Korean Folk Village (with Photos)


This is an update of two blog posts I published in July 2005 about our first visit to the Korean Folk Village near Seoul, South Korea. Although other folk villages in Korea also showcase traditional Korean architecture and culture, this is the one most locals think of when they hear the term “Korean Folk Village.” The village is featured on my list of Top Ten Things to Do in Korea. This post combines the original two posts into one and includes photos. The original posts are here and here.

My family ventured July 15 to the Korean Folk Village in Yongin, an exurb of Seoul. Reputed to be one of the best daytrips out of the city, it lived up to its reputation. If you visit Seoul and only have time for one daytrip, this is a great place to go.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (1)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (2)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (3)

Opened in 1974, the village is the grandest of all the folk villages dotting South Korea. Although it was built as a tourist attraction, it’s fully functional. Many of the employees dressed up as peasants and in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) also live there. It’s an intriguing sight to see next to the modern high-rise apartment buildings that loom next to the village gates.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (4)

The route to the Korean Folk Village two hours south of Seoul is not well marked, and finding northbound Interstate 1 heading north is not easy.We missed the Giheung exit off Interstate 1 on our way to the village and ended up driving past it to Osan. We backtracked on an arterial road that paralleled the freeway.

By the time we arrived, we were so hungry that we stopped to eat at “Korea Restaurant” near the village gate. We thought that a restaurant with a lofty-sounding name representing the entire country had to have delicious food, but it turned out to be a cafeteria-style, massed-produced food operation with a limited selection and mediocre cuisine. All the restaurants near the entrance looked the same. At least the friendly help took a liking to our young son! If you visit, you’re better off making your way to the far end of the village and eating at the open-air village “Bazzar.” We eventually arrived at the “Bazzar” and saw some of the delicious foods sold there. Live and learn.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (5)

After lunch we went to “Seonangdang,” a religious shrine where one can pray to and solicit favors from the village’s guardian spirits. Koreans, like many peoples around the world, at one time carved ancestral totems out of wood. The ones in the village reminded me of the totem poles made by the Native Americans and First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest, although these totems were bit more free spirited (no pun intended). Korean totems can be whimsical and a bit chaotic with laughing, asymmetrical faces. They also follow the curvature of the wood and occasionally lean.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (6)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (7)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (8)

We walked to the ceramic village, where I bought my first kimchi pot (a ceramic jar used to make kimchi, not kimchi-flavored marijuana). As the national dish of Korea, kimchi is held in high regard in Korea. No meal would be complete without a side dish of spicy and sweet cabbage, radish, or cucumber kimchi. The Italian restaurant where my wife and I occasionally dine in Seoul serves sweet pickles as a substitute (western restaurants in Korea often serve sweet pickles in lieu of banchan, or side dishes).

I’ve wanted to buy a pot for quite some time because I thought they looked decorative. Mine is not too big, perhaps one gallon (two kiloliters). It’s not large enough to make enough kimchi to feed a family. To do that, you would need to buy at least a 20-gallon drum! Although I overpaid for the jar, I was happy to buy one from the shop where it was made. Knowing its source gave it character and an identity.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (9)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (10)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (11)

We made our way through the village and visited a replica of a typical traditional Korean peasant farm.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (12)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (13)

We stopped to watch two elderly women in hanbok making silk. I had never seen how it’s made. One woman boiled silkworm cocoons, killing the larvae, separating each from its cocoon and casting it aside, and helped another woman unravel silk from the cocoon. The second woman spun the raw silk thread around a spinning wheel. Watching them produce silk was fascinating. It’s amazing that such a manual, unglamorous process ends with the creation of one of the world’s most luxurious fabrics.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (15)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (14)

In an open area in the middle of the village, we came upon some traditional Korean games, the see-saw and arrow throwing. In a simulation of the ancient Korean game, some locals tried to throw three-foot long sticks into narrow jars. (Arrow throwing is akin to the western carnival game of throwing balls through holes on a backboard.) The Korean see-saws were thick planks of wood straddling sacks of hay. My son enjoyed giving it a try. Daddy put his foot on the plank and bounced him up and down. He laughed and held on for dear life as daddy rocked him. He then took over and did it himself.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (17)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (16)

Ready for a treat, we went to the “Bazzar” and stopped for ice cream. I loved the atmosphere of the open-air market filled with traditional buildings and workers dressed in peasant clothing. At that moment, contemporary Seoul seemed far away.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (18)

