Musings about Korean markets in the 1990s…

So very different from Canada….

Fresh food was for sale in a lot of areas. On the sidewalks sometimes, and at huge, sprawling vendors’ markets, and at stands outside of corner stores. Prepared ‘street food’ was for sale on the roads in certain areas. Small, blue-coloured Daewoo trucks drove slowly through residential neighborhoods, with a man’s voice on a loudspeaker announcing seafood or Asian pears or even eggs for sale. These were all affordable, or they were even great deals. Like I’ve mentioned in former blogs here, you could see a man selling roasted chestnuts outside of a venue, or come across a truck selling bags of rice snacks next to a subway station or you could go to a stand selling freshly cooked ‘boongobbang’ (waffle-like cake filled with red bean paste shaped like fish) beside a factory.

There were underground malls adjacent to subway tracks and above-ground markets that had hundreds of stores in clusters of buildings, covering a lot of city blocks, that sold just electronics, for example. Many times the buildings that housed these ‘markets’ were a number of stories tall, and there would always be vendors at these same markets who had their wares on the street too. Food courts were large and in malls and big box stores.

Malls were huge, but were in 6, 7 or 8-storey buildings to save precious space and they sold high-end clothes and jewellery. Prices of food and necessities were good at most places but clothing was always high-priced everywhere, no matter what. There were no sizes for tall, big-boned women like me. And when I wanted gloves or a hat, for instance, there were only fancy, expensive choices. In Canada, by contrast, there were elite stores but also there were always more affordable ones that were usually cheap department stores. I could have bought cheap, affordable gloves or scarves or winter hats in a North American department store for a few dollars each, but in Seoul each of these items was over 8 dollars and nowadays the price would be much higher 22 years later. In November of 1997, I needed sneakers or boots and saw some spread out on the pavement, outside, below some apartment buildings, but they were too expensive and the sizes were small. I looked at the men’s ones, since I knew I couldn’t fit into women’s sizes, and they weren’t much bigger than the women’s sizes and also, these men’s boots were not at all rugged or practical. Everything was made to wear while going from a car or subway into an office building – even the men’s winter boots! They reminded me of men’s dress shoes I would see in Canada. I wanted something made for walking long distances or even hiking or at least going through some snow. So I never bought any footwear while I was there and had to make do with one pair of sneakers from home.

An example of street food, which is popular.

One thing that was so interesting was that one time in Seoul, I was at a very large place where people could buy vegetables, and not only did they have carrots for sale, but they were in a space the size of my city block at home. That city block was full of carrots piled there right on the pavement. You walked and walked a long way to pass the mountains of carrots. Then you had an area the size of another city block piled with onions, just piled there for a long way, like the carrots were. A large area the size of my neighbourhood in Canada had all the common types of vegetables on the ground for sale. You walked a very long distance to get your vegetables at this place. I thought that was something I certainly would never have seen in my country and I marvelled at such a set-up. The population was so high they needed to do it that way.

There were grocery stores all around, and I would find them with difficulty, as they were usually in basements of buildings that had other businesses in them, and the signs were all in Korean. I was always struck by how there were no potatoes or milk or bread made with wheat like they’d have in my area of Canada. There were no fridges full of cartons of cow’s milk. Just some little plastic bottles of ‘flavoured’ milk, perhaps strawberry or coffee flavour, and the banana one is very popular with foreigners today. The tea sections had expensive green Korean ‘loose’ teas, and big glass jars of lemon or plum to mix with hot water. Some kinds of tea in bags were ground barley ‘tea’ in bags or ground corn in tea bags. ‘Job’s tears’ tea was popular and was usually a powder mixed in hot water, called ‘nut’ tea. I found some Lipton ‘black’ tea in bags like at home but Canadians in the Atlantic region think Lipton tea is not very good, and we have better brands of ‘black’ tea – my older relatives all would have perished without their King Cole or Red Rose tea! I had no idea that the tea we use in the west is called ‘black’ tea. Now, if I order tea in an Asian establishment I must remember to call it ‘black’ tea or the server won’t know what I’m asking for.

Packaged spicy ramyeon ‘noodle soup’, seafood made into street food, what looks like raw blood sausage, Korean pancakes and fish and vegetables.

In Kyeongju we walked through a sprawling market of mostly produce, where you passed items set out on a the street by many vendors. The picture above with the vegetables for sale reminds me of what I saw there. In the picture above, the prices show how items, some in packages, cost a dollar or two or three each. The prices are in Korean won and I always estimate if something costs 1000 won, it would be around one American dollar. The stock market fluctuates, but that’s how I figure it. Also, I figure ₩1000 is around a Canadian dollar too sometimes, to make it simple.

In Pusan, we were in a gigantic fish market downtown where we came upon anchovies for sale. I never knew what anchovies were because we do not eat them or sell or buy them in my area of Canada. They are little silver-coloured, dried fish. This indoor market had a few large boxes of big anchovies (still small, dried fish) in a section. In that same section beside the big ones, were a few boxes of a size a little smaller, then another few boxes of the slightly smaller next size, and so on, until you saw a few boxes of tiny, tiny anchovies. Maybe there were 8 different sizes. I thought it was amazing to see the sheer amount that was needed, as there were so many of those little, dried fish for sale in that one area of the market.

Speaking of these anchovies, I had soup with different sizes of the tiny fish in it while I lived in Korea. I like fish in general, but I didn’t want to have soup with little fish in it in the morning. One morning I was finishing my nice bowl of Korean soup in the basement of my institute and there had been a bunch of these anchovies in it – they were all in the bottom of my bowl!

I should mention that in one area of the old downtown there were many little jewellery stores, and it was thought of as a ‘jewellery market’. I went in a few of these stores, and it was amazing to me to see many display counters showing pieces with only one particular coloured gem, like a yellow one. Then after looking at many counters of yellow, I saw many counters where all pink gems were showcased, and then blue gems, and so on. Counter upon counter and row upon row of just one colour! Then more! I couldn’t believe the sheer amount of one kind of coloured gem in one spot and there were many other stores with the same set-up in this famous ‘jewellery market’ as well. At home we’d have smaller stores with smaller displays and only a few stores in my city at that.

Beomosa in October 1999…

This is one of the best pictures I took. It’s at Beomosa Temple north of Pusan. I have this framed on a wall in my living room. One of the monks is walking here in his grey suit and cosmos flowers are in the picture too.

While lost outside of Pusan…

While we were lost in what Koreans call ‘the countryside’ north of Busan, we had to walk back towards the city once we realised we would never see the fortress we wanted to go to. In the area, after we saw the goats, I left Robert on the road and walked up a path through some trees to see what was up there. It was so amazing! It was a small Buddhist temple. No one was there, or at least I never saw anyone. There was a nice vegetable garden on the grounds. It was so peaceful. Beside the wooded path that I followed, there was a pond full of lillypads with a granite pagoda in the middle.

When I stood at the temple and faced where I had just come from, this was my view. (Oct. 1999)
A vegetable garden was beside here.

