I cannot believe I am writing the words, week 3 – I am half way done!
Sunday was another free day as the students were still at their home-stay, returning in evening. I decided to go out on an explore. With vague plans in mind I got on the subway. I decided to hop off at Itaewon, as that is a multicultural area of Seoul. Had I been in the mood for shopping, it would have been perfect. Lots of clothes stores with signs saying “Big” – clearly used to foreigners. A surprising amount of stores with furs and leather.
I wandered down the street and saw a sign for the War Memorial of Korea. Not knowing what it was, I decided to check it out.
I am so glad that it I did! It was an amazing, and free, museum with over 5000 years of history in it. It tell about the history of the Korean peninsula from the stone age to modern times. Quite a bit of focus was on the Korean War, as that is still an ongoing issue as North & South Korea are only in a cease-fire. I recommend going if you are in Seoul. I spent about 3.5 hours there. The Museum is best told through pictures
After I needed to see something completely different, so I headed off to the other side of the Han river. I had heard of an underground shopping mall (Coex) with an aquarium, so I decided to check it out. What a big shiny mall! The aquarium was too expensive, given how late it was, so I wandered around for a bit, then headed home.
Monday, wow, Monday. Only one picture, but what a powerful day. In the morning a man who defected from North Korea came to speak with us. He tried to defect twice. As people from North Korea cannot go directly to South Korea (too well defended), they must go to China, then head to a country that has a South Korean Embassy as South Korea accepts defectors. In China they have to work to earn enough money to be able to afford to pay someone to help them cross the Chinese boarders. If the Chinese police find them, they are ‘repatriated’ back to North Korea where they are thrown in to a camp. The first time he was caught, he lied about his age and so went to a youth camp where he was beaten. He quickly escaped to China again and then finally made it to South Korea.
It is incredibly competitive to get in to University here – everyone must write a test which combines with their grades for getting in. As North Korean defectors have less educational opportunities (hunger and famine is prevalent) the South Korean government has said that they get in with the same requirements as foreigners – much easier. His speech was pretty moving. I will try to type it up soon.
The afternoon saw us watching a movie called “The Host“. Watch it if you like down-beat horror movies. It has a kinda uplifting ending. Too sad for my liking though. Bah. The evening was an optional documentary about the N/S Border called “On the Border”. It was a fascinating movie. I have been searching for reference to it online, and cannot find anything (other than another blog post).
Tuesday was a day of activity, which was really nice. In the morning we watched a Taekwondo demonstration from a really neat club. They also did a line dance. Here is the video. They then gave us a lesson on a few kicks – it was pretty fun, but hard!
The afternoon had us trying on traditional Korean costumes called Hanbok. It was so beautiful! In the traditional dress, there are so many layers. One student was asked to put on the traditional wedding costume as that is the most elaborate, but we all got to participate. We also learned the very formal way to bow.
After dinner another professor and I decided to watch a movie. We watched 200 Pounds Beauty. It speaks to the views on plastic surgery here. Most women get their eyes, nose and narrowed chin here. Men get their noses. It isn’t really talked about though. The attitude of the men in the movie is they want a beautiful wife/girlfriend but they don’t want them to get plastic surgery to achieve this. A Korean woman who watched the movie with us said that that is pretty typical – On job applications they must include a photo!