Seoul in 1997…Chogyesa, Odusan

Autumn ginkgo leaves…these trees had nuts hanging on them too! The nuts were little round hanging balls. Ginkgo trees were everywhere! Many mountains were covered in gingko yellow in October and those mountains had patches of bright red Japanese maples on them also.

Chogyesa Temple…

Five blocks southeast of the North Gate was a temple called Chogyesa. It was considered to be the main Buddhist temple in all of Korea. And the richest one. Even though it was the richest one, it wasn’t as pretty as bright-coloured Bongeunsa and frankly, it wasn’t as nice-looking as the other temples in the country were. But it had a unique character and had a number of very special qualities of its own. And being located in the old downtown near the palaces and next to a neighborhood known for antique shops and Korean tea-drinking added to its authentic atmosphere.

I found Chogyesa by myself one day in December of 1997 and I found that it was so interesting. Chogyesa was right in the middle of the metropolis, with city buildings and streets close beside it. A wonderful thing about this temple was that monks who lived there were often chanting and hitting rhythmic blocks and this was hear knowd over speakers inside the grounds as you walked around and it could be heard outside of the temple too. There were speakers on buildings out at the sidewalk and people walking by on the street could hear the chanting and block-playing. A colony of monks lived at the temple and you could see one of them sometimes. Chogyesa had a long history that I could feel while I looked at the wooden buildings that really seemed to be old and weathered. This was good because all of Seoul’s Royal Palaces and all of the temples in Korea have been rebuilt in recent years to represent all of their original buildings that were destroyed by fire or by the Japanese hundreds of years ago. Therefore, some of these traditional attractions can look fake if their most recent paint job doesn’t look good.

The 500-year old pine tree that was still growing there in 1997 added to the historical aura of the temple along with the various paintings on the prayer buildings. Chogyesa’s wooden buildings had very elaborate golden statues of the Buddha in them but since I was a visitor and a “foreigner”, I didn’t want to be forward and interrupt anyone’s worship time by entering any structures to take pictures. I heard from the other teachers and read tourist information saying that you should ask permission to take pictures in Korea. Most Korean temples have Temple Stay options for visitors who want to learn about Buddhist traditions from real monks and stay overnight on the grounds for a few days. Those tourists can easily see the inside of prayer buildings, but things were different over twenty years ago.

Unfortunately, Chogyesa has now been completely changed and has garish gold-coloured figures scattered throughout it, like most Korean temples have in them nowadays. When I look at current videos of it I feel sad at the loss of the statue of the lion I liked so much(pictured below) and the paintings of km in Inn birds I saw there in the late 90’s.

The sun wasn’t out so my pictures are dark. I believe the 5-storey building on the left was where the monks lived.
Since I am an artist I loved the fine art on these structures. There were many, many lanterns bought for “good luck” strung up here.
I loved this lion statue…
The lower paintings were telling of Buddha’s inspiration, travels and hardships and above them were gorgeous paintings of birds(pheasants, quail and other fowl) that went all of the way around this building. You can see there are Korean names written on the papers attached to these lanterns.
This was a 500-year old pine tree and an information board about it and a traditional stand to commemorate it..

Well, I had never imagined what happened next! After I took a picture of this special pine tree, one of the Korean monks appeared and spoke to me! He was so kind and was smiling. He asked if I wanted him to take a picture of me in front of the pine tree. Of course, in my utmost happiness and shock I said yes. After he took the picture I mustered the courage to dare to ask if I could take a picture of HIM in front of it. And he smiled and agreed. I asked him “Do you live here?…” and he said yes, he did live there. And then he had to move on. I can still feel the thrill I had.

This is the picture the monk took. I remember it was cold that day.
And here is the precious picture I was allowed to take of him. Korean monks wear a grey suit. Each Asian country has a different coloured suit. Usually we see Buddhist monks in Thailand or Tibet, for example, wearing bright orange.

Exploring with Sang-Hyun…

After my solo visit to Chogyesa, Sang Hyun and I went there on one of our sight-seeing days together. The weather was better that day then when I had gone alone so the pictures were brighter from the sunshine. I bought a few souvenirs too. This made my memories of that day even better than they would have been without the souvenirs and without Sang Hyun. You see, he explained about my Buddhist purse that I bought, and took me to a Korean Tea House nearby.

