Visit to South Korea (from 2017-07-17 to 2017-08-04)

Creative Commons License
Visit to South Korea, and all the linked pictures, by Andy Pepperdine is made available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I travelled to South Korea to attend the Universal Congress of the Universal Esperanto Association and also to take part in the planned excursion before it, and one of the post-congress excursions. It was a place, which I had never visited before, and did not know what I would see. Before I set out I spent some time getting used to the fascinating alphabet, but unfortunately did not read enough about the history. So I had some surprises.

My first view of Seoul was the road outside the hotel, a normal road one might see almost anywhere nowadays. For example the architecture seems as modern as in any other town.

The following day we set off by coach southwards from Seoul. The view through the window showed the apartment blocks en which the majority of the people live. These tall thin buildings were found around the outskirts of every town. Afterwards we saw the type of countryside which can be seen almost everywhere between low steep hills densely covered in forests and creeping and climbing plants. For that reason there are not many fields to grow crops and the Koreans import a lot of food.

Narrow side street Modern architecture Through the coach window Low green hills

Our first real stop was at Jinju, a town near the south coast, which has a strong history of defence against the attacking Japanese armies. The most famous event happened in 1592, when General Kim Si-min with a small group of soldiers successfully defeated a much larger Japanese army while defending the town. Unfortunately he was killed by a bullet to the head during the battle, and the Japanese took the fortifications the following year. But the story does not end there due the actions of a brave "gisaeng" (similar to a Japanese geisha) called Nongae. She invited the Japanese commanders to a party on a rock by the river. While she danced with the chief, she held him tightly and jumped into the river, drowning them both. Now you can see her shrine.

The pavilion Chokseongnu (entry gate) stands nearby, and gave us our first close view of their method of construction and colouring of the traditional Korean architecture. We discovered that the same colours were used everywhere. Just to prove we were there, here is the picture of our group in the pavilion.

General Kim Si-min Picture of Nongae Entry gate to the pavilion Detail of a roof Group of esperantists

Then we moved on to the town of Busan, which is a modern industrial city, whose factories make particularly heavy machinery, such as trains. The commercial centres of Korea are connected by a good system of railways. But we were going to the Memorial Park of the United Nations. Each country, which lost soldiers in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, has its own section en the park, where they may remember the loss however they prefer. Also in the park there is a chapel, en which one can see attractive stained glass windows.

In the evening, we ate with chopsticks our first typically Korean meal, consisting of many small dishes, at a restaurant in a narrow street.

Busan British part UN Chapel N Chapel window Long table Narrow street

In the morning of the second day, I noticed that the hotel was trying to display its modernity with some modern art in the entrance hall. But soon we set off to the park at Haeundae, where there is something to represent the damage mankind is doing to the ocean by discarding plastic. Near the mermaid there was a description of how the currents in the Pacific ocean concentrate rubbish at different islands, and is destroying the environment there. I suppose it was mostly aimed at children. On the top of a little hill, was yet another pavilion.

Later we travelled on to the rocky promontory of Daewangam. At first in 1904 during the war between Russia and Japan, the Japanese used lightposts. Later in 1910 the built a 15 metre high lighthouse. As you see in the picture, there are two lighthouses there, but why two? Well, also in 1910 they planted a forest of pines across the local area, and trees grow, don't they? So in 1987 the second was built, because the first became invisible. The 24 metre tower now stands above the trees.

sculpture plastic sculpture of a mermaid wooden pavilion rocky area on the coast two lighthouses lighthouse

Our next stop was the Bulguksa temple and garden. At the entrance to the Buddhist temple stood the usual guards two on one side, and the other two opposite. The temple itself has an interesting method of construction. At the bottom some very large rocks, generally round, create a foundation on which the more regular blocks sit. The reason is that the temple stands in an earthquake region, so the rocks move enabling the upper walls to remain undamaged. It seems it works, because it was built between 741 and 774, and has survived since then.

