Saturday, April 03, 2004

April 3rd, 2004
Here I am back at the motel I originally stayed at when I first arrived in Seoul. I woke up this morning and took it easy. I sat in the TV lounge chatting a bit with the German young lady that I met late last night in the hostel. Then a Canadian joined us. He explained that he had been working in Seoul for the past three months and that he just arrived in Gyeongju to finally see something other than Seoul.

I took the express bus from Gyeongju Bus Station at 11:00 and arrived in Seoul at around 3:40 or so. Along the way I saw in the hills and mountains burial mounds. These mounds were tremendously smaller than the royal mounds I saw in Gyeongju. These burial mounds were for common Koreans. It is still a tradition in Korea to be buried in the mountains. Very interesting indeed ;)

And well here I am. Back in the motel.

Im going to take it easy tonight and prepare for my flight tomorrow to Singapore. Some general observations of Korea and its people compared to what I came to know in Japan:

In Japan everything you buy is bagged up and taped up. They take a lot of care into wrapping and packing what you buy. This is a long tradition in Japan. Archaeologists have found gifts wrapped in tree bark in the prehistoric periods in Japan. In Korea you are lucky to even get a bag. Ive bought a few things at the convenient store and 7 times out of 10 I didn't get a bag.

In Japan when you walk into an establishment you are saluted by nearly every employee with a big, "Irashaimase!!!" And when you leave again you are recognized and saluted. In Korea, nothing. Just like in the States. You are not recognized when you walk into or out of the store or restaurant or what have you.

Just like in Japan English signs are fairly prevalent in Seoul. In all the train stations, restaurants, and bus stations there is English.

The Japanese streets, cars, stores, restaurants, etc. are a hell of a lot cleaner than in Korea. The Japanese are obsessed with cleanliness. The Koreans are a bit more laid back about the appearance of their stores, streets, etc. Kind of like in the States.

The streets here and the side walks are huge and wide compared to Japan. But, one annoying thing with Seoul is that cars rule and pedestrians do not. Nearly at every major intersection I had to go down into an underground passage to cross the street since there were no crosswalks at these intersections. It was very annoying to go down into these passages nearly at every corner.

Life on the subway. Its just like in Japan. People are sleeping in the subway trains and generally speaking are fairly quiet, just like the Japanese. One difference though is that Japanese trains are screaming with advertisements. On the Seoul subways there were not nearly as many advertisements. The Korean subway trains though were not as clean and tidy as the Japanese subways and trains. Also the buses are a bit dirtier than the buses in Japan.

One funny thing I found here was that a few cell phones here would ring very loud with a catchy western pop-tune.

Also, generally speaking the Korean older women are LOUD!!! I have seen a few cases of women in their 60's screaming and at times hitting a man. Even here in my motel there is a lady here who is always screaming at the guy sitting at the front desk. Mental note to myself: Don't marry a Korean woman.

Also, in Seoul there is a Starbucks on every block. Outback Steakhouse seems to be popular since it is also everywhere. McDonald's is alive and well here as is Burger Kind which is interesting because Burger King does not exist in Japan. Family Mart and 7-11 seem to be the big convenient store chains here as well.

Also of note is that there are many, many white Hyundai cars.

I should get off. Ive been on the computer here for too long and I know there are other guests anxious to use this.

Ive added more to my April 2nd entry so if you are interested you ca go back and read what I added.

All the best,

P.S. I ran into the sweet old Swedish woman that I met at my hostel in Gyeongju here in Seoul. What a funny coincidence. Her name is Ingegard Sandell and she lives in Arroyo De La Miel, Spain.

Friday, April 02, 2004

April 2nd, 2004,
I woke up around 7:40 or so. I finally got up at just before 8:00 and took my shower. I had some tea in the TV lounge and watched a bit of CNN with the Swedish woman that I had mentioned in yesterday's journal entry. Then I was off.

I decided that I wanted to walk the distance from my hostel to Namsan Mountain instead of the taking the local bus. And so I walked south of Gyeongju for nearly an hour until I arrived at Orung (Five Tombs). It is here that the tombs of King Pak Hyokkose, the founder of the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. - 935 A.D.) is presumed to be buried. Here also is his wife, Queen Allyong, buried along with Kings Namhae, Yuri, and Pasa. They are Silla's second, third, and fifth Kings.