I remember looking at the huge tree in the picture above and thinking the trees in Asia really do look a bit different than in Canada. The huge trees above looked kind of squashed, but are still so big. I was so happy to be seeing trees like that and knew I couldn’t see them at home. I still remember standing there thinking about how the trees really do look like they do in the Chinese paintings and ink drawings.

The granite pagoda in the pond.
The small temple in northern Pusan.

A very special thing was there. It was a small stone building with a thatched roof, or a grass roof. This is what houses were made like through the years and in the 1970’s the government under famous revolutionary President Park made everyone take these roofs away and put tiles on roofs instead. I do not agree with all buildings having to change and look modern constantly, as many times they are ugly when they are changed. They do this restructuring all the time. I wish Korea would leave many areas alone, for tourism purposes and aesthetic reasons too. The government should realise they are taking away the character of most areas and that the flavour of alleys and old buildings are lost forever from what they’re needlessly doing. Not everything has to be shiny and repainted. Unfortunately the government thinks that everything does have to be.

Special old structure with cosmos flowers and vines. (Oct. 1999)

Back to Busan….

Once I had gone back to the road and met up with Robert, I noticed a young guy waiting for the bus at a stop. I couldn’t believe a bus stop was out there, and wondered where the bus would be going if we got on? I tried to find out what the bus cost, or anything about it from the young Korean guy but he wasn’t helpful or friendly. I scaped up some change and we got on the bus that came and got off close to the downtown. I must have had to ask the bus driver ‘OlMaYo?’ to find out how much to pay when we got on and I must have had the right amount on hand. I was so relieved. It had been scary to me to be that lost. Funny you can do things in Korea quite easily without knowing their language. It is very safe since they are very well-behaved and they must obey all the social rules and the country’s laws all the time. I realise it was a great honour and privilege to be allowed to live there and to visit in 1999 later.

We were hungry for lunch and went in a ‘chicken house’. Korean ‘smoke chicken’ was very well-done and delicious. You ordered a plate of smoked chicken pieces and have a huge glass of draught with it. They serve a bunch of pickled radish with it, called ‘dan mu gi’, which means sweet radish. The Japanese version of this has yellow-coloured pickled radish but the Korean version is a much lighter colour and is crispy and fresher. We really would have loved something like rice or preferably french fries with our chicken but when we tried to ask, they looked at us like we were from outer space! Nowadays these places have mostly been replaced by ‘spicy chicken’ and fried chicken restaurants which are very good too, but those chicken houses were very unique at the time.

BeoMoSa in October 1999…

I am so glad I chose to go to the temple in the mountains North of Busan that was called Pomosa at the time and now called/spelled Beomosa. I had to follow instructions in my Lonely Planet guide and get us to take the subway to very near the temple. It would have been a dollar or a few dollars to get in. It was thrilling and I loved the statues and looking up at the mountains while we were there. Trees and wooded mountains were surrounding us instead of the city, which was different from the 2 temples I had been to in Seoul.

I found this was the most interesting part of the temple. I made Robert return here with me before we left because there were statues of human Asian men around this pagoda, and the mountains stood around us. When I look at videos of Beomosa now this section is gone as far as I know.

Sometimes people go in the woods beside the buildings of BeoMoSa now and it is a tourist attraction to be in these trees because of many little piles of stones scattered on the ground throughout one section. Old Buddhist tradition says to make a piles of stones to represent a pagoda in areas around temples. We went in these trees back then but it wasn’t thought of as a sensation at the time. There was shade from branches above and there were a few streams trickling down the mountainside. The woods in Korea are not wild like in North America, as people have been all through them for hundreds of years, I figure. They had tigers in these forests years ago and there is talk sometimes of reintroducing them to the forests in Korea. I always imagined soldiers being in the mountains during the Korean war when I was in any woods while in Korea. I never saw any underbrush ever.

One of the statues of a figure surrounding the large pagoda. There was a figure at each corner.

While we were near here an older Korean lady handed me a small treat. She had given one to a Korean girl too. They must do this at temples, I think. I can’t remember what it was, but it fit in my hand.

I loved this and we didn’t even have time to go in this courtyard.
It’s very hard to recognise these places within the temple when I look at recent videos.
Another statue guarding the pagoda.
Cosmos flowers in the temple.

This will be the end of my description of our October 1999 vacation in Korea. When I look up information about Busan now I see that the population is not higher now than it was 20 years ago. I think it’s because the population of Seoul and surrounding area has increased so much, meaning many people move to the Seoul area now from other places in Korea. Many changes have occurred in Pusan, also, and there are many new buildings and bridges; some are elaborate. One day when we were looking for a meal near the Royal Hotel in the downtown core we found a Pizza Hut and ate there but it was small and cramped and crowded because there was a noticeable lack of restaurants in general, especially western ones. And there was a lack of space. In Pusan, there were and still are many mountains, and they keep mountains unpopulated, so this meant the buildings in the small valleys were more dense. We were very suited to have gone there and seen what it was like.

A final picture of Pusan harbour. A huge new Lotte Mall is now plunked here but to me the mall is ugly, as it is a too-large, non-descript silver box that ruins the view around the harbour.

Busan in 1999…

One of my favourite side dishes, KkarTuGe, pronounced ‘cartoogay’. I asked them what it was in the fall of 1997 while I was downstairs where we ate and they said it’s pickled radish with spices similar to kimchi and it’s always cut into cubes. The radish is very delicious when pickled and spiced.

Pusan in Oct 1999….

The city of Pusan was the second largest city in South Korea at the time of our vacation, with a population of around 3.6 million people. Pusan is found on the Southeastern coast of South Korea at its furthest Southeastern point. It is a huge port city as there are many, many, many containers of merchandise landing in or leaving Korea every day. I chose to go there because it was such a big city and because it was close to Kyeongju, although my husband thought it would be interesting to be in a city with such a large Asian port. Kyeongju, where the Sokkuram Grotto is found, is just north of Pusan but somewhat inland.

I am calling the city Pusan, as that’s what everybody called it back then. In recent years the way you are supposed to spell certain Korean names and words in English has changed. Places like Pusan are called Busan and spelled Busan if you’re searching for it anywhere now. My old neighborhood, Karak Market is spelled Garak Market. (Actually, it’s now called Garak Bon 1, having to do with the subway stop). If I am talking I still try to pronounce those ‘B’s like part ‘B’ and part ‘P’ and I try to pronounce my ‘K’s like part ‘K’ and part ‘G’ the way they said I should. It’s so difficult I can hardly do it now. What I mean is it doesn’t matter that they want us to spell the words differently because the pronounciation is the same as it always was. We spelled Kyeongju as Kyongju. Now it’s really Gyeongju instead. I find it’s all hard to get used to.

