Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Good Morning, Mr. Rooster!

For the past week when I get up for my 7:30AM workout, I have been hearing a rooster crowing on my way to the subway. Does it live in someone's apartment? On the roof somewhere? I don't get it.

I shouldn't be surprised by stuff like this anymore!

Sodaemun Prison Museum

Sodaemun Prison was used by the Japanese from 1907 until 1945 when Korea was occupied by Japan. It was used to house anti-colonial activists during this time. After the Japanese occupation was over, it was used until 1987 by the Korean government. Finally, it became a museum.

This museum was interesting (and shocking) because it showcased the horrifying imprisonment, torture, and deaths of Korean prisoners at the hands of the Japanese.

File photo of every Korean activist who died while in Sodaemun Prison

Close up

Torture device where sticks were driven under fingernails

Each room had a hole in the ceiling so guards could secretly watch prisoners

How to get there: Dongnimmun Station (Subway Line 3), Exit # 5

Korean War Museum

Nearly 61 years ago there was a war in Korea. The newly liberated (from Japan) and divided (by the Soviets and Americans) Korean Peninsula was thrown into another war as the Communist North crossed over the 38th parallel in an attempt to surprise and overtake unprepared South. A few years, a few million lives, and a few destructive power shifts (that literally swept up and down the peninsula, destroying most everything along the way) later, an armistice was reached and the firing stopped.

It's no secret that hostilities have never faded, but what fewer realize is that the Korean War never ended. No resolution was reached. And, most importantly, no peace treaty was ever signed.

After being here almost a year, I finally made the time to go to the Korean Warm Museum. 

The museum not only covered the Korean War, but every war that Korea has been involved in from the ancient to the present. The massive museum has four floors, each covering a different aspect of battle in the Koreas. The first floor had information on the wars of the past centuries. This led me to the conclusion that Korea has fought with every neighboring Asian country at some point in history. The second floor showcased military equipment and other recent war artifacts. 

The third and fourth floor are what I found the most interesting (and if you are ever in a rush, I would recommend only visiting those floors). This covers more recent wars, including the Korean war and the Vietnam war. It's interesting, informative, and has lots of dioramas to walk through! It certainly made me think, especially because this war is probably lived through by some people who visit the museum. On the top floor they get so recent as to include North Korean attacks on South Korea in the last 10 years (Though they haven't added the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in December 2010 yet)

Overall it was a fascinating museum to visit, and highly recommended for anyone who hasn't gone yet!

How to get there: Samgakji Station Exit 12

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cat Cafe!! =^.^=

Finally made it to Gio Cat Cafe in Hongdae! We went at 9pm on a Sunday night, so the place was pretty much empty by the time we arrived... and most of the cats were sleeping. Nonetheless it was awesome!

Cat Cafe's are a place where you can go to have a coffee, chat with friends, and play with dozens of cats! I read that it was started by a woman who ran a cat adoption agency and wanted people to be able to interact with the cats before adopting. They have become pretty popular here, and there are even dog cafe's now.

The drinks were sub par, but it's not like they were the focus of the visit. In the cafe they provide you with ground rules (no picking up the cats, no petting sleeping cats, no poking them too much, etc.) then you can order your drink, grab a cat toy, and let the fun begin!

Click below to see more pictures!

Lotus Lantern Festival

On Sunday we went to the traditional Korean neighbourhood/ Temple area of Insadong. They were having a massive festival for Buddha's birthday. Fortunately for us, there were oodles of free and interesting things to try at the street fair!
Mom gettin' her Hanbok on
First we got dressed up in traditional Korean robes and posed for some photos. Not only our photos, mind you. People were just coming up to us and posing with us for their own photos! It was pretty funny.

Next we kept walking past the "sit quietly and mediate for 3 minutes" tent and went to the origami tent to make some flowers. 

Further down the line they had Korean music, dance, and some sort of ceremony where women poured water on a statue of Buddha.

After that we got our hands "treated" with hot ash from an acupuncture tent , saw how to make paper lanterns, and visited the crowded Jogyesa Temple. 

It was a fantastic celebration and so much fun to be able to try all of the things that were offered. Thanks, Buddha!

Aunt Mary gettin' her Hanbok on
Photo-op Wearing traditional wedding dresses
Making origami flowers
Visiting Jogyesa Temple in Insadong

Look Who's Coming to Seoul!

My mom and Aunt are coming all the way to hang out with me in Korea... Just in time for Mother's Day, and Buddha's Birthday!

Welcome to Korea!!!

Market Day at Talking Club

We finally came around to our semi-annual market day celebration! Each month, students collect "talking club dollars" depending on their homework completion, class participation, and improvements. On market day, they finally have the opportunity to spend those hard earned dollars on candy, toys, stationary, face painting, and games. Most importantly, no class for the day!