Legend has it that King Hyokkose "ascended to heaven after ruling the country for 61 years. Seven days after his ascension his body was dropped from heaven in pieces and then buried in the 5 tombs."

I continued south for about another kilometer and arrived at Paseokjeong. It was here that a separate royal palace was kept by the Silla Kings to hold banquets for the nobles. Although the palace is completely gone what still remains is an abalone-shaped stone water canal made of granite. It is 6 meters in length and was located in the royal pleasure ground where the Silla Kings and nobles floated their drinks and composed poetry.

Further along I found the three standing Buddha statues. The central statue was of Buddha. The statue to the right of the Buddha was the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvra (compassion) and to the left the Bodhisattva Manhasthamaprapta (power). The three statues were roofed by a traditional Korean temple structure. When I discovered the three statues two Korean women were seated before it. Their shoes were placed just outside the small temple shrine (their shoes were pointed toward the shrine - in Japan the shoes would be pointed away from the shrine). Directly before the Buddha statue there was an old metallic desk. On the desk were two large candles and between the candles there were two incense urns. The candle to my left had a tiger design on it and the candle to my right had a dragon design on it. Below, where there should have been two drawers, there were more burning candles. One of these candles was completely lined with Korean script.

As I stood taking pictures two Korean women hikers stepped into the shrine area, clapsed their hands before their chest, and bowed deeply at the waist. Then they were gone. Then one of the women who was seated before the statues began giving full bows to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. A full bow is done by sitting on your knees and then rising to your feet and then kneeling and sitting on your knees again and then bending at the waist so that your hands can touch the ground before lowering your forehead so that it can also touch the ground. Once your forehead touches the ground you turn your palms up so that it looks like you are asking for something. What you are asking for is knowledge. It is a symbolic posture of opening yourself up, and being humble before a greater force. When I used to live in the Shim Gwang Sa I had to give full bows to the Buddha statue of the temple and to Master Chang Sik Kim himself. The woman at the shrine gave a countless number of full bows. After awhile I could hear her begin to tire. Her breath became heavy and exhausted and as it did she began to chant.

From there I walked a few paces to a small Buddhist temple. There was a ceremony going on and out of curiosity I walked closer for a better look. The Buddhist priest of the temple walked out of the temple and behind him there was a procession of people. The people were wearing a traditional Buddhist monk garment and so I thought that they were students of the priest, so I decided to film a bit with my digital camera but then I realized that I was filming a funeral. One of the people in the procession was holding a framed picture of a man. I felt immediately ashamed of filming the funeral and stopped and bowed my head in regret and sadness.

Compared to Japan I have to say that Koreans are much more religious. To be honest I prefer the Japanese way of life of having religion nearly non-existent from your everyday life. The Japanese people are not religious at all. They are not Buddhists or faithful to the old national religion of Shinto. They are simply not religious. Koreans on the other hand are very religious. All over Seoul I saw churches and Buddhist temples and Buddhist monks and nuns walking the streets.

Well, to make a long story short spent the next three hours hiking up Mount Namsan in search of all the Buddhist relics from the Silla period that are scattered all over the mountain. I found Yukjonbul which is a rock carving of six Buddhas and the seated Yeorae image which again was carved on a rock surface. In all the Namsan Mountain (the "open-air museum") has 122 temple sites, 57 stone Buddhas, 64 stone pagodas, and 19 stone lamps.

It took me about an hour and a half to reach one of the peaks of Mount Namsan. The view was fantastic. I could see Gyeongju and all the surroundings farmlands and mountains. And it was a beautiful day. Although the morning was extremely windy by early afternoon I had the sun shining full down upon me. It was pleasant to be on the mountain. I rarely saw anyone as I hiked up it but of the people I did see: I saw a few groups of women in their mid-forties who were very pleasant. They would stop and let me pass them since they knew they were slowing my pace down. And it should be mentioned that every Korean I did see on the mountain was clothed in full-on hiking gear from their heads all the way down to their toes. They wore climbing hats, pants, wool socks, hiking boots, and carried professionally made climbing staffs. I simply hiked the mountain in my good old pair of Addidas Samba shoes.

I took a path that ran north of the mountain to get back down. Along the way I could see a few small pagodas on the mountain and a few other scattered Buddha's reliefs carved into the side of the mountain.

