KrissInKorea: My Pre-semester Activities

March 15, 2019

I had approximately nine days after landing in South Korea before my semester started. Even though that sounds like a lot of time, it went by pretty fast. I spent the first couple of days trying to become more acquainted with the area I was living in. There’s actually quite a bit in the neighborhood where I am staying and in the dorm building itself. If you walk a little ways away from SK Global, you’ll be able to find a convenience store, a Paris Baguette, some coffee shops, and a bunch of different restaurants.

In the basement of the SK you can find a 24-hour convenience store, a cafe, a burger spot, an ice cream shop, and a bunch of other small places to eat. Even though only international students live in SK Global, during lunch and dinner hours, you can find this area packed with all different students from Yonsei. My favorite places so far have to be the restaurant that sells spicy beef pho and the cafe that makes super good iced mocha lattes!

A few days before the semester started all of us international students attended our orientation. It lasted about two hours and we were given a lot of information. We learned about class add and drop periods, visas, alien registration cards, public safety, and different clubs that are easily accessible to foreigners.

After the orientation we were able to sign up for some of the clubs mentioned, as well as sign up for one of the two day tours that were set up for international students. My friends and I decided to go on the “Day 2” tour which would take us to the Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁), the War Memorial of Korea, a Korean style buffet, and lastly, a cruise ship ride on the Han River.

The 경복궁 palace was absolutely stunning. It was about a twenty minute drive to the palace from Yonsei University. As we neared the palace, Seoul started to take on a different look than what I was used to. Seoul is usually filled with skyscrapers and large businesses, but the town that surrounded the palace looked more traditional and more like a modernized Korean village. The tour guide mentioned that there is legislation in Korea that prevents the construction of buildings over a certain height in the district surrounding the palace. The Korean government is trying to preserve a part of traditional Korea by taking care of the old-style houses that surround the area and by protecting the integrity of the palace. What impressed me the most was the existence of a massive palace in the middle of a bustling city. When you enter the palace walls, you enter a different time period. It is a place filled with a history and culture that is foreign to me. I very much enjoyed learning about the different practices held in the castle, as well as the power dynamics in place during this time.

One of the first things we learned was about the monkeys that protect the different parts of the palace. According to historians, the more monkeys that are atop a roof, the more protection they provide to that certain area. The palace builders strategically placed them where the king would be most often, as well as in places where he would meet with his court to make important decisions.

The queen and king did not live together, but their houses are diagonal to one another. Although the king is allowed to have numerous wives, the first wife is primary and gets to be closest to the king. When I first arrived in Korea, one of the first things I noticed in the dorm was that the floors were heated. This was very foreign to me, but after learning that the palace was heated via the floor, it all made a lot more sense. I learned that people in old-time Korea slept on the floor mainly because there were fires underneath the floor to heat the house from the ground up.

Once we left the palace we headed to the Korean War Memorial where we had the chance to learn about the many aspects of the Korean War. The museum had a bunch of interactive features and a lot of authentic war materials that were preserved. Our guide in the museum was the cutest old lady and you could tell she really loved the history she was talking about.

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Korean War Memorial

I learned a lot, and I was very happy to go because I now have a more informed outlook on Korean society and how the U.S. is connected to South Korea.

After we left the museum we went to an underground shopping center that had like 5 floors! It was so cool! We went to a Korean style buffet where they had tons of food. I ate until I almost died. Literally. My favorite dish was definitely the stir fried udon noodles and the Korean glazed chicken. I would 10 out of 10 visit again.

Next on our agenda was a cruise ship ride on the Han River. Although I had so much fun at both the palace and the museum, the boat ride was definitely the boat ride. The boat had a bunch of twinkly lights and the area onto the loading dock was pretty too.

