The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Travel (page 2 of 7)

My guidebook is out


I don’t usually blog shop, but I suppose I’d be remiss of I did not mention that my Korea guidebook is out and can be purchased from this afternoon at Seoul Selection bookshop.

Stupid S*** TSA Asks You When You Are Returning to Korea

This is from an answer/question episode that occurred between the ticket gate and the actual plane that was flying me back to Korea.

“Where are you going?” (Guess what the response was)

“How long will you be there?”

“What do you do there?”
(“male exotic dancer” or “professional drunk” are my favorite responses)

“Do you have any large amounts of money on you?” and

“how much money do you have (on you) now?”
My answer was “four dollars in cash”.

From Nigeria to Seoul – what did I learn?

I am not really sure what to make of this article by ThisDay’s editor (January 23, 2012).  Apparently he came to Korea – business class – at the invitation of the Korean Cultural Centre and wrote this article filled with poetic prose(?) comparing Nigeria and the “Asian Tiger”  – positive for Korea and somewhat negative for Nigeria. 

The beauty of Seoul’s skyline was clearly defined by its skyscrapers that adorn the city in well defined geometric patterns. Architecture like the modern art forms of Isamu Nogushi in Japan, articulated the modernism of Seoul as a city of international business comparable with London, Paris or New York.

Seoul makes the Federal Capital Territory here look drab and ordinary. Is it part of the master plan of the FCT that there shall be no skyscrapers such as are seen in Seoul, in particular in the business district?

The editor was obviously well-entertained:

Driver Han drove into the exotic Lotte Hotel, which by all standards justifies its five-star status, where the high and mighty rulers of this world are quartered as guests of Korean presidents. At the roof top of Lotte, every weekend, Korea’s most famous chef threats his guests with unique native cuisines, choice wines and jazzy concerts. Dining in Lotte’s exquisite two restaurants every morning was part of the fun of this visit.

(I am going to assume that “threat” was a typo) And received some valuable Korean history lessons:

In the Seoul Museum you learn how 19th century Korea resisted Western culture with the invasion of foreign powers between 1866 and 1871. This was followed by a Treaty of Friendship between the government of Korea and Japan signed in 1876. Two schools of thought emerged – Confucianism and Buddhism creating a divide in Korean politics with the East adopting the Confucian philosophy led by Yi Hwang(1801-1570) and Seong Hone(1535-1598) leading in the West. The Japanese invasion of Joseon in 1592 preferred Confucianism to Buddhism.

And, of course, my favorite:

Here [World Cup Stadium] you learn that 1882 was the beginning of Korean football when sailors of a British warship docked at the Incheon Port and introduced the round leather game to Korean workers and natives.

Wasn’t this fable put to rest a couple of years ago?  Who were they playing?

As to the purpose of the article and its rambling – the part about Jeju could have been polished up a little more – I am at a total loss.  It is true that I am unfamilair with ThisDay’s readership but am I to believe that most Nigerians flying to Korea are doing so in business class and that they are staying at the Lotte Hotel?  Do they all receive a tour of the media outlets by the Executive Director/International Relations who will assure them that  Korea’s major television broadcasting network, largely owned by “government but commercialised and founded on a platform of unbiased reportage while representing the interest of government”?

Crisscrossing Korea with subways

I am constantly amazed at how much Korea’s transportation system has improved since my first arrival in this country.  I am sure that many of you old timers will remember the illustrious “push men” – the young men hired to literally shove passengers into the super-crowded subways.  Considering the number of people on those subways and the inability of anyone to move – and this is no exaggeration – including their arms, it is amazing that there were no serious accidents.  At the time, there were only four or five subway lines and all of them were busy.

Now we have subways everywhere.  I can remember I was especially pleased when subway line #9 (the gold line) opened because it made my own transportation that much easier.  It is getting to the point that sometime in the near future we will be able to travel from Uijongbu to Busan.  There are already subway lines in Daegu, Busan, Daejon, Gwangju, Incheon, and, of course, Seoul

Apparently there is another line – the Yongin Line.  The line was started in December 2005 and completed in June 2010  but still has not been opened.  Accord to Koject (with pictures):

Though the line was ready to begin operating, opening dates were repeatedly postponed. There has been much speculation over reasons why the line has lay dormant and several articles have mentioned different factors including risk of revenue loss without the Bundang Line extension. What can be said for sure is that Yongin residents must be extremely frustrated watching their brand new mode of transport towering over their city simply collecting dust. Officials have been calling for the line to be put in service but as of yet no date has been announced.

