30 December 2010

Zeus ain't got nothing on Hananim

So I was in the middle of writing a blog on prehistory in Korea when I stumbled upon some Korean mythological figures and got a little sidetracked.  So this first post on Korean history is going to cover Korean religion prior to the introduction of Buddhism.

Let's start with a list of important mythological figures:

Hananim ( 하나님 ) : The name translates as "one god" and he actually shares quite a few similarities with the God from the Old Testament of the Bible.  He is the creator and ruler of the universe.  He also rewards the good and punishes the wicked.

Hanalnim ( 하날님 ) : God of the sky

Hwanin ( 환인 ) : Emperor of Heaven.  The name means "Lord of Heaven".

Sidenote:  I have read sources that list these three as the same god.  I have also seen sources that list only Hananim and Hanalnim as the same god, and there are some that list all three separately.  So I am going to refer to them all seperately, but know that in some cases they are all considered the same.

Hwanung ( 환웅 ) : The son of Hwanin.  He controls the clouds, rain and wind.  He descended to earth and founded the City of the Gods.  From this city he gave humans laws and taught them arts, medicine, and agriculture.

Sidenote:  As you can see, if Hananim, Hanalnim, and Hwanin are all viewed as the same god then this story becomes very similar to Christianity.  

Haennim ( 핸님 ) or Haesik ( 해식 ) : Haesik was a boy who climbed to heaven and became the sun (Haennim)

Dalnim ( 달님 ) or Dalsun ( 달순 ) : Dalsun was a girl who climbed to heaven and became the moon (Dalnim)

Sidenote:  Haesik and Dalsun are siblings

Sanshin ( 산신 ) : God of the mountains.  Also known as Sanshilyong.

Yongwang ( 용왕 ) : Dragon god of the seas

Chiha Yo Changgun ( 지하 요 창건 ) : General of the Underworld

Chonha Dae Changgun ( 존하 대 창건 ) : Village Guardian

Sidenote: The previous two deities are sometimes referred to as the same god.

Jows Syng Saja ( 싱 사자 ): Angels of Death

OwgHoangSangJoe ( 왹황상죄 ) : Jade Yellow Emperor

Kyonu and Jingyo ( 견우, 직녀 ) : Their tears cause the summer rainy season

Mago ( 마고 ) : Goddess who, along with Yul-ryeo, began the world and eventually became Jeju Island

* I'm not positive on the Hangul for all of these, so if anyone reads this who has more knowledge of Korea than myself please let me know about any corrections

Korean mythology is pretty diverse, which is why different gods are sometimes referred to as the same god.  The mythology differed depending on the area of the peninsula and as far as I know there aren't texts such as the Iliad and the Odyssey to solidify a core belief system, but there are some stories that unite all parts of Korean mythology.

Creation Myth
At the beginning of time Yul-ryeo and Mago appeared.  Yul-ryeo died and her body became the earth, while Mago gave birth to two daughters, whose children were the Heavenly People.  Yul-ryeo was then revived, which resulted in the formation of heaven, earth and the oceans.  The four elements, which are soul, fire, water, and earth, were also created at this time. 
The Heavenly People eventually gave birth to children, who were the ancestors of humans.  The children lived inside of a castle and drank Earth's milk, which came from a spring inside the castle.  These ancestors were pure and lived in peace for 10,000 years.  However, the number of people eventually grew too large for the spring to satisfy, so one day a man named Jiso ate grapes and acquired the sense of taste.  Jiso then returned to his people and encouraged them to also eat the grapes.  However, the consumption of another living thing caused these people to become impure and Jiso's lineage eventually began giving birth to children who resembled animals.  
All people who had consumed the grapes were forced to leave the castle, but Hwang-gung, one of the Heavenly People, told them that if they could recover their purity they could be free of this curse.  Upon hearing this the people stormed the castle in an attempt to once again drink from the spring, but in doing so they destroyed the castle and caused the spring to overflow.  The milk from the spring eventually turned to earth and all people from the castle began to eat anything they could find to avoid starvation.  Hwang-gung went to Mago and asked for her forgiveness.  She responded by giving him the three Heavenly Heirlooms and knowledge.  Hwang-gung then taught people agriculture, gave each clan leader a Heavenly Heirloom and sent them out on earth in three directions to populate the earth.  
Hwang-gung then took 3,000 people to a place called Cheonsanju, or land of the heavenly mountain.  He established a kingdom and ruled for 1,000 years.  He then passed control of the kingdom to his oldest son, Yuin, who also ruled for 1,000 years.  Power then passed to Hwanin for another1,000 years.  This was a peaceful 3,000 year rule in which people learned to cook and also lost their animal-like appearance.