The bright pink Buddhist purse was only a few inches wide. I think I only paid 2 or 3 dollars for it.

That Buddhist purse had a tiny Buddhist Bible inside. You can see how small it is. If you open it, it really has Korean writing, very tiny, inside on the small pages! Sang Hyun put a few coins inside the purse for me. He said this is for ‘good luck’. One of the coins above is ₩500 (500 Won) and I of course loved those particular coins because of the flying crane pictured on them. They were like 50 cents. It’s funny, someone could look at my 3 dollar purse and say, well, so what?, but it has a lot of meaning for me.

We also went to Kyeongbokkung that day and stopped at his workplace that was across the street from the palace.

I took this picture at the palace that day.
I can remember going to Chogyesa Temple with Sang Hyun that day in January 1998. This is the back entrance.

I didn’t fully realise it that day, but Sang Hyun did me an extra favour by bringing me in a Korean Tea House. Going to a tea house in that neighbourhood near the temple is a tourist attraction now. There are rituals to follow and it was complicated, unbelievably. I do remember we sat together and had a cup of green tea. The cups are very small and you sip it slowly.

This was in the tea house area.


A few times it was really unbelievable that Korean babies could see I looked different. I would be on a crowded subway car and a woman would be holding an infant a few months old and that baby would be crying and crying. The infant was inconsolable. When the baby saw me he stopped crying abruptly and stared at me! This happened more than once. I couldn’t believe it. An infant! The babies who did this stared at me and couldn’t take their eyes away from me! Staring and staring and not crying anymore. Everyone on the train noticed, of course. And then THEY stared! The people who told me I shouldn’t go to Korea and said I’d be the only person like me on the subway car had certainly been right. I was the only person who looked like me on the whole train.

Everyone has a certain traditional dress and you see many dress shops selling the Hanbok clothes.

This of course made me more painfully aware that I was very different and alone and when it got to me that I missed Canada, I was feeling an alienation that is hard to describe. It’s a wonder I could do what I did, when I look back at it all. Even though I had wonderful Korean friends and loved it I missed reading English or seeing it most of all. There was hardly any English anywhere ever, at all. It gets to you that no one understands how you feel about anything over and over again. I started crying at a park with Sang Hyun once because I saw a few Korean family members laughing and enjoying that park in front of me. He was not wanting me to cry, and didn’t know what to do, but I couldn’t help it. By the end of it I missed hearing French too, I remember, as I had studied French for 12 years of my life and my city in Canada was 50% French. Funny, I get annoyed with French while I am in Canada, but everything was so absolutely different and so totally foreign when I lived in Seoul that missing Canada nagged at me more and more once the culture shock had subsided. I did a lot to experience Korea in my five and a half months there though. I would never have chosen to not experience it. There were 2 older foreign English-speaking men I met who lived in apartments on their own and did a few classes for Mr. Kim here and there. They loved Korea and had chosen to permanently live there long-term. One gave himself a Korean name and the other one was from South Africa. I understand those men, but my husband was not legally allowed to work there because his education was different than mine, so I decided to live back in Canada later instead of getting my husband to live there with me. I did strongly consider living there long-term with my husband back then.

Every week while I lived there on Sunday night, I’d go downstairs and over to the next lot where the Han Shin Apartments were to call my husband and then my mother. There was a payphone to use outside. I used a phone card or coins. It was Sunday morning in Atlantic Canada when I called them. I always asked my husband how our 2 cats were. I wrote letters to people back home and their letters took 2 to 4 weeks to arrive. I don’t know how any mail got anywhere, period, as everything was written in English.

I put this here to break up my text again. Sang Hyun took this photo when we went to Cheonggyesan Mountain in October. I had to buy this Gag sweatshirt because I needed something warmer than what I had brought with me. I wouldn’t have chosen it but it’s all I could find in their high-end stores that fit me.