Inside lots of prayer sheets hung from the ceiling under one of the long open corridors on one side of the courtyard. There was complicated carpentry en the construction, together with typically colourful ornamentation. The statue of a pig is thought to represent a desire for prosperity.

small lake and trees gigantic wooden guards stone walls and wood above pieces of paper hang from the ceiling detail of the roof bronze pig

Outside the National Historical Museum we found the bronze Divine Bell, which weighs nearly 19,000 kilograms, and was made in 771 in memory of King Seondeok. Every 20 minutes, a recording of its sound was played, a very deep bass with reverberation lasting several seconds. Also in the museum, we saw copies of rock drawings from Bangudae, perhaps chiselled during the Bronze Age or probably earlier. The Koreans probably are descended from tribes from Siberia thousands of years ago and have kept their identity ever since. It is worth noting the number of whales in the artwork, more than anywhere else in the world.

Between about 57 BC and 660 AD there were three kingdoms on the peninsula, one of which was Silla. The picture shows golden ceremonial crown and belt from the period.

enormous bronze bell White drawings on grey background royal ceremonial ornaments

Afterwards our bus took us to the village of Hahoe. Now it is a museum and World Heritage Site and contains traditional articles. One could imagine from study of the map, how the river almost completely surrounds it, and so it was defend. Among the exhibits there was ancient waterwheel and a traditional small building. Elsewhere they cultivated lotus, and hibiscus flowered in many places. Also to be seen were traditional houses with straw roofs tied down with ropes to stop them blowing away. After we left the village, we saw a pleasant pavilion with six sides, as you can see from its ceiling.

map on a noticeboard example of ancient farm implement lotus blooms in a field hibiscus traditional house ceiling

Next we travelled on to Wonju to look at the Paper Museum, where they gave us first an unfinished box and pieces of coloured paper, which we had to glue on to the box to make a traditional Korean box. Initially it looked like this. And the finished product, well, my version anyway, was like this. The museum was worth visiting, because it had a very clear description (example) of the method whereby paper is manufactured, which includes steaming, drying, soaking in lye, cutting, boiling, bleaching, beating, tearing, mixing in water, moulding, pressing, draining, drying in the sun or by a fire, and more beating. In fact it seemed to me that one thought of an action and did that to the paper. The description started with the bark of the paper mulberry tree, and finished with the high quality result. According to the museum, Wonju was known as the centre for the best paper for centuries. Finally we went by a road completed only the month before, through innumerable tunnels and across many bridges to Sokcho on the coast in the north east part of the country, where we spent the night.

papers box and lid notices view of seaside

On Friday we at first went to the National Park Seoraksan, which we entered through the usual ornamental gate with a roof coloured with the usual four colours, but this time en a more interesting design. Soon we saw the park's symbol, perhaps also a warning about wandering in the mountains in the park, of which we saw only a small distant part. However that was the closest we came to any wild animals during our visit.

entry gate to the park roof of the gateway statue of a bear distant mountains

But before we reached the temple Sinheungsa itself, we walked past a gigantic statue of Buddha in his customary seated position. Around the base there were detailed reliefs. Other wise the temple consisted of the guards and a sacred place. While in the garden, we walked across the dry river by means of good modern bridges.

Big bronze statue Bronze reliefs Big wooden figures golden statue and prayer leaves stone bridge across a dry river

Next we drove to the little town of Gangneung to see the pavilion Gyeongpodae, which stands on the edge a lake not far from the sea. It is famous for its good views across the lake and other directions from different levels. We stayed long enough for two of us, Jomart and Natasha, to give us a short concert, which we much enjoyed.

Then we turned towards Yeoju, but I noticed on the way the unusual traffic signs, where the drivers were allowed to do U-turns, when the lights permitted.

