harrogate-1harrogate-2harrogate-5harrogate-4harrogate-3harrogate-6harrogate-7harrogate-8harrogate-11harrogate-10harrogate-9harrogate-12harrogate-13harrogate-14harrogate-17harrogate-16harrogate-15harrogate-18harrogate-19harrogate-20harrogate-23harrogate-22harrogate-21

on Tongyeong the Napoli of KoreaDSC_0253DSC_0287DSC_0293DSC_0294DSC_0297DSC03329_Fotor_CollageDSC03408DSC03410DSC03415DSC03424DSC03425DSC03430DSC03433DSC03434DSC03435_Fotor_CollageDSC03442DSC03447_Fotor_CollageDSC03463

I have visited London many times, and as a UK citizen I feel almost as if I am a resident of the great metropolis. Even though I feel disenfranchised with previously strong institutions, I still claim a stake in the capital which I wouldn’t in other cities of the UK. In this greyish vacuum between being a tourist and local, I often feel a deep sadness and nostalgia when I visit places which have changed in directions which I feel a little queezy about.

Without doubt, my favourite location in London is the area between Liverpool Street and Brick Lane – where Whitechapel meets Shoreditch. Every time I have visited London I have made an attempt to get there. It’s a well worn route so I will try to describe to describe it with various layers of time piled on top of each other. As I try to imagine it I realise that it’s not a journey thought the actual locality but more of a journey through my own memories of the place.

Shoreditch (1)

Shoreditch (20)

 

I leave the station and walk down through the large banks of the City of London. The City of London Police station is where I once spent some time, a very brief time. I was once interrupted during an outdoor McDonald’s breakfast by two very polite policemen who wanted me to take part in an identity parade. They spoke in that dusty old man London accent that you get in original Sherlock Holmes dramas with Jeremy Brett, the accent used by Johnny Depp in the ripper movie. I obliged and spent some time standing next to various young adults, all of whom had short dark hair and a similar build to myself. Since I was a teenager I have always been followed in shops and generally suspected of wrongdoings, this was the final proof. The lawyer decided that we were not right so I never actually got to have the witnesses inspect me. There was an element of anxiety despite the Police telling us that it’s impossible for any of the identity parade to be incorrectly sent down. I think I may have watched too many movies to fully believe them. Anyway, I got paid so I was happy

Shoreditch (14)

Shoreditch (17)

Shoreditch (18)

Shoreditch (19)

Outside the police station I head down the Bishopsgate  then make a right turn into the wide street running down to Spitalfield’s Market. I love the houses in this part of London, they are very London in colour and seem to watch disapprovingly as their friends and neighbours  get turned into start-up tech firms and overpriced bistros. I think most of the houses and buildings were used as storehouses and shop-fronts when the East India Company was still going. At leasts some of the pubs seem to have remained intact and kept their character – like the 10 Bells on the corner. I walk through the line of franchises into the vast market, a lady with a local accent mistakes me for a foreign tourist because I don’t shave and I wear sunglasses ” I fought you woz Spanish or samfink!” I smile and move on to another stall. The cafes get hipper and seem expensive so I plot my escape. Opposite the  large right angle of original terraces I am  interrupted by the eccentricity of Hawkmoor’s church on the corner. This spawns a cross London quest in which I try to visit as many Hawksmoor churches as possible. The quest is made all the more interesting by running out of battery and forgetting my A to Z map of London.

DSC_0192

Shoreditch (12)

Christchurch looks on silently as if unaffected by the earthly pursuits of buying vintage furniture and comparing new cocktails. For Christchurch guards one of the points of the underworld pentagram which connects the other Hawksmoor Churches. The streets near Fournier Street remind us of the Huguenots and of course Jack the Ripper. This part of London has always been the first port of call for many immigrant communities. In some cases they only remain in the proper nouns of streets and surnames, in others they can still be smelt. As I approach Brick Lane I enjoy the smell of the Bangladeshi spices in the numerous curry houses. I’m sure they are good but I have no intention of eating there. A brief sensation of Northern pride prevents me from analysis, Manchester’s Curry Mile must be much better. Brick Lane is colourful and bewildering, the novelty of Bengali Street names on such typically domestic streets quickly wears off as I spot Rough Trade East. The ghost of John Peel tells me to go in and find a gem but I settle for a catalogue instead. I really really want to buy a T Shirt but I have never been good at being a fan of anything. Moderation stops my impulse buys and hunger takes over.

Shoreditch (8)

Shoreditch (9)

Shoreditch (10)

I have a OCD capacity to know everything about food. One of those foods is the humble bagel – invented in Poland for pregnant women. The bajgiel was eaten by the Yiddish speaking Jewish community in Krakow. Many of the Jewish diaspora emigrated to this part of London too. One of my many food quests led me to search out two beigel shops towards the end of Brick Lane. After getting past the post industrial chic of the warehouses I finally make it. It seemed like a shorter journey in my head but it doesn’t matter because salt beef makes everything vanish. If mindfulness is living in the moment and forgetting all other thoughts then I may have just experienced it. The lady put huge quantities of salt beef on the בײגל and then doused it in strong English mustard. I stand on a corner eating my beygl and my journey stops.
Shoreditch (2) Shoreditch (3) Shoreditch (4) Shoreditch (16)

 

I’m not sure why people choose to eat cereal for double the price but that’s the price of being hip these days. I backtrack to the cereal killer cafe because it wasn’t there when I last walked past. I noticed the cereal fetish with many North Americans in Korea. Someone tried to explain it to me once but I didn’t understand. I believe it may be mixture of nostalgia and brand loyalty. I appreciated the concept and quirkiness of the imported cereal, and I do admire the willingness to follow crazy ideas. However, I think I fall into the category of feeling slightly ashamed that people would spend a fiver on a bowl of cereal when you could buy a full box and a pint of milk round the corner. My breakfast habits have changed beyond recognition since wolfing down crunchy-nut cornflakes as a kid. These days I only eat oatmeal or refrain from cereal all together. If you think it’s difficult to quit eating cereal, I assure you it’s not – just read the ingredients. Most of what you find in boxes of cereal is pseudo food and by the way, what does fortified actually mean? I’ve never found a castle in my cereal.

Shoreditch (6)

Shoreditch (5)

My hunger is busted now so I try to find a coffee. If all coffee is a little overpriced and if most cafes look and feel the same then why not go for something different? This is why I choose to support another hipster, and if you wanted proof then he has the beard to prove it. I get a coffee from a converted black cab. Admiration and anti-hipster reflexes conflict again in my conscience. The solid authenticity of this neighbourhood really does clash with some of the modern elements. If anything, Shoreditch and its environs echo what is going on the real world day to day. There is no authentically industrialised inner city any more. There are no jobs for life, no job security. The service sector has taken over. You don’t need to make anything or be good at anything. You just need a new concept and hope people are dumb enough to buy into it. I leave my favourite neighbourhood with mixed feelings and as if to raise more questions Russell Brand walks past me whilst nattering into his mobile. Is he an authentic East End boy done good, looking out for social justice? Or, is he just another hipster?

Shoreditch (15)

Shoreditch (13)

Shoreditch (11)

 

Here is Charles Bridge:

Karlov Most (1) Karlov Most (2) Karlov Most (3) Karlov Most (4) Karlov Most (5) Karlov Most (6) Karlov Most (7) Karlov Most (8) Karlov Most (9) Karlov Most (10) Karlov Most (11) Karlov Most (12) Karlov Most (13) Karlov Most (14) Karlov Most (15) Karlov Most (16) Karlov Most (17) Karlov Most (18) Karlov Most (19) Karlov Most (20) Karlov Most (22) Karlov Most (23) Karlov Most (24) Karlov Most (25) Karlov Most (26)

Once you’ve seen one Joseon dynasty tomb, you’ve seen them all. That’s something I’ve never said, at least not without being sarcastic. For those who have been in Korea for an extended period I could understand that some historical monuments start to look very similar to each other. If you are in this phase of diminishing returns when it comes to visiting ‘old stuff’, then I sincerely recommend a visit to the royal tombs of Taereung Gangneung over on the north east side of Seoul.

Map

 

The two locations are a tomb complex in Nowon-gu. Taereung Royal Tomb (태릉) houses the burial mound of Queen Munjeong who was the second queen of King Jungjong, the 11th King of the Joseon Dynasty. Nearby Gangneung (강릉) is the final resting place of  Munjeoang’s son King Myeongjong, the 13th King of Joseon Dynasty, and his wife Queen Insunwanghu.  As mentioned earlier, once you are familiar with the burial sites of the Joseon Dynasty history can start slipping into carefully cultivated UNESCO heritage sites. The orderly layouts and well designed information placard can detract from the interesting and often extremely turbulent history which lies beneath.

Taereung Shrine Entrance

Beneath the grassy knoll of Taereung lies one of the more interesting figures of Korean dynastic history and a great candidate to be patron saint of pushy mums – Queen Munjeong. Her son Myeongjong was too young to rule by himself until 1565 so Queen Munjeong ated as a regent. Despite her many depictions as a power crazy Lady Macbeth type figure, there are also accounts of her being a more than competent administrator. She even gave out land to common people that had been formerly owned by the nobility. Although this practice is rarely for altruistic reasons; it is usually more related to stripping the yangban (upper classes) of land for political reasons. An ominous sign which appears in most dynasties the world over, was the fact that she continued to rule even after her son reached the age of majority. It was only after her death that her son took over power, which seems to me a black and white indication of their relationship.If, like me, you would like to know more about this narrative then you could watch the historical drama  Mandate of Heaven 2013. It’s on a list which I am working my way through – I’m about 1400 years behind at the moment! Another interesting fact about Munjeong was that she was one of the most influential supporters of Buddhism. During the early years of Joseon Neo Confucism replaced Buddhism as the de facto state ideology. The Queen lifted the official ban on Buddhist worship and instigated a resurgence of Buddhism.The next chapter of Korean history starts after Munjeong’s death. However, I have not visited the other tomb complex yet so I will reserve the research for my next visit.

The location of the tomb is in a wonderful location, owing to the practice of geomancy. Like most tombs and royal palaces in Korea the location is chosen with freshwater flowing near the front area and mountains to the rear. In the case of Taereung you can actually follow a small tributary from the Jungang Stream (itself a tributary of the Han). There is a great cycle path all the way up the Jungang Cheon and heading north you can take a right before Taerung Subway station and wind your way up the stream which follows the Bukbu Expressway. It’s a great bike ride in summer because it’s mostly in the shade. The advantage of going by bike is the fact that you miss nearly all the main traffic. I came off the stream when it splits and found myself next to the huge Military academy – the museum is opposite.

