a rainy day in the city.

As a side note: Last night Danielle and I decided to grab dinner in Hongdae, a busy university area not too far from home. It was a rainy evening, so we grabbed our umbrellas and headed out. On any given night the area is packed with people, and can be a challenge to navigate. Add umbrellas to the equation and you’re in for a rather comical experience. You can lift your umbrella to avoid the others, but you leave yourself exposed to the rain. You can leave you umbrella down and hope others lift theirs. If you’re really lucky, you’ll clip another umbrella and be showered with whatever rainwater had accumulated on it. I think you get the picture.

Koreacation

Danielle and I just got back from a trip to the southern part of South Korea. It was our summer vacation – a seven day break from teaching (we spent five days away from Seoul). On our itinerary were Busan (the second biggest city in South Korea) and Boseong (a region known primarily for its green tea fields). We did our traveling by train, bus, taxi, and foot. It was great to get away and see some of the country we’ve been calling home for a little over nine months.

Here are some pictures from our Koreacation…

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