Yet another pavilion Jomart and Natasha U-turn sign on the road

King Sejong was the most respected of the very successful Joseon dynasty. He ruled from 1418 to his death in 1450, and established the rules of government and founded an institution, which made scientific inquiries with tools, which he helped to create. We were on the way to his tomb. Some of his implements were large and complicated, like this apparatus to measure the position of stars and other astronomical bodies. But others were simple, like something to measure rainfall. Or this stone column with lines chiselled in it to find the depth of water during floods. Perhaps the most useful was a very precise sundial, on which the lines in the hemispherical bowl showed the hour for different seasons in the year.

stone statue of the king grass covered mound astronomical instrument rainfall gauge depth gauge hemispherical sundial

And so ended the pre-congress excursion, and on the Saturday I found the building where it would be held on the campus of HUFS (i.e. Hankuk University for Foreign Studies). I got to the reception desk, which was also the place where most of the smaller meetings would take place. Inside on the ground floor it was light airy, and more importantly air-conditioned. Outside the open terrain was pleasant, although the temperature varied between 30 and 35 degrees with humidity of 80% or more. Fortunately it hardly rained at all during my time in South Korea, but it was continuously cloudy. At night the top of the highest building there shone proudly. The main hall, where the more important events were held was called the Obama Hall, where there were always some folks busy with their cameras. So "Smile, please!".

I want at this point to congratulate the Korean organisers for an excellent arrangements for the UK-102. In particular the volunteers did a good job of answering questions and supporting the smooth operation during the week.

modern tall building pleasant light open area grassy area surrounded by buildings brightly lit balcony audience in large hall photographers in front of the stage row of people on the stage

My first half day excursion took me to the Seoul National Museum, which held many things of interest, not just another version of the Silla crown and belt, but also other golden articles and vase from the 15th century.

That evening I listened to a concert by the esperanto group Kajto.

view from a balcony golden ornaments olden articles large ceramic vase four singers with musical instruments

Over the next days I went to several lectures, and other events, but in the evening of Monday we went to the King Sejong Memorial Park in Seoul, where the originals of some of the statures and articles from the tomb in Yeoju can be found and which I saw the previous week. Here there were the water depth gauge under a roof to protect it from the weather, and several statues.

Afterwards we ate the congress banquet of many dishes, perhaps as many as 50 served from stations along three walls of the room. I much enjoyed the tasty food, the cooking was simple and varied, and always fresh everywhere.

At the congress Koreans showed various works of arts and crafts, for example hand painted fans, and one could be photographed wearing ceremonial clothing.

statue of the king stone column under a roof stone figures of people and beasts room full of diners fan painted with flowers red and green clothing

By chance Wednesday was the last one in the month, and on such days, so-called culture days, one could enter museums and other cultural sites free of charge, however, also without a guide. The free day was Wednesday, so I visited two of the palaces in the city. The term 'palace' does not mean the same as in Europe, but refers to a collection of pavilions among courtyards and gardens. The palace Gyeongbokgung was very close to the commercial district of Seoul. Just inside, behind the entry gate, one finds oneself standing in a large courtyard looking at the main gate, whose structure seemed to me somewhat unstable. Behind it was another large courtyard in front of a large pavilion. Around the edges of the square ran long colonnade, which provided shade away from the heat of the sun. The strange carved stone grotesques also were worth studying, while the inside of the pavilion appeared invitingly cool and airy through the open walls.

wooden gate with skyscapes in the background wooden gate wooden pavilion colonnade view from the shade stone figure cool open room

Within a walkable distance was a place known as the Eastern Palace, Donggwol, which contains several palaces and pavilions, en two parts. Initially I saw a pavilion on the edge of a lake in the complex Changdeokgung. Afterwards I went along the path through some gates. In fact there were at least two large palace regions. One was Changdeokgung, the other Changgyoenggung which was a relatively modest place, where the king lived, with the queen's quarters behind it. The main entrance from the town was imposing, like all entrances to such places.

pavilion and lake long path and wooden gates single storey construction gateway

During my time in Seoul I travelled through the city by metro, which was very pleasant, clean, efficient and cheap. The platforms in the stations were longer than those in London. Signs above each train showed the last station and the next, and the direction in which it would go.