The museum is actually the main reason why I would recommend this place. It gives a very detailed description of how tombs are used and made. That sounds extraordinarily dull, but believe me, the graphics and displays kept me in the museum for much longer than I expected. I wish I had seen the museum a few years ago because it would have helped me understand exactly why the paths are laid out as they are and also the construction of the burial mound.

Taereung (3) Taereung (4) Taereung (6) Taereung (9) Taereung (10) Taereung (11)

The museum costs 1000 won for adults and is open Summer season 09:00-18:30 / Winter season 09:00-17:30

[Subway + Bus]
Seokgye station (Seoul Subway Line 1 and 6), Exit 6.
– Take bus 1155 , 1156 or 73
– Get off at Taereung Gangneung (10 min interval / 15 min ride).

Hwarangdae station (Seoul Subway Line 6), Exit 1.
–  Take bus 202 , 1155, 1156, 73 or 82.
–  Get aff at Taereung Gangneung (5 min interval / 5 min ride).

Taereung station (Seoul Subway Line 6 and 7), Exit 7.
– Take bus 202, 1155 , 1156, 73 or 82.
– Get off at Taereung Gangneung (10 min interval / 10 min ride).

Aquae_Sulis (1) Aquae_Sulis (2) Aquae_Sulis (3) Aquae_Sulis (4) Aquae_Sulis (5) Aquae_Sulis (6) Aquae_Sulis (7) Aquae_Sulis (8) Aquae_Sulis (9) Aquae_Sulis (10) Aquae_Sulis (11) Aquae_Sulis (12) Aquae_Sulis (13) Aquae_Sulis (14) Aquae_Sulis (15) Aquae_Sulis (16) Aquae_Sulis (17) Aquae_Sulis (18) Aquae_Sulis (19) Aquae_Sulis (20) Aquae_Sulis (21) Aquae_Sulis (22) Aquae_Sulis (23) Aquae_Sulis (24)

Taken in Osaka and Kyoto (contributions from Rosie Whitehead)

2014-05-12 11.02.24 DSC_0293 DSC_0297 DSCN4121 DSCN4162_Fotor_Collage DSCN4184 Kawaiifood Kyoto (10) Kyoto (12) Kyoto (13) Kyoto (15) Kyoto (17) Kyoto (25) Kyoto (29) Kyoto (30) Kyoto (31) Kyoto (32) Kyoto (35) Kyoto (36) Kyoto (41) Kyoto (42) Kyoto (43) Kyoto (44) Kyoto (45) Kyoto (46) Kyoto (47) Kyoto (74) Kyoto (132) Kyoto (133) MonninguSetto Vendo Forever vendo

TaeanHaean (24)_Fotor_Collage

TaeanHaean (35)

TaeanHaean (31)

TaeanHaean (33)

TaeanHaean (44)_Fotor_Collage

TaeanHaean (9)

Two Rocks

TaeanHaean (19)

TaeanHaean (13)

 

TaeanHaean (1)

TaeanHaean (7)

TaeanHaean (4)

 

TaeanHaean (18)

 

I have researched more information about the Sosu Seowon than any other post I have written (or not written). My reasons are not really from any deep desire to uncover the mysteries of Confucianism, nor are they based on extra enthusiasm for this subject. The reason I have read so much is partly because I don’t understand it, but mostly because of a constantly nagging suspicion about Korea, if I was in any way scientific I would even call it a theory. I don’t want to use inverted commas for theory, so I will call it my idea.

Entrance to the Shrine

My idea is that despite Korea’s futuristic aesthetics, fast internet connections, huge shiny skyscrapers and an entire generation plugged into their smart phones, I believe that you can find something timeless underneath. The neon flashing modernity that lights up the huge construction projects of modern Korea easily distracts you from several truths. These truths, rules of behaviour, and manifestations of culture reach back deep into history, a history which goes back way beyond most nation states of the early 21st Century. It’s true, many civilizations stretch back even further than Korea, many have never been conquered, colonized or generally abused by the other cultures jostling around it. However, I believe that Korea has managed to preserve many of its “intangible cultural assets” through persistence, resistance and centuries of isolation. The longer I stay in Korea the more echoes of neolithic life I find, perhaps neolithic is an exaggeration but there are many historical precedents to be found which account for the modern behaviour we see today. One aspect in which I have found a constant thread is the dedication to study.

DSC_0288

One of the most notable features of Korea is the dedication to studying and the breadth of the various spheres of education. Korea has the highest tertiary gross enrollment ratio of any country in the world (UNESCO 2010). There is a strong deference to teachers or leader figures whether it be the hastily prepared power point presentation for the boss, or the middle school students hunched over their books in after school academies. The word Seonsaengnim is used for people of higher status but roughly translates as Master. You might argue that the deference is not being subject to the person of higher status but rather the undeniable truth that education is the most powerful tool to get ahead in this most competitive of countries. This deeply entrenched philosophy of working hard and studying harder is not some modern concept, it’s not playing catch up with the West because of the hard times in the first half of the last Century. The philosophy, or even religion, of hard work and diligent studying is something you can see throughout the history of Korea, especially during the last dynasty – the Joseon Dynasty.

New Cherry Blossom

Buddhism found a natural home in Korea, especially during the Shilla Dynasty. The various tribes and clans of the peninsula always found a neat way to co-opt their local shamanistic beliefs into their branch of Buddhism. I have even seen discrete shrines to mountain gods tucked behind some temples. Despite the Buddhist influence, by the time the Joseon dynasty kicked off they were getting tired of the old ways. Buddhism was associated with the debauchery and excess of the elite, the elite who were often propped up by the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty in China. In many cases the Kings had Mongol wives and many of the rulers were part Mongol or at least put in place by the Mongols. The Joseon Dynasty started to shed the centuries of superstition and metaphysics of Buddhism and to a lesser extent Taoism. What came in its place was a Korean version of Neo-Confucianism. One of the great advantages of the previous Goryeo Dynasty was the access officials had to Chinese culture and in particular literature. These ideas filtered into Korea through the various scholars (still venerated to this day) and became the corner-stone of the new Joseon Dynasty. Buddhism and the temples of Buddhism were increasingly marginalised – which is why if you visit Korea you will find many temples way out of the cities and perched halfway up high mountains. Many of the original temples were converted into use as private educational institutions – seowons.

DSC_0329

DSC_0283

When I first read about seowons (서원) they reminded me of the endless Hagwons you see in modern Korea. These days most of the school students study maths, science, and of course English in these private academies. In the past they would have studied the Chinese classics which were essential to pass the state exams to enter government service. The modern equivalent is perhaps the dreaded entrance exam which permits entry into the exclusive Universities – once you have a degree from the better Universities you are more or less guaranteed a position in one of Korea’s top firms. The name of a top University is seen as being more important than experience, potential or personality. There are many more parallels between modern Korea and the original use of seowons, but the underlying theme is that to get on in a Neo-Confucian society you need to study. Social mobility came and went with various monarchs but rich or poor you would have to study to get anywhere near the top. The seowons served this purpose, and the Sosu Seowon was the first.

The Scholars

This private Neo-Confucian academy was founded by the magistrate of Punggi County Ju Sebung (주세붕/周世鵬 1495–1554), during the reignof King Jungjong. It’s located near Suksusa Temple, in Sunheung-myeon, about 30 minutes from Yeongju. Aside from being the first of its kind, it is also unique for many other reasons. It was the only seowon that survived from the Seowon Abolishment  Act in 1871. Ju Se-bung was criticized for founding a school because of other more pressing matters of the time – especially famine and drought.  Being a scholar himself he was able to use reason and wisdom to defend his actions

“Education is the cardinal virtue of man, and ought to be promoted above all else.”

Other seowons enjoyed a fruitful period but Sosu Seowon was the first thus it became one of the richest. Sosu Seowon also enjoyed more attention because it enshrined An Hyang (1243 -1306). An Hyang is a name you see many times in the history books; he was a Confucian scholar who brought Neo-Confucianism to Korea from China in the 13th century.The academy gained even more prestige when Toegye  (another big name in the list or Confucian greats) became magistrate of the county. He asked King Myeongjong to grant the academy a royal charter and the King responded with a hand signed “Sosu Seowon”, and a supply of books. Many seowons and temples before them had a mixed relationship with the Monarchy, similar to some of the more powerful monastic orders in Europe. In this case the annals of the king specify that the local magistrate cannot interfere in the affairs of the academy, nor disturb the Confucian scholars. Sosu Seowon as an institution and as a physical place, was free from interference from the monarchy. Its location, even in our times, underlines this fact.

DSC_0337_Fotor_Collage2

DSC_0315

The institute is spread over the hills and the various complexes would have accommodated about 4,000 scholars. There is also a shrine for  An Hyang, An Bo, An Chuk and Ju Se-bung, where a memorial services take place on the first day of the third and ninth months of the lunar calendar every year. The study facilities have been placed in the east and the shrine placed in the west. Outside the entrance to  Sosu Seowon is the Okgyesu stream of the Nakdong River. This stream comes down from the impressive Mt. Sobaek. Although I made my quest to reach this place I would definitely recommend stopping by on the end of a Sobaek hike.

DSC_0319

I took a very local bus from Yeongju but the easiest and quickest way to get there is by taking a train to Punggi and then taking the bus I mentioned up the valley. At the time of writing the road was being widened so I expect it will be a much easier journey in the future. The train i from Cheongyangni  (Seoul’s eastern terminus) is exceptional. You can pass through some mountain scenery and the pleasant town of Danyang on the way. If you plan on sticking around there is an Azalea festival and some other Temples scattered around Mt. Sobaek.

DSC_0326

Korail Timetable

Punggi Korail Timetable

You can take bus number 27 from Punggi Station – check it’s not going to Yeongju. For the bus times coming back check in the tourist office at the Sosu Carpark (their timetable is different from the one at the bus stop.

Extra links:

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264147

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SH/SH_EN_7_2.jsp?cid=1820847

Here are some places which are really really calm.

Bangkok Temple Dunkeld Myrdal Fjords Santa Catalina St, Patrick's Chapel, Heysham Uyuni WC (133)_Fotor_Collage

Palsaik Samgyupsal

Palsaik Samgyeopsal serves pork belly meat (samgyupsal)

They are seasoned or perhaps marinated with eight (pal) special sauces.