We left the “Bazzar” and crossed the Arch Stone Bridge, a picturesque structure straddling a gentle river flowing through the village.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (19)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (20)

We wandered along the far bank of the river through a group of farmhouses modeled after those found on Jeju Island made of volcanic rock. For the first time, my son saw farm animals that he knew well but had never seen before—rabbits, chickens, pigs, goats, and geese. His eyes lit up when he saw the real version of animals he had read about in books and saw as toys. He especially liked the rabbits. Unfortunately, the geese were unruly. We stood about ten feet from them until four decided to come after us. We backed away quickly and moved out of their territory. I wasn’t about to get bitten by a goose and end up getting rabies shots. That would have been a lousy end to a beautiful day.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (21)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (22)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (25)

I enjoyed trying some of the rudimentary milling equipment, a gristmill and hammermill. It made me thankful that I buy my bread, rice, and pasta at a store.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (23)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (24)

After wandering through replicas of old Jeju Island farms, we ventured into an open area where a Korean acrobat on a high wire performed a delicate balancing act. He did a fabulous job defying gravity, bouncing up and down on the rope, sitting on it, straddling it, and balancing himself on top. He balanced himself grasping only a handkerchief in one hand and a large white fan in the other. He used the fan to control his balance, waving it slowly, then feverishly to bring his body back into equilibrium. Dressed in a white traditional costume, he wore a black Korean-style hat reminiscent of a Korean sage. I enjoyed his performance.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (26)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (27)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (28)

We then headed to the Manor House, where we witnessed a traditional Korean wedding. The condensed ceremony that took place in the main courtyard highlighted some of its interesting aspects. As the ceremony began, the groom took his place to the east of the wedding altar and faced west, sitting cross-legging awaiting his bride. Symbolic foods lay atop the altar, waiting to be parceled to the bride and groom. An old sage to the north of the altar faced south and read the vows from a wedding book.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (29)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (30)

A few minutes later the sage called for the bride to come. She left the Manor House and descended its steps, entering the courtyard with two female assistants. They escorted her to the altar and helped her kneel on both knees to the east so that she faced towards her future husband facing west.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (31)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (32)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (33)

As the sage chanted the wedding vows, assistants offered food and drink to the betrothed couple. They ate chestnuts, a symbol of the yangban, or Korean aristocracy, and other delicacies. The bride’s arms were crossed and positioned over her face so that the groom could not see her until the ceremony ended. Prompted by the sage, the groom and bride stood and bowed to each other. Dressed in hanbok, they made a handsome couple.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (34)

The sage pronounced the couple married, and the ceremony ended as quickly as it started. Having seen many weddings around the world, I enjoyed this unique depiction of an age-old tradition.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (35)

After the ceremony ended, we headed to a modern children’s amusement park in the southern portion of the folk village across the river. Filled with amusements, modern architecture, and contemporary sculptures, it was much different than the rest of the village. We took our son on several rides. He had been such a good sport putting up with our wandering that we knew we needed to treat him to something he would enjoy. He first rode a roving mechanical dog. He was apprehensive about getting close to real animals but had no qualms climbing aboard this slow-moving “dog.” Afterwards, mommy took him on a carrousel for his first merry-go ride, and daddy took him on his first train ride aboard the children’s train. He had a great time.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (36)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (37)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (38)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (39)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (40)

Our son had so much fun that he didn’t nap all day long. Once we finished and went home, he was out like a light. I was tired too and wanted to do the same but had to wait until home to crash. Our fun adventure at the Korean Folk Village wore all of us out.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (41)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village

Map picture

buythumbM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Top Ten Things to Do in Korea (with Photos)


Here’s a list of the top ten things you should do if you visit South Korea. These suggestions are based on my experience when I lived in Seoul. The activities will give you a good taste of what Korea has to offer. My ranking is based on how fun they are and how close they are to Seoul.

1. Walking tour (Seoul): Take a walking tour of Gyeongbokgung, the royal palace of Korea’s last dynasty, the Joseon.

Gyeongbokgung

Gyeongbokgung (2)

Stop by the Chongwadae, or Blue House, the official residence of the South Korean president.

Blue House

Walk along Cheonggyecheon, a canal walk just two blocks south of Gyeongbokgung off the main thoroughfare downtown, Sejongno.

