One more day of work, then off for nine days of glorious summery vacation. We will spend some time in Seoul, but will also leave town for Korean parts unknown, all in the name of relaxation, exploration, and taking photos for OOFALWO. Unfortunately, we will travel by train and bus rather than the scooter pictured here.
As we wander around Korea in the name of OOFALWO, we have come across many bloggable faces. Lacking both the base instinct of the paparazzi and the zoom lens of a professional shutterbug, we are often reticent to intrude on people's lives for the sake of a snapshot. These farming women on Ganghwa Island, giggling and chatting loudly despite their intensive labours, were affable and highly amenable to being on camera.
Dangun, believed to be the founder of the first kingdom of Korea in 2333 BCE, is also said to be the grandson of the god of heaven, the son of a woman who had transformed herself from a bear with the aid of garlic and mugwort, and a half-deity himself. His godheadedness came late in life, as he did not shuffle off this mortal coil to ascend to the pantheon of spirits until the tender age of 1908. Chamsongdan Altar sits atop Manisan, where Dangun built it to both oversee the Gojoseon kingdom and pay homage to the spirits who infuse all realms.
The Island of Ganghwa is located west of the Korean mainland near the mouth of the Han River. As the Han River leads to Seoul, the island has proven important militarily. At various points over the last five thousand years, it has been used as a place of refuge from invading Russians, Mongols, and Chinese, and as a battleground in squirmishes over religion, trade, and territory with the French, Americans, and Japanese. Today the threat comes from the North - only the main channel of the Han separates the island from Gaeseong in North Korea, and soldiers have set up military checkpoints around the perimeter of the island.
Apologies for the two days with no posts, but typhoon winds affected our internet connection and a stat holiday affected Korea Telecom's desire to come fix it. On a pleasurable and sunny day which proved to be the calm before the storm, we had the good fortune to spend the day on Ganghwa Island with our friends Matthew and Moon Yea. Moon's parents recently retired and left Seoul to live in this beautiful house with a view of the sea. They invited us to their home for the day, where we had an invigorating hike and an amazing meal with good friends. It was also a day filled with photo opportunities, so expect to see more of Ganghwa.
The museums and galleries of Seoul have been regular weekend destinations for us since we arrived. The diversity is amazing; the art of East and West, traditional and postmodern, big names and relative unknowns can be seen in this city. Last weekend we saw a Rebecca Horn exhibition. So there we are, two Canadians going to a gallery named after a French sculptor to see the work of a German artist in a Korean city.
The Rodin Gallery, seen here, contains The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell. The brochure informs us that there are eight galleries in the world which house the works of Rodin. We've seen three of them. This has prompted Lee to issue his latest challenge - to find the other five. As far as the current crop of challenges go, it's better than riding the Seoul subway system from end to end in one day or eating 18 Dunkin Donuts in 60 minutes.
Serving the finest dal makhani this side of the sub-continent, Everest Restaurant is well worth the 70-plus minutes of combined bus and subway time to get there. Once comfortably ensconced in our booth, sipping our mango lassis and cups of chai, we marvel at the linguistic playfulness of the proprietor almost as much as the food. He switches effortlessly between his lightly-accented but perfect English with us, to fluent Korean with the local patrons, to his mother-tongue Nepali with his family and staff.
In Korea, as in Canada, drinking is a big part of the social culture. There are innumerable bars (hofs in Korean), and every neighbourhood has its local(s). Unlike Canada, a thirsty patron can buy beer, wine, or soju at every convenience store, of which there are at least two on every block, usually open 24 hours. Canny store owners have figured out a way to draw in the crowds - any proprietor worth his or her salt pitches a patio table with umbrella on even the smallest patch of sidewalk space and passes out free paper cups with the beer. This offers less discriminating consumers, who may be loathe to buy a $6 beer in a pub, an affordable way to drink and watch the world go by.
Last month we went to World Cup Stadium and took in a friendly match between Korea and the Netherlands. Korean fans gained a reputation during the World Cup they hosted in 2002 as polite, knowledgeable, and extraordinarily vocal. This tradition carries on unabated; while the home side was soundly thrashed by one of the world's top national teams, we were entreated to 90-plus minutes of chanting, singing (Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", with Korean lyrics, sung by 67000 scarf-waving maniacs), screaming, and thunder sticks. During the national anthem, a giant flag was unfurled and made to dance in time to the music.
As the final installment of our Christianity Trinity, an image that was one of the first surprising things we saw in Seoul. We left our apartment in a jet-lagged fog on our first evening in the city and walked around the corner to see this GIANT billboard of Jesus and his flock.
Although the picture was taken from an awkward angle at the top of a staircase, the general message of this subway prophet is hopefully still evident. The man's sign reads In God We Trust, an idea he was proselytizing at full volume to the commuting crowds. When I pulled out my camera, he gave me the "please don't take my picture" wave. I ignored him, figuring if he wants to spout ideas at top volume in the subway station, he's undeniably in the public eye and not in the position to refuse a photo or two. Perhaps I missed a career calling as a member of the paparazzi?
In the eyes of the Church, Korea is a Christian "success story." One third of all Koreans - about 14 million - identify as Protestant, another three million as Catholic, numbers which have doubled every decade since 1960. The Christian presence in Seoul is immediately apparent. There is a church on every block, many with neon crosses lit up at night. On Sundays, some of the more boisterous congregations parade through Seoul with megaphones and matching vests. The pious man pictured above is part of a well-organized and vocal group that prays in the Myeong-Dong market every Sunday.
In the magical world of street food in which we joyously roam, there are three distinct groups of merchants. First, those who offer the organ meat and miscellaneous innards, who are to be resolutely avoided. Secondly, those who offer the standard fare - chicken on a stick, rice cake, spicy sausages, and tofu of all stripes - who make an invaluable, though unimaginative, contribution to our daily nourishment. And lastly, the rara avis of haute cuisine, the true visionaries who combine flavours and ingredients to produce nothing short of culinary perfection. This woman near Myeong-dong adds crinkle-cut french fries to her corndog batter, her small way of making the world a better place.