The Sun and the Moon
In a time when only the stars existed there lived a poor woman who sold rice cakes for a living and had two children named Haesik and Dalsun.  One day she encountered a tiger on a hill and he demanded that he give her one rice cake or he would kill her.  She complied, but the tiger then met her on the next hill and demanded two rice cakes.  The tiger kept demanding more and more until the woman had no rice cakes left.  The woman pleaded for her life and told the tiger she had two children.  Upon hearing this, the tiger killed the woman and took her clothes to wear as a disguise when he arrived at her house.  
When the tiger arrived at the house Haesik did not believe that it was their mother.  But the tiger was able to convince Dalsun to open the door and he proceeded to chase the children up a tree.  The tiger found an axe and began to chop down the tree, while Dalsun prayed that a rope would descend from heaven to save them.  The rope appeared and the children climbed to heaven.  The tiger then also prayed for a rope, but he received a rotten rope that broke while he was climbing.  The tiger fell into a millet field and his blood is responsible for making the millet stalks red.  Haesik then became the sun and Dalsun became the moon, but they later switched because Dalsun was afraid of the dark.

Kyonu and Jingyo
Kyonu was a farmer and Jingyo was a weaver.  The couple fell in love and married, but then proceeded to neglect their farming and weaving duties, which caused the people to become hungry and cold.  The King of the Stars banished them to opposite ends of the kingdom and the Milky Way river divided the couple.  They are however allowed to meet every year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month when magpies and crows form a bridge over the river.  When they are forced to part after this meeting, their tears cause the flooding which is associated with the rainy season in Korea.

There is also a myth that discusses the founding of the Ancient Joseon Kingdom, but I will go into that during my post on prehistory.

Well I got to the more interesting stuff first, but it should be noted that totemistic beliefs were present in Korea prior to the introduction of these mythologies.  During the Neolithic Age, and probably during the Paleolithic Age, clans were known to each worship a certain object in the natural world.  

So by no means is this a comprehensive look into Korean mythology, but I hope it provides some general background information on the beliefs in ancient Korean society.

29 December 2010

I'm on my way to Taejongdae

Well that movie title thing didn't last too long.  But I do love movies, so I might still put the titles in from time to time.

In this article I'd like to give a little recap and history about the sights I've seen so far in Busan.  So let's start off with the places I visited on December 18th.

PIFF Square

Do they know they have a square removed from the side of their building?
This is the site of the Pusan International Film Festival, which takes place every year in October.  The area has 10 movie theaters in addition to some statues and hand prints from famous actors.  The Pusan International Film Festival, or 부산국제영화제, is one of the largest film festivals in Asia and focuses primarily on films from first-time directors.  The first festival, which was also the first international film festival in Korea, was held in 1996.  The festival screened 173 films from 31 countries in 1996 and has since grown to 355 films from 70 countries.  This year's festival is held from October 6th to the 14th so I might go check it out.

Jagalchi Fish Market
Jagalchi Market ( 자갈치시장 ) came into existence following the defeat of the Japanese Empire at the end of World War II.  The origins of the market's name are uncertain, but it is believed to have come from the word jagal, or 자갈, which means pebbles or gravel.  This could be in reference to the fact that the original market was surrounded by small rocks.  It is located at Busan Harbor and it is currently the largest seafood market in Korea and one of the largest in all of Asia.  You can seriously get anything that lives in the ocean at this market. 

And on to the sights from December 26th...

Chungnyeolsa ( 충렬사 ) is a shrine built to commemorate the soldiers who died during the Imjin War.  The shrine consists of 16 buildings and 92 memorial tablets in honor of the men who gave their lives defending Korea.  The shrine was originally constructed in 1605 (under the name Songgongsa), but was moved in 1625 and has received additions, reconstruction, and remodeling since that time.

Monument in front of Chungnyeolsa
Dongnae eupseong

Dongnae eupseong ( 동래 읍성 ) is a walled town that has existed in the Busan area since at least the eleventh century, and probably prior to that time.  The first records of the wall come from the year 1021, but it has been repaired and rebuilt multiple times.  Dongnae was actually one of the places targeted by the Japanese when they invaded in 1592.  It was also demolished in 1910 when the Japanese took over the Korean peninsula.  Nonetheless, it was interesting to tour around and it provided some fantastic views.

Taejongdae ( 태종대 ) is a park located on Yeong island in southern Busan. It as an area known for its beautiful rocky coastline and forests.  The name comes from King Taejong Muyeol of the Silla Dynasty, who supposedly enjoyed practicing archery in the area.

Cliffs leading from Taejongdae into the Korea Strait

So I am now all caught up on the history of the places I've traveled to so far.  I am really looking forward to going out in Daegu on New Years Eve and then heading up to Seoul for my 4 day weekend.

28 December 2010

Busan: A History of Violence

Maybe I'll start naming all of my blog posts after movies?  I don't know, but anyway...

Let it snow!  I got my first snow day today so I'm going to take advantage of it by catching up on some history.  My first topic is the history of Busan.  I've now been to Busan twice and I've really enjoyed wandering around the city.  I can't wait to see what it's like in the summer because Busan is supposed to have some of the most beautiful beaches on the Korean peninsula. 

