South Korea · 14 Days · 52 Moments · August 2018

South Korea

9 September 2018

Just got to the airport after my early start! About to drop off my portable WiFi device so I think this will be my last post from SK! It's been a great trip, some great work last week and a great break this week. Seen a lot of beautiful things and met some great people. It's been wonderful Korea, thank you. Until next time! See you soon England!

8 September 2018

Not too much to report for today, except the food that I ate! Lunch was at a chicken restaurant, where they cook it for you at the table! Really good (chicken, bean sprouts, potatoes, etc) and really filling! Later on went to a desert café and had a green tea chocolate desert - super good! Under the chocolate isn't ice cream but some sort of milk shavings. A bit different but still great! Complete with green tea chocolate sauce and little pieces of chocolate brownie! The evening is spent packing and preparing for my flight home tomorrow, it seems crazy that it's all done already! Another early start to make it to the airport on time tomorrow!

7 September 2018

Today is a super chilled day, it's tiring doing new things everyday! I just take a trip back to Yeouido Hangang park and sit a read (I bought a book so I should use it! It's "The Sellout" by Paul Beatty) and go for a walk down the river bank. Pick up a pizza on the way back for dinner! What's a holiday without a pizza?!

6 September 2018

The show tonight is called Cookin Nanta, and is a "non-verbal comedy" set in a kitchen. It sounds crazy and it was, but in a great way! It is a loose story of some chefs trying to prepare a wedding meal, and features a lot of great drumming and martial arts, all with objects found in the kitchen, along with some plate throwing (and catching), impressive chopping and knife skills and lots of physical comedy. It was great! Apparently it's a pretty famous show in Korea, and the lack of talking makes it easy to follow for non-Korean speakers! After that I go outside to find a market of mostly food stalls has appeared on the street I'm on, so I grab some food from a vendor and head home.
After a bit of a sleep in, I grab some lunch in Gangnam. To be honest there isn't a tonne to do here, it's a finance and shopping district, so not really my scene. I do hunt down the tribute to a certain PSY song and take some obligatory photos though, which is pretty fun! Heading to Myeong-dong now, that's where the show is later.

5 September 2018

After the JSA, it's time to head home. What a day! It's been amazing and exhausting. One the drive back we go past what is apparently the biggest church in the world, so that's kinda cool I guess! A slower day tomorrow for sure, but this has been a definite highlight of Korea so far! The plan for tomorrow is to go and see Gangnam, and then I have tickets to a show in the evening. See you then!
Ofcourse you have to try the pose too! It is a modified taekwondo pose, designed to be intimidating, along with the "scary shades" that they wear! It's really fun to be on this tour, we've seen some truly fascinating things, and how many people can say they have seen this border and stood north of it?!
Ever wondered what it looks like to stand in North Korea? Well, it looks just like this! This door literally goes to NK, and we aren't allowed to stand directly in front or behind the soldiers here. I'm sure it must get annoying for them to be doing such a serious job and have tourists take photos with you all day, but this is a one-off experience for us so I can't resist! On behalf of all us obnoxious tourists though, we are sorry, and thank you for the job you are doing! It's a truly surreal experience, and definitely the highlight of the trip!
This is it! The big white building here is North Korean, it's officially north of the border, which runs exactly through the middle of these blue buildings. Security here is very tight, and we're told the North are definitely watching us now. The soldiers here are very serious (understandably) and the ones by the blue buildings stand half hidden so cover is easier to find if they start taking fire!! We also see the place where Moon Jai-in and Kim Jong-un had talks earlier this year. There are a few other buildings operated by neutral nations, but the blue ones are the UN run ones and we are allowed inside one of them. Technically the North are allowed to use these buildings too, but they never do. It's inside here that we are allowed to cross into the northern half and stand north of the border!
After lunch, a short ride on the coach takes us to Camp Bonifas, a military base run by American and ROK soldiers. We are now inside the DMZ and very close to the border! We go through more ID and security checks, this time by an American rather than Korean soldier, and head inside for a 15ish minute presentation from an American soldier about the JSA, some history and all about what they do here and why. We learn too much to reproduce here, but the "axe murderer incident" is probably the most chilling thing to hear about, but it's all interesting. Next it's time to get on a different coach (a UN coach) and finally head to the JSA (joint security area) itself. This is where there are buildings that were designed to house talks between the North and South (but never have), and some buildings owned just by the North, and some UN run buildings. This is also when we will have the chance to step into the North...
From the station you can also see the "gate to the North", which is basically the last checkpoint on the road before the border. It's kind of eery to see it completely closed, but not unexpected. Also found another shot from outside the tunnel, of my and a guy called Mark (also from UK and travelling alone) trying to unify the two Koreas! Lunch is bibimbap, a standard Korean rice and veggies mix, and then it's on to the JSA for the highlight of the tour!
Third and final stop before lunch is Dorasan station, right near the observatory. This is a station on a line that used to connect the North to the South, and is a symbol of hope for unification in the future. Train only ran for one year (in 2007, during a time of Sunshine Policy, where the South helped the north a lot, and so they allowed trains). Now there is just one train per day to and from Seoul, and only return tickets can be bought.
Stop number two on the DMZ tour in Dorasan observatory, which has a view straight into North Korea and binoculars for an extra close look. The scenery is beautiful, juxtaposing the quality of life in the North in a bittersweet way (all these shots are of North Korean landscape!). The view is mostly mountains, landscape, a small city etc, but there are two especially interesting things to see (in my opinion). The first is the fact that you can see NK farmers, just going about their day, and it's strange to ponder how different their lives must be to ours. The second is "propaganda village", with a very tall (4th tallest in the world) flag pole in it (see the view through the binoculars - this is an NK flag flying in NK, which I find amazing to see). This is a fake village that plays propaganda ("come to the north, all are welcome" etc) designed to encourage defectors! It would be lonely if you did though, no-one lives in the village, and all the doors and windows are just painted on!
The first proper stop on the tour is the Third Tunnel. Even after the ceasefire armistice signed between the north and south, the north secretly dug tunnels in a plan to launch a surprise attack on Seoul. Four have been found by the south (this was the third one found) but I bet there are loads more. No cameras allowed on the actual tunnel for security reasons (there are a lot of places today where I can't take photos or video), but it's an astounding place. The south have bored a 300m, 11° slope into this end of the tunnel, it's very steep and hard work to walk down (and up again!). The actual tunnel is 200m long (at least the bit in the south) and then you reach a wall with a peep hole, and you look through to see another peep hole on the northern side, I don't don't someone is looking back! Very creepy but also fascinating. My first look into the north! The rock is so hard and the tunnel so long, digging it by hand (and dynamite) must have been killer (literally).
Up at 6am to get ready for the trip to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), and meet the tour provider in the lobby of a 5* hotel, which is an odd experience. Had to wear a shirt and long trousers and not have "unkempt hair", otherwise the north, who are always watching, might turn me into propaganda about how terrible the west is. First stop is a already station about 8km south of the border, where there is a completely deserted theme park. It's very haunting, but also very intriguing. There is also a coffee shop and bagel place and a huge car park, showing the heavy tourist presence this far north! Time to get even closer to the border...