We took a bus from Kyeongju to Pusan one morning and arrived downtown. I found an ‘inn’ that had a large room upstairs in a building in the main busy streets. It was cheap, like $23, for the night. But during daytime and early evening hours there was a jackhammer in the area making a loud racket and I didn’t like that. It was more crowded and dusty here than in Seoul. Recently while searching online, I found out that Korea is much more densely populated than Japan is and I was surprised. For our second night in Pusan, we tried to go and stay at a hotel I thought would be nicer. It was called the Royal Hotel and it was beside the main park associated with Pusan Tower, in the heart of downtown.

Pusan Tower at dusk in Oct. 1999. We never visited up inside it but were near it for a few days.
Robert is ahead of me here carrying our bags. We were on our way to the Royal Hotel in the main part of downtown Busan. This is a famous fashion area where there were expensive foreign clothing stores.

We had to wait outside on the pavement on the street in front of the hotel for a while before they let us check in, which is hard to do when you’re weary. However, it was great to be staying there because there were places to go outside at the end of the hallways of the hotel that were like shared balconies.

Here I am at one of the outdoor areas of the Royal Hotel. It was a good way to see panoramic views of the city. The trees on the right are part of the park with the tower – it’s a small mountain, YongDuSan.

While on this small balcony area outside at the hotel, I took pictures of the downtown and the harbour. People always marvel at my pictures of Pusan, saying the buildings and houses “are on top of eachother!” It looked like they squeezed what they could in an area that was too small but left the mountains uninhabited. A lot has changed now and there are new huge bridges to islands, an astoundingly large yachting complex, more museums, bigger shopping centres and taller elaborate condominiums to live in. I found it difficult because normal amenities were lacking like buying a cup of coffee or even getting a meal easily somewhere. I think there were less public restaurants there at the time and I looked for vending machines to buy a little cup of coffee like I found everywhere in Seoul and there weren’t any. At that time in Seoul, many places had vending machines outdoors where you’d put in 35 cents and get a small hot drink in a little cup. These drinks were a prepared instant coffee or lemon tea or job’s tears tea (‘nut’ tea) drink. These little hot drinks helped my sinuses a lot when I lived there, as I was sick some of the time with an infection. The pollution and lack of heat in my building didn’t help.

It was interesting to see these crowded buildings downtown near the harbour.
This and the picture above are views from the Royal Hotel outside balcony. The Pacific Ocean is beyond the island in this picture. There is a bright orange bridge in the middle of this picture that goes to the island and you can see the water on the right.

We went to the park that had the tower in it that was beside the hotel and we walked up a long, winding tree-covered road for pedestrians-only to get there. The trees hung over this road so you couldn’t see anything but branches above you. Everything was dark and shaded while you went up the hill. I loved it because there were big birds that seemed to be similar to mockingbirds calling out and flying in these trees while we walked up the winding road to get to the park. And we had to wave to many people and say “Hello!” here. On the main street leading up to the road to the park, outside of the park, the mood of the people was lively and so happy. There were families and children everywhere. A group was cooking outside and asked us to try the treats they were making. They told us they were making ‘pumpkin treats’ that seemed to be like frothy, sweet-tasting blobs. It was nice and good of them to be so friendly. I had never heard of Koreans doing this or making such food.

Many parks have traditional structures holding large, iron bells, and this park was no exception.
The park was called Yongdusan if I remember correctly, and there were a lot of pigeons the people seemed to really like.

Perhaps things are not the same today, but we found that the people in Pusan looked a little different on the whole than the people in Seoul. Many had darker skin. We thought it was remarkable that the distance from Seoul and warmer climate made a noticeable difference in people’s looks.

While we were in Busan I wanted to see the Fortress from years ago that was in the area. It was similar to the NamHanSanSeong wall. We got in a taxi and asked to go there but the taxi driver brought us to the wrong place. We were dropped off way outside of Busan on a rural road surrounded by mountains. We met an old couple that was hiking to the fortress. I realised we were let out where Koreans would make a long, long hike for many hours to get there.

This was a town in the valley where we were let off by that taxi-driver.

While we walked along the road when we were basically lost outside of Pusan, Robert asked me, “Is that a rooster crowing?” I said “No, it wouldn’t be a rooster out here….!” and as I watched the edge of the property beside us, a goat appeared. Another goat appeared beside him. They were looking at us curiously. I could not believe how lost we were and thought it must have been a rooster that Robert heard after all.

These are the goats!

While we were trying to sleep that one night at the Royal Hotel, I heard horrible loud music. There was a nightclub in there somewhere underneath us! And the booming racket went until 3 in the morning! We had trouble getting any sleep or rest that night. When I looked down at the street at the many signs from our window I saw we were in a kind of entertainment area. I saw signs for “no rae bang”, which is common to see in Korea. It’s karaoke. The ‘no rae’ is a ‘song’ and like I mentioned in a former blog post, ‘bang’ means ‘room’.

There were many karaoke places all over Korea and there still are. I went to one in Karak-dong with Sang Hyun in the fall of 1997 and it was nice to see what it’s like. We got a few beers and no one else was there that evening. You could choose songs from the list of songs available. Most were Korean pop songs but a few English songs were available at that time – these were the few old Elvis songs approved by their government, a few Anne Murray songs and a few John Denver songs, ha ha! I asked Sang Hyun to sing a popular Korean song by a kind of a Korean rap singer. I didn’t sing. What was different was that while all the songs played (just tacky music) you had to look at your own screen to read the lyrics, and the screens showed half-naked women the whole time! Women, Korean and caucasian, in bikinis making suggestive poses, changing to another picture and another one on and on. Over and over and over. I was kind of angry and it ruined things for me. I don’t think Sang Hyun understood my feelings and I did not mean to take out my anger on him but I kind of did. I wonder if they still do that nowadays there? For a while around the millenium karaoke became popular in the U.S. and Canada and many businesses sold karaoke machines so people could do karaoke at home, but it’s gone out of fashion. I see many NoRaeBang signs in videos of Korea now when I look. Karaoke was a big part of Korean culture back then and it still is.

(I’ll finish my Pusan story in my next blog. Thanks for reading!)

Gyeongju in 1999…Bulguksa and Seokkuram

View of Old Downtown Seoul at night from Namsan Tower.


Kyeongju is a special city full of cultural relics that is a must-see for tourists in Korea. I planned for us to take an inter-city bus to get there from Seoul and to spend 2 nights. Thank goodness I could find a lot of information in that Lonely Planet guide, as internet wasn’t available much then. One morning we took the bus to Kyeongju and travelled through most of Korea and could see forested mountains and colourful valleys the whole way. I loved that virtually nothing, usually not a dwelling or a building, was on the mountains but trees. Most valleys had cities or at least greenhouse farms in them. The highways there were very modern and efficient. We had to go several hundred kilometers to the south on the eastern side of the country to get there. On the way we loved seeing white egrets in the streams and marshes. Since Canada is further north than Korea and colder, there are no egrets ever to see.

Some people would not be bothered to look at egrets, but we both were thrilled to see so many in waterways along our route.

Travel within Korea was very affordable and downright cheap to me. Whether it was the subway, a bus, a plane or a taxi, prices were much lower than in Canada, in spite of the gas being much more expensive in Korea. So a bus ticket to Kyeongju was only around $16 per person and the distance was around 300km. The bus was nice and we only made a few stops.