Busan, also known as Pusan or 부산, is currently the second largest city in South Korea (and also the largest coastal city) with a population of about 3.6 million people.  The full name of the city is 부산광역시 or Busan Gwangyeoksi, which means Busan Metropolitan City.  Busan translates to "Kettle mountain" with 부, or Bu, meaning kettle and 산, or san, meaning mountain.  This name is in reference to the shape of the mountain next to the city.  

So on to some history...

As stated in previous blogs, humans arrived on the Korean peninsula during the Paleolithic Age.  Busan did not become populated until late in the Paleolithic Age due to its location at one of the southernmost points on the peninsula.  The Bronze Age also arrived late to Busan, presumably again due to its location.  During the Three Kingdoms period, the Busan area was a focal point of battles between the Gaya and Silla Kingdoms.  After the Silla unification, the area was combined with an area named Geochilsanguk, or 거칠산국 (I think), and was renamed Geochilsangun, or 거칠산군.  The name is derived from Geochinmoe, which was the ancient name for a mountain now named Hwangnyeongsan.  The name was changed again in 757 to Dongnaehyeon (the same Dongnae as the fortress I visited on Sunday).  

Dongnae Fortress wall
After the Silla Dynasty, the area was briefly controlled by the Hubaekje Kingdom beforing coming under the control of the Goryeo Kingdom.  The Busan area became an important part of Goryeo's defense strategy against the Japanese, which resulted in the construction of many village fortresses.  This was also the time period in which the area was named Busanpo (po means bay or harbor).  

After the collapse of the Goryeo Dyansty, power shifted to the Joseon Dynasty.  During this time, Busan continued to grow in its role as both a trading center with Japan and a defense post against Japan.  Chungnyeolsa, which I also saw on Sunday, was built in remembrance of the Imjin War, which took place against invading Japanese forces from 1592 to 1598.

Brief history of the Imjin War ( 임진왜란):
The war is also referred to as Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea and the Seven Year War.  The name "Imjin" refers to the year in which the war started in the Chinese sexagenery cycle. The year 1592 was the 29th year of the 71st cycle on the Chinese calendar, which was the year of the Yang Water Dragon.

The war was caused by Korea's unwillingness to submit to the Japanese ultimatum that they join the Japanese forces in a war against China.  China actually ended up greatly aiding the Korean forces in the war in order to prevent a Japanese invasion of their own country.  A mix of firearms and archery units were used in the war.  Japan weilded the arquebus, which was an early firearm brought to Japan from Portugal.  Korea primarily used composite arrows, which had a range of 150 yards longer than Japanese arrows.  In addition to bows and firearms, the Chinese brought early forms of land mines and hand grenades into play.  The Chinese also utilized rocket-propelled arrows (I'm not sure what those are, but they sound pretty awesome).  

The war began on April 13, 1592 when Japanese forces attacked Busan.  The city fell in about a day and within two months both Seoul (then referred to as Hanseong, or 한성) and Pyeongyang ( 평양 ) had come under Japanese control.  The Chinese soon realized the threat posed by the Japanese and came to the aid of Korea.  Approximately one year after the start of the war, Japanese forces had retreated back to the Busan area and over the next two years they would slowly head back to Japan.  However, in 1597 the Japanese returned to again try to capture Korea.  The second campaign was not as successful and the final battle took place on December 16, 1598.  

The war ended up being the most devastating event in Korean history.  Workable farmland on the peninsula was reduced by a third, which resulted in a postwar famine.  Also, the total number of Korean military and civilian deaths has been estimated around one million.  However, a national hero named Admiral Yi arose as a result of the war.  He was successful in all 23 of his naval battles and died during the final battle of the war.

So I figured that could be informative since personally I had never even heard of the Imjin War and I doubt that many people outside of the Far East had either.  Following the Imjin War, Busan continued to be a trading post with Japan.  During the Japanese takeover from 1910-1945, Busan was a center for the anti-Japanese struggle.  Busan also served as a provisional capital during the Korean War after the capture of Seoul.  

So that about sums it up.  Busan has experienced a war-torn past, but today it is a pretty amazing city to tour around.  I may be done with Busan for the winter, but I plan on returning in the other seasons cause there is so much to see.

27 December 2010

Christmas Aurora in Busan

I scoured the internet and I couldn't find any term for the day after Christmas besides Boxing Day.  But since most of the people reading my blog are American, that wasn't gonna work.  So I decided to make up my own.  Since the day before Christmas is Christmas Eve, I went with the Latin word for dawn.  It also fit pretty well considering all of the lights I ended up seeing in Busan.  So I like it and I'm sticking with it (I thought about the Korean word for morning, which is 아침 or achim, but I think Christmas Aurora is pretty catchy).  

I once again stayed out until 4 in the morning on Christmas Eve because of my inability to catch the 12:30 train home (I really gotta stop doing that cause it's messing up my travel plans).  So the fact that I didn't get to sleep until 5 combined with the fact that the high was about 20 degrees meant I had a pretty layed back Christmas Day.  But don't worry!  I made up for it on the day after Christmas.  I spent about 10 hours (from 10:15 to 8:15) exploring Busan on Sunday and I think I've seen pretty much everything that I wanted to visit in the city during the winter months.