4 September 2018

I only realised today that the four sets of lines on the Korean flag are all slightly different, apparently to represent the four elements (but I don't know how true that it). Also learnt that the last kingdom of Korea followed confusionism and this is one of the problems of forming a unified Korea. In confusionism the father is the head of the household (or country) and should be an elder, but Kim jong-un is only 34, so this is a challenge for the south. Big day tomorrow, it's my trip to the DMZ! Early start for that, and a long day ahead!
"Seoul city wall". Should have built a bigger wall, Seoul. Ask America, I hear they have plans for one.
This is what I came here for! The field of LED roses that light up at night! A beautiful sight, plus some nice spots on the walk home.
The design plaza is a great looking building, but I'm hungry now! Gonna dive into a burger place I found, and wait for dark to come.
Some cool sculptures, a name sign and some fun bird-related street art are the last things I see in the park. It's coming up for dinner time but I still have some time and energy so next I'm heading to Dongdaemun design plaza, which apparently looks great at night!
In the park is a cool cage thing filled with balloons! Super fun and interesting but I don't know if it has a use more than looking cool!
A short metro ride brings me to Yeouido Hangang park. Han is the the name of the Manon river in Seoul, and "gang" means "river" in Korean. Beautiful place, much more peaceful than the busy streets of the city. Great views of the river and Seoul on the opposite shore. Could easily sir here for a long time, too bad I didn't bring my book! Right by the station is a nice "I Seoul U" sign, it looks cool but I'm not sure if I understand what it means! This place is great, one of my favourite spots in the city so far! I think I might have to come back again when I have have some time later in the week!
Today is an exploring kind of day. I start by going back to Hongdae just to check out the bits I missed because of the rain! Pretty fun, I see this shop and can't quite figure out what it is they sell... Grab some lunch nearby, and decide I've had enough of the big city for the day, so the next destination is a park on the south side of the river!