Entry fees for everything there were low so all children could easily learn about their history and be proud of it. Income tax for the people was very low and there was no such thing as sales tax. There were so many great, better differences between Korea and Canada I saw and liked.

In Kyeongju, when we got out at the bus station, my guidebook said to go closeby and I would find several choices of affordable inns with rooms to stay in overnight. I followed the map in the book and found a place on a side-street. I asked the middle-aged woman running a restaurant with simple rooms upstairs if she had a room for us. It was only $23 for one night! Acquiring the room had to be done with a few Korean words like “bang issoyo???” (Do you have a room here?) and shoving Korean money at her. I had to say, “DooGae” and put two fingers up, meaning 2 nights. We had some sights to see while we were in Kyeongju so the room could be simple, as we weren’t going to spend much time in it. There was no elevator but the room was quiet and had a bathroom and we never did see anyone around for the whole time we were there. It was very different from Seoul. They were trying to keep Kyeongju traditional-looking and not advanced with no huge shiny office buildings like in Seoul. I remember missing the amenities you could get in Seoul like a cup of coffee here or there, a western chain restaurant or even seeing an English word on a sign somewhere.

A typical photograph of Kyeongju has these royal burial mounds in it. The mounds are huge because of the importance of royalty buried there. Regular people have smaller burial mounds. Famous treasures have been found in the area, like old crowns and old Buddhist artifacts. You can see the many mountains around the city.

It’s awful to not exactly remember our schedule from 20 years ago now, but I certainly remember seeing the sights I had wanted to see and some other surprise things also. I know I got us to take a bus or taxi to the most-visited Buddhist temple by tourists in Korea, Pulguksa. However, it was a special day at the temple when we went, and the famous front of it, where there were several distinctive stone-bridge staircases, was covered up by a huge banner. It seemed to be an important event with a high-level monk speaking to the crowd the whole time. We walked through the grounds behind him just the same.

I do remember it was too hot for me, even though it was October, and soon after our arrival in Kyeongju I had to get a taxi to take us to a place where I could buy a hat as a sheild from the strong sun. The sale stand was just an outdoor area with items on the pavement like unattractive hats you could buy. I thought my hat was really a man’s hat but it’s all I could find and I was desperate. It was so ugly I never kept it, but I was thankful to have it at the time.

This is not my picture but it’s what the stone-bridge stairs at PulGukSa look like. It’s what we didn’t get to see.
This is a good picture from a book about Pulguksa of what the pond and stone bridge look like in spring.

When you enter Pulguksa, the first thing you come upon is the beautiful pond and stone bridge above. My picture was not as good as it should be because of the bright sun. I had seen and heard so much about this temple that I was thrilled to be there. Robert wasn’t very thrilled, and said all Korean traditional-style buildings were the same. I wholeheartedly disagreed.

Here’s my picture of the pond and bridge at PulGukSa. ‘Sa’ means ‘temple’.
I was looking up at one of the main buildings. It was very crowded that day. (Oct. 1999)
This is from a book about visiting PulGukSa. It shows some of the gold-coloured statues in a main hall there.

All Korean temples have statues of Buddha in them. They’re usually gold-coloured. At Korean temples, the monks’ dress was different from other countries’ dress, and the design of the statues and buildings were unique to Korea too. I never did see the inside of any main temple buildings, as people were trying to seriously meditate and worship at all of them. At PulGukSa, even the stone walls outside were distinctive from other sites and there were special artifacts to see also.

This is my souvenir from Korea I bought at ChogyeSa Temple in Seoul in 1998. It’s about 8 inches high and is in the style of what’s inside the temple buildings on alters. He’s heavy and cost around $20 twenty years ago.
These stone walls remind me of The Flintstones.
There were 2 stone pagodas in the main courtyard. This one was hundreds of years old and almost 4 stories high.

When we were finished seeing the temple, we came out near a large tourist village with traditional buildings peppered on the hill below PulGukSa where you could stay overnight or get a special meal. I had read in my guidebook that women came to get customers to go to their dwellings to eat a meal or have a homestay overnight. This is what happened. A Korean woman hailed us and wanted us to come to her house to have a Korean lunch. We did need to eat after viewing such a large place and it was lunchtime, so we followed her to one of the tile-roofed buildings. I ordered soy-bean paste stew for us. She made it in front of us and served us each a huge stone bowl that was hot and the stew sizzled. It was perfect. We could look at the scenery and mountains while we ate. I kept looking up at one extremely beautiful mountain and the woman said, “Sokkuram…” It was where we were going next – a Buddhist statue in a grotto in that very mountain!

For me, seeing Sokkuram Grotto was the main attraction to visit on my vacation. Whenever I saw a picture of the statue I thought it would be so exciting to see.

There are many mountains like this to see throughout Korea.

I only realised years later that we had made a pilgrimmage to the grotto when we went to see the special buddha that day. It’s considered to be the most beautiful statue of Buddha in all of Asia. The grotto, with the granite Buddha and carved Buddhist figures surrounding him in Sokkuram mountain, was rediscovered after having been forgotten for years when a postman had to find shelter from a storm in the 1950’s by going in the cave. It’s astounding that people could create such carvings in a cave hundreds of years ago and its mysterious as to how they were completely forgotten for years. Many Korean people were making the pilgrimmage that day as well as many students in their school uniforms. We had to wave numerous times and say hello, as they kept hollering, “Hello!!!” happily when they saw us. It’s a unique experience all around.

We took a special bus to the top of Sokkuram Mountain first of all. The bus went extremely fast up a winding road at the edge of cliffs all the way up. At the top, there was a nice view of all of the mountains surrounding this area. There was a huge traditional building also. Everyone had to take a long hike through a wooded path from there to get to the grotto. I knew from reading my Lonely Planet book that there were no pictures allowed and that the buddha was behind glass. The whole experience was wonderful in spite of those things. It was probably a dollar for the bus and I don’t think there was a fee to see the buddha.

This is the huge traditional building where the bus lets you out. I thought perhaps there was one of their large metal bells inside of it.
Below the traditional structure was this other carving and there was a water fountain for drinking attached to it. A chipmunk was scurrying around there too.
This is me below the building at Sokkuram and there’s a turtle statue beside me. (Oct 1999)
Here is my own picture of the view from the area where you had to start your hike to the grotto. The haze or ‘pollution’ always made everything look faded more in pictures. I loved such a view, however, and the view was 360 degrees.

At the end of the more than one-hour trek through the forest, was a little building where you lined up and waited to pass through the inside or front of the grotto where the beautiful pinkish-gold granite Buddha sat. You had seconds to admire the statue behind the glass and many people would line up to do it over again. We only did it once. A Korean man who was near us in the line-up exclaimed to us after we had gone through, “…That’s it!!… It’s all finished!!!… All that way and it’s done in a minute!!!…That is all…!!!..” I think he and his wife went in the line-up again. We just smiled and chuckled. One remarkable thing was that the granite walls surrounding the Buddha were all carved with other Buddhist figures also. Sokkuram Grotto is studied as geometrically and mathematically designed so it’s interesting on many levels.