Cheongyecheon

Cheongyecheon (2)

Sejongno

Keep walking a couple blocks south to Seoul’s City Hall. There aren’t many residential or shopping areas in the heart of downtown, but you will feel the pulse of Korea there.

Seoul City Hall

2. Shopping (Seoul): Shop for souvenirs and good deals at any one of a number of open-air markets and shopping districts in Seoul. The most popular are Namdaemun, Dongdaemun, Myeongdong, and Insadong. Namdaemun is the most famous and lies near Korea’s #1 Treasure, Namdaemun Gate. It’s your best bet for Korean souvenirs. For more traditional arts and crafts, try Insadong. Myeongdong is a trendy shopping area. Dongdaemun is less touristy and a bit off the beaten tourist path.

Namdaemun

Myeongdong

Night Market

3. Namsan Mountain (Seoul): Take a cable car to the top of Namsan Mountain in the heart of Seoul for some of the best panoramic views of the city. N Seoul Tower is more functional than beautiful but has a great view. Explore the paths in Namsan Park and check out the frequent events held there.

Seoul Tower

Seoul Tower (2)

Then visit nearby Namsangol Hanok, a traditional Korean village in Pildong on the north side of the mountain, for a taste of pre-modern Seoul.

Namsangol (2)

Namsangol

4. Dining and Entertainment: The dining and entertainment options in South Korea are endless. Great Korean food is available throughout the country; the best international cuisine is in Seoul and Busan. Try something different than bulgogi. Have some galbijim (beef ribs), bibimbap, or spicy takgogi along with kimchi and other banchan (side dishes). For vegetarians, dine at a Buddhist restaurant.

Korean Food

Korean Food (2)

Wash it down with soju, a Korean rice alcohol that some say tastes like vodka, or baekseju, a sweet alcohol.

Night Life (2)

Then head out for noraebang (karaoke) and sing your heart out with friends. Enjoy the nightlife in Hongdae, the bohemian area of Seoul, or trendy Gangnam. Seoul is a happening place in the evening. If you’re out late and need to refresh yourself, try some haejangguk (hangover soup) and then head to the jimjilbang (sauna) to relax.

Night Life

5. Panmunjom / DMZ Tour: Take a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA) between North and Seoul Korea. No visit to Korea would be complete without a tour of the de facto border between the two countries. If possible, visit the “Truce Village” of Panmunjom and take a bus tour of the No Man’s Land between the two Koreas. Not all foreign nationals are allowed to tour Panmunjom, so check with a tour guide to see if you’re allowed to visit.

DMZ

DMZ (2)

6. Korean Folk Village: Located in Yongin, 45 minutes south of Seoul, the Korean Folk Village was built for tourists but is arguably the best example of Joseon-era Korean life. The attraction also has a lot of kiddie rides great for children. A fun daytrip from Seoul.

Folk Village

Folk Village (2)

Folk Village (3)

7. Seoraksan National Park: With great hiking and awesome views, Seoraksan is considered by many Koreans to be the most beautiful national park in South Korea. Visit a nearby hot springs to relax after a long hike.

Seoraksan

Seoraksan (2)

Seoraksan is not far from other great destinations in mountainous Gangwon Province, including Pyeongchang, future site of the 2018 Winter Olympics; Yongpyong Ski Resort in Pyeongchang, made famous by the biggest Korean drama of all time, Winter Sonata; and Odaesan National Park.

Yongpyeong

Yongpyeong (2)

8. Busan: Korea’s second largest city and its busiest port, Busan came into its own when it hosted the 2002 Asia Games and 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. Stay on the beach in the suburb of Haeundae and try the bokguk (pufferfish soup) — if you dare. If not, Busan is famous for its charcoal-grilled bulgogi.

Haeundae

The most notable attraction in the area is Beomeosa, a Buddhist temple. It’s a daytrip just north of Busan.

Beomeosa

Beomeosa (2)

9. Gyeongju: Head to Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom (57 BC – 935 AD). The historic area is full of artifacts, including grassy burial mounds holding the tombs of the Silla kings and the Cheomseongdae Observatory. The area offers beautiful views of the Korean countryside. Numerous Buddhist temples and statues are hidden in the hills, and the Pacific Ocean is a half hour drive away.

Gyeongju

Gyeongju (3)

Gyeongju (2)

10. Jeju Island: A large island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, Jeju Island is beloved by many Koreans for its beauty, warm weather, interesting rock formations created by volcanic lava flows, and a local culture unique to Korea. Stay in Jeju City and explore the island’s beaches, parks, and towns in several daytrips.