Jennifer after winning Musical Chairs 
This market day is also set to reflect the national holiday that falls on the following day, Children's Day (March 5th). No class, no work, families do something special for their kids. One friend argues that it is very telling of Korean culture that they need to set aside one day each year to give these hard-working kids a break. One might argue that every day is Children's Day back in Canada!

My role for this market day was to run the large game of musical chairs for each age group of kids. Surprisingly, not many of them have played musical chairs before, so it amused the students for much longer than I though it would.

Click below to see more pictures!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Relaxing in a Jimjilbang: Experiences in a Korean Sauna

On Sunday I tried my first Korean sauna. It took me eight months to finally get around to going because I had a few hang-ups about the whole thing; namely, you have to be naked in the sauna with a bunch of Korean women.

It took one hard weekend of exercise- bootcamp had been really tough, and we had been training hard to prepare to go to Jeju for the Ultimate tournament. I was really sore and everything hurt. All I wanted was to go sit in a hot tub for a few hours and relax. Ding ding! Jimjilbang time!

We went to the Dragon Hill Spa (here is a map). This is arguably the most famous jimjilbang I have heard of in Seoul because it is so foreigner friendly. For about 10$ (add on more for extra services), you have unlimited access to 6 floors of relaxation! (and you only have to be naked on one of those floors). It includes hot tubs, saunas, massages, manicures, a movie theater, wood and clay heat rooms, an ice room, a swimming pool (bring your bathing suit), a roof top pool, restaurants, among other things.

When you arrive, you pay the entrance fee and get a key and a change of cotton shorts and tshirt (your standard issue clothes that you wear once inside). This key is for your shoe locker first. Next you go to your clothes locker within the change room and commence sauna time in the women's only area. From there you can get dressed in the uniform and go to the co-ed room that everyone hangs out in.

We ended up staying there for 2 hours and left feeling squeaky clean and very sleepy. Success!

Spring in Korea is really Yellow Dust Season

When I ask my students what their favorite season is, none of them say spring.

At home, spring is the season when the weather starts getting warmer, the birds are chirping, and you can finally play outside again!

But in Korea, spring is also referred to by many as yellow dust season. According to google:
"Yellow dust is a seasonal meteorological phenomenon which affects much of East Asia sporadically during the springtime months. The dust originates in the deserts of Mongolia, northern China andKazakhstan where high-speed surface winds and intense dust storms kick up dense clouds of fine, dry soil particles. These clouds are then carried eastward by prevailing winds and pass over China, North and South Korea, and Japan, as well as parts of the Russian Far East. "
Unfortunately, on the way over from China, yellow dust has a nasty habit of picking up industrial pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulphur,  heavy metals, carcinogens, and even viruses.

When yellow dust warnings are issued for Korea, we are advised to avoid strenuous outdoor activity, wear masks, and shake our clothes when we come inside.

The only difference I have noticed is I have had a reoccurring stuffy nose for the past few weeks, and sometimes my eyes feel irritated. Hopefully 'yellow dust' season is over soon!

Spring has Arrived! Cherry Blossom Festival in Seoul

Every Spring, Seoul suddenly becomes covered in flowers and cherry blossoms. We went to Yeouido Park to check out the famed "Cherry Blossom Festival" that happens every year.

Basically it was just a large park along the Han River that has hundreds of Cherry Blossoms blooming along the path. There is music, art, and a massive crowd. At night they light up the trees with color.
The blossoms!

posing with the flowers

why not

Seoul Muscle Mania 2011: My first Korean body building competition

So I mentioned Cody, the head trainer at my gym in my post about studio-x fitness. Last weekend, Cody became the first foreigner to ever compete in a Korean bodybuilding competition (Click here for mor information about musclemania). There was no way I could miss out on seeing this!

Cody with his special competition tan
A huge group of people from the gym headed to the exhibition hall where it was being held. We were met with a room full of completely fake tanned men (and a few women) pumping last minute iron to inflate their muscles before they went on stage.

It was certainly a unique experience and I am glad I went. First they had the little guys go on stage, then the women, then the men got larger and larger. Cody was in the second largest weight class. When he went on everyone in the crowd went wild! Pretty hilarious. A row of competitors stand and show off each muscle group, probably doing about 30 different poses in all.

After they had a modelling and performance category.. One guy came out struggling to carry a small boat over his head (what?), while in the women's category, one of them carried a cross bow and proceeded to aim it at the audience several times (really?). I'll let the pictures tell you the rest.

In the end, Cody came in 2nd place!

Pictures from the muscle mania bodybuilding competition after the jump!