I looked back after passing through to see the grotto and took this picture. You can see the students in school uniforms and if you look closely you can see people lined up to go through the larger building to see the Buddha in its grotto. We didn’t go to the other little building at the top of everything on the left.
Finally, I inserted a picture of what you see when you pass by to look inside the grotto. It’s from a tourist book. The statue is 12 feet tall!

The fact that we saw Kyeongju, and had the strange fast, winding bus ride and saw others making the pilgrimmage certainly made the trip worthwhile. The view of the mountains and the chipmunk and egrets made it worthwhile too.

On our next day in Kyeongju we went to see some historical artifacts. We went through one of the parks that had “tumulis”, or mounds where royalty or their precious belongings were buried near them hundreds of years ago. While we were there, I fed a small box of crackers to the koi in a pond. It was thrilling. The koi were huge and one was peach-coloured, one was orange, one was yellow, one was gold and on and on. They loved the crackers! We also sat outside of the park, near it, and spoke to an old Korean man who was sitting there. Funny, you can communicate a lot with just a few words and gestures. He wanted to know what country we were from and we also said we were married, I remember. I knew how to say I was an English teacher (yong-o kyosa) and now I say “IMF Time…” instead of learning how to say 1997. I can say where I lived and and I know “sorry”, “wait”, and “excuse me”. I like to say “Han guk”, meaning South Korea and “saram” is people. So when I speak to a Korean person I can mention Korean people or Canadian people.

This is in the Tumuli Park we toured. Those 2 hills are burial mounds and the trees are flowering fruit trees. Men were trying to mow the sprawling lawn and security guards were blowing whistles at people who stepped off the path and trod on the grass.
One of my pictures of the koi that day. Many were black. Koi are bigger than you’d think: many are close to a foot long.
Stock photo of koi that are similar to the koi I saw in ponds in Korea.
This was a special observatory found in Kyeongju that was constructed for the queen 600 years ago.

We came across the old observatory and I was happy to imagine the royalty studying the stars many years ago by looking out of this stone structure.

On our second night at the inn, we went up to the rooftop patio and had a relaxing, enjoyable time looking at the area in the dark. I found a bottle of delicious milky-looking rice wine at a store nearby and had some of that while we were up there. This is a particular type of rice wine called makkeoli that is from old times. It’s sweet and pleasant, not strong-tasting and clear like their most commonly bought rice wine that to me is like vodka(soju). We looked at all the mountains surrounding Kyeongju in the dark and I tried to study the few mysterious lights on them which showed where perhaps houses or temples must have been – I wondered what was where those lights were. The time up on that roof was unexpected and unplanned but added to the experience of the trip.

I bought a vase from a souvenir shop that mimics a famous style of pottery from Korea. This type of pottery often had these cranes on its vases. I like that even though it’s a cheap replica it depicts the cracked glaze as well as the birds. These vases are usually light green. It’s about 12 inches high and cost around $20.

Seodaemun Prison and Namhansanseong…

This is Eastern Seoul. The Olympic Bridge from 1988, with the middle sticking up distinctively, is crossing the Han River. I lived about 4 km from here (if you go to the bottom and to the right).


Seodaemun is the area just to the west of Kyeongbokkung Palace. It was important for me to go because the West Gate of Seoul was here and that long, beautiful mountain with all the granite on it, InWangSan, was here as well. The day we decided to go to the area, we found ourselves near the west gate, and a few young Korean people came out of nowhere to say we should really come and see a museum that was right there. They worked at the museum, apparently. I got the impression they had been told it was better to recruit foreign tourists to see this museum. No wonder. This was the most interesting museum I’ve ever heard of. We followed those Korean people to the entrance as we did have time to go and it only cost around a dollar each to get in!

Seodaemun Prison Museum…

It was the Seodaemun Japanese Prison Hall. This was a testimony to the last time that Japan had taken over Korea. And it was like we had the whole complex to ourselves, as we seemed to be a few of the only people there. A young Korean staff-member showed us parts of the place and gave us a lot of explanations.

These are the actual old buildings the Japanese built in the early twentieth century to house Korean dissidents during the last Japanese take-over. We went through these.

For around 30 years from something like 1915 to 1945, Japan had ruled Korea and they kept Koreans who were freedom-fighters or who refused to submit in this prison. One thing I was surprised about was that one of the main prisoners was a woman. There was a mannequin in a tiny dark cell that was supposed to be her and we could look into this cell to see how she was forced to live. The most amazing thing to us was a display room with a mannequin who was supposed to be a Japanese guard watching a prisoner being tortured. The guard was moving in his chair, rocking with enjoyment, and holding a lit cigarette. He was relaxing and had his legs and feet up on the table in front of him. It was very lifelike and also was another way that showed how the Korean people created their elaborate museums.

On the right where the person is walking there’s a white brick facade that remains of the Japanese-built entrance to the prison. We entered there.

When we came out of the exit, the huge, looming InWangSan mountain greeted us, and I was so thrilled to be so close to it that I took a picture of it showing the granite design it had that looked like an ink painting.

Here is InWangSan. It was beyond remarkable in real-life.


I found the West Gate, also called Tongnimmun, near the Japanese Museum. It wasn’t like the other tiled-roofed gates, and was the first western-style structure built in Korea, modelled after the Arc de Triumphe in Paris. There is a picture in existence of the original gate that was destroyed before this one was built and the gate is not like this one. It looks more traditional. The old west gate was used by Chinese royalty when they came to visit Korea from the west and its 2 pillars that were left standing are in this picure behind the Tongnimmun Gate towards the overpass. This current west gate, the one I took the picture of below, called Tongnimmun, is called Independence Gate, signifying independence from China as well as Japan. People weren’t allowed to walk through Tongnimmun when I was there and you can see the iron fence around it in my photo. Nowadays people can walk under and through it and the area has been made into an Independence Park.

Dongnimmun, or the West gate of Seoul.
(I called it Dongnimmun because their ‘d’s are like ‘t’s in their language) It is made of cement and many pieces of granite.

Environmentally Conscious…

Even in 1997, Korea did things sensibly like save the environment in a more effective way than people do in North America. When I was living there, someone in Korea could order a delivery from a restaurant and it would come with real dishes that looked like melamine. No matter where the customer lived, after the food was eaten, the customer would put the tray with the now-dirty dishes out in the hallway on the floor outside of the door for the driver to pick up later. The dishes would go back to the restaurant and be cleaned and reused. The government there is not like people and companies in Canada where disposable dishes, usually not recyclable, are constantly used and thrown away. In Canada, one problem is that most people are not honourable enough to not steal the real dishes. Also, companies in Canada would be unwilling to pay delivery drivers to pick up the used dishes and return with them to the restaurant. Too bad they can’t do that environmentally responsible use of dishes in the west though.

