Friday, April 8, 2011

Korea Part 2

As promised, here is the second part of my Korea journal. Sorry for the note format, but there is too much to be said and too little time to do it. I also do not guarantee a 100 per cent accuracy of what I wrote as I received much of the info from unverified sources, such as locals who spoke miserable English or Japanese. Next week I will try to post a more sophisticated post on Okinawa, which was amazing.

Korea in general:
  1. All Korean food includes Kimchi (fermentred spicy cabbage), and some type of hot sauce.
  2. Tap water in Korea is not drinkable. 
  3. Korean drinks of choice are Soju (about 20% alc. clear liquid made of rice tasting like watered down vodka) and Makkori (a thick, almost soup-like rice wine, 5 - 10% alc.).
  4. Drivers in Korea will kill you if you don't pay attention, even if you're crossing on a green light. They also honk all the time for no apparent reason.
  5. Motorcycles often drive on sidewalks in Korea (!).
  6. Even in the more legitimate stores, such as Family Mart and 7/11 and other international chains, they often do not put up price tags. This sucks especially if you are a tourist because the shopkeepers often try to charge you double the usual price.
  7. Housing in Korea is quite monotonous. There are tall apartment houses stuffed one next to another, all looking the same in every city, all with numbers on them, like this: 100, 101, 102, ..., 155, ...
  8. Koreans are mostly Christian (as opposed to Japanese who are Shinto and Buddhist), and their churches feature neon crosses, ads, and such. When you drive in Korea at night, along with Family Mart signs you see red neon crosses all over the place.
  9. According to linguists, the Korean alphabet, Hangul, is one of the most sophisticated, efficient, and scientific alphabets in the world. I can add that it is also very easy to learn to read (took me about two hours).
A Christian sect recruiting people in the middle of the street in Seoul. Many Koreans are Christian, and there are many churches in Korea. When the night falls, the churches light up neon crosses (!) and signs to attract attention. My most favorite was one which said "Strong Jesus".

A FREE bus for foreigners from Kyeongju to Seoul. All buses in Korea seem to have huge, luxurious seats, and yet cost very little money.

Seoul (Day 1, 2, and 7):
  1. Seoul is the second largest metropolis on the planet, has twenty million people.
  2. You can smell the sewer in many places in Seoul and the rest of Korea.
  3. There are many palaces in Seoul, the most famous one being the Gyeongbok palace, which was burnt down by the Japanese in 1598 and then rebuilt later. (One more reason for Koreans to love Japan...)
  4. Public transport is quick, clean, efficient, and CHEAP. The most expensive ride we took was about $1.
  5. Of all the places we went in Korea, Seoul was probably the least attractive.
    The Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul.
DMZ (Day 2):
  1. Patrolled by two million South Korean soldiers.
  2. You can only enter the DMZ as part of a tour.
  3. Along the Freedom Highway which leads to the DMZ, there is a river on the left which is barricaded by a huge barbed wire fence and a soldier post every 100m - just in case of an invasion from the North.
  4. As you enter the DMZ, the bridge which leads to it is obstructed with barricades every 20m or so, making it impossible to drive straight - smart way to slow down tanks and artillery.
  5. No pictures of North Korea allowed.
  6. They sell North Korean alcohol and stamps in the DMZ. Though very expensive, the lager I drank was pretty good (7/10 on my beer scale, somewhere around Kirin beer or Bass Ale).
  7. There have been four tunnels found so far which North Korea dug in the past to invade the south, we visited one of them.
  8. UN soldiers cross the border every day to ensure the safe crossing of 900 (!) South Korean managers which work in the North as part of unification-cooperation efforts. North Korean labor is five times as cheap as Chinese.
  9. The south propagates the DMZ as a great natural protection area where many endangered species live.
This is as close as we were allowed to take a picture of North Korea. The mountains in the back are North Korea.

North Korean beer that they were selling on the border. Very expensive ($5 per bottle), and surprisingly very tasty!

Jeju Island (Day 2, 3, 4):
  1. Called Korea's Hawai, Jeju is the biggest island of South Korea. There is a huge volcano, Mt Halla, in the middle. Mt Halla is South Korea's tallest mountain.
  2. The approx. one hour long plane ride from Seoul to Jeju cost us as little as $30. Cheaper than even just getting to the airport in Japan.
  3. Jeju is a volcanic island and thus has many volcanic traits. Most of the rocks on the island are of volcanic origin, have air bubbles in them, and thus float! There are also ENORMOUS lava tunnels beneath the surface as well as other minor volcanic formations, such as six-sided rock crystals.
  4. Jeju is famous for the yellow Rape Flower (no puns intended), which is used to prodce oil. They also sell Rape Honey (again, no puns intended).
  5. The sea water in Jeju is beautifully clear, which however does not apply to the beaches.
  6. Oranges and coconuts are Jeju's major products.
Six-sided rocks on Jeju Island. There are similar ones in the Czech Republic.

Probably the most amazing thing that I have ever seen in my life. On Jeju, there are tens of kilometres of enormously wide lava tunnels under the ground, and some are lit up for tourists to enter.

A scene in Jeju. The mountain in the back is Mt Halla, the highest peak of South Korea. The statues, made of the floating rock I described, were everywhere in Jeju.
 Pusan (Also written as Busan; Day 5):
  1. Pusan is Korea's number two city in terms of size and importance after Seoul.
  2. It is located on the Southeastern coast, and is, along with the near city of Ulsan, one of the places where Korea produces its famous ships and where Koreans ship their cars, LCD TVs etc. into the rest of the world. In other words, Pusan IS South Korea's economy.
  3. The city is divided into tiny "noodles" by ranges of 500-800m tall mountains.
  4. Because it is on the sea, Pusan is famous for its raw fish. We tried it and it was delicious.
  5. As opposed to Seoul, no one really speaks English or Japanese in Pusan, which makes it very hard to get by, especially considering that price tags are usually not present.
This one picture tells you everything you need to know about Pusan. It captures the beautiful Pusan port as seen from the ugly Pusan tower. Notice the MANY ships waiting at the sea to get permission to dock. This is Pusan.

Kyongju (also written Gyongju or Gyeongju; Day 6):
  1. Korea's oldest city.
  2. There are many mounded tombs (Kofun) of kings from as far as the 6th century in the city. This is very similar to the ancient Japanese capital of Nara (close to Kyoto).
  3. The "historical center" of Kyongju is one big shopping area full of McDonalds, Pizza Huts, Alpine Pro stores, Merell stores, and the like. A little disappointment to me, to be honest.
  4. Famous for the nearby Bulguksa temple.
Kofun (mounded tombs) in Kyeongju.

The famous Bulguksa Temple near Kyongju. Beautiful.


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