Ok, the stereotypical American milkman… aka the guy who porks your wife while you’re at work… has been more or less extinct for a while now. But Korea still has them! Except they’re women. And they don’t deliver milk, they deliver “yogurt” which, in Korean terms, isn’t very yogurty. It’s a sweet dairy drink that comes in little tiny plastic bottles, and bright & early each morning an army of these ladies take to the streets to deliver their product.
Dad's first beer in Korea at a chicken hof after getting off the airport bus
So my dad came to visit not too long ago. I’ve been living in Korea now for a total of more than five years, and he’s the FIRST member of my family to come here! Well it’s about goddam time.
I suck at planning stuff, but there’s no way I was gonna let Dad visit Korea and be bored, so plan I did. Only a couple of things had to actually get booked in advance, but it was good to have a daily schedule of shit to do! And doing all of this stuff with Dad made me realize just how much stuff I myself still hadn’t seen.
Below is a day-by-day summary of our wild & crazy adventures.
Dad got in on a Thursday night, so I’m counting Friday as his first day in Korea. We got up early and went to Ben & BHYB’s place to borrow Ben’s car, and about 10 minutes after getting on the expressway towards Suwon (a suburb that’s south of Seoul) I promptly drove through an automated toll booth without having an electronic toll thing in the car. Shit. Oops.
Anyway, we visited a Korean Folk Village that showed what life was like in Korea a long time ago. Lots of school kids were there on class trips and they practiced their English with the tall white guy. Afterwards we went to the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. We accidentally walked up to the top of the hill behind the fortress thinking the entrance was up there, which it wasn’t, so we just said ok fuck it we’ll ride the trolley car around the fortress instead. Great idea. It was a beautiful day, nice relaxing ride, and we just cabbed it back to the parking lot where the car was.
My Master Plan had us going to Gyeongju on days 2-3-4, so on Saturday we went to Express Bus Terminal and got on a bus. 4.5 hours later we arrived in Gyeongju but it was too late to do anything (all the tourist shit there closes around 5-6 pm). We just had dinner, wandered a while, and wound up in a nearly empty bar where some guy was singing really old songs that my dad actually knew.
Btw, Gyeongju (aka Kyungju or Gyungju) is filled with old historical shit from the Silla Dynasty back around 700 A.D., plus it’s very scenic and whatnot. So that’s why we went.
If you plan on going there yourself, there’s some night tour you can go on where tourist sites are lit up all fancylike. I think they only do it on Friday and Saturday nights, but you need to book it in advance. Dad and I tried to get seats but it was full.
I could read this guy's mind, he was thinking 'why the fuck am I singing to five people on a Saturday night'
That’s most of the major shit you’d want to see in Gyeongju, so if you’re gonna do a tour do that one! The tour guide was speaking in Korean only but there were English placards in some places and I had Wikipedia on my iPhone.
The hotel we stayed in was Hotel Concorde which has no A/C (wtf??) but we didn’t really need it because it was still spring. The place is pretty old and it shows, but they do have a nice breakfast buffet! It was included in the price of the rooms, and it was pretty well stocked… scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, cereal, Korean food (of course). I was expecting coffee and donuts so it was a nice surprise.
Dad was mad that he decided against his wide angle lens that day
Check out this kickass 50 yr old radio between the beds at the hotel
We were departing back to Seoul on Monday, so before leaving we tried to go to some Expo Park that I saw on a tourist map, but it was deserted and possibly closed. Dad took a picture of a weird building and then we tried to go to Seokguram Grotto. That was a mistake. We took a taxi up the goddam mountain (about ₩17,000 just to get up there), it was all windy and rainy so we said ok fuck this and got back in the cab, and then we drove back to the hotel to get our crap and go to the KTX station to get back to Seoul. Basically we spent the entire morning in a taxi that drove us around for like 2 hours.
After getting back to my place, I went and got Terry from Lee’s apartment and then Dad, Terry, and I went for a walk by the river.
Tuesday was Seoul City Bus Tour day. We headed up to Itaewon for lunch and then jumped on the bus which picks up right in front of Nashville (across from Hamilton Hotel). ₩10,000 gets you on and off the bus all day so we rode it to Seoul Tower, a couple of palaces, Dongdaemun, and then back to Itaewon.
