Korean War Memorial Museum

Jeffro has done it again and got the gallery back in Thomo’s Hole. That means that the Korean War Memorial Museum exhibits I’d photographed are able to be viewed again. I’ll back these up over time to a cloud service somewhere and post alternate links, however, in the interim, https://thomo.coldie.net/gallery/v/museums/korean_war_memorial/ will take you to those albums, the albums covering the Koryo, Three Kingdoms and Chosun periods of Korean history.

Also there is some images from the Righteous Army times in the early 20th, late 19th centuries.

Namdaemun Fire :-(

There was the report this morning on CNN and other sources of a fire at Namdaemun (South Gate) in Seoul. This is one of my favourite historical places in Korea and a location most visitors pass at least one when they visit Seoul.

It seems as though the fire was the result of arson and the wooden part of the structure heavily damaged. However, I think that given the significance of the structure that the Korean government will start the process to repair and restore the gate as much as possible.

The Korea Times noted:

The fire occurred around 8:50 p.m., police said. About 30 fire trucks along with 90 firefighters rushed to the scene to bring the blaze under control. There were no reports of any casualties and the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, they said.

They later noted that:

Police suspect someone deliberately started the fire as a taxi driver, identified only by his surname Lee, said he saw a man in his 50s go up the stairs of the gate with a shopping bag, while he was waiting to pick up a customer in the nearby area.

Lee said he then saw a spark like a firework and reported it to police, adding the man came down the stairs afterwards. The taxi driver said he drove around looking for the man but could not find him.

Namdaemun is the oldest wooden structure in Seoul although I am not sure how much of the original wood survived even before the fire. It is so important to Koreans that it is officially National Treasure No. 1.

CNN also noted that

President-elect Lee Myung-bak visited the scene and deplored the landmark’s destruction, telling officials, “People’s hearts will ache,” The Associated Press reported.

The gate was closed to the public for nearly a century before being reopened in 2006 after a renovation, according to AP.

The Hankyoreh provided some history to the gate:

The landmark, officially called Sungnyemun, or “gate of exalted ceremonies,” was the southern gate of the walls that surrounded Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It currently serves as a gateway to Namdaemun market, a traditional market that has been operating for centuries.Construction of the gate began in 1395 and was finished in 1398 during the reign of King Taejo, who founded the Joseon Dynasty.

I must admit to feeling a sadness settle over me as a result of the fire, even though it has been over a year since I was last in Seoul.

I do hope it is restored fairly quickly. I also hope that the Korean government authority in charge of protecting antiquities in Korea surveys their other charges and ensures they are protected as best they can be whilst still allowing the public access.

Korea DMZ

I ran across a website called Korea DMZ which is based around the De-Militarised Zone between North and South Korea. This means that there is a lot of information on the website concerning the Korean War, with sections covering the main combatants from the UN side (I never realised the Ethiopians and Colombians served in the UN forces, for example), the countries providing support (the Lebanon and Liberia were surprises for me there) and brief overviews of many of the engagements. An interesting website for those with an interest in the Korean War as well as good place to start for an introduction to some parts of it.

As a sample, the following is excerpted from that website about the Battle at Baengma-goji:

The battle at Baengma-goji was a defensive campaign waged by the 9th Division of the Korean armed forces (commanded by Major General Kim Jong-o) for nine days in order to secure their 395-meter Hill (Baengma-goji) north of Cherwon against the invading Chinese 38th Army in December, 1952, when the position operations were at the fiercest in the course of the Korean War. Baengma-goji, part of the area controlled by the U.S. 9th Corps, was considered as the most important outpost hill with a good command over Yeokgokcheon Stream Valley, especially when a major supply route to Cheorwon was to be secured by the U.S. 8th Army. At that time, the Korean 9th Division had deployed two battalions of the 30th regiment on Baengma-goji and had reserved the 28th regiment right behind the hill.

As the website is part of a South Korean tour operation, some of the information may have been flavoured a little but then that is a risk no matter where one looks for information. For example, the following about the Evolution of the DMZ may cause some disagreement as well as indicating some of the problems reading the site written in Kor-English:

As the Second World War had ended with surrender of Japan, Korean peninsular met liberation, as agreed by allied force at the time of the war. Korean peninsula were divided by the 38 boundary line, the north of the boundary line were stationed by the soviet army were and the south of the boundary line were stationed by American army forming 38 line as the military boundary line.

