Monday, May 25, 2009

It's like dejavu all over again...

So this weekend, I went back to the Imperial Palace. There's plenty of things I still need to see in Seoul, let alone the rest of Korea...but my friend hadn't seen it and to be honest...I was a little rushed the last time I saw it.

It was pretty much the same as I remembered. This time, however, I was interviewed by some Jr High girls. They asked me some pretty basic questions, what's your name, why did you come to Korea, and what is your favorite Korean song.

Hold it...I don't like Korean music. I like classic music. Classical and Classic Rock. Sadly, this is not what they play on the radio. They play a little something called K-pop...all day every day. In every store, subway station, and restaurant. You can never run away from it.

K-pop songs mainly consist of some random Britney Spears esc song that is littered with random bits of English.

To say the songs are obnoxious say the least...but that's not enough. They really don't have a big enough population base to generate an actual variety of garbage music that all sounds the same. In Korea, they just overplay the same song over....and over...and over.

Every month, they pick a new song. That song will be played every 15 minutes over and over and over. The next month, they will pick a new song. The old song fades away. Not that I know the titles for any of the songs. For the most part, the song titles are all in Korean.

So what do I tell these young girls? That all of their music sucks? That their popular culture is but a shadow the American pop culture...which I also can't stand?

Then it hit me. The song of the month this month...."Lollipop". Whew...I didn't have to crush their poor adolescent hearts. I just lied thru my teeth...

PS...the weather report is sunny with a 25% chance of U-235...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What the Dak are you looking at...

This weekend, I managed to take in some more of that "culture" stuff. I went to the Seoul National Museum. It was a nice museum for a couple of extra reasons. First, it was free (always a good start) Second, they have some very interesting old artifacts (although, if you've seen one stone age exhibit, you've seen them all) Artifacts such as 1000 year old statues of Buddha and 2000 year old pottery. Third, they had a free, high quality concert in the main foyer. A piano and violin playing classical music that would have been able to name in high school, but who's name escapes me today. So in between exhibits, you could take a load off and listen to them play.

But the more interesting story came as I was waiting for the Subway home. I sat down on an empty bench and proceeded to read my book. A middle aged Korean came and sat down next to me. Well, it wasn't hard to discern that he was well past tipsy. He also wanted to practice his English.

Oh Boy.

First, he offered me some of the food that he had. It was a rice cake (dak) loaded with nuts. I tasted a little bit as to not offend him. "Oh it's very good" I told him. His shy little wife kept up a pretty consistent pattern of giggling, blushing, and trying to convince him to leave me alone.

Then, he broke of a giant chunk the size of my fist and handed it too me. Now to refuse food from an Asian in an insult. As I didn't want to offend a man that wouldn't remember me in the morning anyways, I smile, accepted it and told him thank you.

Speaking of being thankful...the subway had arrived and was slowing to a halt.

Finally, his wife starts pulling on his arm (still blushing and giggling) to pull him towards the train. So he points to his wife. "Very beautiful, huh?"

I say "Yes, she is very beautiful" and get up for the subway that has begun to unload passengers. I squeeze into the subway car 2 lengths down from him to be on the safe side...still munching on my very dry rice cake.

Oh the joys of being a foreigner...

Saturday, May 9, 2009


So...I finally visited the one thing that I just HAD to see while I was here.

The DMZ.

So you get in a tour bus and after fighting traffic for about an hour and a half you arrive at DMZ world. It's an amusement the DMZ...that no one was at. Even though it was the weekend and the perfect weather for going to the fair...the rides were all idle.

I guess everyone would rather go to the Korean versions Disneyland (Lotteworld and Everland) It's not like its a big's half the size of Washington state with 7 times the population...I digress...

This stop was to check in and register everyone's passports. So after a 20 minute rest stop...we were off to Tunnel #3.

The "Third Tunnel of Aggression" is one of 4 that have been found in South Korea. It is about 75 yards underground. There are 3 things worth pointing out about this tunnel.

First, was the hilarious South Korean propaganda film we had to what before descending into the depths of the tunnel. It lasted about 7 minutes about the seriousness of the war, the division of Korean, and their hope for the future. In reality it was so poorly done that it had me laughing thru at least half of it.

If you want to want a well done propaganda piece...what "The Triumph of the Will"....seriously...

Second, is the outrageous claim made by the North Koreans about the tunnel. They claim it is a natural coal tunnel that occurred randomly.


I guess I need to explain how the South Koreans found the tunnel to begin with. A North Korean engineer defected and revealed the approximate depth and location of the tunnel. So the South Koreans drilled PVC pipes down about 70 meters and filled the tubes with water. They hoped to that they would hit the tunnel directly and that the water would just drain out....but they never actually hit the tunnel with those pipes.

What they did find was that some of the pipes kept shooting their water up into the air. Sort of like Ol' Faithful? Well maybe....only the geysers in Yellowstone are naturally occurring. The pipes were shooting up water for a slightly different reason. Dynamite. So after the South Korean mining engineers did a few math problems...they figured out the location of the tunnel and find it they did.

When they confronted their neighbors to the North about the tunnel...the responce was...typical. It's a coal tunnel...see...the walls are coated in charcoal....It's a coal tunnel! lets look at the facts...there is a straight "6 foot by 6 foot" tunnel running straight towards Seoul (it was about 30 miles away when it was discovered) thru the solid granite, with obvious traces of dynamite, and a thin layer of charcoal paint lining the granite walls.

You've got to be kidding me!!!

Third are outrageous claims made by the South Koreans. They claim that the tunnel could accomated 30,000 men and equiptment could pass thru the tunnel in an hour. Now part of the tour involved walking IN the tunnel itself. They "claim" it's 2 meters by 2 meters. Now I'm 185 cm I should have about 15 cm of clearance (6 inches). I had hunch over the almost the time. There is NO WAY you could send 30,000 thru that tunnel an hour.

The next stop in the tour was an observatory on a hill. The hill provided a nice view of the countryside and farm that constitule the DMZ.

So you may ask how the Koreans get people to farm in the DMZ? I mean the Allied forces canvased the 38th parallel with 100,000 landmines, of which only 30,000 mines have been removed. My Great-Uncle Arnold farmed wheat and as such HATED the rocks the were on his property. But those rocks didn't have the chance of exploding...

Well, the South Koreans that live there pay no taxes, have no military services, get subsides from the government and their sons do not have to serve in the military (there is mandatory service in this South Korean) Consequently...most of the farmers in the DMZ are VERY well off to say the least.

The final stop of the tour was the train station.

Korea is a peninsula...and South Korea is on the bottom part of it. So in order get all the goods that are produced here need to be either sent via freighter ship or by airplane. If they want to ship the goods to Europe, the ships take forever and the airplane is WAY too expensive. So the government had a brilliant idea! They built train tracks thru North Korea, China and across Russia.

Too bad the only way over land to Europe is thru North Korea. The brand new tracks and brand new train station are idle because the North Korean government is throwing a temper tantrum.

After, visiting the eerily new and yet strangely deserted train station, we headed back into Seoul. With a brief stop at a jewelry store that must have been in cahoots with tour company, we arrived back where we started in Seoul.