USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

July 24, 2014

A Tale of Two Koreas

Filed under: Uncategorized — geakorea @ 2:04 am

by David Shin and Bill Xu

Following the Korean War, a new line of division known as the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, was drawn between the two Koreas, more or less at about the same location as the previous one had been at the 38th parallel. Stretching a length of 155 miles and about 2 miles wide, a mile for each side, the DMZ is an impassable rift. With nearly a million mines and booby traps of which only three percent have been removed, the “Demilitarized Zone” may not have any soldiers within the wilderness as the presence, operations or installations of the military upon these grounds is in violation of international law, but it remains nevertheless an area densely filled with military contraptions, deadly and concealed.


For our DMZ trip, we had the privilege of visiting four locations: the Panmunjom that is formally known as the Joint Security Area or the JSA, the Dora Observatory, the Dorasan Station and the Third Tunnel. Prior to our entry to the DMZ, we were required to follow a strict dress code as well as heed instructions regarding desired conduct such as not making hand gestures to the North Korean guards and taking pictures only in designated areas.

The most important location we visited on the DMZ trip is the JSA, a point on the Western half of the DMZ where the North and South Korean soldiers face each other from just meters away. A historical location, the JSA is where Armistice Talks began on Oct 25, 1951 and were eventually signed between the Chinese, North Korean and United Nations Command Forces on July 27, 1953, the day the Korean War ended. Once the armistice was agreed upon, the Korean peninsula would be permanently occupied by two nations of different systems, capitalism and socialism.

The division of their country was not what the vast majority of Koreans wanted. Just as the saying “when whales fight, shrimps die” may suggest, Koreans were mere pawns in the Cold War, an ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union of which the Korean War was a product. Ideology is powerful as it is the cornerstone on which governments and countries are formed. However, ideology is able to not only form countries but also sever them into separate parts. Such is the case for the division of Korea which has lasted for over 60 years and is still influential in international political relations worldwide, especially in the Northeast Asian region.

In order to properly understand Korean society and culture, the DMZ must be taken into consideration. More than just a physical line of separation, the DMZ cuts through the consciousness and emotions of Koreans in regards to their ideological and political standpoints towards the other Korean half as well as among people within the same half in relation to how they view the other Korean half. Virtually all areas of South Korea, such as its economy, politics and culture are influenced by the separation of the peninsula. There have been numerous victims and separated families due to the Korean peninsula division and the emotions of South Koreans are affected powerfully towards either side of the spectrum in viewing the North positively or negatively. Koreans either desperately wait for reunification so they can reunite their families or possess nothing but hatred and disgust for the other side. The Korean War and division have been the greatest forces in stimulating social change in recent Korean political history.

Joint Security Area or Panmunjom

From Ewha University, our class boarded a tour bus that took us to the Panmunjom Travel Center but could go no further because it did not possess authorization to proceed to the DMZ. Therefore, we were required to transfer to a United Nations bus before continuing our way to the JSA. After we passed the first gate on the way to JSA, the number of military trucks and personnel began to quickly increase in number. Around me everything suddenly seemed tense and serious. I could see Korean soldiers standing around absent of any facial expressions behind their dark sunglasses. The sight of them armed with weapons, a pistol by the waist or a rifle slung in front of them compelled me to sit at the edge of my seat anxiously. In the United States, most people can purchase and own firearm, but in Korea it is different—even the police do not possess such weapons. In fact, the last Korean person I saw armed with a gun was an agent in front of the Blue House, the residence of the Korean president. Further adding to the serious and daunting atmosphere were two adjacent rolls of barbed wire lining the fences.