Chinese Exhibit…

JiYoung, my roomate from Karak-dong, took Robert and I to a museum in the southeast of Seoul in January of 1998 when he had visited me. It was an exhibit about China and it was huge. I remember everything was in Korean or there was no proper information to read at all, so when there was a Xian warrior on a horse in a glassed-in case, I wanted to know if it was a real clay warrior or a replica, but I couldn’t find out. I did learn that China has around 20 separate cultures and has other languages than Cantonese and Mandarian and there are many different dialects of each language as well. We don’t learn in Canada about their diverse groups within their country. At one point we saw a section which seemed to show Europeans first arriving there and the information must have said some awful things about them because after that part we were getting dirty looks from people in the crowd as we passed them on the stairs.

Many, many times I had to take the subway and the system was similar to this. This is an Express Train though, which didn’t really exist when I was there, as it says KoRail on the side and the station is outside.

My favourite room was the one where an antique, giant, silk-embroidered banner went the whole way around the edges of a room. It was in a number of long wooden cases under glass. I looked at the intricate embroidery and it was an old scene showing peasants going about their business. The scene showed royalty too. There were animals they raised to eat and ‘ox carts’ in the streets. People having a meal in their traditional homes were depicted. One part seemed to be the emporor in palacial buildings with his servants incorporated into the scene, along with many rich Chinese ladies at a large party in another continuing section. There were trees and flowers and many details everywhere. I love Chinese art, especially very old art, so I looked at this embroidery for a long time. It was lifelike yet had that quaint look that Chinese artists used to create in their work. The fact that it was so old and all embroidered made it even more beautiful.

Outside of the large museum we saw an older Korean man cooking chestnuts at a barbecue-type stand to sell to people. Chestnuts were commonly eaten and most times they were raw. I had never eaten chestnuts in Canada, although we have chestnut trees, and I had some raw ones while I lived in Seoul. They’re very good and must be healthy too. Raw chestnuts are peeled and cut in neat geometrical designs and arranged in organised piles on ceremonial plates to have at fancy food tables during their Chuseok or Solnal meals.


I remember being told about the NamHanSanSeong fortress wall south of Karak-dong by a few Korean students in the fall of 1997. When I planned my trip I wanted to go there. I did it the hard way, as my Lonely Planet book only explained to go by subway to a certain stop in Seongnam and then hike up the mountain there to get in the park. This was lovely but very difficult to do. It was quite steep and many Koreans were climbing as well. There was a temple on the way up but I didn’t explore as I wanted to make it to the top. After an hour and a half of climbing we came to the huge South Gate in the picture below. We went under and through it and then we walked along stone wall, which was like a mini-Great-Wall-of-China running along the top of the mountain range there.

South Gate at Namhansanseong
NamHanSanSeong is one of UNESCO’s protected cultural world sites.

When you walked along the wide path, you walked along the fortress, which was 500 years old. The wall was built because one of the kings had to be protected from Chinese invaders at the time, I believe, but Korea had Japanese and Mongolian invasions and threats through the years as well. You can view Seoul from the southeast at one point on this trail but we couldn’t see it well when we came upon this spot. A great thing was that a Korean man started talking to us on the walk, and stayed with us talking and walking. He was a nuclear physicist! He said he liked Celine Dion when we said we were Canadian.

The nice Korean man took this picture of us on the trail. The wall is around 15 feet long/tall on the other side of the path, which gave protection to whoever was inside the walls 500 years ago.
This is a shrine to one of the kings along the trail in the western part of the park.
I find this is my most beautiful picture of all and it’s the shrine in the western part of NamHanSanSeong. There was a group of soldiers doing exercises there while I took the picture. You can see their shadows on the right on the steps. I didn’t dare get them in the picture, as you had to always ask permission to take photos, even at sporting events.
Another picture at the shrine. There are a few shrines there and at another one the Koreans do an annual reenactment of the history of it to honour a dead king. Like at Jogmyo Shrine downtown, they dress as king’s attendants in satiny robes with large black hats and beat a ceremonial drum in a procession.

We wanted to leave the park after hiking there for a while, and the Korean man didn’t know where to go or how to get out either. I remember him saying that to us. He suggested going down another trail through the forest that headed downhill further into the park. It worked! After a time we came upon a “tourist village” where people, especially foreigners, at the park could eat a special meal or get a bus home. I wish I had known about the buses.

Here is the man who helped us and talked to us that day walking with Robert in the tourist village after we emerged from the long forest trail.
This was one of the restaurants in the village that tried to entice foreigners with its tiled roof and real kimchi pots under the burgundy banner. The banner says special tofu from the area is on the menu, as well as Korean pancakes.
Another picture at the tourist village.

Finally, and I don’t know how he knew, but we followed the Korean man to a bus stop and he got on the bus too and told us where to get out to get the subway to get to where we were going. The people there are extremely helpful and everso curious about foreigners.

War Memorial Museum and the Seoul Zoo…

The War Memorial Museum….

This is my ticket from the museum. It is so absolutely huge that it’s astounding. I remember thinking it was like the Pentagon at the time. Seoul Tower is to the right of here and the Northern mountains are ahead.

I thought it was important for us to see the War Memorial Museum in Yongsan, Seoul, where the American forces were based. It did not disappoint. When we had come outside after being in the museum for 3 hours, I remember saying to myself that it would have taken us 2 weeks to see all of it. There were huge displays inside and outside of real planes and equipment that was used in the Korean War. A huge section inside had rooms and rooms of just Chinese strategies and tactical inventions from hundreds of years ago like how they rolled stones as weapons down a hill during primitive warfare several thousand years ago but then later they gradually developped gunpowder. The rooms presented actual examples of the ancient weapons used over time in many countries whose warfare involved Korea.

There were many interactive display rooms also. You could pretend you were in actual combat. We were in one room where it went dark, and then flashing lights and the sound of gunfire would start, and the recorded voices of what was supposed to be Korean soldiers in the trenches, talking to eachother, wondering what to do, would play. The voices spoke Korean but they sounded confused and scared. During my visit to this museum, I learned that many, many Chinese soldiers joined the Korean War partway through it and they fought on the side of North Korea, making things worse than they were.

It was a museum showcasing how all warfare for hundreds of years had affected Korea. This only cost a few dollars to get into as well!

Outside on the grounds…
Absolutely monumental….

Korean Furniture….

I wanted to say that we were lucky to even get beds anywhere over there. They don’t like beds much, as they are a western piece of furniture and not considered to be good for the body. Tables and chairs are western too. Korean parents sleep with their babies and small children until each child turns five. And they sleep on the floor on a special “Korean mattress”, which is a colourful, silky blanket with layers of padding under it, like the bright, red satiny seat cushion in the photo below, only bigger. Many people had Western-style beds when we were in Korea, but many people also had their ‘mattresses’ for the floor as well and they preferred their mattressee. When I visited Sang Hyun, we sat together on his floor. The pillows and blankets weren’t the same as the ones in the West either. There were only expensive comforters and pillows that were like sofa cushions with no pillow cases and there were no sheets to ever be found over there at all. A lot of Koreans ate while sitting on the floor at a short sort of coffee table in their apartments, even though they often had dining rooms like we have. The floors in Korea were made out of different material too, like a thin, smooth laminate. Even their walls weren’t like ours, and they were like the fire-retardant walls you see that are inside of trailers. I never noticed any gyprock while I was there.