All the sauces have different colours (saik)

 eight + colour + porkbelly = Palsaik Samgyupsal

 

Palsaik Signage

 

 

The flavours are amazing and the novelty fun is the constant bickering over which is the best flavour: ginger, wine, ginseng, pine leaves, herbs, curry, soybean paste, and chilli pepper paste or gochujang (as it’s known in Korea). My personal favourite is the pine leaves, but I enjoyed all the other flavours too. Each sauce has its own nutritional benefits, however, I’m not sure of eating one of the fattier parts of a pig counts as well-being food. I read some research not long ago about pork fat producing some kind of chemicals in the brain to make you feel good – like pineapple and chilli. Every time I eat samgyupsal I feel great, mentally. I would recommend this place as a great introduction to samgyupsal, my only reservation is that it is perhaps too good. This may lead to the typical street corner BBQ places being pretty run of the mill. If you are a seasoned veteran when it comes to samgyupsal, I still think this place would provide something of a welcome surprise. As you can see from the map there hare various branches in other global locations. This is one of the flagfliers for the wave of Korean food which is set to sweep across the early 21st century – along with Bibigo’s bibimbap and Kimchi. If you have a chance to visit I strongly recommend you take the opportunity. It does smell of clever marketing and contrived advertising copy, but the flavours are real and the atmosphere is authentic.

 

 

Global Locations DSC_0181

 

There are various options available, but if it’s your first visit then you should definitely get the whole lot. The aesthetics alone make this the best option because they come in their own small bowls on a long wooden serving tray. The rest is as you would expect from any BBQ place, just throw it on and cut it up with the scissors once it’s done. Due to the often messy nature of fat spitting and sauces dripping you have the option of wearing an apron. This is a feature of many dalkgalbi restaurants in Korea, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a samgyupsal place.

 

Three layer photo DSC_0168_Fotor_Collage

 

 

 

DSC_0175 DSC_0176 DSC_0178

 

There are a few branches around Seoul (and the World) but I visited the branch off the main shopping area in Sincheon. Come out of Exit three and walk up the street to Paris Baguette, turn right immediately before Paris Baguette then follow the road which bears left for about 75m. It’s on your left as you walk up the street. If you get lost type this into a naver map: 팔색삼겹살

Sinchon Branch Map

 

 

 

Inari Entrance

If you are in Kyoto for more than a couple of days, you should find some time to get to Fushimi Inari-taisha. There is a temple complex near the station, but as you wind your way up one of the mountain park paths you can see an amazing Shinto Shrine – the head shrine of Inari. The shrine, or shrines, which span about 4 kilometers, are an eye catching introduction to Shintoism. I found the whole area quite confusing and I have been trying to make sense of it ever since. What struck me the most was how current and relevant to contemporary life the whole place seems to be. This is possibly due to the importance of the Inari.

DSC_0355_Fotor_Collage

The Kami

Inari is the Japanese kami (spirit) of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and business in general. This spirit seems to relate to a general sense of prosperity in various fields. In the past I imagine the rice harvest was the most important reason to visit the shrine, but these days many modern businesses also place great importance on this magical fox spirit. Inari may have been worshipped since the founding of this shrine at the mountain of the same name. Some scholars believe that worship started in the late 5th century, but most agree that it began in the early eighth century. It’s such an important kami that more than one-third of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari.

Inari Main Temple

I was confused because I am used to the single shrine structures of Catholicism. In some cases I have also found the Stations of the Cross ascending sanctuary hills or several different chapels devoted to different saints in a cathedral. The Inari area contains numerous structures from the main shrine structure, main gate, tower gate –  located at the foot of the mountain, through to the more spiritual altars towards the top. I use the word spiritual because there are fewer people at the top and there is a peaceful lake. As people often remind me ‘life is a journey; not a destination’. This statement is never truer than at Inari shrine. The most impressive aspect of the visit is the fact that the top of the mountain is only reachable by a path lined with thousands of torii. The torii are the brightly painted arches which are planted next to each other like a bamboo forest. The reason there are so many here relates to the function of the kami – business. This means that those who have been successful in the business world often attribute their success to the shrine, they subsequently donate the torii archways to the shrine.

DSC_0329

The walk to the top is a beautiful experience once the crowds thin out. The sunlight often glimmers through the numerous gaps of the arches and illumintes the shady pathway. The forested mountain on either side of the pathway provides peaceful noises to contemplate the new harvest or business venture. The more I read about it the more it seemed like some kind of inpenetrable animistic place, almost like the native American totems you might find on the pacific coast. However, as is always the case, the longer you contemplate something the more familiar it becomes. If a Catholic wanted to pray for a successful harvest or business venture, or in fact any number of different concerns, thay could turn to the wide array of saints on offer.

Kyoto (54) Kyoto (56) Kyoto (57) Kyoto (58)

Kyoto (148)

After living in Korea for a few years I have never seen anything quite like the Inari shrine, although beneath the Buddhism of Korean mountain temples, there always seems to be some kind of mountain god. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the religious or animistic rituals of the Far East but it will be great fun trying.

Inari Lake

Shrine Shops

Kyoto (48)

Kyoto (50)

Kyoto (51)

DSC_0339

Kyoto (132)_Fotor_Collage

To get to this shrine I recommend taking the train from Kyoto station. There are two stations at Fushimi: JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station) and there is also Fushimi Inari Station on  the Keihan main line.

As you can see from the map, Inari station is very close to the entrance of the main temple.

Inari Map

I would plan this trip carefully because there are a bewildering number of passes and lines. 

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is the new landmark building in a landmark area of Seoul. It can get confusing around here, so let me be specific.

동 = east대 = big문 = gate

Dongdaemun is literally a large gate on the eastern part of what once was the Seoul wall. This wall is intact (if recreated) in many places. Several of these gates necklace the former walls of Seoul and provide useful compass points for navigating the city.

Dongdaemun-gu is the district which takes its name from this famous gate; it’s a bit further east from the gate. It’s also my home.

Dongdaemun History & Culture Park is the area which used to house a famous baseball and football stadium. It has been demolished and rebuilt to include museums and ramparts from the wall. This backs on to the markets and busy fashion trade centres. It is also the name for the underground station. Finally we get to the edifice I would like to write about – Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It is quite a mouthful so has been shortened to ddp. I have noticed that many Seoul residents are still unfamiliar with this acronym, but from here on I will refer to it as ddp.

2014-03-12 16.39.54

ddp has been taking shape during the years I have been in Korea. It used to be a building site but as it neared completion I used to ascend the building opposite to view it from above, luckily there is an elevator on the outside of the building which goes up about 17 floors. Finally after 5 years it has been officially inaugurated and I have been able to see it from every other angle, including from the inside. It was designed by Iraqi British architect Zaha Hadid, and it’s a multifunctional mixture of post modern play things. Under the shiny aluminium panels you can find a fashion design information center with seminar rooms and a lecture hall. There is a convention hall, exhibition halls, museum and my personal favourite – a kind of design market.

Zaha Hadid 360 degrees Opening Event

Zaha Hadid 360 degrees Opening Event

 

The fun mixed use nature of the building adds to the playfulness and post industrial vibe that you can find here. Each part of the building morphs into the next and getting from one area to the next is so much fun that you almost don’t care what’s going on in the exhibition spaces. It’s got a minimal feel to it, especially with all the white. However, it differs from any modernist structure because it is completely freeform. There seems to be nothing holding anything up. Moving around the building makes no sense at all, but that’s one of the reasons I like it so much, you never quite know what’s going to happen round the next corner.

ddp

 

The highlight of the interior has to be the staircase which coils round in a triangular direction. There seem to be no straight lines and at one point you can look across to a window and realise that the floor is uphill, the same floor you walked on before without noticing the gradient. I think a lot of organic architecture dates quickly with materials and concrete looking shabby after only a couple of years.  With ddp I think technology has finally caught up with concept and it has allowed Hadid to build something straight from the sketch book with very little compromise.

IMG_3010

From above, and from certain other angles it looks like a spaceship has docked in the middle of the city. The shape of the spaceship resembles the head of some exotic reptile. These curving forms are all contained within a metallic shell of aluminium panels. The underbelly of the building joins into the cultural plaza where you can find some shops and the subway station. There is a lot of concrete surrounding the building but it manages to keep some kind of harmony with the grassy park and the ramparts of the old buildings which sit in the shadow of the silver spaceship.

2014-03-12 16.31.50

It has been criticized for not fitting in with the surrounding area and for not having a specific purpose. I would admit that it does look strange next to some of the larger retail buildings in that area, but it was a large space to fill and I admire the bravery of going for such a structure. I think over time many of the surrounding buildings will be knocked down, and Seoul has far too many geometric blocks littering the skyline anyway. Whether it will be the new fashion and design hub of Asia only time will tell. For the moment, it has provided the city with something different and something which goes some way to shaping the future urban landscape. I think it is far more successful than the City Hall building for demonstrating how this metropolis sees itself moving into the future. The future here seems to be soft edged, fun and playful. If you visit ddp you will be able to walk on it, in it, through it, round it, under it and over it. Someone told me that you can do those things in a multi story car park, if it is just a large post modern car park then I would be more than happy to park myself there every Saturday afternoon – because I love the place!

IMG_2997_Fotor_Collage

 

 

Links and further reading:

http://www.ddp.or.kr/MA010001/getInitPage.do

http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/dongdaemun-design-park-plaza/

http://www.arirang.co.kr/news/News_View.asp?nseq=159617

 

 

DSCN4017 DSCN4018 DSCN4022 DSCN4023 DSCN4025 DSCN4027 DSCN4028 DSCN4030 DSCN4031 DSCN4034 DSCN4035 DSCN4039 DSCN4043 DSCN4045 DSCN4046 DSCN4049 DSCN4053 DSCN4054 DSCN4058 DSCN4086 DSCN4087 DSCN4091 DSCN4095 DSCN4100 DSCN4108 DSCN4113

Kyoto (87) Kyoto (90) Kyoto (92) Kyoto (94) Kyoto (102) Kyoto (103) Kyoto (104) Kyoto (107) Kyoto (108) Kyoto (111) Kyoto (119) Kyoto (121) Kyoto (130) Kyoto (135) Kyoto (136) Kyoto (139) Kyoto (140) Kyoto (148) Kyoto (149) Kyoto (150) Kyoto (154) Kyoto (157) Kyoto (163) Kyoto (164) Kyoto (173) Kyoto (178) Kyoto (194) Kyoto (26) Kyoto (54) Kyoto (57) Kyoto (66)

 

Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good. – Soren Kierkegaard

It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. – Virginia Woolf 


 

I’ve already written one post today so I’m pretty tired. I remember some time ago making a photo essay about being idle. I used the verb ‘making’ because ‘shooting’ would have been incorrect. I didn’t have the idea then decide to go out and take pictures. On the contrary, I had the idea after looking at pictures. This was a great idea and really fits into my theme because I didn’t have to do anything. In fact, as I type I have just realised that I am going to just recycle some old pictures from Facebook and re-post them on here. The reason I want to write about idleness is because I am particularly tired after recently working quite hard. I realise that in my day-to-day life I may have the time to ‘blog’ but I don’t necessarily have the will. I believe this lack of will stems from some part of my brain or soul being spent.