Barbed wire


July 22, 2014

That’s a Wrap: Minsok Village, Hwaseong Fortress, Samsung D’Light

Filed under: Field Trip,Seoul — geakorea @ 8:24 am

by An-Quang Nguyen and Eileen Yoon

We started off the day at 9am as usual. But instead of having class, we got to go on our last Seoul City tour! The first stop of the day was a Minsok Village (한국 민속촌), a traditional Korean folk village located in Gyeonggido (경기도), a province just outside of Seoul. The trip took a little over an hour by bus, and when we arrived, we were some of the first visitors of the day. Unlike other traditional “villages” we saw in Seoul, this entire village was inhabited and used as a place for tourists to go see the ins and outs of traditional buildings, enjoy shows and even see the backdrops for famous Korean movies and dramas. To add to the authenticity, the employees donned traditional clothing and stayed in character throughout the day. This village is an important site because of its role in preserving Korea’s long history and rich culture as well as attracting tourists from all over the world. Thanks to attractions like this, tourism in South Korea today is booming, which in turn is helping the nation establish itself as a global power.

We didn't run into any celebrities on our trip, but here's the next best thing!

We didn’t run into any celebrities on our trip, but here’s the next best thing!

An employee dressed in traditional korean clothing tending to the garden.

An employee dressed in traditional Korean clothing tending to the garden.

Upon entering, the tour guide pointed out large totem poles that were erected to keep evil spirits away, something that was commonly done in the past. There were also charms placed above the doorways of people’s homes, which reminded me of the videos we watched in class of Korean Shaman rituals. The influence of Shamanism was quite profound and a huge part of the culture in Korea, just like that of Buddhism and Confucianism. Influences of Confucianism could be seen in the way the living quarters for men and women were kept separate even after marriage! We also had an opportunity to watch a traditional Korean wedding ceremony, which felt drastically different from the warm, bright wedding ceremonies we’re used to seeing today. The lack of a personal touch and limited interaction between the bride and groom made it feel rigid and more like a business transaction than the union of two people in love.

A reenactment of a traditional Korean wedding.

A reenactment of a traditional Korean wedding

People believed that burning these papers would make the wishes written on them them come true...good luck Shalea!

People believed that burning these papers would make the wishes written on them come true…good luck Shalea!

As we waited for the shows to start, the tour guide showed us various buildings and let us experience first-hand what it may have felt like to be alive during that era. While some people tested out the different punishment tools and got thrown in jail, the rest of the group got to feel like royalty as they took turns sitting in the governor’s seat, elevated high above everyone else. In the Joseon Dynasty, the hierarchical structure was strictly adhered to, and remnants of this structure can still be seen today in places like schools, the workplace and even Korean homes. (more…)

July 16, 2014

Jeju Island – “The Hawaii of Korea”

Filed under: Jeju Island — geakorea @ 5:55 am

by Esther Chang and Chongiin Kim

After our adventurous visit to Jeju Island this past weekend, I now understand why Jejudo, beyond the strong presence of honeymooners and tourists, is commonly referred to as “ The Hawaii of Korea.” Formed from past volcanic eruptions, Jeju Island is the smallest province and largest island in Korea. Its area is approximately 3 times the size of the capital of Korea, with a circumference of 418 kilometers around the oval-shaped island, yet it contains only 6% of the population of Seoul. There are 368 small volcanoes that have formed all around the island’s largest dormant volcano, Mount Halla, which is the main source of the island’s volcanic rock and soil.

Mount Halla is South Korea’s tallest mountain at 1,950 meters high.

Mount Halla is South Korea’s tallest mountain at 1,950 meters high

As mentioned before, similar to the Aloha State, Jeju is a popular destination for honeymooners and tourists from all over the world, averaging about six million visitors per year. Jeju Island is the only place in South Korea where Chinese visitors can enter freely through a direct flight or ship without a visa. The special visa-free entry arrangement between South Korea and China may provide an explanation as to why tourism is the island’s primary economic driver, followed by industry, agriculture, and fishing. While Hawaii may be known for its crunchy macadamia nuts, Jeju Island boasts its growing fresh citrus and cacti exports of hallabong, gamgyul (tangerines), and baeknyuncho (palm cactus). Speaking of exports, over recent decades, South Korea has become a strong economic player on the international platform, labeling itself as an export country despite its economic deficiencies in past decades. The country’s GDP has drastically increased from $1.3 billion in 1953 to $1,156 billion in 2013.