Other Establishments…

Korean people explained that there were many places called Public Bathhouses that you could go into and have a bath or take a sauna. They described the inside and the towels and soap and possible rooms to go in and what everybody did in them. They said the Bathhouses were common and very popular. I would have loved to go and try it but never got a chance. Many, many times a place had a sign with a picture of rising ‘steam’ on it and I think this meant it was one of these baths. Also, they explained there were Places of Rest, where you would go in and pay to take a nap. They said there was even one of these places behind my institute. I had heard that they did this in Japan but didn’t know they did it in Korea too. Seeing everyone asleep on the subway made me think it was a good idea. By the end of it, I was sleeping on the subway too in the afternoons travelling to Aju from Bucheon.

My jewellery box from the ministers at Sejong Institute. On the mother-of-pearl there seems to be a horse, perhaps?
It’s not a common symbol so I don’t know.
It opens and has little compartments. It’s around 4 inches high.


One day Sang Hyun had a special treat in store for me. We got in his little white car and drove and drove. It was a Sunday, I remember. We went north and to the west of Seoul. On and on. And on. We came to a satellite city called Goyang-shi and stopped there and visited someone he knew in one of the apartment buildings there. Then we went further west. We were going to an observatory where you can view North Korea! There is Panmunjom, and it is mentioned and shown on the American news a lot. If you go, it is formal and you may be filmed and no jeans are allowed to be worn. I was wearing my jeans that day. Odusan Observatory is one of several places other than Panmunjom along the North-South border to view North Korea that is never mentioned to westerners.

Look at it! It had a viewing area, a museum, commemorative statues and places to honour estranged relatives.

My pictures of the land of North Korea were faded so I didn’t include any here. But it was interesting what I saw there. Korean people were very somber and serious. They were standing outside and inside, staring sadly towards the North. It was really something. There are families who have been separated since the war and cannot see eachother. A few times both countries (it depends on North Korea) have agreed to let some families meet one more time and they are for example, a 74 year-old son who hasn’t seen his 95 year-old mother for almost 70 years! Then they have to say goodbye again forever. It is extremely sad.

Here is the place where food and flowers are put on the altar to honour relatives, dead or living. Here, people were bowing and looking out towards the North so longingly.
There were many black and grey brick traditional ‘smoke-signal’ stacks outside.
It was common in Korea to see these gazebos. There were sights like this at Odusan, including statues but no explanations to read about them.

Floral and Fauna…

I did learn a little about what was different in Korea about insects and flowers. In my province in Canada, we suffer with aggressive mosquitoes for over 4 months. By September, there aren’t as many as in summertime and in October there are a few that you don’t notice bothering you and then there are none until the end of May in the coming year. Over there, the mosquitoes were smaller than ours and their bites were smaller too. There were a few inside even in November and December but they seemed ‘stunned’ to me, as they weren’t ferocious like mosquitoes back home. On the subject of flowers, you wouldn’t expect to see any in such a crowded city, but it was common to see real red roses that had been planted along the sidewalks. I swear I even saw a red rose growing in such a way on December first! Where I’m from, gardeners pray their rose bushes will live and most of them do not make it through the winter. Small, tame mosquitoes and red roses in the streets…..seemed pretty good to me!


Chuseok and Solnal are a time to send good wishes and greetings with a card. This would be a Chuseok greeting given to a loved one. See the gachi?

Not long after I had arrived in Seoul, people told me that it would soon be Chuseok. It’s a week-long national, traditional holiday in October where family members make fancy, beautiful food offerings to their ancestors and relatives who have passed away. There are certain rituals they do that last for 3 days. They dress in their unique (families have their own official colours and patterns, like Scottish tartans) satin-like Hanbeok outfits. This was all done again for a week in January when it was called Solnal. Sometimes you hear of traffic jams in China because of people all driving to their hometowns at the same time for Chinese New Year. This exodus also happens in Korea. It goes on twice a year: once during October for Chuseok, and once sometime in January for Solnal. Some westerners think of the October holiday as Korean Thanksgiving and Solnal as Korean New Year. We teachers had a week off for each holiday. Speaking of holidays, I noticed that they had many, many holidays in Korea because they had such an extremely long history. It was mind-boggling. There was Kids’ Day, Grandparents’ Day, and every kind of ‘Day’ you can imagine, as well as numerous historical days to mark independence from Japan, China or Mongolia. Some holidays remembered battles, or kings and queens, or were special religious days for Buddhists or Christians. One time I looked at one of their calendars and the whole thing was peppered on every page with holidays.