I believe quite passionately in a particular kind of ‘creative idleness’. I use this  term to make a distinction between simple laziness or idleness. When you are tired after working a long day you may want to lie down on the sofa, ottoman, or some other type of comfortable furniture. If your brain is spent, like mine often is, you may resort to watching a conventional soap opera or drama. Let’s take Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale and any other type of soap. People watch them because they are shit. After a hard day’s work these types of soaps act like a kind of anaesthetic to dull our creative impulses. This is the reason I have not written a blog post for so long. Even if I have a good idea it cannot swim to the surface because of extreme apathy. By the way, I don’t watch any of those soaps. I have thought about watching them, but only if they were animated with more cartoonish violence.

I have come to understand the lack of creative idleness on an almost spiritual level whilst living in Korea. Koreans work the longest hours in the OECD yet have the lowest productivity. The lack of holidays and the culture of working ‘hard’ instead of working ‘smart’, means that the highly intelligent workers returning home on the subway only have the cerebral potential to play phone games. Everyday I see the empty gazes of Seoul’s workforce as they stare blankly into whatever trivial game or social media they are looking at. I’m not saying that  salarymen should be composing sonnets or contemplating the Hegelian Dialectic, but simply acknowledging another human or appreciating something outside their smart phone would help. I wish I could show people the infinite ways of passing idle time.

I consider myself very lucky indeed to come from a country where I could save up money then travel for a year, in trying to enjoy idle bliss. Ironically I spent most of this year working, but that ties into the ‘idler’s paradox’ – more of that later. On my journey to various parts of the World, the biggest gift I got was perspective. To see the World objectively and to question common ways of doing things. After seeing that some Samoans only work for 3 months in a year, and that Australians often go for month-long fishing trips, I was intrigued to know why this didn’t really happen much in the fast paced ‘real World’. After returning to the UK after my trip I became obsessed with productivity and the use of time. I had a time-consuming job in the back office of an academic booksellers. I was never much into counting things, so the idea of making reading lists and counting money seemed abhorrent to me. However, what I found was that I really enjoyed finding ways of saving time and saving man hours. Many of the practices I tried to fold into everyday life were not necessarily ‘good practice’, but the combination of various useful time-saving tips really helped cut the amount of time counting money. This extra time could then be used for creative idleness.

This is the paradox which I mentioned earlier. Being extremely well-organized and efficient ultimately leads to the creation of idle time. If your brain is not spent you can use idle time to do more worthwhile things than making money for the ‘man’ or chasing the Yankee dollar. Most of the great ideas in the world have appeared out of context. We are at our creative best when we daydream, when we swap ideas over coffee and draw on napkins. Most conventionally bad ideas come when we are sitting in a ‘study’ or sitting at our desk. Unfortunately we have inherited an industrialized world in which we generally have to conform to set shift patterns and gruelling hours per week measurements. Most people, given the opportunity could easily condense their week down drastically leaving free time to do creative things, or to be with their friends and family. The biggest fears of course are money and public perception. Nobody wants to be seen as a slacker, and money is a drug in the sense that the more we get the more we spend, and the more we spend the more we want. I wonder how much time at work is spent doing almost nothing? Hopefully, as we enter an era of post industrialization work practices will become more flexible and allow us to do things which make us human. There are some new cultural trends which will really make life much better. The ‘mini retirement’ is one of the best. Stopping work to do other things actually makes us more productive and focussed in the long run. Many companies and industries are not set up for this yet, and of course it relies on reasonably well paid jobs where paying the rent isn’t a constant worry.

Now I find my photographs which I hope will illustrate how being idle can ultimately lead to increased happiness, longevity, and a sense of self.

Befriend foreign nationals to see if they have any tips on finding time to be idle. If they don't have any revolutionary ways then you could always help them into an idle lifestyle. Yasu and Kohei come from a land which is known for it's low tolerance for slackers, however as you can see, they have no problems leading an idle life

Befriend foreign nationals to see if they have any tips on finding time to be idle. If they don’t have any revolutionary ways then you could always help them into an idle lifestyle. Yasu and Kohei come from a land which is known for it’s low tolerance for slackers, however as you can see, they have no problems leading an idle life

Make time to make music. The guy on the right got up at 4 am to play his dig at sunrise. The Digeridoo also vibrates your body on a sub atomic level which helps to relax.

Make time to make music. The guy on the right got up at 4 am to play his dig at sunrise. The Digeridoo also vibrates your body on a sub atomic level which helps to relax.

Be sure to take a holiday and don't be bashful about telling others. You may lose some business in the short term but a well rested individual is far more productive in the workplace.

Be sure to take a holiday and don’t be bashful about telling others. You may lose some business in the short term but a well rested individual is far more productive in the workplace.

Be open mided about other cultures and habits which you may have overlooed in your daily regime.

Be open mided about other cultures and habits which you may have overlooked in your daily regime.

Iberia (41)

Make and take time to appreciate your surroundings instead of walking in straight lines to your office. Old businessman = hunched , fat and depressed/ Artists = slim, flexible and happy

ital 091

Too much to explain so just go here instead –
http://www.slowfood.com/%5B/caption%5D

[caption width="614" id="attachment_2658" align="aligncenter"]no 193 Set aside a place for relaxation.

nzn092

Time spent cooking and eating is always time well spent. Generally the longer something takes to cook the better it is to eat.

KK (31)

A hot tub, sauna and plunge pool rotation is always good for the idler. Saunas are especially good because you have a rare window to do nothing at all. In case you are confused, sauna sweat is good sweat, gym sweat is bad sweat.

nyc005

Learn from you ancestors. Life was tough for my Armenian family so they moved to New York to make enough money to do less work.

par009

Allow time for play, in this case third world pool (less balls more insects)

peru006

Take a hint from your environment

sk050

Getting perspective. I find that a good view of things helps me to realise how trivial most worries are. I used to ascend this hill to escape studying in Barcelona.

Take the time to enjoy simple pleasures. In this case a sunset. I myself like watching people who watch sunsets, I believe calmness is contagious.

Take the time to enjoy simple pleasures. In this case a sunset. I myself like watching people who watch sunsets, I believe calmness is contagious.

You don't always need to sit in a lotus position to meditate.

You don’t always need to sit in a lotus position to meditate.

Avoiding clutter and mess helps the mind and body achieve true idleness.

Avoiding clutter and mess helps the mind and body achieve true idleness.

Be prepared on excursions. Hunting round for food at lunch time infringes on time in the park. Most food groups are represented in this simple pack lunch combo.

Be prepared on excursions. Hunting round for food at lunch time infringes on time in the park. Most food groups are represented in this simple pack lunch combo.

Choice is generally bad for the true idler, imagine how much easier this decision would have been if there were only one shot of liquer.

Choice is generally bad for the true idler, imagine how much easier this decision would have been if there were only one shot of liquer.

Herbs and spices are full of wonder. Look at the ingredients on everything in the supermarket on your next visit, you will soon realise that making things for yourself is more fun and healthier. Spices used to be essential for medicinal purposes and wellbeing but Victorian protestants attached a stigma to them as they probably hampered the 'work ethic'.

Herbs and spices are full of wonder. Look at the ingredients on everything in the supermarket on your next visit, you will soon realise that making things for yourself is more fun and healthier. Spices used to be essential for medicinal purposes and wellbeing but Victorian protestants attached a stigma to them as they probably hampered the ‘work ethic’.

Why work 9 to 5 when you can work whenever you want?

Why work 9 to 5 when you can work whenever you want?

 

Further reading:

http://idler.co.uk/ – This is a great magazine site made by Tom Hodgkinson. If you like the site then there are also some books published on the same theme.

http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/ – Tim Ferris has become famous by trying to do things really quickly and easily. I question some of the content but the overall message is one of working less and enjoying life. There are many interesting ideas in the various books. e.g – only responding to e-mails at certain times each week, deleting all facebook friends and having people ‘follow you’, taking mini retirements.

http://www.ted.com/playlists/60/work_smarter.html

 

 

This is  along overdue post, mainly because the more I read about it, the more I taste it, and the more I try to understand it, the more confused I become. I will try to break it down into smaller sections so as not to confuse myself.

What is it?

Kimchi  is a traditional fermented Korean side dish made from various types of vegetables.  Most of the Kimchi you will find in restaurants in the little dish next to your main meal will be cabbage or radish. You could liken it to the German and east European sauerkraut, which is also pickled cabbage. However, kimchi also comes with a variety of seasonings, the most common being chilli which gives it the notable deep red colour. The mixture of its fermentation and seasoning gives it a characteristic spicy or sour taste. Despite being a side dish, there are many main dishes in which kimchi is used. It is also considered as Korea’s national dish. The English word for kimchi is kimchi. 

What is made from?

According to the Kimchi Field Museum there are 187 varieties which can be made from the following main vegetable ingredients:

Napa cabbage, radish (sliced in various ways), green onion, cucumber, green pepper, sesame leaf, mustard leaf, turnip, gourd, aubergine and so on…The other ingredients used for the fermentation process and flavour are:brine, scallions, spices, ginger, chopped radish, garlic,shrimp sauce, and fish sauce.

 

20130106_152112

Why is it made?

Most civilizations had some processes for fermenting food. The prime reason being for times of shortage. This is especially true in the Korean peninsula which has a particularly harsh winter. The preservation of vegetables in earthenware pots allowed people to consume vegetables for 3 to 4 months over winter. Korea has four distinct seasons and the cultivation of vegetables is too difficult after November. Despite this fact, kimchi has evolved to be eaten at different times of the year. Many different types of kimchi are suited to the four seasons. Before the age of refrigeration kimchi was stored in the giant earthenware pots which you can still see to this day. The same type of pots are also used to make various other types of fermented pastes. Modern Korea has now has kimchi fridges which can separate the rather pungent odours from the rest of the items in your fridge.