3 September 2018

The rain comes back the a vengeance! I abandon Hongdae and head home, the rain is here to stay so I'm escaping it! Find an Italian on the way home, I know it's not Korean but it's raining so hard I just want to eat and get home! Good bacon and cream risotto, and an amazing bright blue lemonade! Turns out Netflix has different films when you're in a different country so that's my evening sorted...
The afternoon is spent in Hongdae, super cool place with lots of interesting shops and markets and food stalls. Two highlights, a hat shop that sells baseball caps with Korean on them - the one here just says "foreigner" and that made me laugh. I know this because I got talking to a local called Don Park, he pointed me in the direction of the interesting things and did some translating for me! The other cool, thing was a sheep café, think cat café, but instead of cats roaming around they just have a place you can go to pet sheep! Pretty cool!
I take an easy start to the day after all the walking of the last two days, have a little lie in and then mooch about the nearby area, find lunch in a bakery - a hot ceasar sandwich! The afternoon plan is to explore a place called Hongdae, it's an area around the uni and is meant to be pretty cool!

2 September 2018

After the palace we went to explore the plaza opposite the palace entrance - gwanghwamun plaza. There is a very impressive statue of king Sejong, who invented the Korean alphabet. The other cool thing was that there was a show going on, a big stage set up and Korean singers who the (large) crowd were going crazy for. No idea who they were but they seemed popular! All the walking of the day has really tired me out at this point, also we call it a day and head home. Thanks for hanging out Bill, hope to meet you again! I head home and eat a little food, watch some TV and plan more things to do here!
I love the contrast here. Beautiful historic building right next to the metropolis. So cool.
Headed to Gyeongbokgung palace after lunch. This is meant to be the "main palace" of Seoul. Very beautiful again, lots of nice grounds to explore and great architecture to see. Stunning as always, Korea.
A peculiar thing here is that as well as traffic lights, they also have men at the main intersections to direct traffic, all of whom are the "best driver". They seem to point the same way as the lights do, so I haven't worked out why they are needed yet!
Lunch today was Korean BBQ! This is a very famous thing to eat in Korea, and luckily they offer pork as well as beef. It's quite involved, as you cook and then building little packets of meat plus whatever inside a salad leaf and eating like that. Lots of fun, and tasted pretty good too!
Met Bill again today. We met at 10 and walked around a cool neighborhood he had found. Nice place with some cool streets and market and shops. Then went to a park and saw some cool pagoda like places, and a tortoise supporting a pillar! After that we went to Cheongbukgung palace, the second (of four) palace of Korea. It was built to balance the city (it is in the East and the first is in the west). Absolutely beautiful place, stunning architecture and art and colour. Nice to walk around the grounds and be surrounded by the the cool historical buildings! All this walking (again!) means we head to find lunch, and on the way stumble across a cool Buddhist temple, just hiding down a side street. We investigate, find a sign that says "open to all" and the man tending the garden is very welcoming! Another beautiful building and great to see. Afterwards we continue our search for lunch...

1 September 2018

Bill and I ended up finding a Korean curry place for dinner, it was super hidden away in the basement of a mall, but the food was great. Mine was chicken (and crispy onion on top) and tasted kinda like wagas, so win!
A man has found the tower of faces. Valar Morghulis. Plus other cool statues around the city.
This first picture is the view from the toilet up the tower, they had a sign asking you to take photos, it's not weird I promise. At the bottom of the tower they had some plastic pandas and a cute sign asking you not to hurt them. After the tower I head back towards Seoul station to meet up with Bill again for dinner - it was another long and (this time downhill) hilly walk! You could get a bus, but in for a penny or something... Meant to say in the last entry that they sell postcards and stamps at the top of the tower and you can post them from the top! Super cool, but I didn't partake! My penmanship leaves something to be desired!
After lunch I did some washing (I know, how domesticated) and unpacked a little. After this I saw that my flat was quite close to the N Seoul Tower and the park surrounding it so decide to walk over and take a look. The map did not tell me mountainous the walk would be, and in the 30 degree heat it was super hard! Eventually made it to the tower, and decided to go up it since I'd walked so far! Amazing views of the city and surrounding mountains, you can believe that 35million people (~40% of the Korean population) live in Seoul when you see it like that! They also have a crazy sweet shop at the top of the tower! All in all worth going up, and worth the really long and hilly walk!
Travelled to Seoul fairly early in the morning, a half 9 train, so as to get a day doing things in the city! Travelled to the station with Bill Page - an American working in Vancouver I met at the conference - but trains here assign seats and we weren't sat together. Went our separate ways in Seoul to both check in to our Airbnbs. Found my way on the metro and checked in pretty easily to my flat in Itaewon. This view of the tower was my first impression of the city - very nice! Flat is cool, everything I need and very clean. Went to a nearby bakery for lunch, and of course picked up a donut too! The "no parking" sign made me laugh!

