Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Seoul Public Transportation

Seoul has the best public transportation of any city I've ever visited. Its trains, subway, and buses are all clean, fast, and go everywhere. This is the station nearest my apartment. Despite being cleaner than any station in New York City its relatively drab by Seoul standards.

One of the greatest things about subway platforms in Seoul is that many of them have small convenience stores on them. Great to grab a drink or paper while waiting for the train.

The subway cars are new, and larger than cars I'm used to back in the US. Many of them are also color coded. This is a car on the #4/blue line, so the floor is correspondingly blue. Like subways in any city people spend their time reading/listening to music/people watching. Unlike most subways though the Seoul system has wireless TV signals running throughout and great cell coverage.

Me playing doodle jump, lucky to have a seat in a relatively empty car.

A Seoul bus, not many seats and maniac drivers, but a great alternative to taking the subway.

Mt. Seorakson

Brian playing air guitar on our pension's trampoline. We went for the Christmas holiday and were the only people staying out our small bed/breakfast type place. Lots of open space, and Mt. Seorakson not too far off. 

Our personal BBQ, on which we grilled big Costco-bought Christmas steaks. Yum. 

Not Mt. Seorkason, but another peak next door. We had 2 hours to kill while we waited for our gondola ticket time so we ambled around snapping pictures. 

Mountains in Korea often play host to Buddhist temples and statues. In the foreground is a beautiful lotus  shaped incense burner. There is a small sanctuary inside/under the statue. We went inside to pay respects and get out of the cold for a minute. 

The walls of a beautiful, if austere, monastery near the large Buddha statue. At the end of the turquoise beams you can see a shape which I had previously always associated with Nazi Germany. I've since learned that it was a Buddhist symbol long before Hitler usurped it. 

A beautiful stone carved spring. The small pool is fed by the three big turtles at the top of the picture. 

My Korean friends didn't do a great job of explaining what this was. It was covered in Chinese, as opposed to Korean characters, and had something to do with an ancestral memorial. 

The moon rising up above Mt. Seorakson. We caught one of the last cable cars up to the peak. A ten minute hike beyond brought us to the actual summit, where we horsed around until it go truly dark. 

People like ourselves who were there for the view and to say they'd visited the peak, not to hike. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

School Field Trip

At the end of last semester my head teacher and I took our 25 best students on a trip to the local bowling alley and then to an early dinner. Most of the kids had never bowled before, or been on a field trip with two Americans (neither of whom can bowl particularly well). It was a pretty hilarious afternoon. Cheers and cell phone pictures after one of our better students avoided the gutters.

Getting the 6th grade girls excited about bowling wasn't impossible. Getting most of them to play with the boys was.

Becky offering guidance of a sort.

Eventually we lost the girls' attention to their cell phones, most of which get live TV.

A big BBQ dinner afterward. It was a lot of fun to let these young kids work the grills, jobs we were sure their parents usually handled (not unjustifiably).

Mt. Dobong

Mt. Dobong is one of Korea's largest and most visited mountains. It sits just north of Seoul within the suburban Gyeonggi-do provence. Its an odd mix of rugged beauty and suburban convenience. The Seoul Metro brings you near several trail heads, around which have sprouted dozens of outdoor gear stores, and enough restaurants to feed hikers coming and going. This beautiful Buddhist temple was an hours hike from the mountain's base. It was a serene and inspiring place.

Rows of Buddhas in place at the entrance to the temple's grounds.

A smiley dog that lives at the temple. After the fashion-accessory dogs of Seoul it was heartwarming to scratch this smelly bundle of fur.

A cluster of fermenting pots, most likely holding aging bean curd, or maybe spicy cabbage. Kimchi, the Korean national dish, is made from a fermented mix of the latter.

The intricately painted eaves of the main temple building. Hard to see here but a beautiful fish wind chime hangs at the building's corner.

A snowy view of the surrounding mountains.

Admiring our footwork at hike's end. Also debating exactly where we got lost.

A big lunch of smoked duck and various Korean side dishes (ponchon) was our first stop after hiking. The next was the largest indoor sauna in Seoul, where we soaked, steamed, and rested the remainder of the day away.

Seoul Lantern Festival

The Seoul Lantern Festival is a stunning event held along the Cheonggyecheon stream that flows through Seoul (one of my favorite spots in the city - lots of pictures of it posted last year). The glowing lanterns, which are more like floats, dot the stream for at least a mile. The first one is an inexact reproduction of one of the gates of ancient Seoul.

All the bridges that cross the stream were used to display signs or lanterns like this one.

A line of lanterns depicting great structures of the world, with Big Ben, the leaning tower of Pisa, and a Giza pyramid pictured in the foreground.

A beautiful latticework covered with lanterns in every color. We gave up waiting for a picture inside and settled for this one. Koreans' ubiquitous camera phones makes competition for photo ops anywhere in the city stiff.

Some fashion show running in conjunction with the lantern festival had these poor models walking around in leather bodysuits. It was at least 8 PM when I took this shot, and near freezing. They were making a valiant effort to look cool.


An incredibly old tree. I want to say 5,000 years but it was near the end of a very long and chilly tour.

A "secret" royal garden in the middle of the palace. There are three large palace compounds right in the center of Seoul. This one (Changdeokgung) has the most open space. The pond pictured here is located in a small dell which totally isolates you from the city. A quarter mile away bustles a city of 25 million.

Some beautiful fall foliage.

I took A LOT of leave shots. Not as many trees in Seoul as I'm used to.

What I've come to know as a typical throne hall. It appears to be a two story structure from the outside but its actually a single, tall-ceilinged room. The small stones sunk into the paving (the ones casting shadows left to right) are markers that showed everyone where they were supposed to stand during various ceremonies, in case you temporarily forgot your worth in the feudal hierarchy.

Monday, January 25, 2010


The DMZ is a 4 km wide strip that bisects the Korean Peninsula. This building, a couple yards from the actual start of the DMZ, was the closest I got to North Korea during the tour. The Korean soldiers present instructed us not to take any pictures beyond the yellow line. Despite taking this picture facing away from the DMZ I was still given a warning look.

The back of the building, which serves as a kind of lookout post and educational center.

A hazy shot into North Korea. The tall structure just above the binoculars is a huge flag poll constructed by the North to showcase one of the world's biggest flags (so large that it must be taken down in the rain because it cannot support its weight when wet). The buildings in the foreground are part of an unoccupied model village constructed to impress the South. It was a bleak sight.

All throughout the day-long tour we were shown symbolic monuments dedicated to peace and reunification. Some of them were interesting and meaningful. After a while the large number of them reminded us of the the intractability of the problem. From then on they were more awkward to view than anything. This plaque sat in front of a glass case that contained rocks from history's greatest battlefields. 86 battlefields in 64 different countries.

This locomotive is a relatively new addition to the DMZ tour. It was heading south with military supplies when the Korean war broke out. The whole train was blown to bits but the conductor was somehow able to escape. The man, now in his 80s or 90s, was there when the locomotive was rescued from a restricted area near the DMZ and brought here.