So after arriving in Busan I caught the Subway up to City Hall.  City Hall wasn't quite as great as I had hoped, but the building across the street was pretty cool.

Building across from City Hall
From City Hall I walked up to Chungnyeolsa, which is a shrine commemorating those who died defending Korea during the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592.  Although the shrine has been rebuilt, the original dates to 1605 and the complex is composed of 16 buildings.

I then got a little lost looking for a Confucian Academy, but I eventually found my way.  When you're in a country where you can't read the signs particulary well it can be a little tough to stay on track.  But anyway, I found the academy and then headed up to Dongnae Fortress.  The fortress had a pretty extensive wall surrounding various command platforms situated along the wall.  It is one of the highest points in the city and offers beautiful views from the top.  I wasn't planning on visiting this site, but I actually ended up spending a good amount of time hiking around.

My success in finding the Confucian Academy was followed by a failure to find Busan World Cup Stadium.  I could see the stadium from the top of Dongnae Fortress, but I was unable to locate it while wondering on the street.  I figured I could save that for another day because I really wanted to get to Taejongdae before sunset.  Taejongdae is part of Yeong Island and is the area I was looking for last weekend when I randomly ended up at Korea Maritime University.  It offers some great views of the Korea Strait and it has an observatory at which you can view Mangbuseok, or the legendary rock of the faithful woman.  Personally, I wasn't that impressed with the rock formation, but I got some nice pictures of the sunset.

The setting sun meant it was finally time for the Christmas Tree Light Festival.  And let me tell you.  Koreans love lights.  The major department store in the area changed colors.  Busan Tower had a laser light show.  And the Christmas Tree Festival was pretty extensive.  After I wandered around the Festival, I bought a ticket to go to the Busan Tower observatory.  This could have been awesome, but the lights in the observatory were pretty bright so I wasn't able to get very good pictures of the city.  I'm thinking I'll head back during the daytime and see what kind of pictures I can get.

So all in all I got to see 3 separate areas of the city, went to a Christmas festival, and read an entire book.  I would say it was a pretty successful day.  Next weekend I'm heading into Daegu on New Years Eve and then I'm on my way up to Seoul for 4 days (I have off from work on the Monday and Tuesday after New Years).

22 December 2010

Overview of Korean History

Before I get into the history, I wanted to clarify something about the name of the Korean peninsula.  I stated in a previous blog that North Korea refers to the peninsula as Choson (조선), which is true.  However, I failed to mention that South Korea does not call the peninsula Korea either.  Korea is simply a western name for the peninsula because western merchants (actually Persian merchants) first visited the peninsula during the Goryeo (고려) dynasty, which sounded like "Korea".  The South Koreans actually refer to Korea as Hanguk (한국), which means "one people" (kind of weird considering Korea is the only divided country in the world).  This term however did not appear until 1919 and prior to this date the South Koreans also reffered to the peninsula as Choson.  The official name of South Korea is Daehan Minguk ( 대한민국 ), which translates as the Republic of Korea.  The official name of North Korea is Choson Minjujui Inmin Gonghwaguk ( 조선 민주주의 인민공화국 ), which means Joseon (or Choson) Democratic People's Republic.
Another interesting fact I found regarding the name is that prior to the Japanese occupation of Korea the name was actually spelled Corea.  The Japanese changed the spelling to a K, but in many non-English speaking countries it is still spelled with a C. 

I've also been referencing Korean history in some of my posts without really providing a basic timeline of the events.  So here you go!

Basic Timeline
  • Prehistory: Hominids arrived at the peninsula as early as 500,000 BC.  The earliest pottery dates to the Jeulman Pottery Period (8,000 BC - 1,500 BC).  The Jeulman was followed by the Mumun Pottery Period (1,500 BC - 300 BC).
  • 2333 - 108 BC: Gojoseon - Ancient kingdom in the northern part of Korea.  Became Wiman Joseon in 194 BC after a general named Wiman usurped the throne
  • 57 BC - 668 AD: Three Kingdoms Period - The peninsula was primarily controlled by the Goguryeo, Baekjae, and Silla Kingdoms
  • 668 - 892: Silla Unification - The Silla Kingdom unites the three kingdoms after conquering Goguryeo in 668 with the help of the Tang Dynasty
  • 892 - 936: Later Three Kingdoms Period - Marks the downfall of the Silla Dynasty as Hubaekje and Hugoguryeo emerge
  • 918 - 1392: Goryeo Dynasty - Unites the peninsula from 936 - 1392
  • 1392 - 1897: Joseon (or Choson) Dynasty - Emerges after the overthrow of the Goryeo Kingdom
  • 1897 - 1910: Korean Empire - A modernization period that took place for short time prior to Japanese occupation
  • 1910 - 1945: Japanese Occupation - Japanese takeover of Korea that ended with the Japanese surrender in World War II
  • 1945 - 1948: Division of Korea - The United States helps to create a provincial government in the south, while the Soviet Union creates a provincial government in the north
  • 1948 - Present: North and South Korea - The United States and the Soviet Union are unable to agree on how to combine the two governments, resulting in the divided country
  • 1950 - 1953: Korean War - The two governments wage war, with an armistice ending official conflict
For anyone interested in Korean history I would really recommend A New History of Korea by Ki-baik Lee.  It was kind of hard to find in the United States, but it provides a great introduction to all time periods in Korean history.