Once I reached the base of the mountain I walked all the way back to my hostel. I was thirsty and sought to buy my favorite drink in Korea, a beverage called "Rice Beverage". If you are ever in Korea I highly recommend this drink. It looks like a diluted milk and nearly tastes like it. Its taste is a bit sweet and its texture is somewhere between milk and soy milk. In any case I walked north back to town and found a few Mom and Pop shops but I didnt see anyone inside. I was too self-conscious to simply walk in even though I knew that once I walked through the door the owner would appear. So I walked until I arrived in town and finally walked into a small local grocery store and bought the drink that I had been desiring for most of the afternoon.

After I bought a few things and a convenient store for lunch I arrived back at my hostel and rested in the TV lounge. By 6:00 Mr. Kim arrived, he is the nephew of Mr. Kwon who is the owner of the Han-Jin Hostel. Mr. Kim sat down in the TV lounge and we chatted a bit. He asked me about my trip to the mountain and I asked him how things went at school; he is a high school art teacher. He told me that he taught his students about drawing still-life. He then invited me to go to his school to see his art. I was too tired to go but he insisted and so we went.

We went in his Hyundai car that had cigarette smoke ash all over the gear cluth; he apologized for the smoker's mess. Along the way he explained that his high school was an all boys school and that it was the only high school for boys in Gyeongju. When we arrived I could immediately see that the school was significantly large and new. They had just finished completing the new high school building.

After he parked his car he took me to a statue of the school's founder Sung-Ho (I think that was his name). The school was founded in 1937. Right infront of the school there were three or four sports fields. There was a baseball practice going on and behind the new school there was a soccer match. Mr. Kim took me up to his art office and then unlocked his locker and began pulling out a few of his finished works and many of his unfinished works. He explained that once summer began he would finally have the time to finish his unfinished art work. I liked his paintings very much. There was one portrait that he did of a student he had about 22 years ago. He explained that he liked her very much, that she was "pure and innocent". He doesn't know where she is know though. His style is faithful to the impressionism school of art. And there was an element to his art that reminded me of Monet. There were a lot of landscape paintings, all different versions of the same theme of a beautiful tree (I thought it was a cherry tree but it was not . . . it was a tree native Korea) occupying the bottom half of the painting and a setting sun occupying the upper half. There was also another painting he did about 25 years ago that was a very haunting image of trees in a dark forest and the faint image of a Korea temple in the background. I liked his art very much, but I did not care for his still-life flower paintings. They were technically very good, excellent, but I dont care for flowers in such detail. He explained to me that he loves flowers and gardening. Actually, he did some of the garden work just infront of the school.

After that we went back outside and he then took me to a war memorial dedicated to the 133 students who gave their lives during the Korean War.

On the way back to the hostel Mr. Kim asked me if I had had dinner yet. I said no and he said that he would show me a good restaurant. I was extremely hungry and gladly accepted the offer.

He took me to the Sun Restaurant which was right next to the Inter-city Bus Station. He knew the owner and took me inside and ordered for me and then he left. He explained that his wife was waiting for him back home. I sat down and began reading and then my food arrived. My food was all placed in several dishes on a platter that was literally the entire length of my arm. The waitress (the restaurant owner's wife) then placed the platter on the table; it covered the entire surface area of the table. I could not believe how much food there was on that platter. There were several varieties of Kim Chee dishes and a main dish of a fried egg, chopped vegetables, dried seaweed, and God knows what else. I ate and ate. I loved it. All this food for $4.00 U.S. was a blessing. When I finished I quickly found that my tongue and lips were burning red-hot from the Kim-Chee red peppers and spiced garlic.

Then I went back to the hostel and here I am. Alrighty . . . it is time to go. A young lady from Germany is here now in my hostel and she would like to use the internet.

Good night,
April 1st, 2004
It was time to see something a bit different. I took a bus from Seoul to Gyeongju. It was about a 4.5 hour ride. Gyeongju is not too far from the Sea of Japan or East Sea as the Koreans like to call it.

Why Gyeongju? Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla dynasty and from the 7th to the 10th century it was the capital of the entire Korean penninsula. The Silla dynasty began sometime around 57 B.C. and lasted for nearly 1,000 years. Sadly though nearly nothing remains of the once impressive palaces and fortresses that once marked this area. What you will find here though are giant burial mounds in all directions. Nearly everywhere you walk and look you will see a burial mound that stand at about three to four storeys in height. These mounds are the final resting places of the Silla Kings and Queens who ruled these lands and Korea itself.