31 August 2018

Got a taxi into the centre of Daejeon tonight for dinner with a couple of guys from Geneva I met at the conference. One of them - Gabriele - works on very similar things to me. We found a nice Korean place, I had rice and barbecue chicken, very good but much spicier than expected! With the conference ending today I guess I am officially on holiday! Heading to Seoul first thing in the morning, time to see some sights!
Once the conference ended to today we had the excursion! Fun trip to the Gongju National Museum to learn some Korean history, and a trip to a nearby historic Korean village. Also, the sun came out!! Museum was very interesting, and the village was beautiful, well worth the trip out.
Packed lunch given to us on a tour of a dark matter (specifcally, an axion detection experiment) lab in Daejeon, there was a hidden brownie and it really hit the spot! Ate all the fruit, some of it was weird! "What a wonderfully sweet and moonstruck day" - the packed lunch
COSMO-19 to be held in Germany, hopefully I'll be there next year too!

30 August 2018

The day is done! Good lunch today that involved spaghetti, rice and crab, followed by a tour of an underground lab where they grow crystals to use in dark matter detection experiments. Then it was time for my talk, I think it went pretty well, I didn't run over time and feel I explained myself well. Had some nice conversations afterwards too. Good job jobbed. The rain is back though (with thunder and lightning) so we went for dinner at an Italian place in between the conference centre and the hotel. Very nice food, had a simple carbonara but it was 👌. Time to sleep now, last day of COSMO tomorrow!
Ofcourse it is...
Yea we are!

29 August 2018

Before dinner a traditional Korean band played for us - they were great, lots of cool drumming, and some cool instruments you don't often see! On the way home saw another band playing in the street, all round fun to watch! Very musical evening!
Dinner today was the conference "banquet", which was a fancy buffet! Lots of food, the usual Korean suspects - rice, noodles, seafood, ribs etc. Had fruit for dessert, on purpose and everything. Spoke to some interesting people at dinner, from Australia, Switzerland, UK, America and Canada. Speeches by conference organisers before we ate. Conference today was good, lots of inflation talks to attend, and some free time (i.e. the poster session) to work on my slides for my talk tomorrow!

28 August 2018

Went to a chicken restaurant for a quick dinner today, turns out not being able to read the menu can result in you getting the food you want, but in an entirely inappropriate portion size! Everything was huge, even the coke! It's absurd a restaurant even does food portions this size. Weird snacks that look like hula hoops but multi-coloured, and are softer, as well as white cubes of pickled something (radish?) that taste blergh. Cutlery and napkins were in a drawer under the table though, I approve of this. Cutlery included tongs.
This first photo isn't a lake, it's what the construction site near the conference centre looks like after the rain last night! It was crazy heavy, with incredible lightning and very loud thunder! Great to look at but bad for sleeping in (it was 5am). Some good talks today, lots of inflation, and then parallel sessions started today so things started to get more technical. Some good PBH talks and gave me an idea of who to try and talk to tomorrow! Good dinner tonight, but huge! After the Strom though it stopped raining around lunch time (lunch was a crazy spicy soup and rice) and has been warm and clear since!! Forecast for tomorrow morning is also clear, can't wait to walk to the conference in the dry tomorrow, that hasn't happened yet! Hope it stays dry all day, but more rain is expected! Bring on the talks, COSMO-18!
I just want to share that, even if it's just for a moment, it stopped raining!

27 August 2018

Conference merch! I hoped the gift was an umbrella, it was not...
First day of the conference today, COSMO-18 babyy! Lots of interesting talks, and some not so good. Lots of talk about dark matter, DM detection, axions and similar stuff today. Mostly interesting but it's hard to focus all day, talks were 9:00-19:00, so I was glad when it ended! Still raining all day, just look at that forecast! Saw a cool drain cover too, it's the little things. Lunch was okay, dinner was better, including little tarts for dessert :') more conferencing tomorrow, hoping to find more inflation people to talk, but saw a few familiar faces today! Until then, sleep for me.

26 August 2018

First full day in Korea is done, walked a long way and saw some of the tourist sights in the city. I planned to get a bus out to a hiking spot with red clay paths that are meant to be walked barefoot, but the rain has been heavy all day so I didn't fancy such a wet hike! Instead I went to the Expo tower on the sight of the World Expo '93, had some nice views but it was cloudy and rainy so the view was restricted. Then went for lunch at a cafe across from my hotel, turns out they did paninis so that was fine. Then I walked across the city to Hanbat Arboretum, a national park in the middle of the city, lots of themed little gardens and the like. Very nice to see! Then the heavy rain got the best of me and I came back to the hotel, before heading out for some dinner. I heard there was a chicken restaurant nearby, but i couldn't find it so went to a little Korean place instead and head bulgogi (shredded beef and rice and onions etc) which wasn't as good as it sounds. Conference tomorrow!