When was it first made?

To trace the history of kimchi would involve tracing the history of cabbage. Cabbages travelled from the Indian subcontinent via the south of China to what is now Korea, this happened around 4000 years ago. It’s difficult to say whether kimchi was made at this time, but it is likely that the first agricultural societies were at least storing vegetables. The first mention in written accounts is by a famous writer called Yi, Kyu-bo(1164 – 1241 AD).  In  the History of the Koryeo Dynasty one of his verses includes the line: ‘the leaves of white radish dipped in paste are good to eat during three months in Summer and the salted ones are endurable during Winter.’ Yi, Kyu-bo’s obvious problem was that the Spanish had not yet colonized the Americas. It wasn’t until after the Japanese invasion (1592–1598) that kimchi began to take on its distinctive red colour and spicy taste. Although before this time there may have been other spices added to the dish.

 

20130106_151340

How is it made?

The damaged outer leaves are removed from the cabbages, they are then are cut in half and left to soak overnight in salt.

After soaking they are rinsed and drained.

Garlic and ginger are minced and the red pepper powder is mixed with the other seasoning.

The various vegetables are sliced.

The seasoning mix is stuffed between the layers of cabbage.

The cabbage is then securely wrapped with the outermost leaf and left to ferment.

KimchiStages

Is it healthy?

A quick look at the list of ingredients used for kimchi will no doubt assure you of the health benefits. A serving of kimchi can provide Vitamin C, carotene, vitamin A, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), calcium, and iron. It is usually considered one of the World’s superfoods, especially after outbreaks of avian flu and Sars. After much speculation and research, immunity to both these diseases, and many others, is increased by kimchi consumption. The magic is said to be in the bacteria from the fermentation process. I’m not sure about the overall health benefits but I can testify personally that my last three occasions without kimchi have been difficult. The main benefits I have seen first hand have been a general speeding up of the metabolism and as a source of fibre. After brief periods spend outside of Korea I have struggled with digestion. I don’t even eat kimchi everyday but I think my system now needs it.

Where can I get it?

I have seen it in most Asian supermarkets in the UK, although it is a mass-produced variety. It is also made in China and Japan. The best kimchi is of course from ‘someone’s mum or grandma.’ If you live in Korea there is almost no need to ever buy it because someone you work with will have access to it. Much of the kimchi used in restaurants may be mass-produced in China, but I’m sure any neighbourhood store will be able to get it for you. These days there are many workshops in Korea where you can make your own too.

What do I do with it?

The main use of kimchi is to be eaten with your rice, but this is not the only use! As it is nearly always a side dish you can use it in your ssam wraps with meat, in a big stew like kimchi jjigae, in soup, in a Korean pancake, and my favourite – with fried rice. I have experimented with almost every type of food, especially Western dishes. My personal favourite is a bacon and cheese sandwich with kimchi. You can put the kimchi on a baguette under the grill then melt cheese on top. Another good one is on hot dogs, beef burgers, and inside wraps or burritos. It goes especially well with pork sausages inside lettuce leaves. The only two combinations I cannot get my palette around are kimchi with any type of pasta or pizza, and also with wine. It’s really difficult to appreciate wine after eating any type of kimchi; soju is a much better combination.

KimchijeonFinal note!

Most of the best things in life take a while to enjoy. Most people don’t like their first beer or glass of wine. I never used to like blue cheese. Sushi seems repulsive at first. If you are living in Korea or visiting Korea, I cannot stress enough that you should try to get used to the taste of kimchi. If you do, you will be rewarded with the myriad types and I also believe it will develop your taste by pushing the limits of sourness and spiciness. I have met many young Koreans who don’t enjoy the taste of kimchi, they  prefer instead the bland or sugary tastes of modern fast food. I hope the younger generation and foreigners alike can learn to enjoy one of the World’s greatest foods – kimchi.

DSC_0001 DSC_0008 DSC_0010 DSC_0012 DSC_0015 DSC_0016 DSC_0017 DSC_0018 DSC_0024 DSC_0028 DSC_0040 DSC_0044 DSC_0050 DSC_0054 DSC_0057 DSC_0062 DSC_0067 DSC_0074 DSC_0079

Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 at the start of the Joseon Dynasty. This new dynasty moved the capital to Seoul, the earlier Goryeo Dynasty was based in Kaesong. The palace dominates the northern part of Seoul and is a testament to one of the longest running dynasties in the World – 1392–1897.  The name Gyeongbokgung translates to “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.” Its dominant location in the heart of the capital is no accident, with Bukhansan to the north and the mighty river Han to the South, the location was deemed ‘auspicious’ by the traditional practice of geomancy or Feng Shui.

Gwanghwamun

Gwanghwamun

If you ever doubt the benefits of this practice I recommend taking a closer look at this building; it seems like the modern skyscrapers of Seoul are queueing up to pay homage to this building or rather this complex of buildings. My first encounter with the centre of Seoul was ascending the steps from Gwanghwamun station only to be met by the awesome sight of King Sejong guarding the path to the Palace with the snow-capped Bukhansan in the background. The palace grounds stretch all the way to the Blue House – the home of South Korea’s President. I have been to the palace about five times and I would recommend it as being the number one priority on a Seoul bucket list.

Changing of the Guards

Changing of the Guards

The first structure is Gwanghwamun Gate (mun means gate). This is the main entrance to the palace and it is linked to the major parts of Seoul by the  Sejongno boulevard. As I mentioned earlier, this street is the beating heart of Seoul because it contains the statues of King Sejong and Lee Sun-shin. To get a good idea of this central axis I recommend visiting the Seoul City Museum. They have models and pictures which allow you to appreciate this area in all its glory. Gwanghwamun Gate is also where you will see the changing of the guard. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Japanese  destroyed the gate and built their own government buildings. The gate appears quite modern looking , especially compared to some of the other stone gates in the capital. This is down to the fact that it was rebuilt in 1968 using concrete. As you walk through the gate you get an immediate impression of a large-scale landscaped layout with several important buildings. I will tell you about some of them moving south to north.

DSCN4970 DSCN4972 DSCN4973

Gangnyeongjeon ( 강녕전) was used as the king’s main residence, I always imagine King Taejo living here after seeing him in the amazing drama ‘Deep Rooted Tree’.  Like most of the palace buildings in Seoul it was destroyed in the Japanese invasion of 1592. It has also suffered fire damage on other occasions. Since then it has been rebuilt to its original design. The only disappointment, especially to any European visitor, is that it doesn’t look particularly old. This is a common problem with many of the monuments in Korea, but at least they are being restored. The building sits on a tall stone foundation, and a stone veranda is in front of the building. You might see similar structures throughout Korea, but few match this one for scale and location.

DSCN4974

The next building moving north is Geunjeongjeon ( 근정전) which is a Throne Hall, or was a Throne Hall because Korea is a Republic these days. The name means ‘diligence helps governance’, a very Confucian name. This type of room will be familiar to anyone who has  seen films like ‘Elizabeth’ or who watches TV shows like ‘Game of Thrones’. This two-tiered stone edifice was where the king formally granted audiences,  greeted foreign ambassadors  and gave royal declarations. I imagine that King Sejong decreed the new alphabet from here. The highlights for me, and anyone with a love of close up photography, were the  sculptures of  animals on the balustrades. There is also a stone-paved courtyard  lined with rank stones or pumgyeseoks( 품계석). These were important for a Confucian society because each stone indicated where the officials were to stand. This strictly ordered ranking system is still very much a part of corperate culture in Korea. People get very uncomfortable until they know their age or rank relative to others.

DSCN4975 DSCN4987

The most scenic of all the buildings for me is the Gyeonghoeru (경회루) Pavilion. This was a state banquet hall during the Joseon Dynasty. Its first inception  was  in 1412, but it was burned down in 1592, yes there is a predictable patten with fires in that year! The reason I like it so much is because it is located on an island of an artificial, rectangular lake. The wooden structure  sits on top of  stone pillars, with wooden stairs connecting the second floor to the first floor. The outer perimeters are supported by square pillars but the inner columns are cylindrical. Three stone bridges connect the building to the rest of the palace grounds, the balustrades around the island are decorated with sculptures depicting twelve Zodiac animals. The same twelve animals can also be seen near the folk museum.

IMG_1505 IMG_1513

I’m going to miss some of the other buildings and move on to another favourite: Hyangwonjeong ( 향원정) This is a smaller, two-story hexagonal pavilion built on an artificial island of a lake. It was built later than the other buildings and reminds me of a kind of oriental folly, the sort you might find in the park of an English stately home.  The name Hyangwonjeong apparently means “Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance,”. I’m not sure why it was called this but it does feel less city like at this northern end of the grounds. It is perhaps the most photogenic of all the buildings in the palace, I once fell asleep on the grass next to the lake.

DSCN4992 DSCN4995

Getting there:

Gyeongbokgung Palace Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 5.

Gwanghwamun Station (Seoul Subway Line 5), Exit 2.

Top tip: There is an all in one ticket which you can use for other palaces. However, if you don’t have much time then perhaps just visit this one.