So SoJoung gave us a bed to sleep in when we stayed with her, at least. I want to mention that SoJoung was Im SoJoung. ‘Im’ was her family name. All Korean women keep their own family names and don’t take their husbands’ names at all when they get married!

This shows the inside of a traditional house. There are no beds or “kitchen tables” or chairs! The tables in front of the blue screen are low so people can sit while eating at them.

Barley Water….

While in Seoul, I saw many bottles of what looked like water on sheves in their apartments everywhere. The water was ‘barley water’ they made all the time and that’s what they would drink. They put a bit of barley grains in a pot with water and they’d boil it for a while, then they’d save the water it made and keep that water in bottles and drink it. I always heard over there that something was “good for health”, and barley water was a certain staple at the time. Sail and SoJoung had many bottles of it on their window shelves, I remember. We were always told not to use the tap water for drinking or cooking. Everyone had to buy bottled water to cook with or drink.

The Zoo….

The trees had started turning colour and I loved these mountains…. You can see groups of school children in their uniforms everywhere in the pictures. When you came out of the subway station you walked here. Robert is in a striped shirt sort of on the right.

It was exciting to go to the Seoul Zoo on our trip, as I had always wanted to go. We had to go by subway to the South of the city, in the middle of it. It was out of city limits. The huge park complex was called Seoul Grand Park and it had 5 large sections in it. Only one part was the massive zoo. The mountains around it and statues and flowers were nice to look at. The enclosures were very spacious and the animals seemed to be treated well. A few spots were better than anything, like the baby albino tiger with blue eyes – he seemed to be the star of the zoo! How would I ever see one anywhere else? Seeing a real gorilla, Asian sun bears and a real Japanese crane up close was exciting to me as well. We spent 4 hours there and only saw a portion of it. The area was nice too and we had some different kinds of excitement there, as I will explain…

On the way to the zoo outside of the subway station.
Many times there were lovely statues in places. Perhaps I couldn’t take time to read about it or perhaps there was no English explanation here, as I don’t know about this statue.

To my surprise and dismay, there was a sky-lift to hop on with scary difficulty to get transported to the zoo, the park complex was so huge. We were able to safely jump on and had to do this while it was moving. It was okay for the teenaged students but not everyone would be able to go on the lift. It was like a ski-lift and was a high jump to get on too.

The lift on the way to the zoo. See how the young students could do it…

This park was near what they called the Seoul Racetrack. I never went, but it was horse races for tourists who wanted to bet. Can you believe Koreans are not allowed to gamble at all? They spoke of lotteries as well but were not allowed to get involved in it. Korea is and was extremely strict about any crimes or drug use of any kind. More strict than in western countries. There was a no-tipping policy throughout Korea when I lived there. Everyone lived the same and did the same things. They all had a lot of pride in their society and culture. One day I was looking out a high window in the city at the people on the street and it occurred to me what it was that I found different there. It was the army consciption that made the difference. All males had to join the army and train for 2 years. Every single one. Some had medical excuses not to go and some leave Korea to not have to go. I found this interesting when I lived there. As I looked down at the people on the street that day in late 1997, and realised conscription affected the men there, it made sense that all the Korean men were extremely disciplined and orderly. All the time. Not only was everybody freshly showered and neat, but they all walked in an orderly fashion and there was hardly ever anyone who stood out from this orderly, neat crowd.

This is the rhinoceros enclosure. There were elephants and giraffes and zebras and hippopotamuses too.
A Korean student who was excited to see us foreigners at this zoo.

The photo above was taken because as we went through the zoo, this particular student was exclaiming more than the rest of them every time he saw us. We kept running into him and his group as we walked along. When it was time for me to see the bird enclosure, he planted himself in front of me and wanted to be in my picture. I wish I could have spoken to him, but he really could not speak English and had to go with his group. I like my picture of him and the memories it invokes.

I loved the bird enclosure because of the cranes in it. There were 2 kinds. On the right of this picture is the crane I looked at who was up close. He or she looked me in the eye and it was eery and sad because it looked intelligent. I remember thinking they are such special birds.

This is the gorilla. He only wanted to eat the cheesies thrown to him if they didn’t touch the ground. He had to catch them in the air.
We were nearing the end of our trip to the zoo here. A magpie is in the tree.
We came out of the zoo here.
Someone had called these flowers ‘Korean tulips’ once….

Korea in Late 1999; Changdokgung

A beautiful postcard someone gave to me.

As far as getting Robert’s luggage back when we were in Karak-dong during his visit in January, 1998, we had to get Anthony to get it back after we waited a week. He called Korean Air and was on the lounge desk phone for a long time speaking Korean. We were going to give up when Anthony said excitedly something and “…Han Shin Apat…!?!?!!…”, and I knew if they could find those apartments they could find us. Not long after, Robert’s bag was dropped off. We never could have gotten it by ourselves.


Many people I saw on the streets had little white, yellow or blue masks over their noses and mouths in the late 90’s and often the Korean people mentioned “pollution”. When I said I liked the yellow moon, Anthony had scoffed and said it’s yellow because of the “pollution”. They say I couldn’t see the land of North Korea well at the observatory because of these particles in the air. I did learn they had gas burning in their cars that wasn’t refined as well as it was in Canada and they said it made more bad air. Many times there was a haze in front of what you wanted to see. One businessman told me the pollution is worse in wintertime, and I think it’s because of the colder air. The particles in the air are moving more slowly in the cold air and they can’t move away as well as in the warm weather.

While I was still teaching in Seoul, I read a magazine about how it’s common for some people in Delhi, India or Mexico City to have a ‘carbon ring’ inside their noses. It means if you put a tissue to your nose you will get a black smudge on the tissue. It’s because a person has a black powdery deposit inside his nostrils due to breathing such bad air from the exhaust and emissions everywhere. I had a carbon ring inside my nose while I lived there! Honestly!

Learning the Language….

Even though it’s a good guess to say this is a bar because of the neon lights, I can read that the characters in the middle say ‘maek ju’, which is ‘beer’. I love to be able to read their language.

Once I had gotten lost a week after I arrived in Seoul for the first time and wanted to be able to say Thank You to that bus driver, I voiced my wish to learn Korean to Miss Park downstairs. Soon afterward she gave me a small English-Korean phrasebook. When I travelled to and from classes later I would look at a character on a sign anywhere and find it in my little book and gradually form a word in my head. I learned their 24-character alphabet that way in the next few weeks. What a great relief to learn what the signs said : “…B……….A……….N………” “…….G……..” “Bang!!!” One meaning for “bang” is bread….. It was a bakery! They were everywhere. It was only a Korean bakery and it was harmless. What are these places??? “….B….I……D…….I…..O……” They were just ‘Video’ stores that rented out movies! Being able to read relieved my anxiety while I was living there. Even now, I can read what most of it says but I don’t often know what it means as my vocabulary is lacking.