Jeju (2)

Jeju (3)

Jeju (5)

Jeju (4)

The island’s main symbol, phallic statues called harubang, are considered guardian spirits to ward of evil. It’s likely that they were inspired by, well, Jeju’s rock formations.

Jeju (6)

Jeju

Extra! Yeosu: Visit Yeosu, site of the 2012 World Expo, in South Cholla Province. The World’s Fair runs from May 12 to August 12, 2012. The theme of the Expo is “The Living Ocean and Coast.” Wolchulsan National Park, also in South Cholla not far from Yeosu, is a great place to hike. Many Koreans say that the Cholla region serves up some of the country’s best Korean food.

Wolchulsan (2)

I couldn’t list everything you can do when you visit Korea. Some honorable mentions include the National Museum of Korea, the War Memorial of Korea, and Bukhansan National Park in Seoul; Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon; and Ulleungdo, an island off the coast of Korea.

War Museum

War Museum (2)

Suwon Fortress

Spring is lovely, especially when the cherry flowers blossom in April and May. Summers in Korea are hot and humid, especially during the monsoon season, but the trees and flowers are in bloom, and the country is a sea of green. Watch out for yellow sand from Mongolia around June and heavy monsoon rains from the South China Sea in July-August.

Bukhansan

Bukhansan (2)

Winters are cold, but the snow blankets the land with a brilliant white.

Snow

Snow (2)

The best time to visit Korea is in the fall, when it’s not too hot or cold and the leaves turn into bright fall colors. The country is ablaze with shades of red, orange, and yellow.

Wolchulsan

Anytime of the year, Korea is naturally beautiful.

Wolchulsan (3)

Map picture

 

Note:  This is an updated version of an earlier entry posted in 2007. This update includes photos and some new destinations.

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He recently published a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an ebook and in print on Amazon.com. His upcoming book, Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, will be released on March 31, 2012. He lived in Seoul, Korea in 2005-07 and now lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

 

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Hooker Hill Redux


I find it fascinating (but not surprising) that a blog entry I wrote about “Hooker Hill” in Itaewon, Seoul, Korea in 2005 continues to generate more hits than any other entry I’ve written since I started blogging in 2004.  The entry consistently ranks first, second or third almost every day in the number of hits it gets.  Today, for example, it’s ranked second after my home page, even more than any of the recent posts I’ve published on my  Kilimanjaro climb.  Amazing staying power some blog entries have!  Some of the honorable mentions are posts about eating puffer fish in Busan, Korea; whether John Lennon inspired Harry Potter’s facial features; Thai cuisine in Buenos Aires; and things to do when visiting Paraguay.  Talk about staying power.  Who would have thought that a post about “Hooker Hill” would be absolutely timeless.

The “Hooker Hill” episode is actually quite innocuous.  The blog entry chronicles my adventure visiting a back alley in Itaewon called “Hooker Hill” on official business (yes, seriously).  It was an intriguing experience trudging uphill in a business suit before dusk in one of Seoul’s notorious “red light districts” looking to help someone in need.  Whether readers who search for information on “Hooker Hill” and land on my blog entry are looking for exciting places to tour while visiting Seoul or are seeking something to satisfy their libido is unknown, although I suspect that most visitors are looking for the latter.  The unwitting message I hope I conveyed is that Itaewon is not without its risks and that anyone who does visit keep in mind their safety first (physically, financially and sexually).  While not a dangerous place, who knows what might happen if you go to “Hooker Hill” for more than a casual look.

This blog entry is a check to see how popular this tantalizingly named post will be and whether it will rival the original.  I expect it will also rank high in online searches.

n.B.  Since I posted this blog entry 24 hours ago traffic to my blog increased over 300%.  Most of the 150 odd hits came from this post and the original.  Scintillating definitely sells.

