It's that time again! If you want a postcard from Canada, please the bottom of the post!
Meanwhile... here is the last batch from Korea caught on the Diana Mini.
The shop in the photo on the right had "Finland's recipe" at the top. I don't know, maybe I missed something in Finland in my years there but there weren't many Finnish recipes that involved corn. Ah well, who knows!
( 6x2 more photos - DMZ, photo lines and more of Seoul )
Now on to the postcards! If you're an LJer, fill out the poll below, if I already sent you a postcard from Korea then no need to enter your address again, just drop me a line saying you want a card. If you're not an LJer, please email me your address (email in the sidebar).
Three days till Montreal and that means that it's time to finish posting some photos related to Korea. It's silly but if I didn't have to be in Canada soon I'd be definitely planning a trip somewhere in Korea or China or Japan or Singapore or somewhere over there.
Looking back over these Diana Mini photos has made me a bit nostalgic. Sniff.
( 4x2 more photos - Seoul, temples, Jeju-do, seashore, Diana Mini home )
In the land of Awesome, there is awesome, awesome and the stuff you buy at the airport with the last few bucks you don't want to exchange.
At Incheon airport I bought such useful things as laver chocolate and kimchi chocolate. Yes, that's chocolate with seaweed stuffing and kimchi stuffing. Surprisingly the laver chocoalte was amazing! The kimchi chocolate tasted more like chilli chocolate and not really like kimchi... have I already mentioned that I am getting kimchi withdrawl symptoms these days? Yes, one day I will learn how to make kimchi at home and not have to cycle to Hakaniemi to buy a itsy bitsy tiny can for 2.5 euros that will last me exactly a day and a half.
But to make kimchi at home it's probably best to have a house that's a tad larger than my current 25sq.m. (or is it 26sq.m.?) and a proper kitchen. Also it requires random ingredients I probably can't find easily in the local K-supermarket... or so watching them make kimchi on Family Outing has taught me. Yes, once again, my incredible references for Korean culture should amaze everyone.
( and a focus on the kimchi filled chocolate )
Thank you, Korea, it has been fun!
I've been back to Finland for a day and a half now and it seems that the worst of the jet lag is gone. The weirdest part is that I can clearly remember that some things happened on Friday night, like my mum calling, but I can't remember the details. It's so fuzzy...
The flight back was pretty good, I had a tall Finn next to me and those love to steal leg space. Actually it was rather funny because in Korea I don't know if it was because I was a foreigner or because I stank or something but people generally tried to avoid touching me. They didn't mind bumping or anything but if I sat next to them on the metro, they clearly tried to keep their limbs from touching me. On the plane, my Korean neighbour tried her best to leave me room... my Finnish neighbour not so much, our knees became bffs by the end of the flight.
I also watched some random Chinese film, The Storm Warrios. The point of the film still eludes me. But damn, did those guys have fancy wigs! Or if those weren't wigs, they have pretty damaged hair. In any case, it was one of those films that really should have just stayed a manga... or been about 15 hours long. Or had some sex scenes in it. Just basically after watching it I was glad I didn't waste "useful" time on that.
( more airport randomness and KicKer )
And that's the final post with photos taken locally in Korea (up until I get the Diana Mini film developed but there are still over a dozen shots to be taken before the film is done). I think in total I've posted over 320 photos in the past two weeks... sorry for the spammage but at least I won't huge back logs as I did with Shanghai.
The last post-holiday load of laundry is almost done downstairs, I sent in some work related messages on Friday night, I guess this really means the holidays are over! They restart for a week or so in 26 days though when it's time to move out of Finland. Bah.
And I don't even get to go to a single Tour de France stage this year! They're passing way too far from both Marseille and Toulouse for me to make an effort to fly over so a few days.
Most of my random street photos are on the Diana Mini as I think that those kinds of shots usually come out best on film but here is the street that lead to the small alley I lived on:
There were two middle schools close by and no matter what time I walked up the street there were always students coming and going, it didn't matter that it was barely 6am or already well past 8pm! I do understand that education is seen as a very important thing in Korea but I doubt that making kids stay behind for extra lessons is so wise.
Another thing that really surprised me at first is the fact that there aren't street names indicated anywhere nor number plates. For most places I wanted to visit I had a street address but I couldn't use it besides to look up the location on google maps and then locate myself based on surrounding landmarks. I really don't know how people did it to locate themselves before the age of smart phones with location apps.