I'm really getting interested in Korean history, so I might go into each of these periods in more depth in future blogs.  I'm planning to do a lot of travel over the Christmas weekend, which means I'll have plenty of time to read up on it.  I would also like to get a history of Busan posted sometime soon.

19 December 2010

Daegu ( 대구 )

Now we're finally getting to a place that has some real history.  Archeologists have discovered evidence that humans inhabited Daegu during the Mumun Pottery Period, which took place between 1500 and 300 BC.  However, the first written records of Daegu do not appear until the 3rd century AD.  Not much is known about Daegu prior to the Silla unification of the Korean peninsula, but excavations in what is now Dalseong Park ( 달성공원 ) revealed artifacts dating to this time period.  I haven't been there yet, but I will definitely go.  I also saw that the city was originally named Dalgubeol.  I had trouble finding the meaning of the word Daegu or Dalgubeol.  However, I did see that the name was changed from Dalgubeol to Dalbulseong and Dalguhwahyeo which mean great plane and great hill.  I believe the meaning of Daegu is similar, but I'm not positive. 

Daegu became the official name of the city in 757 while under control of the Silla ( 신라, which is actually pronounced Shilla ) Kingdom.  The Silla time period left behind some of the most popular tourist attractions, including Donghwasa Temple and Gatbawi.  After the Silla unification, the peninsula was split into three kingdoms during a time period called the Later Three Kingdoms Period.  Wang Geon of the Goryeo ( 고려 ) Dynasty succeeded in taking Daegu from Hubaekje Kingdom.  Wang Geon would in fact go on to unify the peninsula in the year 936.  The peninsula would then continue to stay united for over 1,000 years and the modern name Korea is actually derived from the name Goryeo.

The most well known artifact from the Goryeo period is the Tripitaka Koreana ( 팔만 대장경 or Palman Daejanggyeong).  The Tripitaka took 16 years to complete and is the largest collection of Buddhist scriptures written in Hanja (Chinese characters that were used by Koreans prior to the invention of Hangul).  The Tripitaka consists of 1,496 titles, 6,568 volumes, 81,340 wooden blocks, and 52,382,960 characters.  It is currently housed in Haeinsa Temple.

The first markets in Daegu were established during the Joseon (or Choson as I've been refering to it) Dynasty ( 조선왕조 ).  

During the Korean War, Daegu was right near the border of the Pusan Perimiter, but stayed under the control of South Korea throughout the entire war (Waegwan was actually directly on the border of the Pusan Perimiter).  Following the Korean War Daegu began expanding very rapidly and became a Metropolitan City in 1995.  It is currently the third largest metropolitan area in South Korea after Seoul and Busan.   

 I've had a blast in Daegu thus far.  Even though it doesn't have the size of Seoul or Busan, it still has loads of attractions, stores, and bars.  One gripe I've heard is that Daegu only has one downtown or party-type area, while Busan has five and Seoul has ten.  But if that one area is awesome, what does it really matter?  

The great thing about writing these blogs on history is that it's giving me ideas for places I want to visit in Daegu throughout the year.  Well thanks for reading and I hope you learned a thing or two.

History Of My New Home

Well I said I would update you on the history of Waegwan and Daegu when I got the time.  Since I didn't wake up till 12:00 today I decided hang around Waegwan which means I do in fact have the time.

Waegwan and Chilgok

I am currently living in Waegwan ( 왜관 ), which is a town of about 30,000 people that is situated in Chilgok County ( 칠곡군 ).  Before I get into Waegwan's history I want to discuss how places are named in Korea.  The last symbol in Chilgok's name is 군, which is pronounced gun.  Although it doesn't mean exactly the same thing as a county, it is the closest English equivalent.  At the end of place names there will often be an extra symbol that indicates what type of place it is.  The country of South Korea is broken into 16 divisions.  A division can be a province (도 or do), a metropolitan city (광역시 or gwangyeoksi) or a special city (특별시 or teukbyeolsi).  The seven largest cities are not part of any province and are instead labeled as metropolitan cities with the exception of Seoul, which is labeled as a special city.  A province is then broken into the division of city (시 or si) and county.  The other divisions are as follows: district (구 or gu), town (읍 or eup), township (면 or myeon), neighborhood (동 or dong) and village (리 or ri).