 

Taiwan (215) Taiwan (216) Taiwan (217) Taiwan (218) Taiwan (219) Taiwan (220) Taiwan (221) Taiwan (222) Taiwan (225) Taiwan (226) Taiwan (227) Taiwan (228) Taiwan (229) Taiwan (230) Taiwan (236)

When people ask me, and they often do, ‘what’s your favourite food?’ I usually make up a quick answer to avoid unnecessary complications. Korean cuisine is infinitely complex and I have several ‘favourite’ foods. What I can say with some degree of certainty is that for my favourite meal or meals there should be several key elements. These elements are instantly Korean and instantly delicious. I sometimes get nervous when there is a table missing these key dishes or side dishes. They are of course: rice, kimchi, ssamjang, and some kind of meat. Other elements make these taste better, but these are the foundations of flavour. My favourite way to eat these foods is in a ssam.

possam (6)

A ssam is basically a wrap. The wraps can differ, but the most common is just some green lettuce. You can wrap meat and vegetables in seaweed (or lava) and different kinds of leaves. Once you start free-styling you can even use two different kinds of leaves e.g a sesame leaf and a plain lettuce leaf. The most common places to eat ssam are at any typical Korean BBQ place or at a Bossam/Possam(보쌈) restaurant (the clue is in the name). The reason I love ssam so much is that you make them yourself to match your own palette. You can also develop them over time to include other key elements, garlic and beansprouts often find their way into my own ssams. I think ultimately, there is no taste better than one’s own taste. The ssam, like the humble sandwich in Western Cuisine, is completely subjective. My own ssams rely on a good dollop of ssamjang – the suffix jang can be added to foods to imply a kind of condiment or paste. I also like cooked kimchi if possible, especially for samgyeopsal (삼겹살) which is bbq pork belly. Obviously the most important thing is the actual meat. This combination of textures and flavours makes for a perfect meal. You don’t need to eat lots of meat and rice for ssam, in fact they can be very healthy relying on fresh seasonal vegetables and leafy greens.

possam (1) possam (3)

Here is a DIY guide to making a decent ssam. I think the order in which the food goes on doesn’t matter too much, but I usually put the meat on towards the end. The most important thing, and a common error, is the size of the ssam. A good ssam should be bite sized; it should fit whole into your mouth without spillage. It’s also great to drink soju with ssam, usually a shot goes together with each saam. If you don’t like soju I recommend trying it with ssam before you give up on it. There is something amazing about the ritual of nailing a shot after each ssam, or before each ssam.

ssam_stages

TicketSeolleung (선릉) and the Jeongneung (정릉) are royal tombs in the Gangnam district of Seoul. Most people, including myself simply refer to the whole place as Seolleung (pronounced more like Son Young). Getting there couldn’t be much easier now that the station of the same name has a Yellow Line link. From Seolleung station take exit 8 and continue up the road for about 5 minutes.You can also get there from Samseong station exit 5. From the COEX it is about 10 minutes walk, but beware – there is only one exit to this park so you may have to walk round the entire  park if you arrive from the COEX side.
There are many tombs and shrines dotted over the whole of Korea, and especially Seoul. If you’ve been in Korea for some time you may become jaded by the conventional 5 colour beams from the typical religious architecture.  The tombs and stone statues here are similar to those found in other areas. What differs is the location. Seonjeoneun is hidden away behind the huge office buildings and hotels of Gangnam. It’s also on a hill and surrounded by parkland. Without the tombs I’m pretty sure it would have been developed by now.  After visiting a few times I realized that many people come here simply to escape the city. The human scale of this part of Seoul is particularly overwhelming with some of the biggest skyscrapers in the city and some of the biggest traffic jams. Indeed, the gigantic COEX centre is less than 10 minutes walk from here. So if you don’t like history, and you’re not interested in Joseon era tombs, you can still come here to relax. Although you will still have to pay the 1000 won admission fee – well worth it!

Seonjeongneung contains the burial mounds of three important royals of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910). They are: Seongjong (1469-1494), his wife Queen Jeonghyeon, and King Jungjong (1506-1544).The red gates as you come in are common to many shrines and tombs, the red symbolises holiness. You will also see the taegeuk (as seen on the Korean flag). The taeguk is usually called by its more famous Chinese name – yinyang. However, in Korea I recommend calling it the taeguk as it is a symbol of national pride.

Another interesting feature are the stones paths leading up to the ceremonial buildings. They are spirit roads allowing the dead kings or queens to journey unimpeded into the after life. Apparently you shouldn’t walk on the slightly elevated path because it might impede the spirit of he kings. The lower paths are for humans. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, but in a country which has been conditioned by neo Confucianism I would treat such places with more caution. Whether you are royalist,Confucian or something else, I think it’s always better to respect the dead, especially of they were important enough to deserve such shrines and tombs

What strikes me the most after visiting this place, and reading about it,are  the similarities between other cultures and the manner in which they treat the deceased. You may notice the monkeys on the eaves of the buildings, these ‘Japsangs’ are to ward off evil spirits in the same way you can find gargoyles on the corners of older Catholic Churches. In addition to this, you can find the stone statues of the departed monarchs who serve as guardians in the afterlife. In this case they are soldiers and animals but  similar customs could be found in Egypt, on the steppes of Russia and even in the burial sites of Anglo-Saxon nobles like in Sutton Hoo.

If you plan on going to this park then it can be done on the same day as the COEX and Bongeunsa temple. The following photographs were taken on two separate occasions so you may notice the grass and sunlight are different.

DSC_0091 Gang&Jam (37) Gang&Jam (35) DSC_0100 DSC_0103 DSC_0107 DSC_0109 DSC_0110 DSC_0112 DSC_0121 Gang&Jam (33) Gang&Jam (48) Gang&Jam (44) Gang&Jam (41) Gang&Jam (39)

 

Sea Train (바다열차)

I had a very pleasant journey from Gangneung to Samcheok on the special tourist train. The seats faced sideways so the passengers could look out of the window to the East Sea. There was of course out of context Muzak on the journey but I have learnt to tune it out and focus on other senses – a useful skill in Korea. When I finally alighted I tried to find a way from the station to the centre of Samcheok. Despite the small size of the town, the train station is a considerable distance from ‘down-town’. As it was the height of summer and I had a backpack, I decided to walk. With hindsight, I believe I was trying to tire myself out so I wouldn’t have to attempt a visit to the famous caves on the same day. I had slept in a jjimjilbang the previous night so I was in need of a decent sleep. I looked in a couple of motels near the bus station but they were triple the usual price, that is literally the price you pay for travelling in peak season. I eventually found a place called the ‘International Motel’, although it was written in Korean which made me giggle. By this point I was sweating more than usual and I probably looked a little pathetic. After checking the prices I was crestfallen again, I asked if there was any discount and the ajumma said she would knock it down from 90,000 to 70,000. I took out 60,000 from my wallet and said this is all I have. She made a brief phone call to the boss and then let me stay. I don’t usually haggle to that extent but I had a strict budget and didn’t want to cut my trip short because of one motel. 

Samcheok River View

 

The evening approached quickly and I noted the bus timetable for the caves then wandered down the river through the long shadows. All the special cave museums watch over the river and face the usual apartment buildings on the other side. The style of architecture in the cultural type buildings of Samcheok is Vegas meets Disneyworld. They don’t seem to be going for the natural wonders angle. I enjoyed walking round Samcheok and I would like to visit on another occasion to stay nearer to the sea and to visit the crazy looking museums which were closed during my stay.

 

DSC_0416

I awoke fresh and well rested, the previous days exertions mixed with some cans of Asahi had rendered me comatose throughout the night. I got to the bus station early and found some other tourists waiting for the same local bus which was cavebound. Luckily the caves are by far the biggest draw in this part of Gangwondo, this makes getting the bus pretty easy because there is always an expectation from those working in the bus station; they know where you are going. The lady in the tourist information booth next to the bus station also spoke pretty good English. After a rickety journey through some spectacular valleys and mountains we finally reached Hwanseon. There were many minbaks and pensions along the way. This was a rustic part of a rustic province and the journey made me feel cut off from the rest of Korea. If I ever return I would like to stay in one of the small pensions in those valleys, a place to escape subways and mobile phone shops.

Hwanseongul is a huge cave. In Korean the word gul (굴) means cave, so you don’t need to say Hwaseongul cave. There are other cave systems around in this part of Gangwondo but this is the most famous and the biggest too. The main reason I wanted to see the cave was not to tick off another Lonely Planet highlight, it was to re live some experiences I had as a schoolboy. I was a pretty keen geography student at school, mainly because I love excursions. I even love the word excursion. Being from the Northern part of Lancashire the impressive limestone features of the Yorkshire Dales were only a short bus ride away. There seemed to be a trip to Malham every year and I always attended. I went on the trips to see limestone caves and features even when I wasn’t studying them. After I had finished studying them I still returned to visit the limestone features. Even on the other side of the world I was able to see some of the same things I studied in class as a child.

 

DSC_0472

DSC_0474

DSC_0475

DSC_0479

On my solo geological excursion I couldn’t find any clints or grykes like in Malham, but the karst scenery was outstanding and has bestowed one of the largest limestone caves in Asia. The cave system was immense with over 6 kilometres of known passages. The problem with these delicate environments is the human contact. Many of the nearby caves are closed to the public and you are restricted from taking photographs or touching anything. Although I managed to get a few phone camera shots. I took a cable car up to the entrance because I was there for caves not for hiking. I expect it would take a minimum of 30 minutes to reach the top by foot but the cable cars or funiculars are a nice way to take in the scenery before you enter the huge natural gateway.  Once inside, the temperature plummeted from the outside summer highs of 33°C  to about  12°C. It was a great relief to be in the cool in what was a pretty vicious heat wave. Some of the rocks drip and spout water from crevasses, this then  joins other little trickles to make  streams, waterfalls and plunge pools. Some of the chambers are  higher than Gothic cathedrals at over 100m tall. In fact I have many theories about church architecture and caves, but that’s another post. Many of the difficult features have been made accessible by metal bridges which gives it the air of an Indiana Jones movie. Unfortunately the majesty of nature has been sabotaged by using glowing lights and exploiting some of the features with bizarre names. The bridge of seven hells, the chamber of coarsely whispered insults, the valley of misshapen croutons, the cascade of venereal diseases…etc. Actually, my fake names may be even better than the ones I saw. I don’t think it’s necessary to adorn such an impressive site with anything other the basic ways of traversing through the features. It was quite funny for a while but in the end I think I felt sorry for the rocks.

20120731_095832 20120731_100027 20120731_100043 DSC_0489 DSC_0491 20120731_100913 20120731_101224 20120731_101357

 

I certainly recommend the effort it takes to get to Hwaseongul. The best place to travel from is Samcheok and given the local scenery it should be worth taking some pack lunch and going hiking. I expect it gets incredibly busy later in the day so to appreciate the place fully I think it’s a good idea to take the early bus.

Timetable

 

 

 

HawksmoorCollage

Nicholas Hawksmoor is one of those strange figures of British history who have remained buried at the bottom, not much recognition, not famous, nobody seems to care much. He should be mentioned in the same breath as Newton, Blake, Shakespeare, or Dickens. He should be one of those we mention without needing to use his first name or his profession. So why is he little known outside the fields of Baroque architecture and London history?

 English Baroque never became as fashionable as its continental counterparts, I believe this is a principle reason why Hawksmoor never quite made it among those lofty names. He has also been overshadowed in notoriety and in the legacy of his work by his master – Sir Christopher Wren.