( I was staying in one of those traditional houses in Seoul )
A thing that really bothered me about most packaged food was the overpackaging. There really is no need to have such a huge cardboard box for a tiny pouch. Actually why do you need the box at all? It seems that most cookies and sweets come wrapped in way too many layers for their own good! I also didn't see many recycling points for things such as bottles. With the heat the number of bottles one can go through is rather impressive!
( some more food and drinks... and eyemasks )
Oh the meetings you can have in a city! Like seeing your first love... thousands of kilometers away from home.
Yep, Albator (Captain Harlock for the non-French-speaking peeps) is definitely my first love. Albator 78, not really 84. I highly believe that there is a whole generation of people out there who have had their love lives forever ruined because they fell in love with Albator as children. There is just no way one could ever be a better man than Albator!
I was just walking along that Insadong tourist street and I saw some nerdy stuff on the second floor of a building. It turned out to be a "museum"... it looked more like a nerd's parents' garage than anything else but I guess it still beats most museums.
( they had everything from LOTR stuff to Tellytubbies to Astroboy )
During the whole trip I was asked mainly two questions: why travel by myself and why come to Korea?
Well, the answer to the first question is that I'm a loner by nature and seeing the same people for a couple of days in a row tires me out. Always having to consult someone else to know what to do always pisses me off like crazy! It feels like so much time is wasted uselessly when it could be wasted in other ways such as sitting down in a cool spot and catching up on some reading. Visiting that museum is a prime example of stuff I probably wouldn't have been able to do if I had been with others... I probably wouldn't have noticed it even because you can't really just stand around and look up at random buildings when you're with others.
Sure it does get lonely but in the end for me it's absolutely worth it and it's not like I'm alone all the time. I'm always faced with opportunities to meet others, just hanging out in the evening or visiting places.
The sub-question of the "why travel by myself" question is "aren't you afraid? isn't it dangerous?" and the answer is no, I'm not afraid of travelling alone to most places, Korea even more so. Korea is one of the safest places on Earth for tourists. I wouldn't go to many reputedly hot areas by myself at night but it's not like I'm in the habit of doing that in Helsinki either. I also feel that being someone who doesn't really fit in with the population makes it safer because people are watching. There is always someone watching, they might not admit to it and they will lower their eyes when you make eye contact but they are watching. Also I believe that the upbringing of people in Korea and the lack of diversity in the population makes it safer than most spots for tourists.
Chronicles of the last full day in Korea... playing tourist is tiring but someone has to do it!
Let's see the day started with breakfast, even after two weeks I still couldn't handle a proper Korean breakfast. I bet that after a couple of months I could, theory to test out.
In chronological order: Seoul Tower touristy stuff, Charlie Brown, and walking along Insa-dong back in my Anguk 'hood.
( that covers the day till about 4pm or so )
Some things in this world are better left unknown and one of them is the weird way we switched tour groups along the day. We started out nine English-speaking peeps and four Japanese-speaking. Then tons of Chinese tourists joined our bus at Imjingak. Then right before lunch three English-speaking peeps and two Japanese-speaking left our group. The Chinese peeps ate lunch in exactly five minutes and went somewhere. We were told to stick around and that another tour guide would come along at 1:20pm. At the indicated time a lady came up and asked our names and told us to go over to a certain bus at 1:45pm and take certain seats... and thus we ended up with others who went on another tour in the morning.
During the extra time we had during the lunch break, some of us went over to explore further Imjingak because we had no time in the morning.
( more Imjingak )
I think almost everyone knows the blue houses and the guards at the JSA but how to get there is quite an adventure. So we switched buses and right away we saw that our new guide was like a teacher on a field day. She would repeatedly ask "So what's the name of the Unification Bridge?" and we had to say "cow bridge" and she would talk really like a teacher to children. BTW, it's "cow bridge" because the money for the bridge was given by the guy who founded Hyundai and he was actually from North Korea. When he went to leave North Korea he stole one cow from his family barn and sold it to make it across and with what money he had left he started Hyundai. He couldn't get in touch with his family for a long time but he always felt grateful for that cow he stole... so he gave money to build the bridge and he also gave 1001 cows to North Koreans (they were brought there through the bridge), one cow for the one he stole and a thousand cows as interest for the 50 years that had gone by.