Now onto the history of Waegwan and Chilgok.  Although there is not a great deal of history for these two places, I was able to find a couple interesting facts.  Waegwan originated as a stopping point for Japanese traders during the Choson Dynasty.  As a result, the name Waegwan was chosen because it means "foreign dwelling".  Chilgok means seven valleys (chil or 칠 is the number seven and gok or 곡 means valley) and is a reference to the seven peaks of Palgongsan.  Chilgok and Waegwan also played an important part in the Korean War, or 육이오.  The Korean actually just reads 6-2-5, which is what South Koreans call the war because it started on June 25.  Another interesting tidbit is that the North Koreans refer to the war as the Fatherland Liberation War or as the Choson War because North Koreans call their country Choson rather than Korea.

During the war Chilgok was home to the Dabu-dong battle ( 다부동전투 ), which lasted 55 days and resulted in the deaths of over 27,000 people.  The battle took place during August and September of 1950.  Waegwan saw the brutal massacre of 36 American POWs on August 17, 1950.  As North Korean forces were retreating they took 41 POWs and tied their hands behind their backs before gunning them down on a hillside.  Of the 41 men on the hill, 5 survived the encounter.

I'm planning on at least starting the write up on Daegu tonight.  Not sure exactly when I'll get it posted but it should be within the next day or two.

I always thought my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean would be in California

Well technically I only saw the Korea Strait, but I'm counting it as close enough to the Pacific.  I traveled to Busan on Saturday to check out South Korea's largest coastal city.  As per usual, I didn't have too much of an idea about where I was headed when I got there, but I still got to see some beautiful sights and a couple of the iconic areas.

So my day started at 5:30 in the morning.  I caught the train out of Waegwan at 6:30 and arrived in Busan around 8:30.  And upon my arrival I was greeted with the soothing sounds of Let It Be on the gayageum ( 가야금 ).  Now I know I talked about this on facebook, but I liked it so much that I figured I would put it on my blog too.  Apparently KORAIL always plays that song at the last stop on the trip.  The gayageum is a Korean instrument with 12 strings that was originally thought to have been invented around around the 6th century in the Gaya Confederacy by King Gasil.  However, recent excavations in the southwest area of the Korean peninsula have revealed that it actually dates to the 1st century BC.  In addition, while traditional gayageums had 12 strings, modern versions generally have more than 12.

Gayageum - a 12 string zither
So I finally got out into the streets of Busan around 8:45 and wandered down to PIFF Square.  PIFF stands for Pusan International Film Festival (The original romanization of the city was Pusan, but it has now been changed to Busan).

There was some film memorabilia and a lot of people cramming into movie theaters at 9:30 in the morning. The Square was transformed into its current state in 1996 in preparation for the first Pusan International Film Festival.  The film festival is held in October of each year and is one of the largest film festivals in Asia.

From PIFF Square I headed down to Jagalchi Fish Market, which is the largest seafood market in Korea.  After getting over the stench of the place, I walked around and found pretty much every sea creature for sale by the various venders.  As was the case with Seomun Market in Daegu, I was really amazed by the gigantic size of the market.

Jagalchi Market Building - I love how the roof is shaped like seagulls

Some venders outside of the building

I was then on my way across Yeongdo Bridge to Yeong Island for a stroll along the coastline.  I didn't really see any famous sights along this walk, but I got some beautiful pictures.

And then I got completely lost.  I thought I was heading down to an area of the island called Taejongdae, but I somehow managed to end up at the Korea Maritime University.  I didn't even realize I was on a campus until I saw that about half the people were wearing Naval uniforms.  Nevertheless, I made the best of it and took some more pictures along the coastline.

I then had to catch a bus back to Busan Station to catch my 2:20 train so I could get back to Daegu to head out on the town with a couple people.  I went to dinner with one of my coworkers and had probably the spiciest meal I have ever had in my life.  Let me just say that Mexican food doesn't have anything on Korean food when it comes to spice.  We then headed to a place to pregame a little bit before heading out to a bar called Thursday Party.  It was a pretty nice bar with lots of foreigners.  I'm not really sure when bars in Korea actually close, but I left at like 3:45 in the morning and they were still going pretty strong.  I might end up staying out that late pretty often on the weekends because rather than take the last train to Waegwan at 12:30, why not just take the first one at 4:05?  I finally got back to my place around 4:45 and got to sleep around 5:15.  So all in all, I was awake for almost 24 hours straight and got to see the second and third largest cities in the same day.

That pot contains liquid fire, or as some people call it "fire water"

And some random photos that I though were amusing...

I really hope they know Guns N' Roses and have made Welcome to the Jungle this district's official song

Probably the best sign I've seen in Korea so far

I've found my hangout spot for the next year

I love Korea

16 December 2010

A Little History and a Little Hangul

I figured as a follow up to some of my travel experiences I would take a little time to look up the historical significance of the places I have visited and try to figure out the translation from Hangul ( 한글 ) to English.  So for your enjoyment, or at least my own enlightenment, I present a short history and language lesson.