I arrived in Gyeongju around 3:00 p.m. I walked two blocks from the bus station to Hanjin Hostel which is owned by Master Kwon. What he is a master of I have no idea. My guess is that he is a Master of Sincere Niceness. Mr. Kwon is a humble gentlemen who has operated this hostel for the past three of four decades. On a wall in the TV lounge area of the hostel there is a frame full of faded pictures from the 70's. Pictures of expatriots and travelers from all parts of the world are within that frame. There are also pictures of Mr. Kwon in his younger days. Also on the walls here there are beautiful calligraphies and poems by Mr. Kwon. They are all for sale.

I got a single room with no bath. It is a very simple room. Only a bed and a window and a very high celing. The bathroom is just around the corner. Currently there are only two people staying in the hostel. Well, there is me, and there is a sweet old woman from Sweden. Ive been worried these past days of how I am going to survive five months of travel all by myself. The answer to my worries came in this sweet old woman. It is my guess that she is in her late 70's. Although she is from Sweden she moved to Costa Del Sol in Spain nearly 12 years ago. On December 9th of last year she left her home to begin her journey. She celebrated Christmas in Barcelona and from there she flew to Madrid and then to New York. From NYC she went to Washington D.C. and then to Los Angeles. She then flew to Auckland, New Zealand and then to Fukuoka, Japan. She is now here in Korea. She has been traveling now for four months and says that she does not mind traveling for so long by herself. If she can do it then I sure as hell can. She really is an inspiration and very independent. She is also beautiful. You can see that in her younger days she must have held the eyes of many, many boys. She told me that she does not like cities. At all costs she tries to avoid them. She loves the countryside. Gyeongju is perfect since it is very much a small town.

Well, before I lost too much sun light I went out for a long stroll. Two or three blocks from my hostel I found a park with several royal burial mounds. They were the mounds of Geumgwanchong and Bonghwangdae. These Silla tombs were built between the 4th and 5th century A.D. They were excavated in the early part of the 20th century and what was found within them were two gold crowns.

Across the street is Tumuli Park which has 20 Silla tombs. The Cheonmachong mound (Flying Horse Tomb) is 13 meters high and 47 meters in diameter. From there I walked into Wolseong Park, but before I did that I was terribly hungry so I bought some bread typical from Gyeongju. For about 5,000 Won I bought 14 pieces of these bread balls that are filled with sweet beans. I ate them all and felt sick from eating so much of something so sweet. In taste it is kind of like a Japanese rice cake but instead of rice it is made of a type of bread.

In Wolseong Park I came across what remains of a small forest named Gyerim Forest. It is considered to be the birthplace of Al-ji who was the founder of the Gyeongju Gim Clan. This is the Legend of Al-ji:

"According to Samgukyusa, during the reign of King Talhae, a man called Hogong heard a cock crying in the forst. He went into the woods and saw a golden casket dangling on a branch of a tree.

Hearing the report from Hogong the King went to the forest and pulled the casket down to find a male child. The child was given the surname Gim and the name of Al-ji."

From that and what I saw of the creepy forest I began composing my own myth for my own stories. Here is a rough draft . . . or idea I should say.

The Sirim Forest. Still in the months after winter it is lifeless. The trees are ancient and twisted by centuries of disease. The earth around their roots is sand, spotted by only a few patches of dry grass. Yes, indeed, it is a sad place.

Long forgotten are the days of the Al-ji King for it was here in the Forest of Sirim that the great King was found by the Talhae King.

As you look you see only the crooked shapes of the trees. They bend down like old men who can no longer straighten their backs. And although it is spring the trees have no leaves. Their branches bend and coil and point their ill blame at the cloudy sky.

And in the night a fog sets into the forest turning it into a place of death. No owls or creatures dare set foot within it for it is a haunted place.

North of the Sirim Forest lies the final resting place of the great King Al-ji, the Tomb of Gyeongju. It is a mound. A mound of life for on its southern slope do the cherry trees bloom in the heart of spring.

It is said that the cherry trees crept up to the mound of the great King in the centuries after his death . . .

The above is just an idea of a myth that I could use in some part of my second book Travels - Book II of Dark Legacy.


Thursday, April 01, 2004

March 31st, 2004
I went to the DMZ this morning. It is the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea. It is 4 km wide and 248 km long. The entire zone is lined with two electric fences. There is a road between the fences that allows a military hummer to ride up and down to patrol the zone. No human has ever set foot in the DMZ for the past 50 years and as a result it is an environmental paradise (ironic). The DMZ has been home to a large flock of Manchurian cranes. Some environmentalists worry that if North and South ever unify then humans will overrun the DMZ and destroy the natural habitat that has been a safe haven to so many species of birds, plants, and animals.