Right. So JSA. Joint Security Area. Before we even got to Camp Bonifas we were told the rules: no eating, no pointing fingers, no chewing gum, proper shoes, etc. Obviously no taking photos unless clearly told that we could. Right before Camp Bonifas a US soldier came on, checked our passports and that we had proper clothes and shoes on. Then we drove into the camp. We stopped for a "briefing" which was really just us sitting and our guides showing us a powerpoint presentation about the history of JSA and things like the Axe Murder Incident. At that point we were told to leave everything in the bus except for our wallet/camera (lens under 100mm) and the wallet had to be in our pocket and not in our hands.
We then got onto a military bus driven by a South Korean soldier and still with out US soldier escort. We then got to the MAC buildings, we had a few minutes while another group was inside to take photos of the outside.
Our guide reminding us again not to point (BTW, why shouldn't we point? "Because the North Koreans then would take photos of you and use them on their propaganda." Does that make sense? Not really? Should we question it? Not if we want to continue the tour.)
( JSA continued )
So is the full day tour worth 120K won? I think it's worth it, just to see how history is perceived by locals. It really made me question my reactions, actually most of the time I didn't even know how I was supposed to react!
In the previous post I forgot to mention that one of the keywords for these tours is "running". At most locations you have about fifteen minutes, twenty minutes if you're lucky, to look around and take photos (if you're allowed to take photos). The guide was thanking us all the time for being punctual, I think she has to deal with more "touristy" people most of the time... our group, as I mentioned previously, was mostly made up of loners like me who didn't really get into the whole looking at everything and taking photos of everything thing.
Dora Observatory - looking at the North.
If you come on a clear day you can actually see past those 4km of DMZ and into North Korea. I doubt we saw much of it that day. If the day is really clear and you're really lucky you can spot the huge Kim Il-Sung statue that's plated in gold.
It's really awkward taking photos because you have to stand behind a certain line and yes, they do check, there is a military guy who will ask to see your camera and will delete any photos you might have taken beyond the line. The official reason why you can't take photos beyond the line is that "the North Koreans don't want it and we don't want them to get upset". Or so our guide told us.
( Part 2: Dora Observatory, Dorasan Station, lunch )
Yesterday I went on the DMZ tour. DMZ is the demilitarized zone, it's 4km of almost no man's land between South and North Korea. I went on the whole day 3rd tunnel and JSA tours and I think both are worth it and I think it's good to go with just a regular Korean tour (with an English speaking guide) and not the USO one, the point of view must be different.
I call this "hope and wishes and some army".
Basically, during the ride to get close to the DMZ the guide told us a little of history, both Korean and world history. From the start, it was clear that it was a very Korean view of world history because there were some facts that could easily be disputed but that gave me information about how to take things later on. When you go on one of those tours, you have to keep in mind that the information given is biased, extremely biased on some points.
What doesn't change is the fact that the Korean people have suffered a lot and many families are still separated and this separation is hard to live, especially in the case when for example the rites for the ancestors can't be performed because the tombs are in the North.
The whole trip will be separated into three posts, morning (Imjingak, 3rd tunnel), morning (Dora Observatory, Dorasan Station, lunch), afternoon (post-lunch Imjingak, JSA).
( part 1: Imjingak, 3rd tunnel, Dora Observatory )
(obviously everything I'm writing is my opinion, you're free to agree or disagree or not care)
Hei hei, I went to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts the other day. I just feel I should mention that because of the hype that surrounded that chain a while back. This little fella actually tasted of gingerbread.
( more random food testing )
I am also very, very, very sorry to say that the choice in random snacks and sweeties in Korea is extremely disappointing. There was only one kind of Kit Kats in the whole LotteMart! Japan is right next door but clearly those things don't get exported... heck even the koala cookies I brought from China only exist in two flavours here.
Bah. Tomorrow I'm heading out to the Hyundai supermarket, maybe they'll have a better selection.
Not only do they have rides at Lotte World but they also have fake animals!
( Henry fame, museums and more randomness from LW! )
So in conclusion, I think that Lotte World was worth it. Heck, I would have even gone to the ice rink afterwards but I didn't bring a sweater along and just being close to the ice made me cold.
The one thing I could bring myself to do was wear a headband with a random bow or set of animal ears on it. Everyone was wearing one.