Hawksmoor

Hawksmoor was ‘spotted’ by Sir Christopher Wren. He subsequently worked for Wren as a clerk in the last 20 years of the 18th century. This is both a blessing and a curse for Hawksmoor because much of his work has been overshadowed by the figure of Wren. Wren’s shadow is cast from the huge cupola of St Paul’s over the last 300 years of British Architecture. This period was also characterised by the rebuilding of London after the great fire. I said blessed because Wren is undoubtedly a genius of this period. The job of an architect was not really conceived before Wren. The idea of planning construction sites and project managing was not really a professional concern, it was left to the skilled labourers and masons. Working with Wren during this time must have given Hawksmoor many opportunities which allowed him to develop and exploit his skills. Hawksmoor worked with Wren on the Chelsea Hospital, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich Hospital. Wren was also surveyor general. It’s easy to see how Hawksmoor’s influence can be overshadowed by the celebrity of Wren, but many argue that some of the features and developments of Wren’s projects owe much to Hawksmoor. Imagine the modern celebrity chefs who lend their names to famous restaurants only to have another more than competent chef actually cook the meals. I think there is a distinct possibility that their close professional relationship created a level of trust whereby Hawksmoor could carry out the projects of Wren’s ‘brand’ without much interference. Wren also had many other concerns at that time so I think it’s safe to assume that not every Wren project was completed in its entirety by Wren

Hawksmoor (2)

By 1700, Hawksmoor was a major architectural force with his own style; his own baroque style.  I say his own Baroque style consciously, because unlike many architects of that time Hawksmoor never completed the almost obligatory Grand Tour. He did not see the famous sights first-hand, and had to rely on pictures and engravings. The lack of first-hand experiences may have hindered his style, but I choose to believe that it prevented cheap mimicry and afforded him a rare objective approach when studying ancient monuments and edifices. Anyone who has seen his churches can see that he paid close attention to the monuments of ancient Rome and even Greek, Egyptian, and Hebrew works. How many churches in England have a pyramid in their graveyards? His grand tour was carried out in the library where he travelled effortlessly from Medieval Europe to Ancient Egypt in the space of a few pages. He was free from the constraints and prejudice of direct contact and instead had to rely more on the free-flowing artistic imagination to complete his works.

Hawksmoor (3)

This continuity of history, be it Christian, pagan or anything else, is explored in the baffling yet brilliant book ‘Hawksmoor’ by Peter Ackroyd. I read the book after visiting his churches in London. The narrative switches between the slightly mundane modern murder investigations to the initial drawing board of the architect/mason. Many themes are explored which you can see clearly in the fabric of the unusual churches. The main theme being the relentless rationality of Wren compared to NIcholas Dyer’s satanic mysticism.  I won’t go into too many details about the book here because I want to talk about my journey through the architecture. However, the book provides an unbelievable analysis of religious architecture in relation to the history of belief itself. The book really helped to explain the continuity of history in the church both physical and religious. Some of the prose adds another layer of meaning to most of the structures built by Hawksmoor. The book has also left a cult of the occult. The belief is that the pattern of the churches relates to some diabolical pentagram. I cannot confirm this but what I will say is that there is an otherworldly quality of the churches. Each building seems to exist on a separate timeline than our Judeo-Christian heritage. In many ways the churches seem a little dislocated from their physical surroundings too. Too grand to sit between  the simple dwellings of East London, and far too mysterious too be nestled between the large Victorian Banks and Institutions of Central London. To the untrained eye they may look the same in colour and texture as their neighbouring buildings, but on closer inspection they bear little resemblance to the safe classical buildings we commonly see. I wondered why Hawksmoor had so many churches to his name so long after the great fire. I found my answer when I visited  Christchurch in Spitalfields.

In 1711, parliament passed the following:

Act for the building of Fifty New Churches in the Cities of London and Westminster or the Suburbs thereof.

The act was passed for various political reasons, but it was supported by Queen Ann as a way of providing a pastoral guidance for the godless masses, especially in the East. London at this time was turning into a huge metropolis and the infrastructure had not caught up with the demands of the growing population. There was also a concern about the growing number of non conformist meeting houses, especially in the Spitalfields area which contained large numbers of Huguenots . The creation of large churches was a way to erect towering steeples to watch over the less imposing meeting houses. Whatever the reasoning, it was a serious commission, a commission which included Christopher Wren, John Vanburgh, Thomas Archer and a number of churchmen. Hawksmoor served as one of its surveyors and remained  until the commission ran out of enthusiasm and money in 1733. The declining will for the 50 churches meant that only twelve churches were actually completed. I believe they ran out of money because they were far more grandiose than originally intended. Some of the churches were collaborations but six of the churches were designed or rebuilt by Hawksmoor:

Christ Church, Spitalfields Hawksmoor 1714-29

St Alfege Church, Greenwich Hawksmoor 1712-18 (rebuilt)

St Anne’s Limehouse Hawksmoor 1714-30

St George’s, Bloomsbury Hawksmoor 1716-31

St George in the East Hawksmoor 1714-29

St Mary Woolnoth Hawksmoor 1716-24 (rebuilt)

Hawksmoor (4)

I spent the best part of a day travelling across London to look at the churches. Unfortunately St. Georges in the East was closed and as I was in the East I failed to visit Bloomsbury, this is strange because I have been in that area many times. If you live in London, or if you are spending a reasonable amount of time there I highly recommend setting aside a full day to visit the churches. I started in Spitalfields and headed East. Actually, I forgot my map and notes but a leaflet from Christchurch was enough to get me going to Limehouse and beyond. I will not label all the pictures or describe how to get there, I believe it should be a personal journey. If you need a guide then consider following the gruesome murders in Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor. Good luck!

Hawksmoor (5) Hawksmoor (6) Hawksmoor (7) Hawksmoor (8) Hawksmoor (9) Hawksmoor (10) Hawksmoor (11) Hawksmoor (12) Hawksmoor (13)

DSC_0183 DSC_0187 DSC_0190 DSC_0197 DSC_0200 DSC_0207 DSC_0210 DSC_0216 DSC_0218 DSC_0225 DSC_0233 DSC_0240 DSC_0261 DSC_0268 DSC_0286

In a country with hostile neighbours it comes as no surprise that most people in Korea have traditionally been reluctant to travel. Even after the rapid development of the economy, and a huge increase in disposable income, few Koreans seem to enjoy travelling. I say this not from some dry UN statistic, but from general conversations and by visiting various places in the world. Compared to Australians, Germans, British and even Japanese, Koreans don’t really clog up the international flight map. This is mostly because of the working schedule which leaves little time for long holidays overseas. The only red days in the calendar are those that cling to the traditional family festivals like Chuseok and Seollal – the harvest festival and Lunar New Year.

The boat from Udo

The boat from Udo

So when Koreans do get time to go on holiday where do they go? What constitutes the exotic for this nation of workaholics? Where is the Korean Hawaii, Tenerife or St Tropez? How do people escape the grey apartments and white shirted offices? There is one resounding answer – Jeju.

Jeju is the self-governing island located to the South of the Korean peninsula. It’s near enough to be a comfortable flight and to get instant noodles and kimchi. However, it’s just far enough, and isolated enough, to have its own dialect, climate and cuisine. This distance from the rest of Korea gives Jeju a sub-tropical edge which has affected all aspects of life here. Jeju is the ultimate destination for all Koreans; you rarely get through any conversation about travelling without the name Jeju cropping up. Everyone knows someone who has been to Jeju. It’s one of those ‘must see’ places on any Korean bucket lists.

jeju-do (23)

I have always been luke warm to must see destinations, I feel so pressured. With this weight of obligation and the lack of other viable destinations (I’ve been in Korea 2 years) I chose to go to Jeju for my last holiday. Apart from the flight I actually spent very little time researching the place. I imagined it would be one of those step off the boat and select the best option places. There are countless things to do in Jeju but I would caution against being too casual because the weather and the public transport can be quirky. Despite a couple of grey days and some timetable wrangling, I found Jeju to be everything I expected and a little bit more.

The airport was much bigger and more urbane than I expected, I thought it would be more akin to one of those Caribbean places that James Bond arrives at. Instead of light-hearted trans-atlantic banter with Felix Lighter – I settled for a taxi. Like most Korean taxi drivers the guy had no idea where my hotel was, and forget using a map because taxi drivers don’t understand the world as seen from above. They work on more of a medieval approach to directions – half instinct half rumour. Eventually he found the hotel which was a cheap love motel turned into a family friendly budget hotel. The owner seemed genuinely surprised to see a guest but the room was large and clean. The best feature was a framed seashell.

Fish in the Spirited Garden

Fish in the Spirited Garden

After seeing Jeju-si (the city) and the hotel district I was pretty disappointed. Most places didn’t seem much different from the average Korean town. The sea comes close to the shore leaving little in the way of a beach, and the ferry port is just a small industrial area. Some of the major hotel chains seemed a bit provincial and drab. However, this was only the city and Jeju-si isn’t Jeju-do. ‘Si’ is city and ‘Do’ is island. After a brief night of fear wondering what I had done, the next two days were amazing.

I visited the Eastern side of the island using local buses. The scenery was verdant and a welcome pleasure from the back of a rickety bus. After nodding off several times I kept seeing small forests and green pastures through my half closed eyes. Sometimes I felt like I was home on the roads between Lancashire and the Lake district – they even have dry stone walls! On closer inspection the trees were much different from those found in England. In fact, nature itself was a slightly different shade in all its examples. Islands are separated from the processes of natural history on the nearest landmasses. This gives Jeju its distinct trees, plants, and fruits.

jeju-do (18)

On the second day I headed west on an organized tour. The tour was excellent and gave enough time in each place without ever getting bored. The tour guide was informative without feeling the need to entertain. The mixture of scenery and attractions was always stimulating and I would go back without hesitation. I got the chance to walk along the coast, visit Buddhist temples and there was even a buffet at a famous bonsai garden.

jeju-do (21)

I am purposefully leaving out details because I hope the pictures can show a glimpse of the colours and scenery that make Jeju so popular. I decided pretty quickly that I will return to Jeju and go hiking up the Halla volcano. Until then, like most Koreans I will keep dreaming about going to Jeju.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

20130920_194713On the south coast of Korea, as far away from Seoul as you can get (without getting wet) is Suncheon. Suncheon-si is one of the bigger three places in Jeollanam-do, the others being Mokpo and Yeosu. Gwangju became so big that it became its own special metropolitan city. Jeollanam-do is perhaps the most scenic of all the provinces of Korea. It has an incredible range of scenery and vegetation. There are the heights of Jirisan, the rolling green fields of the Boseong tea plantations, the craggy islands off the coast of Mokpo, and the wetlands of Suncheon Bay.