The ride north to the DMZ was about an hour from Seoul. I road in a tour bus that road alongside the Hangang river. Then we went east along the Imjingang river. It was along the Imjingang river that I got my fist glimpse of North Korea. The entire length of the river was lined with electric fences and military personnel. Along the way I also saw anti-tank walls. The walls look like giant billboards that stand directly over the road. The walls are wired with explosives that can be ignited to cause the billboard to collapse over the road making it difficult for tanks to drive through.

My first stop with the tour was at the Freedom Bridge. The bridge is the only path that connects North and South Korea. Originally the bridge was the Kyung-eu railway bridge but it was then converted into a road bridge. It is on this bridge that the North has allowed certain individuals to cross over from North to South. If you saw the last James Bond movie you will remember that there was a scene where James Bond walks across a bridge after a trade for his life is negotiated. That bridge is the Freedom Bridge.

Then my tour group took a bus to the 3rd Invasion Tunnel (also known by the propaganda title of "the 3rd Tunnel of Agression"). This tunnel is one of 4 tunnels that have been discovered by the South Korean Army (ROKA) over the past 30 years. The 3rd tunnel was discovered in 1978 near the armistice village of Punmanjom which is 44 km north of Seoul. The North Koreans have been digging tunnels beneath the DMZ for the past 30 to 40 years or so. It is believed that the tunnels are being dug in preparation for an attack on the South. The 4th tunnel was discovered in 1990 and it was big enough for tanks to charge through.

My group went down 300 meters into the earth to see the 3rd tunnel which is about 1,635 meters in length. The tunnel is impressive I must say. But, it was only large enough for two people to walk through shoulder to shoulder. To be honest I don't see how these tunnels would succeed in pouring out enough soldiers to start an invasion on South Korea. Only two soldiers can run out of the tunnel I saw and since the DMZ line is so heavily guarded it would be minutes before the South Korean army detected soldiers pouring out of a tunnel if it reached the South. All the South Koreans would have to do is fire a rocket into the tunnel to collapse it and that is that. The 3rd tunnel was dug on an upward incline from North to South to allow the ground water to run from South to North. My group walked for about 7 minutes down the tunnel (technically we were just beneath the DMZ) but the tunnel was blocked off and we could go no farther.

Supposedly the North Koreans also have their own tours of the tunnels and they explain that the tunnels are actually tunnels dug by the South in their own attempts to invade the North. Who is telling the truth?

I think it's a bit funny that Kim Il Sung's and Kim Il Jung's "Tunnels of Aggression" now serve as tourist attractions to the South. Of course Kim Il Jung would explain that that is a fine example of capitalism.

After that we went to the Dora Observatory where we got a fantastic view of the DMZ and North Korea. We could easily see the North Korea town of Gijeongdong which has the tallest flag pole in the world. The South Koreans call this town "Propaganda Village". South of Gijeongdong was Daeseongdong which has its own flag pole waving the South Korean flag South Koreans call Gijeongdong "Freedom Village". Only about 500 South Koreans live in Gijeongdong. They are all exempt from South Koreans taxes and are also exempt from serving in the South Korean army which is actually mandatory for all South Koreans. From the observatory we could also see Panmenjeon and the JSA (Joint Security Area). The JSA is a building that is actually in the DMZ where North and South Korean officials meet for negotiations.

Our last stop was at Dorasan Station which is the northern-most station in South Korea. It is a train station that has no trains. What an easy job for the guys who work there. I got my passport stamped there. The station stands as a symbolic effort and hope that South will one day unify with the North. If an when that happens the Dorasan Station will be connected to the Gyonguei-sun Line in the North which will link trains from South Korea to the North and to Europe via the Siberian railway.

Now, if you actually talk to South Koreans you will be surprised that most are not especially eager to unit their Korean penninsula. Why you ask? The main reason is that it would be a heavy blow to the already not-so-strong South Korean economy. Who will pay for restructuring North Korea and bringing it all back up to speed with the modern world? The South Koreans will have to pay. Plus there will be a flood of North Koreans running into the South trying to soak up whatever jobs they can get. The cost of rebuilding North Korea is probably somewhere in the billions of dollars. South Korea is not ready to take on those costs. And so . . . dont expect North and South to unify any time soon. It will probably happen in my lifetime but not in the next ten years. Maybe in 20 years.