So Lotte World... or Adventure something-something. So how was it?
It was quite an adventure indeed! Yes, it is rather big. Yes, like everything else in Korea it has tons of things that shine and blink and all that jazz. And yes, there were tons of people even though it was the middle of the week. By "people" I mean either tiny little kiddies who came with their class or 15-20 year old couples.
( part 1 of 2 of what was going on )
Lotte Adventure World was all kinds of crazy stuff... but that's a story for another day. Now it's time for bed because I have an early wake up call tomorrow to head out to the DMZ.
Only two and a half days left in Seoul, it's going to be hard to leave. But holidays wouldn't be holidays if they weren't limited in time.
No matter how rave reviews are, you really can't bake a good pie on a large scale. There is this bakery, Tartine, in the "foreigner" part of town that's supposed to be one of the best Western style bakeries but really I could bake a pie with better crust and less starchy filling than what I'm eating. But hey, this is all done in the interest of science! Finding the best spots in Seoul where to bum around... and from what I can see this bakery has its regulars who already know the specials and damn I should have gone for today's special instead of rhubarb pie! It was one of those pot pies!
This brings to today's main subject: I've made the decision to only go to touristy places if they're on the way. Otherwise it's just walking around streets and looking for good places where to sit. I'm starting to develop "jambes lourdes", I'm definitely starting to get old and feel the heat. I'm tired all the time, even though I'm drinking a lot I always feel that bad dehydration headache (the hangover kind of headache but without the alcohol). I will learn one day just how people around here survive, I will!
Earlier, along what is possibly the most touristy street in the Anguk part of town I saw a sign for a "tea museum". Like I could miss that kind of thing! The sign ended up showing me down this shady street but the place was pretty awesome. It wasn't really a museum, just a place with lots of tea and I happened to arrive right before brunch hour was over. I got a plater of stuff, from the description I understood it would have red bean stuff and ice cream. It ended up being green tea ice cream, a little cake thing filled with red bean stuff and covered in jelly, some sesame rice cakes and whipped cream... and a cup of herb tea, I figured that if I was going to ingest huge amounts of tea, I might as well have some of the healthy kind.
( tea and some more tea because visiting tea places is serious business )
Tomorrow I'm going to be a total grown up and I'm going to go to Lotte World which is the local DisneyLand and it's indoors (except for one part). Let's say it's my way of putting off acting my age. OMG LOTTE DAMN WORLD! I haven't been to an amusement park in years. Like literally years. I can't even remember when was the last time. And this is like just ten metro stops or so away.
Just look at all the stuff they have! I've been on that site for about an hour and I can't wait to get a map tomorrow and to explore. I'm thinking of going somewhere around 11am so that I can get lunch there (yes, in the overpriced places, I am silly like that)... I'm not sure if I'll be able to hang in there till the 9pm light show but who knows! OMG OMG OMG OMG *squee*
(Korea is getting to me. I've never been excited to go to a huge structure like that. It must be the heat.)
There are five palaces in Seoul which are considered wonderful touristy places. As it happens I live close to three of them... The first one I went to, Changgyeonggung, was obviously closed on Mondays (as are three of them) and even on the days it's open you can only go with a guided tour.
I then went to a second one, Geunjeongjeon, this one luckily turned out to be open on Mondays (but it's closed on Tuesdays) and one can walk freely there and not rely on tour guides. From the structure it's like the Forbidden city in smaller and in Korean.
They have a change of guards a couple of times per day. I do hope those guys in the costumes are getting paid a lot because it must be hell being dressed up like that!
( guards, buildings and statues )
After a while I decided that since I was already in the area, I might as well check out a third palace, Jeongjeon, it was open on Mondays but only visitable with a guide and I had missed the last English visit by five minutes or so. Oh well, perhaps those palaces and I were not meant to be! I did see tons of grandpas playing board games and just sitting around talking. It's an area that's really much better seen through the backstreets. There are no sidewalks so it's up to you to try to avoid cars and oncoming people. Every couple of streets there are the local food stalls, there are ajummas making kimchi, etc.
For an even weirder experience it's worth going a tad closer to the .... which is an uncovered river. It's the local equivalent of the City, there are people clad in business suits everywhere! I was sweating like mad but they seemed rather content just walking along and talking. Just how long would I have to live in Seoul to get used to the heat and the humidity?