Lastly, Jejudo and Hawaii sadly share a dark past behind their beautiful vacation paradise destinations. With the tragic happenings of Pearl Harbor and the April 3rd Incident, both Jeju and Hawaii have built memorials not only to pay respect to those who lost their lives in those acts of violence, but also to educate the world about what has happened and should never be repeated again.

Cheonjiyeon Waterfall (천지연 폭포)

Our first site visit was to the beautiful Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. Cheonjiyeon, meaning “god’s pond,” is a U-shaped valley made by lava and sedimentation uplifts. Within the valley, a beautiful 22-meter high standing waterfall is found amidst a subtropical evergreen forest that has a total of 447 kinds of plants, including 406 species, 1 subspecies, and 32 variable subspecies. It is claimed that the species of Rubus hongnoensis grows in no other place in the world but here in the evergreen forest of Cheonjiyeon!

What a beautiful view!

What a beautiful view!

This is Chongiin and I in front of the marvelous Cheonjiyeon Waterfall!

This is Chongiin and I in front of the marvelous Cheonjiyeon Waterfall!


July 15, 2014

The Beautiful Gyeongju and Dynamic Busan

Filed under: Busan,Gyeongju — geakorea @ 7:07 am

By Pamela Vergara and Jane Hong

Our day started at Seoul Station, where we caught the 9:00AM KTX to Gyeongju. Though we had taken the subway multiple times, it was a new experience being able to ride a major Korean railway. The station was filled with businessmen and families alike, all ready to start their weekends on the other side of the country.

Korea’s public transit has definitely been a blessing throughout this trip. Not only is the country’s system incredibly organized, but delays are a rare happenstance. The ease of getting around with such foreigner-friendly transportation will surely be one of the most missed advantages of studying in Korea.

An early morning departure at Seoul Station.

An early morning departure at Seoul Station

Daereungwon (대릉원) would be our first stop in Gyeongju. Dating back to the Silla kingdom, this place is known for its grass mound-style tombs, called tumuli. We were still amazed that these hill-like structures housed both relics and coffins belonging to royal Silla figures. To us, they were just another part of the picturesque scenery in Gyeongju. Knowing that thousands of relics were unearthed in one tomb, it is incredible to think just how much is left in the hundreds of others scattered throughout the city.

Hill-like tombs of the old Silla Kingdom.

We never would have guessed these hills were homes to royal corpses!

After a morning exploring the sights of the old Silla kingdom, our class opted to take a walk to our last destination instead of boarding our tour bus. It was surely one of the better decisions of the day.

It was here where we slowly came to realize Gyeongju’s appeal: its relaxed countryside. The city’s tourism slogan (which was plastered throughout the town in a multitude of scenic spots) is “Beautiful Gyeongju.” Our walk through some simple dirt paths and a lone lotus pond proved this statement to be true. What the city lacked in trendy eateries and massive department stores, it made up for in rural charm.

Came across a pond of lotus flowers on the way to 안압지!

Came across a pond of lotus flowers on the way to Anapji pond (안압지)!


July 12, 2014

Seoul City Trip 2

Filed under: Seoul — geakorea @ 2:10 am

By Shalea Klepner, Nick Yamamoto, Lee Sooah, Jang Seonwoo, and Choi Young Hyo

For the second half of our second Old Seoul Tour, we visited King Sejong’s summer palace, Changgyeonggung Palace (창경궁). Built in the 13th century by King Sejong the Great for his father, the palace stands today as a historical symbol that is accurately renovated to provide a peek into life at that time.

It was recorded that King Sejong’s father killed all political enemies to ensure his son’s ascension to the throne. Thus the palace’s history could be said to begin in political conflict. One of King Sejong the Great’s most noteworthy contributions to Korea was the creation of Hangul, the modern-day Korean writing system. Hangul was created to be so simple and easy to learn that even peasants could pick it up easily.

As with any country’s landmarks, thinking about the conflicts and scandals that reportedly occurred within the palace’s walls inspired great intrigue and interest.


Changgyeonggung Palace 창경궁

The inside of the main palace building was beautifully painted, similar to the interior of Gyeongbokgung Palace. The colors have faded more than those of the other palace.