While on the cruise ship we got to see Seoul’s breathtaking skyline while traveling at a comfortable pace on the boat. The night was pretty chilly, but the air was so crisp and fresh that it didn’t matter. We passed under more than four bridges and they each looked different. Since it was nighttime, the water looked black but you could see the lights of the boat reflecting in the water and it gave the whole experience a very dreamy effect.

The ride back to the dorm wasn’t too long but we were all so beat. We were out from 12pm to 10pm, which for many of us who were still trying to get over our jet lag, was killer. After a day of fun, learning, and sight seeing, though, it was great to finally get in bed and sleep!

 

 


Bryan in Taipei: Monkeys and Mazu

October 22, 2018

The title of this post should actually be ‘Bryan in Tainan’ since that’s the trip that inspired me to write this. Tainan is a city in southern Taiwan (the “南” (nán) in its Chinese name, “台南” (táinán), means south) known for its history and culture from the Qing Dynasty. I also visited its southern neighbor, Kaosiung (高雄), on the recommendation of a mountain there with scores of wild monkeys. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

Monkey Road

About a dozen monkeys along the road up the mountain in Kaohsiung

When I arrived at the hostel, the owner couldn’t understand why so many foreigners were obsessed with seeing monkeys. Whereas she saw them as annoying and bothersome animals, most of the tourists who visited this mountain from other countries were incredibly excited to see monkeys in the wild for the first time. Signs were up all over the hiking trails warning hikers not to provoke the monkeys or eat in front of them. Apparently these monkeys have grown accustomed to the presence of people walking by and to an extent feeding them as well, so they were much less apprehensive than I would have expected. I even saw a few walk straight in front of hikers and hang out beside two elderly people drinking tea.

Hand Puppet Performance

Hand-puppet street performance by local students in front of the templeEnter a caption

In Tainan, I also saw someone dressed in a monkey costume in front of a temple doing some sort of performance. If I had to guess, this would have been inspired by the Monkey King from the famous classical Chinese novel, Journey to the West. It was just one of many of the street performances I saw – all accompanied by food stands, of course. I even ran into a hand puppet performance in front of a tiny temple in a not very busy side street. Although it was difficult to follow, I ended up watching almost the whole performance with only one other person in the crowd who likely worked at the temple. She was happy to see me interested and to explain the basic/dumbed-down version of the plot to me in Chinese as well.

Fort Zeelandia

The Dutch Fort Zeelandia in Tainan

Nearby, I also ran into a fortress built by the Dutch in the early 17th century called Fort Zeelandia (or 安平古堡 in Chinese, meaning Anping District Ancient Fort). This was another vestige of foreign influence/colonialism in Taiwan that now still stands as remembrance. Taiwan and its relatively young few hundred years of history have seen a striking number of foreign countries or empires’ presence and influence, which is interesting to see throughout the island. Tainan is the historic capital city under the Qing Dynasty, so these roots stretch even farther back than Taipei, which was more bolstered and developed under the Japanese colonial period than the Qing Dynasty.

Statue of Mazu

Mazu (sometimes spelled Matzu) is the Chinese goddess of nautical navigation pictured in the statue above. You’ll find statues and shrines to her throughout port cities throughout this region and Southern China. There are lots of legends about her and how she became elevated to the status of goddess, but the basic idea is that she helps guide sailors back home safely. In an area prone to typhoons, this was important before modern sailing technology. I’m not certain why there were so many children playing and blowing bubbles that night I visited, but with the sunset it was an incredible sight altogether. I was taken aback visiting the south by how friendly and laid back people there were. I had a problem returning the city bike to the station and asked someone also renting a bike if they could help, and they proceeded to spend upwards of twenty minutes of their time helping me. Another person I met at a food stand was surprised I could read some of the Chinese characters (traditional here is much harder) and told me that if I could read the street signs I ought to go to this restaurant that the locals love instead of the touristy place I was headed towards. It was fascinating how different it felt being in a place only two hours away from Taipei by high speed rail and I am tempted to go back before I leave.

Bryan


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