The end of 19th Century, the world powerful countries developed power competition to make Korean peninsula under their dominant. In East Asia region, the Japan joined that world power rank of imperialism by succeeding in enhancing the wealth and military strength of a country in1967.

However, a useful site to start gathering some information on the Korean War.

Seoul Gets Taller

Artists Illustration of 620 metre high building - from Korail and the Korea TimesOne of my favourite cities is planning on getting taller. Seoul Metropolitan Government has reviewed a Korail (Korean National Railroad) blueprint to develop an international business zone near Yongsan Station. This will include a building up to about 620-meters high there. I wonder how it will look next to the Electronics Market and to the iPark building there that adjoins the railways station?

Details of the building are in the article 5 Skyscrapers to Change Seoul Landscape in the Korea Times.

This is quite an impressive size for Seoul – still, shorter than Taipei 101. The most amazing thing … and I am wondering how I missed it, is the building currently being constructed in Dubai, which is the 160-storey Burj Dubai, scheduled for completion next year. It will be more than 800 meters high 😯 The thing I wonder about is how come I have not managed to see it from any of my flights over the area. I mist remember to pay more attention next time.

Talking About About Time, part II

Lost Nomad noted that the Korean Police were going to crackdown on motorcyclists (and other vehicles I guess) riding on the footpaths.

I first went to Korea about 15 years ago now (gosh, is it really that long ago?) and lived for a year in Chon Ju (now Jeon Ju) for a year, Incheon for a year and Seoul for many years up to 2005. In that entire time I never saw much respect for the pedestrian on the footpath (side walk) from any drivers, with the exception of the times that a pedestrian did not give way to a car or bike. The result of that was generally a broken wing mirror and a lot of serious eye contact between the driver and the pedestrian.

Still there is no respect and even in Seoul at peak pedestrian periods motorcycles can be seen whizzing up and down the footpath.

At least these days pedestrian crossings are a little better respected than they were back then. Back in the 1990s the white lines on the zebra-crossings just made it easier for the driver to line the pedestrians up. 🙂

Won’t You Take Me To, Mongol Town?

Mongol Town - Tongdaemun, Seoul, Republic of Korea - Click to see it largerwith apologies to Lipp’s Inc, or Pseudo Echo, or whomever it was that recorded “Won’t You Take Me To Funky Town” first.

Tongdaemun, Seoul, Republic of Korea. It was Christmas so we took a quick trip to Seoul, partly as I wanted to get away from the cold here for a few days (more on that later). So, flights booked, accommodation arranged and we headed off.

Whilst in Korea a member of my favourite Mongolia family had asked to be taken to Mongol Town though, as she has some relatives in Korea. Mongol Town is an area in Tongdaemun where many Mongolians group together and where you can get Mongolian food. It should be noted that there are a number of “illegal” Mongolians in Korea, having visited the country and then overstayed their visas. It is the same with Thais, Filipinos and so on as well, with the Korean Immigration Authorities trying to round up these folk and return them to their home countries and the various economic groups in Korea wanting them kept in the country as they provide a labour pool for work that is difficult to get Koreans to do.

The only directions we had were “the 10-storey building in Tongdaemun”. Of course, there are many 10-storey buildings in this area but we headed over anyway, and went to the Doota Building/Store (which is also 10-stories tall but full of small shops and stalls – great place to shop, open until 5:00 in the morning). When we got there we called on Uncle who found us and took us for a tour through the area.

Indeed, you can get khuurshuur and buuz in the area, and signs were a mix of Korean, English with some in Mongolian. It was a pleasant Sunday.

As for illegal immigrants – well, Korea could do a lot to help the economic development of Mongolia by taking in more “Trainees” from Mongolia and perhaps providing a legitimate way for Mongolians to travel to Korea for two to three years, work legally and then return to Mongolia. Difficult issue I know but one that should be looked at logically, rather than emotionally.

As a final note, we shared a flight back with about 20 Mongolians being returned to Mongolia by Korean Immigration Authorities for having overstayed on their visas.