Subways in Korea are a great way to travel (provided you avoid the drunks at night – Koreans and foreigners) around the city at a very reasonable price.  The blog Seoul Sub-urban is a great site to visit if you would like to learn more about Seoul’s subway system and the sites around each of the stations.

Palaces to be open at night

I knew I subscribed to the 문화재청’s newsletter for a reason…

Budget airlines in Korea

I thought this article in the Korea Times by Jung Sung-ki (Boom in Budget Flights – August 22, 2011) was very interesting.  A lot of my Korean friends take these budget airlines when they fly to Jeju and even abroad.  They are invariably packed and, according to my friends, not that comfortable but the flights to Jeju are only an hour long.  The international flights are somewhat longer and, to my understanding, that much more uncomfortable. 

Despite the discomfort, these airlines are quite popular.  According to the article:

After starting commercial services in 2005, local budget fliers, which normally offer tickets for about 25 to 30 percent lower than traditional fares, accounted for 40.5 percent of the domestic air travel market in the first half of the year.

In addition, Korean LCCs [Low Cost Carriers] saw their market shares in the international flights rise steadily to 3.6 percent in the first six months of the year.

Last month, about 176,887 passengers travelled to foreign destinations with the four domestic LCCs _ Jeju Air, Air Busan, Jin Air, and Eastar Jet. The figure represents a 50-percent increase from a year earlier.

The four carriers and T’way Airlines flew about 1.47 million travelers to local destinations last month. The figure represents a 26.4 percent increase from the same period of last year.

According to this old article (February 18, 2008):

When Hansung Airlines launched its maiden flight in August 2005 on the Jeju-Cheongju route, Korean Air and Asiana didn’t think much about the growth possibilities of the budget market. Three years later they seem to have finally recognized its value.

The 2008 article also noted:

Now Korea’s budget carriers are poised to launch international services. They are expected to compete most on routes between Korea and China.

“I expect that there will be a huge influx of low-cost flight services at various fare ranges launched on routes between Korea and Japan and China, with which Korea has already signed aviation agreements. New budget routes will also likely be opened from Shandong and Hainan to more remote areas throughout China,” an official with the airline industry said. “Korean Air and Asiana have entered the low-cost market as their routes there overlap with budget routes.”

And indeed they have.  Below I have provided some stats and histories of these budget airlines (wikipedia links unless noted otherwise)

Continue reading

No nudity in the nude forest

This is disappointing. And kinda stupid:

A wilderness area in Korea where one can stroll naked along with strangers might have been the image that came across the mind of most people when they heard that a provincial county had opened a “nude forest retreat” last weekend.

The opening in Jangheung County, South Jeolla Province, made many headlines, sparking much curiosity among the public.

Though days have passed since the grand opening no one has yet to wander around in the buff. Everyone knows it as a park for nudists, but officials from the county say it wasn’t intended to be promoted as a “nude forest camp,” blaming the media for much-hyped “misperception.’’

“Its official name is Vivi Ecotopia, rather than a nude forest retreat” said Park Kwang-ho, an official from the county said, adding “vivi” was taken from the English word “vivid.”

Two strikes — one for not going with the nude thing, and two for choosing a stupid English name. Even in Jangheung, you can find an English-speaker to run these name ideas past, no?

Anyway, the mayor of reportedly wanted to allow people to go naked in the forest, but backed off due to public protest:

Religious groups resisted and residents denounced the plan, arguing it will violate public morals.

“It’s unthinkable to have a nudist camp here,” said Kim Jeong-real, a priest at the Jangheung Central Church. “We think it’s ethically wrong and it only damages the good reputation of Jangheung, famous as a home for scholars and beautiful nature.”

Leaving aside for now the question of whether Jangheung has a reputation to damage, how would having closed-off, sexually segregated sections of forest in which people could lounge around naked differ from, say, the nocheontang section of your average oncheon?

Seo Kyoung-duk strikes again!

Yes, our favorite amateur graphic designer, self declared public relations “expert,” and frequent patron of WaPo and NYT ad departments is at it again.  This time it’s a full page ad in the NYT on Korean tourism!

(Image from Chosun Ilbo)

Seo’s greatest hits up to now?  Bibimbap, Goguryeo and Dokdo.  Well, in fairness, I thought these efforts by Seo (or whatever organization he heads and/or his “enablers”) weren’t too bad.