After returning to Seoul I decided to check out Namdaemun Market which is Korea's largest market. It is half-indoor and half open-air market. It was amazing. Absolutely amazing. There were vendors on nearly every inch of the street selling moutains and mountains of shoes, pants, shirts, belts, boots, black market army gear from the U.S. bases, wash clothes, and then there was food!!! There were more chopped up pigs heads, ginseng roots in bottles, and red peppers that have been pounded into dust. It was amazing. The Namdaemun Market is definitely a must see in Seoul.

Alright. I am off. A cute Japanese girl is waiting for me to get off the internet here. Im actually in the south of South Korea in a town called Gyeongju. I arrived this afternoon. I will write about it tomorrow. Im a day behind in my journal here.


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

March 30th, 2004
I woke up to a warm room. A bit too stuffy it was. I assume the heat was turned up; I have no idea how to undo that. After getting myself together for the day I had breakfast in my motel. Bread and eggs were provided. I simply had three slices of toast and strawberry jam. Three girls were in the little eating area in my motel, they were also visiting Korea. They were all on the JET program back in Japan and were taking a week break from teaching English in Japan for some sight-seeing in Korea. Two of the girls gave me some advice of where to go if I want to escape Seoul and see something different. Then I was off.

Just two blocks from my motel was the Changdeokgung Palace. I got there at 10:30. The English tour was at 11:30 but I had no desire to wait so I decided to join a massive group of Japanese tourists for a Japanese tour. What our tour guide said I have no idea. I read everything in my brochure but right now I can't tell you with any accuracy what the temple's historical significance was. Wait . . . I do remember. It was the residential palace of the King and Queen. The Main Hall was very impressive. It was where the King would receive diplomats and so forth. The arrangement of the palace grounds involved a lot of open space between walls and halls. And the architecture and design of the halls were much like the temples in Japan except for the ornate painted designs just beneath the roof of the halls. I wish I could simply post a picture for you here but I can not, unfortunately. The colors used for the painted designs were always a light red nearly pinkish color, blue, yellow, a light orange, and a dark red. The color and designs reminded me much of the temple's in Nikko, Japan. Very colorful and full of life. As my tour group walked around the palace grounds I managed to make friends with a Japanese family. I mostly spoke to the older brother and sister of the family. I spoke in broken Japanese and they spoke in broken English. It was fun, and I realized how comfortable I feel with other Japanese people since I'm all alone here in Korea ;) I took many, many photo's so no worries. One day after I return to the U.S. I will develop a website dedicated to this trip full of the photo's I have been taking.

After that I walked to Topgol Park and along the way I took a few pictures of the small restaurants that have a funky odor outside of them. The odor comes from the chopped up pig's heads, snouts, and skins that were sitting in basket-plates outside the restaurants.

Along the sidewalk running parallel to Topgol Park were Korean hand readers who were sitting in their own small tents. The tents were composed of a kind of umbrella roof that had long fabric sheets hanging down from it. The fabric has painted pictures of the palm of the hand divided up into its specific physic parts.

I walked along Jongno street to Sejongno street where I found the famed bronze statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin (1545-98). He stands guard about two blocks away from the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The U.S. Embassy is on Sejongno street. I walked passed it on the way to Gyeongbokgung and was saddened by what I saw. There were Korean police guards in a toned-down kind-of riot gear standing in masses at all corners of the Embassy. It was not a friendly site at all. I later realized that they (the Korean police) had been at high alert in preparation for Dick Cheney's visit to Korea in mid-April.

The Gyeongbokgung Palace was closed unfortunately so I will have to return later this week.

Then I walked down Yulgongno street and eventually turned right to go down Insadong-gil street which was full of art galleries, and Buddhist shops selling prayer beads and other essential gear and ornaments for Buddhist priests. There were plenty of calligraphy shops as well that advertised themselves by having a large assortment of calligraphy brushes of all sizes hanging down from their shop window. I found a few quaint tea houses as well. I loved this street. It had a very artistic feel to it.