Beautiful and colorful

Beautiful and colorful

The king’s servants would carry the king up a set of stairs to the main building. Only the king could be carried over this area, and even now the stairs are blocked off to visitors.

It's good to be king.

It’s good to be king.


July 4, 2014

Seoul City Tour 1

Filed under: Seoul — geakorea @ 2:19 am

By Jiaqi Wang, Jiajing (Jenny) Tang, Eun Bee Park, Go Eun Choi, Hye Jin Kim and Sue Min Park

Gyeongbokgung Palace 경복궁

Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first stop in our Seoul city tour. Gyeongbokgung was one of the major palaces in the Joseon Dynasty, but the original palace was later destroyed during the Japanese invasion. The reconstructed palace is still based on feng shui, and now it’s one of the most symbolic places of Korean history.

Gwanghwamun(광화문) is the front gate for Gyeongbokgung.

Gwanghwamun (광화문) is the front gate for Gyeongbokgung.

Every hour there is a guard changing ceremony. Though it is more of a performance nowadays, in the ancient time, the changing of guard was essential for the security of palaces.

Every hour there is a guard changing ceremony. Though it is more of a performance nowadays, in ancient times, the changing of the guard was essential for the security of each palace.

Geunjeongjeon(근정전) is the place where the king met the officials, greeted foreign visitors and gave national announcements. The ancient Korean architecture style is different from the Chinese and Japanese ones in terms of colors, locations, etc. When the Korean king was building the palace, he didn’t destroy the environment around the location because Koreans believe that they are a part of the nature. The palace is surrounded by mountains in four different directions, and there are rivers crossing the palace. Rooflines are mildly curvy upwards, and the number of statues placed on top of the rooflines represents the rank of the building.

Geunjeongjeon (근정전) is the place where the king met the officials, greeted foreign visitors and gave national announcements. The ancient Korean architecture style is different from the Chinese and Japanese styles in terms of colors, locations, etc. When the Korean king was building the palace, he didn’t destroy the environment around the location because Koreans believed that they were part of nature. The palace is surrounded by mountains in four different directions, and there are rivers crossing the palace. The lines of the roofs curve mildly upwards, and the number of statues placed on top of the roofs represents the rank of the building.


July 27, 2013

Our amazing trip to Ulsan, Gyeongju, and Busan

Filed under: Busan,Gyeongju,Seoul,Ulsan — geakorea @ 1:52 am

By Maggie Deagon and Daniel Kim

On July 18th at six in the morning, our group braved the Seoul drizzle with sunnier visions on our minds. Busan was the destination that thrilled us—a southeastern city known for the friendliness of its people and beauty of its beaches. Little did we know of our coastal adventure’s true magnitude.


We boarded KTX (Korea Train eXpress) to most efficiently arrive at our destination. KTX is famous for its role in Korea’s time revolution. In a word, “balli-balli” sums up the importance Koreans place on efficiency. The faster things can be done, the better! Thus, the creation of KTX helped minimize travel time between Korea’s coasts, increasing productivity. Although the trip is shorter to the southeastern coast than it would be via other methods, our group still had plenty opportunity to catch up on the rest we lacked the previous night.

Lauren, Ari and Melina on KTX

Lauren, Ari and Melina on KTX

Jay is starting to look a little sleepy over there!

Jay is starting to look a little sleepy over there!


July 22, 2013

Exploring Incheon: Chinatown, Museum of Korean Emigration, and Songdo

Filed under: Field Trip,Incheon — geakorea @ 9:57 pm

By Jia Kim, Hanna Jolkovsky, and Jasmine Collins


On Tuesday, we saw Korea’s Chinatown, the first part of our tour to Incheon. By tour bus, it took about an hour from the Ewha campus in Seoul. On the bus ride, our tour guide explained the origin of Chinatown. According to her, this Chinatown is different from the others, such as the one in Los Angeles, because it has become a center of trade related to Korea’s modern history rather than a town based on labor.