One of the reasons males seem to be preferred over females in a number of ways is because during Chuseok and Solnal, the oldest son must perform the ceremonies at home when they bow to their ancestors and make their offerings. Sail talked about this and said it was stressful and a lot of pressure for him because his father, who would have done a lot of this, had passed away a few years before. He told me it was very traumatic for him to lose his father and see him die of stomach cancer. On an off note, stomach cancer was the leading cause of death in Korea at the time, because of the acid and spice from all the kimchi people eat. The second leading cause of death was a car accident. In Canada, our leading causes of death were heart disease first and the second was cancer in general, I believe, at the time.

The ceremonies they perform at these times are strongly connected to Buddhism, I always thought. At one point in the past they all followed Buddhism or a Shamanistic religion. Ancestors are not supposed to be gone forever and are sleeping or have been reincarnated. Sang Hyun told me his parents who lived on the coast to the south of Seoul were still following Buddhism but he was “no religion” himself. In many of the little restaurants I went in there was a dried fish hanging above a main doorway to ward off bad luck. Buddhists did this. Sang Hyun had a dried fish above one of his doorways in his apartment. He said his mother gave it to him and insisted he put it there, even if he wasn’t going to practice Buddhism. Most Koreans had Buddhist beads or symbols hanging from their rear-view mirror in their cars to protect them from being hurt in an accident, they all told me.

Gyeongbokgung and Olympic Park, CheongGyeSan

Inside a courtyard at Kyeongbokkung, spelled Gyeongbokgung now. It’s a magnificent place to go and one of six palaces in Seoul.

Gyeongbokgung Palace…

Kyeongbokkung Palace is a very large, beautiful complex. The king’s throne and 2 ponds and a pagoda-style museum are inside. When you face the front of it, you see the northern Bukhansan Mountains behind it. North Korea is around 50 kms beyond those mountains, a Korean businessman told me at first. They were very aware of North Korea but had to live their lives regardless. Ha ha, I told that Korean man that my grandmother thought I would be shot by a North Korean soldier and he laughed. Of course, it wasn’t really funny. There were 100 000 US troops there always at that time. We would see evidence of this here and there. For sure they all thought my husband was a US soldier when he visited, because he had a military-like haircut.

This the most important sight in downtown Seoul. It’s the North Gate of the old city and the entrance to Kyeongbokkung Palace. North Korea is about 50 km from here, behind the pointed mountain.
A Haitai statue is on the left in this picture. There was another one on the other side of the gate also.

A bit of orientation to Seoul is required here. If you are facing the North Gate above, the Bukhansan mountains are beyond the mountain in that picture. If you are beyond them, you are very close to North Korea. I had to know north, where these distinctive mountains were, and behind me would be south, then, where the Han river was. As long as you knew that, you knew a little about where to go. Many times, knowing north, south, east and west was enough to get my bearings.

This represents climbing mountains in Korea in general, but I don’t know which peak this is. Many people climb the mountains Bukhansan or Inwangsan and can view Seoul from above like this. North Korea would be in the direction of the cameraman taking this picture – Seoul is straight ahead.

I was on a ‘working vacation’. I went to see special places on my days off. I didn’t need much money. Entrance fees to large, beautiful places were only a few dollars. To get here, I had to go to my subway station in Karak-dong and go on the pink line for about four stops, then switch trains in Jamsil, and go for many stops on the green line, and then switch to the orange line to get to Anguk-dong and walk from there to the entrance of this palace. There was a lot of stamina needed because after this journey you were walking around the palace grounds, and had been going up and down many steps in subway stations and you still had to get all the way home afterwards too.

This is a statue of a mythical creature called a Haitai, sitting outside of Kyeongbokkung. Looking at the picture above you’d never realise that this statue, including its base, was 18 feet tall! They told me a Haitai guards the palace from fire. There was one Haitai on each side of the main palace doors.

This is to the West of the North Gate. You can see the Haitai from the photo above in the right of the picture. I loved this mountain because of the granite. The mountains in Northern Seoul were so huge and they loomed above everything.