I tried to talk my dad into going on Disco Jump in Dongdaemun with all the screaming 14 year old girls but he wasn’t interested. Also we could have seen a protest in Gwanghwamun but we were already on the bus and I think being a spectator at riots is more my thing, not Dad’s.
Standing in front of some palace... I think it's Changdeokgung
Wednesday was designated as Museum Day so we went to the Seoul National Museum which is fucking huuuuuuuge, and then we went to the Korean War Memorial Hall by Itaewon. We didn’t actually make it into the War Memorial Hall because we spent a lot of time inspecting the old tanks, airplanes, and artillery that’s parked outside. We would have gone inside (it’s free) but we had to take off and get to Myeongdong for the Nanta show I had booked a week before.
Dramatic sky above the Korean War Memorial Hall
I think this is the same cast we saw performing Nanta
Thursday was DMZ day! There are two different DMZ tours… one takes you to Panmunjeom, aka Joint Security Area, and the other takes you to see the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel that North Korea dug for the purpose of sneaking 10 billion troops into Seoul. If you have to choose, do the Panmunjeom tour, but I booked us on both in one day.
We did Panmunjeom first and it was ok but the U.S. Army tour guide could have been a lot more thorough with describing shit. If you’ve never done this tour before then you’ll never know what he didn’t tell you, but I went on a tour once before where a lot more trivia was shared.
Things went downhill, literally, at the tour of the infiltration tunnel. When you do this tour during nice weather it’ll be super crowded which means you’ll probably have to walk down a really long tunnel to see the infiltration tunnel. That’s fine, except walking back up really blows, and 72 year old Dad wasn’t impressed by this leg of the tour. I did this once before in the winter when only an idiot would go, so that time I was able to ride down into the tunnel (and back up) in a roller coaster car.
If you’re planning a DMZ tour, think about skipping the tunnel. It’s literally just a giant hole in the ground.
All three of the soldiers had boners, they told me in Korean
On Friday we went back to the Korean War Memorial Hall since we never got to go in on Wednesday, and that night we went to Noryangjin Fish Market. My label on Dad’s photo album calls it the Noksapyeong Fish Market, but it’s definitely not in Noksapyeong.
We met up with Lee, Ben, and BHYB and then picked out a couple of crabs, gigantic prawns, and some scallops, and then of course one of the restaurants at the market cooked it all up. Dad wasn’t a big fan of sitting on the floor, but he survived.
True story: some lady at Noryangjin Fish Market asked my dad if he was pregnant
Day 9 | no photos
Saturday was amazing. The Korean parliament held a special lunch in our honor and gave us both medals for speaking English so well, we won a national kimchi eating contest, and then we spotted Kim Jong Il’s dead rotting corpse flipping burgers at Lotteria! Dad forgot to put his memory card in his camera that day so we don’t have any pictures, but all that stuff totally happened.
The memory card got left at home but my iPhone didn’t
On Sunday we met up with my friend Pat and his wife to see Seodaemun Prison, and then we headed to Gwanghwamun/City Hall to see what was left of the 2012 International Friendship Fair’s food tents. After walking way too long down the man-made river Cheonggyecheon we stopped at Express Bus Terminal to see The Avengers.
Monday was Dad’s last full day in Seoul so we rode the subway up to Ilsan and got a taxi to take us to the Holt Ilsan Town where I was a resident for a short time when I was a toddler. They don’t really do formal tours but it seems like they will give tours to pretty much anyone who shows up.
We talked with Molly Holt for a while and then one of their staff members took us around to some of the buildings… they have private residences, a small medical center, a school, and facilities for physical therapy since a lot of the residents are disabled either physically, mentally, or both.
It was a nice way to cap off Dad’s epic tour of Korea.
This place is actually pretty awesome… it’s so awesome, in fact, that when you walk in the door you have to cough up ₩2,000 (about $2) just to look around! And you’ll probably also be told that it’s ok to take pictures, something they apparently encourage.
The store is called Toto and they’ve got so much weird shit that people are constantly going in to gawk at all their creepy dolls, old vintage toys, and general kitschy weirdness. It’s located on Insadong’s main drag (2nd floor, look for the big blue anime-looking sign), not too far from exit 6 at Anguk subway station.