Prof. Mason and Baekdu-daegan in the Korea Herald

In the Korea Herald our own Prof. Mason speaks about his passions – Baekdu-daegan and, of course, Sanshin which he describes as “a symbol of the relationship between human beings and the ecology of the mountains where they live.” 

“Baekdu-daegan is such a huge topic related to so much of Korea’s history and traditional culture. It’s just amazing how many really important aspects of Korean Studies remain un-researched,” he told The Korea Herald.

Influenced by the mountains, “Korea developed one of the strongest and richest traditions among all countries, and its tradition remains remarkably strong, even in such a modernized high-tech country,” he said.

For those who haven’t been to his site I have included the link – although, to be honest, it is on the sidebar.  There is a lot of valuable information there with lots of pictures – so enjoy.

Seoul subways – a hotbed of crime?

According to Korea Times (December 12, 2010), Seoul’s subways have become a hotbed of sexual misconduct, pickpocketing and pyschopaths armed with knives.

Any public place crowded with people tends to be a magnet for crime. Yet, a series of crimes committed in subway carriages over the past weeks have caused public uproar, making an increasing number of women think twice before riding a subway during rush hours and late night.


Many women have had the unpleasant experience of having their buttocks touched by unidentified passengers when they were squeezed in a crowded subway carriage during peak times. Also, it’s easy to find up-skirt video clips on file-sharing websites.

“The subway system is no longer a safe place for women. It’s full of hazards,” said Lee Mi-sun, another career woman.

According to police statistics, nearly 800 sex-based crimes against female subway passengers were reported during the first eight months of the year, accounting for 47.1 percent of the entire crimes on subway trains in Seoul, a moderate increase from the previous year. Subway line No. 2, which circulates the capital, was confirmed to be the most sex crime-prone line out of nine local lines, according to crime statistics released by Lee Sang-muk, a Seoul City Council member.

We have seen in the past how subways are sometimes used as a vessel for sexual activity (The Hole, The Joys of Public Transportation, June 2009).

I remember when I was a student that they used to have cars that were reserved for women and small children – do those still exist?  I also remember reading a joke in a newspaper which went something like: Two young women – in their twenties – got on the subway during the morning rush hour and were pressed face to face with one another by the rush.  Soon one woman asked the other if the man that was pressed up against her back was good looking.  Her friend replied….”Well, he’s young.”  The other woman testily shot back, “I know he’s young, but is he good looking?”

International Mountain Day Commemoration in Seoul

A few things of interest:

I have photos up of the Unveiling Ceremony of the biseok stone memorial monument for cultural-preservation hero “Horay” Zo Zayong that i attended this past November 14th — see here.

UC Santa Barbara Prof. Hyung-il Pai, expert researcher on Korean’s changing images of their selves / nation / history, is giving a lecture in English at SNU this Thursday that looks pretty interesting, tourism-related:  “Nostalgic Journeys and Representations of “Korea”:  The Modern Tourist Industry and the Making of Must-See Destinations”.  Kyujangak Reseach Building 103-dong, Room 112, Dec 9th 4-6 pm.  Contact: 880-5827.

And then the main topic:  A bunch of us are celebrating the United Nations International Mountain Day (officially Dec 11th, this year’s theme is “Biodiversity”) for the fifth year in a row — these events just get bigger & better every time.  This year we’re able to do it on the exact day, this coming Saturday afternoon 1-6 pm, and it’ll be on my own campus (Kyung Hee Univ).   There will be some interesting speakers, presentations, videos and performances, all mountain-related.  As always it’s held by the Korean Mountain Preservation League, and full info is on this page of their site.  It should be a very nice time with a crowd of good people…   Post in comments here if you have any questions.

Zo biseok-raising, SIWA lectures, Choe Chi-won Seminar, Buddhism Book

A few announcements from my little corner of Korea:

An association of those who respect the memory of Dr Zo Zayong (Jo Ja-yong, d.2000), the famous collector, preserver and researcher of korea’s traditional folk-art, will gather down at his tomb in the southern area of Sogni-san National Park, on this coming Sunday the 14th (starting at 10am), to raise a biseok (standing-stone memorial-monument) inscribed with his biography and accomplishments, with a traditional ceremony including some shamanism.  All friends and interested onlookers are invited along!See: for more info, location & photos of his tomb, some of the artworks he saved, etc.   If you are able, I would strongly recommend going down there on Saturday and enjoying other parts of that park, surely one of the most beautiful and culturally-rich in the nation, and staying overnight in one of the motels in a nice tourist-village outside of Beobju-sa…

Tomorrow (Monday) morning i’m beginning a series of nine lectures: “3000 Years of Korea’s Cultural Evolution“, for the Seoul International Women’s Association (SIWA), 10:00 am to noon on Mondays and Fridays into December, near City Hall metro station.  Subtitle is “From Dan-gun to Lee Myeong-bak”, and emphasis is on religious developments.  These are always fun to do, and every year there’s a new audience requesting it be held again.  Sorry for the late notice, but if you’re interested in attending and have those mornings free, and can pay the modest tuition, contact me directly or else look on the SIWA webpage; you don’t have to be a member to attend, and it would be OK to start with the second one.