That September was when I first saw the palace. It was one of the first sights I saw in Seoul. The ponds had koi in them and I could feed them crackers. There were several large courtyards where soldiers would have stood in designated rows in front of the king in their colourful uniforms. There were spots in these courtyards for scholars and advisors wearing their tall black hats. Huge columns came down from high walls surrounding the courtyards. A special peach colour was on a lot of the walls, houses and chimneys inside Gyeongbokgung, creating a peach colour theme throughout the palace.

This shows the columns next to people so you can see the size of them. I looked at the tiled roofs, statues, colours and mountains. (The 2 men are my husband and Sail Lee – from Part 6 of this blog. Picture taken in January 1998)
Building that contained the king’s throne. Look how small the people are. Sail and my husband are talking together at the bottom of these stairs in the middle.
Traditionally, certain animals and fictional creatures were featured around palaces. I loved this one. Perhaps it’s a horse? There were many statues representing other creatures.

I walked from section to section to section of breathtaking houses. Some were for the queen and her ladies in waiting to live in. Some were for the king to hold examinations (Koreans still have an extensive exam system in schools today) of servants and workers. So many special buildings, and you could see decorative chimneys too. These chimneys were all part of a techologically advanced heating system that was displayed at this palace. In ancient times a floor was heated by having a fire in the chimney and the heat from it was channelled underneath the floor in ducts and therefore the room was warmed. These buildings all had granite floors and they were all raised up like they would have been back in 1500AD to allow heated air to go underneath them to heat the floors up.

This heating system is used today but it has been modernised. Many floors are heated in Korea in the winter. It’s called “ondol”. If you really like heat, you would absolutely love it! It’s very warm and luxurious and more effective at keeping you warm than Canadian systems.

This is my absolute favourite photograph I took in Korea. It was taken next to a garden that was made for the queen. The garden is called Amisan. Several decorated chimneys are in the picture also.
I was fascinated that many palace roofs had the same row of animals on them. I was told they were based on the animals on Chinese palace buildings.

Yangjae area…

One day Sang Hyun brought me on the subway to a nearby neighborhood that must have been Yangjae, where there were many flowers and plants for sale. We walked along a sidewalk towards a small mountain. We walked past some men who were busy with a huge steel vat of white liquid. The vat must have been over 3 feet wide. Sang Hyun told me they were making tofu – right along the busy sidewalk! I had walked right beside the vat! Sometimes, like on that day, I would walk past a huge dead ‘skate’ for sale on the sidewalk. Some Koreans liked ‘fermented skate’ (large sea creature with ‘wings’). We made it to the mountain and there was a yellow ginkgo tree forest around a small Buddhist temple, as the leaves were turning colour for fall. Sang Hyun and I sat under the ginkgo trees and talked and relaxed. It was a wonderful day.

Sang Hyun that day. (Oct. 1997)
Me at that time. Sang Hyun took the picture. Digital cameras were not around then. I had cut my own hair because I was broke and scared to go to a Korean hairdresser.
Sang Hyun was very interested in taking pictures of the ginkgo leaves. An old man was walking in the forest collecting these leaves while we were there – the ginkgo ‘has health benefits’…
Temple buildings were always covered in paintings depicting the life of Buddha. Paintings, ceramic roof tiles, bells, wood and granite. Always so beautiful.


At that time there were no skyscrapers in Seoul. There was a gold-coloured building with 63 floors that was the tallest one in the city, called ’63 Building’. It was in the business area of Yeoido, which was comparable to Wall Street, they said. Yeoido was far away from Karak-dong and also housed the National Assembly Building of the government and was the television and entertainment center of the country. News companies filmed there and had their headquarters there. If I was going to see a Korean celebrity, they all said, it would be in Yeoido. I was given a morning class there for 3 mornings a week. I had to find a certain building after walking from a subway stop and it was a Financial subsidiary of Hyundai. I was the personal English teacher of the head of this branch. He would drive into the circular driveway in a chauffered car and all of the staff were in uniform and bowed to him. Secretaries had to bring me and him coffee. If they hadn’t, I can’t imagine what would have ever happened. At this building, as in many others, I had to go to a big locker room when I first got there and switch into a pair of slippers provided to me(found in ‘my’ locker) and leave my sneakers in the locker provided to me while I went upstairs.