Also, many Koreans told me they were surprised at my pronounciation being better than they would have expected. I had realised right away that their vowel sounds are like French vowel sounds, and not like English vowel sounds. I could pronounce their words better because I used that French pronounciation of their I’s, A’s, E’s, O’s and U’s instead of English ones. Knowing French helped me speak a third language. And twenty-two years after I learned the words for “garlic” and “onion” I remember to say Man-eul and Yang-pa like it was yesterday….

When I was planning to go there for our vacation in late 1999, I readied myself to say “…..Do you have a/any _________…” This can apply to “…Is there a _________ ?…” as well. So I could easily find out if there was a bathroom where I was or if the merchant had any, let’s say, batteries. I had to know “…issoyo…” I just had to know and say, “…Battery issoy-o…..??…” or “…Hwa-jang-shil issoy-o…” Do you have batteries here? Is there a bathroom here? Of course knowing “hwa-jang-shil” meant “toilet” helped too. As far as being ready to travel there and speak Korean, it helped me to learn that “bang” also meant “room” and it helped me to get my husband and I a room in a hotel or cheap inn. You can’t say “bang” like we would say the bang bang of a gun; you have to say it like you were pronouncing it in French, almost like “bung”. And even Sang Hyun’s name is pronounced “Sung” in English and not “Sang”, like “Sang a song”.

Vacation in 1999….

I wanted to travel in Korea once I had gotten back to Canada in 1998. I planned a 2-week vacation during October 1999 for me and Robert. I read my Lonely Planet travel guide over and over and dreamed of all I would see. And Sail told us to stay with his wife SoJoung in Seollung while we visited Seoul. Unfortunately, Sail was living in the US setting up LG sales of cellphones while we visited, and I had lost touch with Sang Hyun at that time. It was my own fault that I hadn’t been communicating with Sang Hyun because I was afraid my husband would be too jealous of him. I got in touch with him later when I was back in Canada in the year 2000. For our vacation I planned an affordable big trip and used my travel guide, which people don’t need to look at now, to find places and transportation and affordable inns.

Changdeokkung Palace…

All the Korean people said Changdeokkung was the nicest palace because it wasn’t open to the public until recently because it was considered to be a “Secret Palace”. The commoners weren’t allowed to know what it looked like for a long, long time. There was a pond inside the grounds that was scenic and calm and beautiful, with special structures around it. This was called the “Secret Garden”. You couldn’t go and see it by walking around freely. Everyone had to be part of a guided tour at Changdeokkung. The day Robert and I went we could only get in on the Korean tour, so I have no specific knowledge of what the buildings were for and I have to use my imagination about them.

Waiting to go into the palace grounds. I bought Robert a small, cold can of Korean coffee.
Just inside the entrance. I had our money and passports under my shirt in a money-belt so my stomach looks bigger than it was. It was hotter there than in Canada for October.
The king’s throne was in here.
Markers for where certain servants would stand.
It was beautiful. I like this picture because of the old Korean man with his hands behind his back on the right. See his funny pants and shoes? The man behind him was a Canadian we spent time with after.
This and the next few pictures are of the ‘secret garden’, where the pond is.
The sun is so bright there it makes pictures faded.

The wonderful thing was that at the end of the tour the Canadian man started talking to us. His name was Merv and he was from British Columbia and was on a self-planned trip all over Asia. He had been to Taiwon and liked it best. We walked around with him and had lunch in a little ddokbogi (the pounded rice cakes in red, spicy sauce) restaurant. The teenagers ate ddokbogi for lunch commonly so there were many young Korean students sitting there in their school uniforms. These ones were all guys. We only paid around 3 dollars each for our bowls.

More at Changdeokkung Palace.
This was nice at the palace.
This Korean man could understand what was said about this building during the tour, and he’s looking at his pamphlet.


Buildings at UnHyeongGung. We came upon it unexpectedly.

While we walked with Merv, we came across another palace called UnHyeongGung. It is small and was really a ‘royal residence’ for some relatives of kings years and years ago. Today it’s a museum of Hanbok clothes and other traditional items. The wonderful thing about this palace was that it was a day that school children and other children had been brought there for lunch. I got 2 special pictures of them in Hanbok dress that day.

Here are some of these children who were dressed up at UnHyeongGung. Merv is on the left.

You won’t believe it, but during our vacation, in most places we went, there were large groups of children on tour to see those sights as well as us. They were all in school uniforms and they all were so excited to see ‘foreigners’ like us. They all waved each time we all were in the same place and they called out, “Hello…!!!…” We both smiled and waved and answered back, “…Hello…!!!…”. We did this all through our vacation and our hands were sore and aching every evening when we were in our hotels or inns or at SoJoung’s. We felt a little like royalty, as Lady Diana, for example, had said one time her hands ached at night from waving and shaking hands all day.

The group of school children, or kindergarten, at UnHyeongGung that day.

Central Post Office, Etc…

Looking out of the window where we bought some stamps….

I do believe the picture above was taken up in the old Central Post Office where Robert and I bought some special stamps. There was an underground stamp market below here and we got some other stamps in it. The picture has a traditional-style gate and I liked the area very much.

SoJoung brought us to the Wedding Hall she designed gowns for. Robert is missing the black belt that is part of his costume.

We were very lucky as part of our trip to dress in traditional wedding clothes! Sojoung was a wedding dress designer and brought us to her place of work in Samseong-dong near the Koex Building. She had the costumes there and we were allowed to put them on. She was scandalised that I couldn’t fit into the tiny white wedding dress she also had there, as Korean women are all built much smaller than many Canadians. Everyone who gets married in Korea has 2 ceremonies: one with traditional clothes and one with a white dress like in the west.

This is across from the Koex Building in Samsung-dong. You can’t recognize the area now, except that the ‘clock’ building is still there in 2019.
We went to Olympic Park and this time the grass was still green. I used to love going over the bridge and continuing up over the hill. It was an exciting view to me.
The East Gate

I specifically wanted a picture of the East Gate to have all the four gates photographed by the end of my trip. I dragged my husband to Dongdaemun on the subway to get the picture, which turned out very nicely. We didn’t stay there that day but tried to. I asked if they had a room at a western-style hotel near the gate but they didn’t. I had been near there one time with Sang Hyun in 1997 at Children’s Grand Park. It was another wonderful complex in Eastern Seoul. Sang Hyun brought me on the ferris wheel. It didn’t go like our ferris wheels! It slowly, very, very slowly made ONE turn. That way you could see a lot of Seoul and all those granite-covered mountains well, especially when your booth is at the very top for a minute. I find they do things differently and better. In Canada we want the sensation of the ride but over there we’d want the view.

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