Top Ten Things to Do in Korea


Click here for an updated version of this post with photos and more details about Korea’s Top Ten Things to Do.
Now that I am no longer in Korea, I think it’s time to archive this top ten list.  I put together this list at the beginning of my tour in Korea.  It’s a list of the top ten things you can do while visiting Korea.  How many did we do?  I/we did all of the to a degree.  We didn’t visit a hot spring, but the chimjilbang was fun.  I never visited the World Cup Stadium in Seoul because it isn’t much of an attraction, but I spent time in the Olympic area to the southeast in Gangnam.  Which would I eliminate from the list?  Probably the sports tour.  In hindsight, there isn’t really much incentive to visit either the Olympic or World Cup sites unless you’re a sports historian or there’s an event at one of those sites.  Instead, try visiting the Korean Folk Village in Giheung, 45 minutes south of Seoul, or if you don’t have time, visit Namsan Hanok Village on the northern flanks of Namsan Mountain in Seoul.  You could also visit one of Korea’s other fine national parks, particularly Wolchulsan National Park in the south or Odaesan National Park just south of Seoraksan. 
In the next few days I’ll replace this list with a new list of top ten places to visit in Paraguay and South America.
Top Ten Things to Do in Korea
 
Visit Jeju Island
– A must-see for any traveler to Korea.
Take the JSA / DMZ Tour
– Don’t leave Korea without seeing it. Very surreal.
Go to a Noraebang
– Sing your heart out with Korean friends.
Eat grilled galbi and kimchi with soju
– For vegetarians, try a Buddhist restaurant.
Visit Gyeongju
– Ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty.
Take a sports tour of Seoul
– Visit the Olympics and World Cup sites.
Enjoy the nightlife in Hongdae or Gangnam
– Seoul is hopping at night!
Try chimjilbang and visit a hot springs
– Great for relaxation.
Visit Seoraksan National Park
– Great hiking!
Do a palace & shopping tour of Seoul
– Gyeongbokgung, Namdaemun, Dongdaemun, Insadong.
 
Blog Notes:  I finally managed to upload new music to World Adventurers.  You might notice a new song tonight.  It’s a little ditty called, “Ñambo Pajha Ñorairo” featuring Paraguayan harp and guitar.  I figured out that the Windows Media Player module on this site was out of date and needed to be updated.  I did that, but the sound quality appears to be average on the new song.  The scratchy sound you might hear seems to caused by delays in streaming the song from Paraguay (it’s on a site hosted by a Paraguayan web site).  I plan to update some of this site’s basic features over the next few days.  I’m trying to archive some of the Korean information to make room for more information and media from Paraguay and South America.  Please excuse the mess!

Tepid response to tragedy


I searched the Korean news media web sites for the Korean perspective on today’s events.  I thought the official response to the massacre at Virginia Tech was tepid at best and tasteless at worst.  President Roh Moo-hyun sent his condolences to the families of the 32 victims at Virginia Tech who died at the hands of 23-year-old Korean student and U.S. permanent resident Cho Seung-hui.  However, President Roh concluded by urging Americans to show restraint in response to the tragedy.  Although I do hope that Americans show restraint and do not rush to judgment in light of today’s revelations about Mr. Cho’s identity, I thought President Roh’s conclusion was in bad form and faith.
 
 
I was also dismayed to find that the major left-wing Hankyoreh newspaper neglected to publish any articles or commentary on today’s tragedy.  Instead, it chose to complain about the number of slots available to Korean students who want to sit for the TOEFL test, the test required for foreign students to study in the United States.  It also published an article on documents released about the U.S.’ alleged involvement in a "civilian massacre."  Blow it out your nose, Hanky.  You may not be a friend to the United States, but you should be ashamed.
 
 
I hope that Americans do not personalize this tragedy and use it to single out Koreans who live, study, or visit the United States.  The vast majority are good people, and Koreans should not fear reprecussions because of one man’s actions.  However, I am very disappointed by Korea’s public response to this tragedy.  For a nation that focuses incessantly on its own public image and is highly sensitive to how it is perceived on the world stage, Korea should know that it needs to handle this tragedy with care and respond appropriately when one of its own commits such an atrocity.

Inside North Korea


My eyes and ears still perk up whenever I see or hear something about the Koreas.  This video clip showing footage of life inside North Korea produced by National Geographic is absolutely heartbreaking.  No explanation needed.  Watch it for yourself before it’s yanked off YouTube for copyright violation or another reason.
 
 
Life never seems so bad whenever I watch video footage or see photos from North Korea.

Anyeonghi keseyo, Korea


Goodbye, Korea.  Tomorrow is moving day, and my computer will be boxed up and shipped to the U.S.  The Internet router goes back to Korea Telecom on Tuesday.  This is probably my final blog entry in Korea before we depart for the U.S. on Wednesday.  We will head to Hawai’i for two weeks–two years after we last visited on our way here.  After Hawai’i, we will be in Seattle for about a week and then in Idaho for another week before heading to Virginia.  We will head to Paraguay next July. 
 