It was exciting to take the subway across the bottom of Seoul again to get to Yeoido, almost like going all the way back to Kimpo Airport, and what a feeling I had getting out in such a unique district. There was a statue of a bull, to replicate a bull statue on Wall Street, outside one of the places I would pass on my way to Hyundai Financial. Most importantly, I want to say that the subway stop I used in Yeoido had 160 stairs. I counted one time because I noticed there were more stairs than in other stations. To get there I had to transfer twice so I used the pink line, the green line and the purple line to go there and also to go back. I loved it but every day I spent many hours travelling toand from classes – more time travelling than in the classrooms.

This is what Yeoido was like then with the sun shining on the 63 Building.

In the neighborhood beside mine, to the west of Karak-dong, was a tall distinctive building called The Koex. It meant Korean Trade Center, or Exchange. They were very proud of it. It had a zig-zag shape. A few other modern buildings there had fancy architectural designs like a hole in the top (Jogno Bldg in old downtown) or one was called Glass Tower in Gangnam and it had an oval shape.

Koex Building. I passed by here in Samseong-dong when I visited a wonderful temple (BonGeunSa) in the neighborhood a few times.
I lived to the left of all of these buildings in this photo. In the middle is the Koex Bldg. which has the stripe down the middle of it in this view. In the middle on the left is Olympic Stadium.


I had other places to teach on a regular basis and early in the morning I was supposed to teach right on the third floor of the building I lived in. Usually, I just had one particular student in these early, early classes. It was ‘Anthony’ Lee, who was a civil servant residing in our building while he studied English to be able to advance in his job. He worked nearby so he went to work after this early class. A lot of the people had to try to learn English before work. And they had longer work hours than people in Canada did.

Since Anthony and I were alone in most classes, we mostly just talked for him to practice speaking. His English was good. He was, I think, 39 at that time. When we were sitting there alone, each at a desk, he told me why he was single. When he was a lot younger, he said, he was in love with a girl. And she loved him. But her father said ‘no’ and would not let her marry Anthony because Anthony was poor. Anthony said he was poor and had to hunt rabbits on the mountain near where he grew up when he was a child. He said in that classroom to me, “Now I have money. I am not poor now. But she married someone else and it is too late”. I was so caught up in the story I said he should go and find her, even now, and get her to go with him and I was sure she would leave her husband to be with her real love…. Anthony said it was out of the question. I said again he should find her. He shook his head and said in such a serious voice, “You do not understand Korea…..” I think he was also a little amused that someone wouldn’t understand their collective consciousness and complicated, strict social rules. I like their society but it would take years to even be able to understand the rules about bowing, or to be able to pronounce their words like they say it, let alone be able to feel comfortable with how to act as a woman in their society.

Most foreign people like me were always teaching kindergarden classes only right at their institutes. I liked businessmen or adults in general better. At least I could listen to wonderful, interesting stories the businessmen told me, even if I did have to pay around a dollar for a subway or bus ride to get there. I had one-time jobs as well. I would have to try to find the place I was going, first of all. One time a female Korean teacher and I were late at a kindergarden because it was so hard to find and the older Korean woman who had ordered us went up one side and down the other of us, telling us off in Korean for a long time. She was yelling at us after we were done trying to teach the alphabet to the kids. This class was just sprung on me and I didn’t even know where I was. The Korean girl who was supposed to be my teaching partner said, “We’re fired!!!!’ afterward. A building like that was chock full of screaming, unruly little kids and we couldn’t do much with the ones we were assigned to. I wanted to say ‘g’ is for green grass, but realised they don’t have much grass there….. Maybe I should have had a bunch of new ideas like, “Green like the seaweed!!!!”

Once I had to go near the Kyeongbokkung Palace up in an office building and stand up in front of a large classroom of strangers whose were eager to be ‘taught’ by a real English speaker. No one told me who the group of Korean people were or what I should talk about. They just said, “Teach the class!”, as usual. It worked out because I talked about my impressions of Korea. They were thrilled, thank goodness. I was terrified.