Somehow I found my way to Deoksugung Palace. There are guards in traditional Korea soldier uniforms standing outside of it and every other hour or so they perform a changing of the guard ceremony. Within it there were more halls designed and decorated in the same tradition as the halls that I found at the Chandeokgung Palace. There were a couple of couples dressed in their wedding outfits to pose for pictures before certain halls and temples. One couple was dressed in traditional Korean marriage outfits while the other was dressed in a more western one.

Then I walked down Taepyeongno street to finally see the famed Namdaemun (Sungnyemun) Gate. It sits in a round-about intersection.

Then I made it to Seoul station and decided to walk more than 1.5 kilometers to arrive at the Korean War Memorial which is a very large museum that is dedicated to the history of warfare in Korea. I spent most of my time in halls of the museum dedicated to warfare in the first millennium and the first half of the second millennium. I was jotting down notes and drawing pictures of the weaponry used and the communications system employed in the span of that time as research for my second book. Already images are beginning to flood my mind for the book. Then I got to the hall dedicated to the Korean War. There were images of how incredibly horrible conditions were during that war for the Korean refugees who made their homes from planks, cardboard, and cans while at times eating tree bark and pine needles to kill their hunger. Im afraid that I do not know as much as I would like about the Korean War and as a result I am anxious to begin reading a few books about the war.

Then there were a few halls dedicated to the Korean soldiers who fought alongside U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, and more recently Somalia and in Afghanistan among a few other conflicts within the past 30 years.

Also of note. There was one Korean War hall dedicated to all the U.N. soldiers that served during the war. I did not know that Ethiopia had sent their soldiers to fight during that conflict.

After that I walked to Yongson station (Dragon Mountain) in search of the Electronic Markets of Seoul. I was in search of a converter for my digital camera battery charger. The Yongsan Electronics Arcade is in a four or five storey building which used to be a bus terminal. There are hundreds of independent electronic shops within the building and I quickly found what I needed.

Then I took the train from Yongsan to Jongno 3-ga Station and walked at night down Jongno to Tapgol Park. Along the way I stopped for a bite to eat at a food stall. I simply pointed at what I wanted and the nice old lady served me what I wanted. I had some kind of blood sausage and a kind of pancake which my old Zen Master Chang Sik Kim used to make for me when I used to live in the Shim Gwang Sa temple in Boston. As I ate four Korean girls came up to the food-stall to also eat. I quickly noticed that one of the girls had a bag full of drum sticks. I smiled and asked if she played drums. The girl said no and explained in broken English that she was holding the sticks for her friend. I introduced myself to the girls as a drummer and each girl introduced themselves as musicians as well. One girl was a guitarist, another a bass player, another a drummer, and another . . . oops I forgot. They explained that they were studying music in their university. To feed my ego I showed them the pictures of my drum performances in Tokyo on the small screen in my digital camera. They were impressed and quickly invited me to their music performance at the end of April. I explained that I was not going to be in Korea then but I gave them my business card and told them to email me if they ever come to the U.S. Meeting those girls and talking a bit of music with them made my day.

And now here I am in my motel. I should go . . . Im hogging the internet here.

All the best,

Monday, March 29, 2004

March 29th, 2004
I said good-bye to Japan today. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. in my editor's (Thomas Lee) apartment - I had to turn off my electricity, water, and gas on the 27th and 28th and as a result I had to stay over at Thom's place. I arrived at Shinjuku station in Tokyo at 7:00, which was exactly an hour before the Narita express was to depart for the airport. Luckily the train arrived at the station at 7:30 so I was able to board the train and escape the morning Tokyo chill. I sat down in my assigned seat and began reading the small tid-bits of Korean history that my travel guide book (Lonely Planet) had within it. Then my train was off, and away I went to the airport to arrive several hours before my flight.

There was an unusually high number of police officers at the airport and all the garbage bins had a paper sheet tapped over them with a written warning. The warning basically expressed that due to possible terrorist activities they had to cover up the garbage bins so that no one could slip a bomb device into it - or something to that effect. Regardless, I couldn't take any of it seriously. To me the Japanese police are a joke and this "warning" of "terror" another joke. All ethnic minorities in Japan stick out like sore thumbs so I highly doubt Al Queda or any other foreign terrorist group will be able to function in Japan without bringing some attention to themselves.

Well, moving on. The flight was a pleasant and short one. I fell asleep. I dont have a watch but I believe the flight from Tokyo to Seoul was under two hours. The Seoul Incheon airport was well-designed and extremely modern. I assumed that there would be a train from the airport into the city but I was mistaken. A nice lady at the information desk explained that I had to take a bus which was exactly what I did. A young gentlemen helped me put my bag under the bus and away I went.