The goodbye parties are over, and all that’s left to do are check-out meetings and inspections.  When I have more time in the U.S., I will post some photos and tell you more about them (at least to the point where I don’t embarass someone–some photos are pretty crazy).  We had a wonderful tour in Korea.  Most people who serve here leave with mixed feelings.  Some love it, some hate it, but most enjoy it with caveats.  I really enjoyed my time here, so you can put me in the group who loved it.  My family enjoyed it with caveats.
 
In spite of spending a large portion of my life processing visas for 36,530 individuals, I leave Seoul with great memories.  I am thankful that I will probably never have to do another visa again (I did more than my fair share), but I will remember the time fondly–even at the visa window.  My family and I are looking forward to new challenges during Spanish training in Virginia and in Paraguay, but we leave with two years of great memories from Korea. 
 
And with that…hello, Hawai’i!

Goh stops presidential run


Former Korean presidential hopeful Goh Kun announced today that he would not seek office in December’s Korean presidential election.  The Korean Presidential election, held once every five years, was expected to be a very competitive race until former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak took a commanding lead in recent public opinion polls.  Mr. Lee, the leading candidate for the conservative Grand National Party (GNP), and his rival, Park Geun-hye, GNP party leader, placed first and second, respectively, in recent opinion polls.  Mr. Goh, a former GNP member, left the GNP last year to run as a centrist independent.  He was lobbied by members of the ruling Uri Party and the Democratic Party (DP) to serve as the presidential nominee for a unified, yet-to-be-named merged party.  However, Mr. Goh resisted attempts to join Uri and/or the DP, and he may have dropped out of the race after he determined that he could not win the presidency as an independent.
 
Mr. Goh’s departure affects the presidential race by strengthening the hand of the GNP.  Barring an unexpected popularity surge by another candidate, either Mr. Lee or Ms. Park seem assured to become the next Korean president, replacing outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun.  Some speculate that despite Mr. Lee’s popularity, the GNP will choose Ms. Park over Ms. Lee as its presidential candidate, because Ms. Park is the party leader and daughter of former Korean President Park Chung-hee, making her a sentimental choice for president within her party.  They point out that the GNP lost the presidency in 2002 to the Uri Party because it chose Mr. Lee Hoi-chang as its presidential candidate, even after Mr. Lee lost the presidency to Kim Dae-jung in 1997.  This implies that the ruling Uri Party or the DP could capitalize on a Lee-Park schism in the GNP to win the presidency.
 
The GNP might choose Ms. Park as its presidential nominee over Lee Myung-bak, even though Mr. Lee handily beats Ms. Park in opinion polls.  Who the GNP nominates as its standard bearer largely depends on how the GNP decides to choose its presidential candidate–an internal party primary system favors Ms. Park, or an open primary system favors Mr. Lee.  Both are strong presidential candidates, and with the third-strongest candidate, Mr. Goh, departing the race, their statuses solidify as presidential front runners.  Other potential candidates, including former Unification Minister Chang Dong-young and Mr. Kim Geun-tae of the Uri Party, or former Seoul National University President Chung Un-chan, do not have the stature or momentum going into the presidential election to seriously challenge either Mr. Lee or Ms. Park.  It is also unlikely that Mr. Lee would run as an independent or as the  presidential nominee of another political party in the event that the GNP chooses Ms. Park as its nominee.  Moreover, the GNP has won the last five elections and clearly has the momentum going into this year’s presidential race.  Unless a dark horse candidate comes up with a wildly popular solution to the Korean public’s biggest concerns–housing and jobs–Goh’s departure makes it even more evident that either Lee Myung-bak or Park Geun-hye will be Korea’s next president.  We’ll find out in December.

Closer and closer to transition


We’re just 26 days away from leaving Korea.  How will we ever finish everything we must do?  Now that time is growing ever shorter, I find myself choosing between priorities.  I wish I could clone myself and assign myself to do different tasks, like writing this blog.  Alas, I cannot.  Fortunately, the most pressing logistics involved with our move have already been set in motion–our trip is booked, my follow-on assignment is set, and the biggest move preparations are already planned, including scheduling the movers and vehicle pickup.  Over the next 26 days, we need to focus on all the "little" things, like changing addresses, finishing my job evaluation, and organizing paperwork for our trip.  If you’ve ever moved, which I’m sure you have, you’ll understand all that is involved with a move.  I’ve never heard anyone who said anything favorable about moving other than that they’re glad when it’s over.
 