A bunch of us are holding a daylong seminar on “Footprints of Choe Chi-won in Chungcheong-namdo” — with presentations in both Korean and English about this Confucianist hero of Korean Daoism, one of my favorite figures of Korean history (857 – ?) — at Hanseo University on the slopes of Gaya-san in Haemi-myeon within Seosan City — on Saturday Nov 27th.  If you’re on facebook, this event is posted on the page here.

Hiking season is starting to wind down for everyone but the hardiest, maybe just a few good weekends left.  Our Baekdu-Daegan Trail Guidebook has been selling well, and some of the copies signed by all four authors are still remaining for sale.  It makes a good Christmas gift for anyone who loves hiking in Korea!

Just Friday I finally finished editing my new book (typical Korean last-minute rush!), the compilation of those 30 articles on the Greatest Icons of Korean Buddhism that appeared in the Korea Times every Friday for most of this year.  I re-wrote and expanded many of the articles, and plenty of lovely color photos were appended to each article.  Thousands of these books are going to be distributed for free at the G-20 Summit to the visiting international participants (political and economic types, journalists, etc).  I am supposed to eventually be given a stack of them to distribute to interested non-Koreans myself, and if any of you M-Holers really want one you can just send me your mailing address in an e-mail, postage is on me.  We might do 30 more of these articles next year, then compile all 60 into a bigger book to be sold commercially.

AND, our annual commemoration of United Nations International Mountains Day will be on the afternoon of Saturday, December 11th this year, with many presentations and a good crowd of peak-lovin’ folks, central downtown Seoul.  For more info as it develops, contact me or watch the KMPL site for a further announcement…

And on the travel and culture front…

Oh, and some interesting blogs I’ve just found:

Baekdu-daegan Interview on Arirang TV tonite

Korea-trekker-extraordinaire Roger Shepherd is the guest on the “Heart to Heart” interview program of Arirang TV, tonight (Tuesday) at 9:30 PM.  Of course he’ll be talking about our new book, the Baekdu-daegan Trail Guidebook.   Nice to get some more coverage.  Afterwards, this episode will be available on the VOD (video on demand) service of Arirang TV’s website.

This coming Sunday he’ll arrive at Sogni-san (National Park) to finish his weeks-long slog through the humidity all the way up the Geumbuk-jeongmaek Range, from the West Coast to the center of South Korea.  I understand that some videographers or photographers will be waiting for him there, to record the achievement.  How he does it in this kinda weather, I’ll never know…

Baekdu-daegan Guidebook Feedback

Our new Baekdu-daegan Trail Hiking Guidebook is doing well at the outset, with good sales and responses. I’ve started a page of reviews, interviews and quoted comments to collect them in one place, which is here. If you know of another media-sighting of it, or have one and are willing to have your feedback posted, please send to me at mtnwolf at gmail dot com. Any problems or mistakes you find, or suggestions for the 2nd Edition, pass along or post in the comments here.

We still have plenty of copies signed by all us creators, so get one while they last if you haven’t. Please help us spread the word about this breakthrough in the globalization of mountain-hiking knowledge about Korea, to all that might be interested… Post these links on any blogs, sites etc related to Korea that would be appropriate — and tell your friends — Thanks!

By the way — the “Seoul Book of Everything” was published by the STO & etc, a pretty stylish & useful intro to what’s worthwile to know-about & do in this megalopolis — not at all a rival to Robert K’s wonderful Seoul Guide, but kinda complimentary to it. And it’s free from some tourism info-outlets! The covers and my two blurbs in it are posted here. I gamely picked the Top-5 Buddhist Temples and Top-5 mountains of Seoul — go ahead and dispute my choices / suggest your own in the Comments here.

And hey — a Buddhist Sanshin with the Daoist Eight Immortals Painting! New and Weird. AND, an antique Yongho-do Dragon-Tiger / Mountain-Water 8-panel folding-screen Painting! How i spend my rainy Saturdays…

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