Sometimes people were somewhat rude or not suited. Korean women were not the same as men back then if I had to teach them. The women were at a disadvantage – they seemed to have not been taught English as well as the men were and I think Korean women hadn’t been encouraged to speak English in the same way as the men had been. The men usually communicated better in English than the women there did. Sometimes a woman with money who didn’t have a job came to take classes at my institute – the ones who did this were called ‘Housewives’ by the secretaries. When I talked to a few, it was interesting because one had travelled to Egypt and one had tried to have a sheep farm as a new immigrant in New Zealand but couldn’t succeed. The one who had been in Egypt said not to bother trying to eat the food there.

The women were less enjoyable to me. They had good pronounciation, I noticed, but were not using their ability as far as speaking goes. Their seriousness made them hard to talk to. Men had been given more confidence, I found, and some caught onto speaking English better than others. I think companies and schools didn’t put as much effort into helping the women speak English because not only were men more important, but Korean women didn’t work at all during their child-rearing years. Everyone did the same, predictable things there. Every woman stopped working when her first child was going to be born. Most women returned to the workforce when their children were grown up, but the men could stay at their . Almost every Korean did the same things in life – someone would learn and learn and study and study every day all day and go to university, then get a job, preferably an office job. There were other rules too. A Korean person would be ostracized if he or she didn’t do the same as the others. One Korean businessman told me if everyone is reading a book on the subway, a Korean person will feel he should take out a book and start reading it too. He said it goes back eons ago to Confucianism. There are so many facets as to why things are the way they are there.


I had to mention the fruit. When I was first there and walked to the subway station or bus stop, women were selling fruit and fish and other items on the sidewalk. At first, they had fresh dark purple grapes for sale. The grapes had a rich taste and the peeling on the grapes was very thick. The people there peeled their grapes, but I ate the thick peeling. Someone told me each month had a fruit featured because it would be harvest season of a certain fruit every month. I know grapes were featured first, then it was the month of huge Korean apples that tasted like Golden Delicious apples. Then it was Korean pears and I know tangerine-like oranges came out and persimmons were in season in the fall also. When I was first in Korea, and visiting a pond, there were Korean ‘dates’ growing on a big ‘date’ tree. You could find bakeries that sold ‘date’ bread. It was like eating the most beautiful raisin bread you had ever eaten. The Asian pears were absolutely humongous and only cost 2 dollars each. They were selling a truckload of apples or pears in the streets all the time. They sold them along some sidewalks or outside of little stores too. One Sunday night I was leaving Sang Hyun’s apartment and still didn’t have any money so he sent me home with a basket of persimmons to help me that upcoming week. I had never eaten a persimmon before. The flesh is like a jello consistency.

I will always remember being given those persimmons in a basket from Sang Hyun. They are not commonly eaten in my area of Canada.

Olympic Park…

I went at first to Olympic Park. It was near Karak-dong and was made to hold the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. So there were a number of stadiums and there are also some historical sections in the park.

This was a bridge over a pond but it’s winter in the picture so the water has been drained. They have taken the koi out for the winter too. The hill on the right is part of the ‘earthen wall’ explained below.
There were a lot of modern sculptures throughout the park, as each one was donated to them by a country that participated in the 1988 Olympics. The Peace Gate at the entrance is behind the thumb.
There is a stadium to the right in this picture. The big hill is an earthen wall made by Korean natives to protect themselves 4000 years ago.
More of the Earthen Wall. There is a little museum behind here to view more about it.

Olympic Park was a short subway ride up Line 8 to Jamsil. It was pronounced Shamshil. We had to walk to the park from there in 1997. I liked walking there. A Chili’s Restaurant was on the way. A few times I went to Chili’s and it was so nice to get non-Korean food for a change. It was so good but extremely expensive, as all trendy Western restaurants there were. Across from the Olympic Park entrance were two large glass churches. I think it said they were Methodist. There were 2 of the glass churches together – one tall one and one longer, more horizontal one. I went in one once just to say I was in a glass church! One time another teacher and I walked from Jamsil to our building in Karak-dong and it took 3 hours, but that distance was considered to be short in Seoul.

This is the tall glass church across from the entrace of the park. I think it has over seventeen stories!
This is a popular modern sculpture there.

I used to come to this park in wintertime when I was lonely. The views were nice of apartments in the next neighborhood and I was accustomed to walking in parks and looking at trees in Canada.

Apartment view at Olympic Park
Other view looking south from Olympic Park

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