My day yesterday was spent in transport and with CSers. Almost felt like being back home as the train was French technology and I see plenty of CSers back home.
There are so many trains going to Seoul from Busan (one every twenty minutes) that they have a system where no one waits close to the tracks, you're let in about 15 minutes before the train leaves. Buying tickets is also amazingly easy on their machines... that made me think, are the SNCF machines also in English or only in French? I really can't remember, or more likely I never paid enough attention to remember.
I'm quite glad I paid more and took the fast train (not just because it felt good seeing that "Alstom" written in big on each wagon) but because I already felt bored after four hours... if it had been seven hours I would have gone out of my mind. The scenery isn't really idyllic, it's just those tall buildings with huge numbers written on them, rice fields, construction works and mountains in the background most of the time.
( more of the same and then some more and trying out some more random food )
I also happened to arrive back in Seoul right on the day of the monthly CS Seoul meeting. I finally got to go into one of those suburban tall buildings with the huge numbers of them. It was a set of "Hyundai" buildings. It was a very, very, very long way away by metro. I'm talking at least an hour. I really don't know how people do it who have to commute daily for hours, that's the main reason why I really think that a flat in Toulon would definitely beat commuting there from Marseille every single day.
Anywho, I was the only recently arrived and short term traveller there but everyone was lovely and there were two absolutely adorable doggies!
Actually attending such events really shows the differences that exist among CS communities. In Seoul and South Korea they seem to have more bigger events (retreats, etc.) rather than smaller local events. Back in Helsinki we mainly have the weekly meetings and the local events that just focus on going out for coffee or things of the sort. And both communities rock, so everything can exist!
Also, if I could give one advice, it's that it's best to bring an international credit card along rather than cash. It's much easier in some places outside of Seoul to find "global" ATMs than a place that would change currency. For example, the closest place to Busan Station (the main train station in Busan which is the third or fourth largest city in the country) is a good twenty minutes' walk away. Actually in Seoul also it's not all that easy because those official looking change bureaus and banks that will change currency all have funky working hours.
My morning yesterday in a photo:
Walking barefoot on the beach in Busan... then sitting under an umbrella watching on that same beach.
Haeundae Beach is supposed to be the most famous or best beach in Busan, I don't know. I haven't been to others. It was nice to see that people were there even though it was raining. Only some crazy tourists and wannabe surfers braved the waters though.
( giant screens, waves and surfers )
And as a final note about Busan... It seems like everywhere else in Korea, everyone was rather upset about Korea falling out of the World Cup but everyone was proud of what was achieved. It's amazing seeing the whole country believing so much in their team.
I know when to keep my priorities straight and when I see a damn tiny shop in a tiny street that says "homemade cupcakes" on it, I go in and continue my quest for cupcakes... outside of Helsinki.
These were tiny cupcakes, in a tiny shop, with tiny chairs (or maybe they don't expect girls to be 1.72m high and like cupcakes, who knows). They weren't so pretty that you wouldn't want to put one in your mouth... I tried the green tea one and it was airy and overall very lovely and not too sugary and clearly not the Fazer-pre-made kind.
Ah, Busan. You even offer me cupcakes. You're the kind of city I can be bff with!
( another cupcake on display and some more random stuff... including metro safety wear )
Busan, as seen from another park. This one was under the Busan Tower. It was raining and I figured that just walking around the place would show me just as much.
( this is where I show some more random photos and my deep knowledge of culture )
As the French say, let's give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar... pretty much the only reason I had heard about Busan before ever getting the guide to Korea is ZE:A's Dongjun and Maknae Rebellion. I did tell you that my references in terms of Korean culture were unbeatable, didn't I?
So this Dongjun is apparently from Busan and on the show they kept on mentioning that he had an accent and that he was outspoken or something of the sort. Since then I've always imagined Busan to be the Korean equivalent to Osaka... or well, Marseille. And let me tell you, Busan does deserve that title. Just driving into town from the airport was incredible. There are hills, there are tons of buildings, there is fish, etc.
Yesterday I went to the local park where they have a trolley kind of thing going to the top. This adventure is to be in the "kids don't travel like Gali because it's bound to end badly one day" category. A short description of I keep on pushing my luck...
( more flowers, turtles and random wanders )
Time to start packing... and I have yet to find proper postcards to send out.