The weather today in Seoul was cloudy. The topography of Korea is very different from Japan. It is extremely hilly and mountainous and the terrain appears dry and desert-like to an extent. As I took the bus and looked out I could see that the shores were at low-tide; there were boats sitting on hundreds of meters of wet sand. And there were rice fields upon rice fields. But the rice fields were a mess. I believe that planting begins in the spring so what I was looking at were the rice fields that had been abandoned from the previous harvest in autumn. Some of these rice fields looked horrible; full of mud and scummy water. But I did see farmers burning a few fields to prep them for planting. Of course these are just observations, I dont know too much about the process of planting, growing, and harvesting rice.

Along the highway I saw various vendors. These vendors simply pulled their vans over to the shoulder of the road to set-up shop to sell an assortment of things. Some vendors were selling office chairs others were actually cooking and selling food. Good location though. Having a kiosk on the shoulder of a highway does bring business since it sits in a high traffic location (no pun intended).

Also there was a camping ground along the highway right on the fringes of the city but there was nothing of natural significance around it. The camping ground was literally between the Hangang river and the highway. And there were two or three olympic size public pools (there was no water within them though, not yet at least) also between the Hangang river and the highway; very odd location for a public swimming pool.

Once we entered the city I kept an eye on my subway map marking each stop the bus made (the bus made regular stops alongside each subway station). I was headed for Topgol Park and got off at Jongno 2-ga. I strapped my backpack to my back and away I went in search of my Yeogwan (family run hotel). I followed the map in my guidebook but could not find the Yeogwan I had made a reservation at so instead I booked myself into a motel for about $24 a night.

After I took a shower in my single room and rested a bit I decided to explore my neighborhood. One of the first shops I came across was a traditional Korean drum shop (I interpreted this as a good omen - since I'm a drummer). Then as I walked further toward the city I realized that my motel was in a district of the city that was full of musical instrument shops. I passed shop after shop full of these Korean drums and gongs and china cymbals. I was very pleased and then I came across shop after shop of electric guitars and bass guitars, etc. (all the guitars though were of low quality). Then I began coming across hundreds of tiny hole-in-the wall restaurants. Everyone was eating. Most pleasing to see were cut-open pig's heads stacked on top of each other before a few of these tiny restaurants. I saw one lady caring a plate of pig snouts into her establishment to cook for her customers.

Jongno street (I believe that is the name) is a ten lane street. Here I realized that I was interpreting Korea from the eyes of a Japanese person. I was amazed to see such a wide street since Tokyo has so few (I dont even think that there is a 10 lane street anywhere in Tokyo). Then I was surprised to see so many people eating food and drinking soda in public. Eating and drinking in public is sort of taboo in Japan. But I was relieved to find that its simply okay to eat as you walk and talk. Then I noticed that there were nearly no vending machines (Japan is littered with them). I passed all the food stalls on Jongno street with curious eyes. I saw pancakes stacked on top of each other and what looked like blood sausages filled with balls of fat. Of course Kim Chee was ample in all the food stalls. I wanted to order something but I was too intimidated since I dont know a single word of Korean. But, I saw what looked like a burrito and immediately pointed my finger at it and got it for my evening meal. I didnt know how much it was though but the girl eating next to me could see that I was searching for a price. She pointed to a hidden sign and I then paid my 2,000 Won. She then poured me a cup of Pepsi cola just to show me that it was apart of what I paid for - there were three bottles of Pepsi on the foodstall counter and a stack of papercups.

After eating my Korean style burrito that stung the hell out of my mouth with all of its spices I walked and walked. I came across a district dedicated to the selling of clocks and watches, and another dedicated to the selling of medical goods. The streets are full of pot holes so at times you need to watch your step before tripping on a loose stone or piece of concrete. And as you walk you see mountains surrounding the city, fortifying it.

Even though it was Monday night there was a section of Seoul that was full of bright lights and stores (very much in the style of Shinjuku in Tokyo). Kids and young couples abounded in all directions eating and talking. I saw plenty of bootleg DVDs and more foodstalls. There is food in all directions in Seoul. I walked and walked and loved everything that I saw. I finally sat down for a bite to eat and had some Kim Chee and Bibim-Ba (spelling). And now Im here back in my motel about to rest for the night.

Annyeonghi Gyeseyo