inside a metro coach long straight platform directional signs

At the end of the week, I had most of a day free, so I went to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It is a place, where you can find museums, but because it opened only recently, I thought that it needed more exhibits, and perhaps it has now, I don't know. The famous architect Zaha Hadid designed it, as you might guess from its curved form. When they dug out the ground for the foundations, they came across an important archaeological site, which is now a central feature of the area, where people can meet. On the way back to the hotel I passed Cheonggye Plaza, from which flows the small river Chongnangchon. The people have turned into an area for free time as it flows west before it meets the main river Hangang.

concrete curved construction people walking up and down a slope tables and umbrellas around a piece of earthen ground fountains and river

The next day Sunday found a group of us flying to the island of Jeju for a short visit. Even coming out of the airport one noticed the difference, the plants were more tropical, and the public stone artworks have their own characteristics. Because the weather was almost unsustainably hot we soon went to an unusual so called theme park, where away from the outside temperature of over 35 degrees, we suddenly plunged into minus 5 en a museum of ice. Due to the drastic change of environment, we each received a woollen blanket for the time we walked around the exhibition.

In another part of the building we saw some good trompes l'oeil, which are just painted scenes. For example you could hide behind a broken wall en the middle of a battle, or play with a crocodile, or pretend to be Indiana Jones.

statues ice sculptures ice sculptures scene of a battle head of a crocodile coming out of a hole plank across deep hole

Next we went to the History Museum of Jeju, at the entrance to which there were boulders with holes, so the question is, how did the natural holes get into the rock. In fact the whole island is the result of eruptions from its central volcano. Lava flowed around a tree, which then burnt away leaving a hole. Elsewhere there stood a statue of an old woman leaning into the wind while carrying a heavy load. The museum contained traditional buildings, and mill, which was worked by a horse walking in a circle pushing a bar to turn the stone.

In the afternoon we watched the show Nanta, which was a comical combination of dance and music made using kitchen implements as musical instruments. Outside the theatre was the Nanta Man artwork made out of kitchen implements. The show has been taken around the world and is now famous. If you get a chance to see it, do so. And finally in the evening we ate yet again.

hole through boulder sculpture of an old woman thatched house stone millstone metal sculpture evening meal

On Monday after breakfast we drove along the south coast of the island, and I at first noticed the enormous number of dragonflies. This picture is dotted with four of them, if you look carefully. The first point of interest was Oedolgae a large vertical column of rock rising out of the sea in a small bay. It also has the name "General Rock", due to a legend about an event, which happened towards the end of the Goryeo dynasty, perhaps about 1375, during the war for liberation from the yoke of the Mongols. The Korean general Choe Young dressed Oedolgae as a gigantic general, which so frightened their enemies, that they fled from the fight. It's also worth noting, that vegetation easily grows on the top of the column. The island of Jeju is about 5 million years old, and principally formed from lava under the sea. In that way the solid rock is full of tiny holes, making it very porous, and it absorbs rain very easily, so allowing vegetation to thrive everywhere, even on the bare rock.

Later we stopped at a small Tea Museum, which included tea cups from all parts of the world. These ceramic cups came from the pottery of Royal Doulton in England. The museum belongs to the firm Osulloc, which grows tea locally. Quoting them, the climate is very suitable for tea with temperatures over -5, and an average between 14 and 16 degrees. The soil is rich in minerals, and he water from the rain is clean.

In 1968 a chinaman Bum-Young Sung decided to develop a piece of wasteland into a garden, and so started work on a so-called "spirited garden". The locals thought that he was mad, but he continued against all difficulties, until he opened it to the public in 1992. Now it is world famous as a garden full of bonsai trees. The quiet wide lawns relaxed us, and the waterfalls added to the feeling. Even the fence near the restaurant showed some imagination.

view of the sea vertical column of rock in the sea pair of teacups bonsai trees in pots view across a lawn water falling downwards sculptured figures

The island also boasts a botanical garden under glass, where one can examine plants from various climates. In some parts the humidity was so high, that the camera kept collecting condensation on the lens. However I did succeed in getting pictures of flowers from the jungle, and the water garden with its aquatic plants. The desert glasshouse provided better conditions, ideal for cacti.

