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Archive for September 10th, 2009

A night culture

Gyeongju, South Korea

observatory

Oldest astrological observatory in Asia

Lonely Planet guide described my hotel as very clean. I like clean. I would also add very friendly, very quiet, very secure, and as typical in Korea, a very hard bed and a wand for a shower head. Being that I had no idea where to stay I followed the book’s recommendation. “I know, what a tourist!”. True. But it was in the budget category and in the old part of the city verses the new sanitized “Resort” area complete with an artificial lake . It was a great recommendation and I truly enjoyed my three night there for 25,000 WON (about $22USD) per night.

I FOUND it; good food. Korean noodles are excellent. Home made noodles and vegetables in a thin salty broth. Just don’t think that the ingredients came from the market with pig’s blood dripping down the stainless steel hooks, or the severed hooves for sale in the bucket and you will be fine. during noodles I saw a refrigerator full of Coca Cola in a bottle; perfect. I attempted to ask for a coke; coca cola, cola, soda, coka… I even went over and pointed at the bottle only to get a flurry of Korean and a lot of no head shaking. “Ok, sorry I asked”, and when back to my soup. Minutes later, the owner reappears and presses a glass bottle of nearly frozen Coke against me cheek along with another flurry of incomprehensible sounds. I see now she went down the street to get me a cold one-Life is good. Based on taste, I am pretty certain that like Mexico, Korean Coca Cola in the bottle is made with sugar and not corn syrup….oh life is really good.

Korea is a night culture. Thus, I got on the bus early (8:30am) and took it to the last stop. I had the bus to myself as I developed a plan to find some of the more obscure history of the ancient dynasty. I found the first Stupa I was looking for and it was literally in someone’s side yard; I had to walk through their Kimchi pepper, and soy bean patch to see the work of ancient craftsman. After some time, I found the training facility of the Shilla wariors and as I walked through the looming stone walls, I could feel the presence of the warrior who trained to defend the kingdom from Mongol, Chinese, and Japanese invaders. Besides these spirits, I was the only one there and the 300 WON ($0.25USD) was a steal given the great painting and the excellent narratives (in English) that explained the millennium of the dynasty; great way toput my short life in appropriate context.

From here I went in search of the rock carvings that were reported on both map and guide book. I even found a sign that I am pretty sure said what I was looking for was 500 meters down this road. Well, if it is not on a bus stop ( I walked about an hour to get to this place) you may never find it. Beyond looking into people”s bedrooms I searched hard, to no avail. I did however, see how those outside the city live, and I appreciated the hard work of one old man I watched watering his row crops by hand with a bucket of water he carried from the river below. I also saw the rice; all the rice. Now I live in the rice capital of the US but this is different. Different in how they use any means, including road shoulders, as the dikes for the rice paddies. Different in how they harvest by hand, and different in the bright ribbons that are strewn across the fields- presumably to discourage birds or to denote the plot boundaries, I am not sure which or either.

Went to “PC” establishment; a “gaming” den for the mostly young males of Korea. I was wondering as I looked at the intense play if maybe one of these guys was playing on-line with my nephew Ryan as they try to save or conquer there own modern day kingdoms. Emails were my mission. Simple enough; no. This was my second PC shop as I was yet to find a machine with English text and an English key board. This particular shop proprietor worked on the problem as I continued to shrug my shoulders and point to the Korean characters. Finally, got Google in English….YES. My journal will likely not get updated as frequently as I anticipated if this this type of difficulty continues.

Interestingly, before my trip I had heard things like: No problem lots of English speakers around the globe, the ATMs are universal, the internet is widely available, and power adapters are readily found. Maybe they meant Paris or London? In Korea, a very developed county that is “Wired” compared to where I am headed, is not without challenges. Anyway, the ATMs, for my banks only work in Seoul. The internet I found was initially all in Korean, It took 5 hours to find a power adapter, and very very few people speak English. That said, Korea was a great venue to start my trip. The cultural shock has been pretty extreme but things work herr. The buses, the trains, the sewers. And best of all Korea is very very safe place to travel. There is very little crime here and I have felt very safe throughout my travels. This includes walking down back alleys at night in several cities thus far. I would not even consider this in Sacramento and certainty not in our nation’s capital. Sara and Kanae both commented on this as well and independently verified that Korea is a very good place for women to travel alone. I talked to some Germans who were here for a conference and they had both traveled to India: “You need to hold onto your own teeth or they will be stolen”. I paid a lot of money for these gold crowns; best be careful.

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