DSC_0061

Wetlands and tidal mudflats are often overlooked in favour of more glamorous mountains, glaciers, and rainforests. Even for myself, when someone talks about escaping to nature, I have in my head a North American rocky mountain with log cabins and bears. I imagine catching trout in a fast flowing river then having a fire later on. There is of course the extreme exotic element; the jungles of maddening noises and dangerous snakes. This version of nature comes complete with a soundtrack of those frog noises and small monkeys screeching, natives squat behind large trees ready to shoot their darts from a blowpipe, or panpipes. Wetlands never really enter my mind when thinking about escaping into nature. I have no clear image based on the countless movies I have watched, perhaps only those Florida type reeds and grasses with the alligators and those fun looking boats. Actually, I think they are just swamps.

DSC_0007

Coastal wetlands and tidal mudflats are hugely important to the World’s ecosystems. The reeds which grow in such places naturally filter out the various types of pollution which find their way into water. The roots of the reeds also hold together soil and prevent erosion and the more serious effects of floods. There are five major coastal wetlands in the World: Georgia in the USA, the Amazonian Delta, the North Sea in the UK and Netherlands, the Great Lakes in Canada, and Suncheon Bay in South Korea. These places are so important because they serve as a rest area for migrating birds. Korea is something of a major crossroads for birds in Asia. Many species stop here on their way from Siberia to Australia and New Zealand. There are also crabs, otters, worms, and countless other fauna which call these places home. I don’t think most wetlands are high on the list of tourists. They are simply too inaccessible, and without any interest in ornithology or photography, there is little to see.

DSC_0038

Suncheon Bay is a recent development (completed 2009) and with the careful use of raised board walks and birdwatching huts, the place is definitely worth a visit. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed walking among the three metre reeds and grasses. If this wasn’t enough then you can glimpse many birds flying over your head from time to time. The crowning glory of the reed park is the Yongsan Observatory. To get to this amazing viewpoint you have to cut back on yourself and climb a fairly steep hill. Once you have ascended through the pine forest you are awarded a spectacular view of the reed fields spreading out into the ocean. It’s not a windswept salty ocean, but a gentle breezy ocean dotted with interesting islands all the way up to the horizon. The observatory offers a panoramic view and unlike many places in Korea, there is nothing much there, just a wooden structure with some shelters and a large pair of mounted binoculars. You can do the walking course within a couple of hours, but if you have a reasonable camera or an interest in birds, you could fill the better part of a day here. If you tire easily of walking, or you have a short attention span, there is a small train and a boat ride. The entrance to the park has a building with an observatory and some displays on the flora and fauna of the area. You can also buy local agricultural products in a surprisingly tasteful shop.

DSC_0011

Suncheon will host a Garden Expo in April so I expect many of the facilities to be upgraded. They are working on a small personal rapid transit to reduce traffic impact. Also, some of the ticket offices are being upgraded from their current hut styles. Even without the forthcoming Expo, I recommend  visiting the park, the entrance fee is only 2000 won and it’s an easy enough places to reach. From Jeonju it’s an easy half day trip and from Seoul you could make it if you get an early train, but I would stay overnight to make it more relaxing.

DSC_0022 DSC_0024 DSC_0027

Getting there: Suncheon is on the KTX route between Seoul Yongsan and Yeosu Expo. If you travel from other cities like Daejeon or Jeonju look at the slower trains before booking KTX, the time difference is minimal.

From the train station turn right and you can see the tourist information in a small log cabin. If you pass this walk about 150m to a crossing near a convenience store, immediately in front is the bus stop for  Suncheon Bay. The bus is number 67 and it costs 1100 won and takes 20 minutes to the park. This bus also runs past the Bus Terminal.

DSC_0058 DSC_0059 DSC_0043 DSC_0055

Britain and the USA can be “two nations divided by a common language” George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde

Having lived in Korea for over 2 years I have picked up a lot of Korean. I used to take lessons, which helped, but now I rely on the world being my classroom. One of the stranger aspects of living here is the use of my native tongue – English. Something I didn’t  consider deeply before I came, was that I may have to teach, or communicate using ‘American English’. Being the only ‘British English’ speaker in my workplace, I often find myself either questioning or abandoning British expressions or vocabulary. This is not related to a lack of patriotism, it is simply to aid communication.

אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט

a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot

“A language is a dialect with an army and navy”  Max Weinreich

 

My experience of language is that it is often a contentious issue; people cling to the familiar because they fear losing their identity, or they see a confrontation between their own usage and other forms. Language is about communication, so I’m usually pragmatic when it comes to dropping or adding expressions and vocabulary. However, I am rather pedantic when it comes to verbal accuracy, for example, I prefer saying thrice instead of three times.

After trying to explain words and phrases to people, repeatedly, I decided to write this post as a logic test for conflicting expressions. This list clarifies many examples where I think Americans, British, and other native speakers compete to use, their words to describe things. Having been born in Britain I have consumed television from the USA, Australia, and obviously the UK. I have also visited these countries and worked with Americans and Canadians. Something else to note is that most of the Koreans I have been in contact with have learnt American English; they have provided an objective critique of Britishisms or Americanisms which make no sense or more sense.

Football v Soccer

There is only one winner, football. The word soccer derives from association football as there are many varieties of football. I believe it stems from the British Public School abbreviations – Like turning Rugby into Rugger. Football has gone way beyond the shores of Britain, and its introduction to Europe and South America has turned the word into an international word like okay or taxi. The poor countries whose majority sports are not football often use the word soccer. My advice to people is that if you travel to the USA or Australia then you might use the word soccer to avoid confusion, otherwise use football. Global usage makes a mockery of the word soccer. We have FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations) UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). The global brands and organizations all use the word football, even in the locations where the word ‘soccer’ is used. If you are Korean then take a look at the listings of the K League. Five teams have Football Club in their names, zero have soccer.

Trousers v Pants

Many People assume that ‘pants’ is an Americanism for trousers. In my experience, many people in North West England, Scotland, and Ireland use pants to mean the long things worn over your underwear. In Southern England pants generally refers to underwear. I once got into an argument in a pub in Italy about this issue. There was a man from Liverpool and a girl from Australia who both used pants to mean non underwear. I’ll let logic have the last word. If ‘pants’ refers only to underwear then why do we have the word underpants but not overpants? Pants is also British slang for ‘not very good’.

Pickles

Can you pass me a pickle?

Which type?

My fondness for pickles prevents me from accepting this word to mean Pickled Gherkins (the type you find on McDonalds Burgers) I can only presume that in America they don’t pickle anything else but gherkins. This word is also used for gherkins in the UK too. I prefer to use gherkin because that’s what it is. In my pickle related nightmare, when I go to the pickle aisle in the supermarket, I see before me 20 metres of gherkins. When I awake from this disturbing briny dream, I become aware that thankfully, there are also pickled onions, Branston pickle, red cabbage, sauerkraut, piccalilli, cucumber, dill, mussels, mango chutney, and even eggs if you go in an old pub. I think I’m fighting a losing battle on the pickle front but I will continue to use the word gherkin just to help the other forgotten pickles, sitting on their dusty shelves in the storage area of the supermarket. In the meantime, the phalanxes of the gherkin super race stand in formation at the front of the pickle shelves, waiting for their pickle fascists to buy them all.

Fall v autumn

Apparently, fall predates autumn. People used fall in the British Isles before autumn came into use and the emigrants to North America continued using it. I have no real logical argument for this debate. I use the word fall in the classroom to avoid confusion. For this ‘word off’ I make a plea to all North Americans, I think Aussies and Kiwis use autumn. Please, please try to use autumn instead of fall. Fall is a commonly used verb, but autumn is specific to the season; it also makes an easy adjective – autumnal. I believe the word just sounds nicer and as soon as I hear it I feel the colours of the leaves and the cool winds. When I hear fall, I think of an old man dying. Poetically it sounds more beautiful:

The wind rustled through her autumnal, auburn hair. This paints an image of a Venus like woman whose hair is graceful and flowing.

The wind rustled through her fallish/fall like hair. This paints the image of an alopecia victim.

Elevator v Lift

I switch my allegiance to the other side of the Atlantic. As a noun, lift already means to give someone transport, whereas elevator is unique to doing its job. I also prefer technical words to come from Latin, in this case ‘elevatore’ the verb for raise. Interestingly French and Italian don’t use ‘elevator’ or ‘elevatore’; they use ascenseur and ascensore. I believe this would give us the much improved word ‘ascender’.

Prawn v Shrimp

Everybody is wrong, but North Americans are more wrong. In America everything seems to be called a shrimp even when it’s a prawn – these are two different organisms. In the UK and commonwealth shrimp usually refers to the very small prawns, shrimp being a synonym for small. However, I have discovered that not all shrimp are small. The difference is a tiny biological matter – the shrimp’s tail segments don’t overlap in the same way. The second segment overlaps above the first and third segments. The problem with this debate is the difference in seafood worldwide. Despite the differences, I know a prawn when I see one, and I live near Morecambe Bay which is famous for shrimp, so I will use the word prawn for prawns and shrimp for shrimp.

Pavement v Sidewalk

I still use the British version – pavement. I just like the word. I remember an interview with the Indie band ‘Pavement’ who were from the US, when asked why they were called pavement instead of sidewalk; they said that they got the name from a list of the most beautiful words in the English language. I also like the suffix –ment which can make verbs into nouns: embankment, shipment, allotment….etc

Zebra Crossing v Cross walk

I like zebra crossing because it’s more poetic. It may cause confusion in very specific circumstances in Kenya or South Africa. If there is an actual zebra crossing the road then cross walk may be easier.

Queue v Line

Queue is a clear winner here because it gives us the option to make different shades of meaning. I don’t make a line unless I am in an identity parade or perhaps on the school playground. Queue implies that there is something to be gained at the end, like admission or a postage stamp. I just wish the word queue had a better spelling.

I think I’ll leave it there for now. I may add more as they arise. The point of this exercise, which may be futile, is to refrain from patriotism when it comes to English. The language has gone international so I want to try to use the best and most logical (or poetic) words on offer. I often feel lucky to be able to choose between different words, but I do feel irritated when my own words are cast aside in favour of less accurate or less descriptive offerings.

If you are learning English as a second language my advice is simply to learn both and choose. However, you may have to choose between the following options:

American words in the UK: you will be understood but looked down upon.

British/Commonwealth words in North America: you may not be understood, or you may cause offence, especially in the case of fanny, fag, tramp, and pissed.


여의도

yd01 (2) yd01 (3) yd01 (4) yd01 (5) yd01 (6) yd01 (7) yd01 (8) yd01 (9) yd01 (10) yd01 (11)