Afterwards we went to the sea again, this time to look at the rock formations at Jusangjeollidae where the basalt solidified into six-sided columns. And of course we had to have obligatory group photo.

pink lily-like flower small blue lake water lily cacti sea flowing on black rocks details of the black rocks esperantists in a group

The first of August was the hottest of the trip. One of us wanted to see the house of the artist Lee Joong Seop, and so we started there at the traditional house with its thatched roof. Entry to the living area was not permitted. But in a nearby gallery many of his paintings were hanging. Some of them looked somewhat childish, but others reminded me or European artists of the early 20th century.

Later our guides surprised us by leading us to a quiet room for a foot massage. They gave us the necessary oils and towels, and we got instructions on how we would use them ourselves to massage our own feet. Part of the procedure consisted of mixing a sweet smelling oil into the water and breathing in the vapour. I did not know whether the place was foot massage parlour with attached café or vice versa a café where you could get a foot massage. In any case they sold coffees from everywhere, where it was cultivated, as we understood from the long row of containers fixed to the wall behind the counter. Apart from that there was also a small museum of items relating to coffee.

traditional house multi-coloured painting simple line drawing tube of oil and a towel people with heads on tables café some small old articles

In the north east of the island there was a very interesting museum about the women divers called Haenyeo. They were always women, and have been swimming under the sea for at least two thousand years now acknowledged to be experts. They have transferred their experience to other countries, starting similar groups in Japan and elsewhere. The museum had examples of old traditional clothing and tools, as well as various pictures and other artworks.

short leather jacket metal items photos hanging sculpture

After considering the underwater world, we took a boat ride to see the cliffs of Sangumburi. Due to the heat plans had changed. The intention had been to climb to the top of the crater, but not everyone was willing to do that, so instead we saw from the sea the 230 metre high cliff, which demonstrated interesting rock strata and caves. It is worth mentioning that although the volcano en the centre of the island has not erupted for a few million years, about 5,000 years ago a powerful explosion occurred at Sangumburi, which blew the top off the hill leaving a crater. Despite the temperature two of us did walk up the good steps to look out across the dense vegetation, which now thrives in the crater.

rocky cliffs strata and caves stone staircase view over the crater

On the way to the airport the following day we stopped at the "Magic Road". This illusion convinced me more than others of a similar type, which I ad seen elsewhere. Is the road going up or down? I took the photo of the road facing uphill. At the end we saw Yongduam, or Dragon's Head, about which there appear to be many stories. But it owes its shape only to wind, rain and the sea. That was the last item on Jeju, and afterwards, we flew back to Seoul, and the end of the after-congress excursion.

road illusion rock at the seaside

I had ordered one more day in Seoul for myself, so I managed to revisit one of the palaces, this time with a guide. The Confucian shrines Jongmyo act as a memorial to all the kings of the Joseon dynasty. They lie in two long buildings, each with an enormous square in front of them. By chance when the last prince of the dynasty died, exactly one room remained unused. After the first row of rooms was filled, the second row was built, so how did they know how many kings there would be in the future? Ceremonies still take place nowadays a few times a year, and an example of the robes could be seen.

After that I walked to the palace Deoksugung opposite the city hall in the town centre. It looked, to my eyes, like other palaces, with coloured wooden houses and rooms with opened walls. Close to the palace was the Seoul Art Museum. Unfortunately I did not get good photos inside the museum, but here is something outside. I next looked at the map of the town and saw something odd. In clear letters it said The Hammering Man. What was that? It was not far, so I found it, a very tall statue which moves his arm, about once per minute.

long wooden building colourful robes gateway in a wall coloured detail room apparently without walls bright read artificial flower silhouette of a giant

The next day I flew home. That's all, folks!

Andy Pepperdine


Creative Commons License
Visit to South Korea, and all the linked pictures, by Andy Pepperdine is made available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.