Seomun Market

The largest Korean traditional market in Daegu and the third largest in all of South Korea.  With over 4,000 shops you are bound to find pretty much anything.  I would have spent more time exploring the market if I had known it was this large.  I only saw a piece of it and I was still blown away by the number of shops. 

The name Seomun ( 서문시장 ) means "west gate" (seo or means "west" and mun or means "gate") and the origins of the market date back to 1669 during the Choson (or Chosun or Joseon depending on the translation) Dynasty.  The market began as a five day market that was positioned outside of the north gate of Daegu Fortress and was known as Daegu-jung market ( 대구시장 ).  During the 1920's the market moved to the west gate and acquired its current position and name.  I believe the actual romanization of the name is Seomun Sijang.

Daegu Stadium and World Cup Museum

This stadium was completed in 2001 in preparation for the 2002 World Cup.  It hosted four matches, including a Group Round match between the U.S. and South Korea that ended in a 1-1 draw.  The name is currently Daegu Stadium ( 대구경기장 ), but prior to 2008 it was known as Daegu World Cup Stadium (  대구월드컵경기장 ).  대구 translates as Daegu, 월드 means World, means Cup, and 경기장 means stadium.  The stadium has a capacity of 68,000 and is currently home to Daegu FC of the Korea Professional Soccer League.

The stadium will host the IAAF World Championships this coming summer.

Gatbawi and Palgongsan


Palgongsan ( 팔공산 ), or Mt. Palgong (san or means mountain), is a mountain located at the northeast corner of Daegu.  Pal ( 팔 ) is the number eight and the name Palgong references the eight generals who saved Wang-Geon, the founding king of the Goryeo kingdom.  Palgongsan is actually comprised of a number of different peaks (which means I will definitely be going back), with the highest peak being 1192 meters above sea level.  The mountain served as a sanctuary for Buddhist monks fleeing from persecution during the Choson Dynasty.

Gatbawi ( 바위) translates to "hat rock" ("gat" or means "hat" and "bawi" or 바위 means "rock"), which references the stone slab on top of the Buddha.  Gatbawi Buddha was originally known as Gwanbong Buddha because it is located atop Gwanbong peak and the official name for the statue is Gwanbong Seokjoyeoraejwasang ( 관봉석조여래좌상 ) and means Gwanbong sitting stone Buddha.

For those interested, - Gwan, - bong, - Seok, - jo, - yeo, - rae, - jwa, - sang.

However, the name Gatbawi Buddha is the most popular and well known.  Gatbawi Buddha is specifically known as the Buddha of Medicine and people will travel from all over Korea to pray for loved ones who have become ill.  

There are two popular legends connected to Gatbawi.  The first and most well-known is that this Buddha will grant one wish per person.  The second legend concerns the designer, Uihyeon.  It is said that he made the statue to appease his mother's soul and that a big crane flew to guard him every night while he was making it.  I couldn't find a definitive date on the creation of the statue, but it seems to be from between the 7th and 9th centuries.

I am going to try and write these sort of articles for most of the places that I visit.  I personally found this article really interesting to write and learned quite a bit.  I will be writing articles on the history of Daegu and Waegwan when I get the time.

12 December 2010

Well I'm officially tired...

I did quite a bit of walking and hiking this weekend, but the pictures were definitely worth it.  I had a couple new experiences in that this was the first time I took the train to Daegu (only about 20 minutes), this was the first time I used a Korean subway system, and it was the first time I used the Korean bus system.  As for public transportation, I give the train and subway systems both A's, but the bus wasn't quite up to par.  Daegu was a pretty good city to start out in because it has an extremely simple subway system (even simpler than DC, which I didn't think was possible).  You really can't get much simpler than 2 lines that intersect at one station, but it gets the job done.

So Saturday I hopped on the train to Daegu in the late morning with absolutely no idea where I wanted to go our how to get anywhere.  It was kinda fun.  I got off at Daegu Station and literally just wandered for about an hour until I stumbled upon Seomun Market.  With over 4,000 shops it's pretty legit.

From Seomun Market I found a subway station and took it to Daegu Grand Park, which at the time I had no idea what that was but I thought it sounded like it could be pretty cool.  It actually turned out to be the location of Daegu's World Cup Stadium.

There was also a World Cup museum so it turned out to be a pretty cool trip.

On Sunday I headed back to Daegu to go to Palgongsan (Palgong Mountain) and see Gatbawi, which is a giant stone statue of Buddha.  I also found a pretty awesome temple on the way to the top of the mountain (Gatbawi is at the top).

                                  Staircase leading to one of the temples
                            Pretty awesome
                              Panorama view from the top of the mountain

Unfortunately, I accidently went down the opposite side of the mountain.  Now there very well may have been a bus to take you to the other side but I didn't see any and I obviously couldn't read any sign that said there was one.  So I decided to hike back up to the top and head down the other way.  Hence me being so tired while writing this.  And this was a pretty serious ascent.  The peak is about 1000 meters (or 2/3 of a mile) above the base of the mountain.