Just about every store in Insadong sells the same tourist garbage, so if you’re in the neighborhood you’ll need to duck in here if you want to see something other than another goddam gift shop, especially if you’re looking for postcards to mail overseas. The postcards at Toto are retro and kind of funny, and I have two (bought a really long time ago) that are hanging on my wall right now.
There’s also a much smaller copycat store across the street that sells a lot of the same stuff.
A few random pics to start off with… and here’s the skinny on Pepero Day: It’s basically a poor-man’s Valentine’s Day where you give the significant other some Pepero sticks which, if you arrange them correctly, can spell out “11/11″. These Korean marketing people are crafty!
Giant walking cans of beer make me thirsty
Pepero Day is the greatest product marketing stunt in the history of the world!
November 11th (11/11) is Pepero Day in Korea
Patrick and EunHye decided to get married when they realized they both love tormenting animals
Terry will sleep with pretty much anyone, that filthy whore
It’s actually spelled “Chuseok” (or 추석), and it’s the second biggest holiday in Korea behind Seolnal (Lunar New Year), and it’s this week which means the streets are pretty empty right now since everyone and their mother has fled town to get drunk with relatives.
According to Wikipedia, “on Chuseok there is a mass exodus of Koreans returning to their hometowns to pay respects to the spirits of one’s ancestors” which is true, but it also says that “village folk dress themselves to look like a cow or a turtle” which, VERY unfortunately, I’ve never seen, probably cuz I don’t know any ‘village folk’! I know it sounds a little nutty but, before you go off thinking that Korean villagers are all insane in the membrane, consider that in about a month Americans will be dressing up their children like Spiderman (or is it Iron Man this year?) so they can walk the streets begging for candy from complete strangers. Koreans may do some weird shit in the name of tradition, but I think America still rules in that department.
I think these crazy kids are saying something like 'Happy Chuseok, try not to crash your car into a tree'
Yesterday was March 1st (and it still is 3/1 in America, hence the date on this post), and it was a national holiday. What holiday was it? Independence day… sort of.
I had no clue what the holiday was all about until I consulted the all-knowing Wikipedia for enlightenment. Here are some excerpts from the full Wikipedia entry:
The March First Movement, or Samil Movement, was one of the earliest displays of Korean independence movements during the Japanese rule of Korea. The name refers to an event that occurred on 1 March 1919, hence the movement’s name, literally meaning “Three-One Movement” or “March First Movement” in Korean.
The inspiration for the Samil Movement came as a result of the repressive nature of Japanese policies under its military administration of Korea following 1905. At 2 P.M. on 1 March 1919, the 33 nationalists who formed the core of the Samil Movement convened at Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul, and read the Korean Declaration of Independence that had been drawn up by the historian/writer Choe Nam-seon and the poet/Buddhist monk Manhae. Coinciding with these events, special delegates associated with the movement also read copies of the independence proclamation from appointed places throughout the country at 2 PM on that same day, but the nationwide uprisings that resulted were also brutally put down by the Japanese police and army.
Approximately 2,000,000 Koreans had participated in the more than 1,500 demonstrations, many who have been massacred by the Japanese police force and army.
According to the frequently referenced The Bloody History of the Korean Independence Movement (한국독립운동지혈사, 韓國獨立運動之血史) by Park Eunsik, 7,509 were killed, 15,849 were wounded, and 46,303 were arrested. During March 1 to April 11, Japanese officials reported that 553 people were killed with over 12,000 arrested, while 8 policemen and military policemen were killed and 158 were wounded.
Many of those arrested were taken to the infamous Seodaemun Prison in Seoul where they were imprisoned without trial and tortured. Several hundred people were murdered in extrajudicial killings in the “death house” at the rear of the site.
The March 1st movement resulted in a major change in Japanese imperial policy towards Korea. Japanese Governor-General Hasegawa Yoshimichi accepted responsibility for the loss of control (although most of the repressive measures leading to the uprising had been put into place by his predecessors) and was replaced by Saito Makoto. Some of the aspects of Japanese rule considered most objectionable to Koreans were removed. The military police were replaced by a civilian force, and limited press freedom was permitted under what was termed the ‘cultural policy’. Many of these lenient policies were reversed during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.