What is unique about this lifestyle is that moves happen every two, three, or four years.  It’s an amazing experience immersing yourself in cultures such as Korea and Paraguay.  However, moving around the world nine or ten times over a 25- to 30-year period can be a tremendous grind.  This is compounded by the fact that some transitions stretch into months, even years, when training and home leave is involved.  For example, we will be on leave for one month, and then we will be in Virginia for four months to study Spanish.  During this time, our car and most of our worldly possessions will be boxed up and shipped to Paraguay.  For three months, we will live out of suitcases in a furnished apartment in Virginia with no vehicle.  Life won’t feel "normal" again–if you can call this life "normal"–until next August, after we unpack the belongings that will be shipped from Korea in about three weeks.  I shouldn’t complain, but it is a sacrifice to live such a transitory lifestyle.  I wouldn’t trade it for a stable life in suburban America, though.  I’m right where I need to be.

Celebrating the New Year


Last night my wife and I joined another couple for a New Year’s celebration at the Seoul Plaza Hotel located across the street from Seoul City Hall.  We had a wonderful view of the festivities taking place in front of the city hall.  The evening was elegant and fun.  We feasted buffet-style and washed it down with wine.  We also enjoyed some entertainment.  We sat for a caricature artist who sketched comical renderings of our faces.  A magician performed some tricks at our table with coins and cards.  Although we couldn’t figure out how he created these illusions, I joked that it would have been an even bigger feat if he could magically speak English.  We also enjoyed a wonderful a capella quintet that sang a variety of songs in English and Korean, including Roy Orbison’s "Pretty Woman," one of my personal favorites.  At midnight, we rang in the new year with party poppers.  Mine was a dud, so I just clapped in lieu of setting off a noisemaker.
 
Our evening at the Seoul Plaza Hotel wound down about 12:30 a.m.  We then walked across the street and mingled amidst the throngs of partygoers who celebrated on the city hall plaza.  A rowdy group of people, mostly foreigners, gathered around a Korean hip hop-metal banging out unintelligible tunes.  A gaggle of Koreans lit fireworks, setting off noisemakers and Roman candles.  It  was both dangerous and chaotic, so we circled around the plaza to the outdoor ice rink.  Dozens of Koreans etched the ice with their skates.  I could almost hear the rink crying for a Zamboni machine to clean the ice.
 
Last night was the best New Year’s celebration we’ve had since 2002, when we ushered in the new year in Cairo, Egypt at the former royal palace watching Egypt’s most famous belly dancer perform over dinner.  Nights like these are rare.  Our New Year’s celebrations are most often spent at home watching "New Year’s Rockin’ Eve" or some other televised extravaganza.
 
Blog Notes:  I guess that people really do read this blog!  Tonight we had some friends over for dinner.  One friend who often reads World Adventurers noticed in my entry "Five Things You Don’t Know about Me" that I like baked goods, particularly snickerdoodles.  She showed up tonight with a plate full of snickerdoodles in tow and told me that she baked them because she read that I like snickerdoodles!  How about that?  Thank you for the snickerdoodles!  I will thoroughly enjoy them.  In a few days she will probably read this note and laugh at the irony that I’m thanking her on my blog for noticing!
 
So the Seattle Seahawks are back in the National Football League playoffs.  Unfortunately, they had the worst record of all teams in the playoffs, 9-7, and limped into the playoffs this year after a spectacular 13-3 season last year.  No one is holding much hope that they will go far in the playoffs.  They face the 10-6 Dallas Cowboys in Seattle next weekend.  While they beat the Cowboys last year in Seattle, the Cowboys should have won that game.  The ‘Hawks will have to play their best ball to beat the ‘Boys next weekend.  The one silver lining this year–the reigning Superbowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will be sitting home this playoff season.  After so many obnoxious Steelers fans argued that the outcome of the last year’s Superbowl was fair and decried Seahawks fans as whiners for pointing out questionable officiating calls made during the game, it’s nice to see the Seahawks back in the hunt for a Vince Lombardi trophy this season while Steelers fans sit at home and cry.