There were a couple funny things I noticed during the climb.  This one guy had a backpack with speakers and was blasting "My heart will go on" by Celine Deion.  I found it amusing.  I also heard "Like a G6" playing.  Again amusing.  Seriously, the amount of American influence here is pretty surprising.  I've seen a lot of New York shirts, a lot of American baseball hats, and our music seems to be pretty much everywhere.  Another weird thing I noticed was that street venders were selling roots on the mountain.  I couldn't really understand this.  I mean, who goes hiking and along the way says "I think I'd like to buy some roots on the way to the top".

But anway, I had a fun weekend.  I'm looking to head down to Busan (which is the second largest city in Korea) next weekend.  I also begin my third week of teaching tomorrow so it should be fun.

05 December 2010

Nearing the end of my first weekend

Well I've now gotten through my first week of classes and my first weekend here in Korea.  I've really enjoyed it here so far and I figured I would recap some of my experiences and my initial observations about life in Korea.

So let's start with the flight.  It is definitely a very long flight from JFK to Incheon airport.  I took a direct flight and it lasted about 14 hours.  Here is the approximate flight path:
Two things to note are that the flight comes very close to passing directly over the North Pole and that the flight completely avoids passing over North Korea and the waters controlled by North Korea.  I took Asiana and if anyone is planning to visit Asia I would definitely recommend them.  They had pretty good food (choice of either Korean or American dishes) and at the beginning of the flight all of the stewardess' bow to the passengers.

After I landed I caught a bus to Gumi, which took about 4 hours.  Upon arriving in Korea the first thing that struck me was that it really wasn't as different as I had anticipated.  There were of course the obvious differences such as the language and the fact that everyone was Korean.

Quick Note: Coming from the U.S. we are pretty used to seeing people from virtually every ethnicity in the world.  In Korea I would say about 99 % of the people here are in fact Korean.  If you see a foreigner in Korea you can pretty much assume that they are either an American soldier, an English teacher, or a tourist.

But anyway, the two things that struck me as very similar to the U.S. were the standard of living and the infrastructure.  Most of cars on the road were pretty nice (although they are all made by Hyundai and Kia) and the cities look pretty similar to western cities.

Another note: For some reason Koreans love tinted windows.  I would say over half the cars I have seen here have tinted windows.

So I arrived Monday night and was then already in the classroom on Tuesday afternoon.  Most of the students are very well behaved and the older students in particular are very serious about their studies.

                                          My classroom
I will be honest and admit that my first day I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  But in some ways getting thrown into the classroom is actually pretty helpful because it forces you to learn quickly.  From what I've heard it takes about 3 weeks to really get used to it so I will let you know how it's going at that point.

My first weekend here was pretty fun.  I went out with my coworkers to some bars and met a lot of other English teachers.  Koreans in general are very friendly and outgoing people.  I went to my first true Korean restaurant on Saturday.  There are not any chairs, so you sit on the floor.  There is also a fire pit in the center of the table and they bring out a slab of meat and you are responsible for cutting it and cooking it.

Today I found a place to go hiking near my apartment and it provided some pretty good views of my town.
Well tomorrow I start my second week of classes so wish me luck! I am going to try and find a place to take Taekwondo and next weekend I am planning to go to Daegu.

04 December 2010

No love for Enya?

Why in the world would a country ban a video of Orinoco Flow? 

I just woke up in South Korea...

Well needless to say that is kind of a weird feeling and the fact that I was actually on my way to Korea really didn't hit me until I was actually taking off in the airplane.  But I have now officially finished my first week of teaching and it has gone pretty well so far.  Most of the students are extremely well behaved and they all speak a basic amount of English so communicating is not too difficult.  My job is primarily to work on their pronunciation and reading comprehension.  I'm still getting the hang of this teaching thing, but I think I've gotten off to a good start.

I am living in a town called Waegwan (pronounced "Way-gone"), which is pretty small and only has a population of about 30,000.  I am however about a 15 minute train ride from both Gumi and Daegu.  Gumi has a population of about 350,000 and Daegu has about 2.5 million people.  Gumi and Waegwan both have very large foreign populations.  Gumi is a hotspot for foreign English teachers and Waegwan has an American military base with about 5,000 troops stationed.

So last night I had my first taste of Korean nightlife and it was pretty fun.  I stayed out till about 4 in the morning and honestly I'm not really sure how it got that late.  I also discovered Lotteria, which is pretty much Burger King.  I also went to a real restaurant for the first time on Saturday afternoon.  You sit on the floor at a very low table and there is a fire pit in the center of the table.  They pretty much bring the meat out to you and then you are responsible for cutting it and cooking it.

Well, I'm now off to do some more exploring.  I will try to keep the blog updated as experience more of Korea.  And here are some pictures from my first week.

                                           10,000 Won = about 9 bucks
                                                    Korean version of Frosted Flakes
                                         I'm definitely not in the United States
                                          Korean historical site