Which City Am I In Again?

The back end of an Ulaanbaatar bus

I was travelling into the Business District of Ulaanbaatar in an unofficial taxi the other day when we pulled up behind a bus. As you can see in the picture attached to this, my immediate thought was “where the heck am I?”

There are a great number of second hand buses purchased from Korea and shipped to Mongolia for use in Ulaanbaatar. This is one of them. Many of the buses bear their original liveries as well as their original signage. In this case I am following a Seoul bus, route 211, stopping Sinwol 7-dong, Yeongdeunpo Market, Hannam-dong and finally Sangwangsimni (basically from one side of Seoul and the Han River to the other.

And lest you think that is is a photo taken in Seoul, the billboard to the right of the bus is definitely in Mongolian. 🙂

Korea Changes

I’ve been travelling to Korea for many years now. I’ve stayed at hotels in a number of places in the country and I have travelled through the airport many times. Now I am peeved. I arrived at the hotel at 12:50 to be greeted by a smiling imbecile behind the counter who with a broad smile happily announced that check-in was from 2:00. Just what you need to hear after a few hours travelling. Guys, apologise to the guest and say “I am sorry sir, the rooms are still being made up – they will be ready at 14:00”, not “Check-in is at 2!”

Then there was the nice lady who telephoned me today at 11:30 to say “you know checkout time is 12:00?”

Guys – as you rush to be a dominant power in Asia and to improve your globalisation position, remember, English has a whole pile of niceties built into it to stop crotchety old men like me getting grumpy. Use them!

And the final peeve? Incheon airport. Nice and efficient with the security check (my laptop bag gets sniffed each time I pass through there). Trouble is, every time I pass through there, I have to take my shoes off so that they can be x-rayed!

What is wrong with that I hear you ask? Well, the first thing is that the shoe x-ray is sort of random. The second is that that sterilised sandals that are provided are all Asian sized. So, either I walk in socks in a country that has almost religious zealousness about only shoes touching the ground or I walk in small sandals, look like an idiot and run the risk of falling over because my feet will not fit the damn things.

Guys – there are many big footed persons in the world – try and cater for us too.

When People Assume You Do Not Understand

Ella in her blog noted that she “want(ed) to know what are people saying around me!”  This comes from working in foreign countries where you do not speak the language. I noted at the time that it was worse to be in a country were you did speak the language and still could not understand what was going on around you.Well, a couple of days into my trip in Korea and I have found my language peeve. It comes from being able to speak survival Korean but looking very much like a foreigner (well, I am an Aussie after all). Here, whenever I buy something or pay for it, every shop assistant, waiter or cashier either struggles for 5 minutes trying to remember how to say the amount in English or reaches for a calculator to type the amount out or swings the cash register screen around to show me the amount. Of course, simply saying “man ee chon oh baek won” would work just as well as typing out 12500 on a calculator and be a whole lot faster.

Please, give me the amount in the local language first and then if I look dumbfounded, reach for the calculator. Reaching for the calculator first makes me feel like I am stupid — which I think I am not. Mind you, some of my friends may disagree with that 🙂

Broadband and the Steppe

Thomo is currently sitting is Seoul for a few days. It is the Naadam holiday in Mongolia and I had organised a couple of months ago to spend that break in Seoul. Of course, I am regretting that decision now. Apart from the Naadam holiday, it would have been nice to spend a couple of days out in the countryside with Thomo’s favourite Mongolian Family. However, I am in Seoul where it is hot, sweaty and rainy (unlike Ulaanbaatar where it is just hot). The one advantage in Seoul is that the broadband here is truly broad. Every website I access here anywhere in the world (except Mongolia) fair hops along. Screenfuls of information are blasting back to me in no time at all – with the exception of Mongolian websites.

This is the opposite to life in Mongolia where even with a broadband connection, websites out of Mongolia have their pages come back at a lowly pace – sort of Yak Speed.

The reason for this is, I believe, the gateway between Mongolia and the rest of the world. There is a bottleneck with insufficient bandwidth to handle the traffic either way.

So, whilst I miss my favourite Mongolian family, I am enjoying the speed of the connections from here.