When we arrived, we could see buildings with red decorations, which meant that we had found the right place because red is a color of fortune in Chinese culture. Before visiting a lot of attractions, we were directed to a Chinese restaurant for lunch.

The color red gives us fortune.

The color red gives us fortune.

We enjoyed jajangmeon, which is a black-bean-sauce noodle dish, and tangsuyuk, which is a fried pork dish. When eating jajangmeon, the noodles are too long to eat, which makes it easy to get sauce on your face and clothes. So we used scissors to cut them. We enjoyed sweet and tangy tangsuyuk with soy sauce. It was so good that we ordered another plate-full. We’ll be eating jajangmyeon and tangsuyuk again very soon.

Jajangmyeon and tangsuyuk... yummy yummy!

Jajangmyeon and tangsuyuk… yummy yummy!

After a great meal, we went Jayu park, where American soldiers first landed in Incheon during the Korean War in 1950. The American General Douglas MacArthur is commemorated in this park for his bravery and the success of his Incheon Landing Operation. According to our tour guide, driving the North Korean soldiers away from Incheon was a seemingly impossible strategy, but his successful execution of the plan was the turning point in the Korean War. Today, Korea appreciates and remembers his contribution.  (more…)

July 17, 2013

Journey to Jeju

Filed under: Uncategorized — geakorea @ 5:05 pm

By Olivia Hudnut at Hyun Taek  (Justin) Lee

Monkeys, a fort, and waterfalls…Oh my!

Jeju is considered by Koreans to be the “Three Abundance Island” in reference to its rocks, wind, and women. Jeju is a volcanic island and a geologist’s paradise. The most common rocks found on Jeju are igneous rocks. Basalt and pumice are used commonly in structures and provide a natural harmony with their surroundings. Traditionally, Koreans built low-lying buildings with strongly thatched roofs in order to prevent wind damage. The women of Jeju are also famous for their unique profession of diving. Due to the dangers of sea that left many women of Jeju as widows, they turned to abalone diving off the rocky coasts of Jeju to support their families. The work is not without risk; they dive to depths of 10 meters without air tanks and use a unique bird call to signal to one another from underwater. The remaining divers are aging. With the youngest diver at 51 and the eldest in her 80’s, it is apparent that the young women of Jeju have turned away from this dangerous and difficult profession. This is a common trend in South Korea, with the younger population of Koreans heading to the cities, growing away from traditional culture and the rural areas of Korea. Only 20 years ago, Jeju was largely rural. The rapid implantation of PC bangs (game rooms), GS25’s (convenience stores), and hotels show the conversion of a once rural island to the high speed age of modern Korea. With an aging population, South Korea has faced several issues, including a loss of appreciation of culture and natural beauty.


A photograph of one of the famous Jeju women divers hauling a net filled with abalone

The stops we made on Jeju Island showed us the natural beauty of the volcanic Korean island, and the successes of the Korean people to preserve history and culture to this day. On our first day we explored Hallim Park, a Japanese fort, and Chung Jae Waterfalls.

Hallim Park

Hallim Park is unlike anything I have ever encountered before. It is an expansive park with thousands of species of plants and animals on display and two beautiful limestone caves. I especially enjoyed a small atrium where you could hold exotic birds, play with a baby monkey, and feed gophers and rabbits.


Here I am making friends!


We even got the chance to play with a baby monkey!


July 15, 2013

Yongin, Suwon in Gyeonggi-do, and Samsung

Filed under: Field Trip,Seoul — geakorea @ 7:21 pm

By Yuni Choi, Ari Lyon, and Melina Sutton

Yuni, Melina, and Ari outside of the folk village

Yuni, Melina, and Ari outside of the folk village

We started off the day by hopping on a bus that took us from the Ewha campus to Yongin to visit a Korean folk village. The village is a recreation of what a traditional village looks like and the employees even dressed in hanbok, the traditional Korean clothing. As soon as we stepped into the village, we got our first taste of traditional Korea. Our tour guide showed us replicas of an herb store, the women’s quarters of a house, and stores that sold traditional household goods and crafts. They were even selling traditional goods such as wedding ducks and masks. Our TA Lucy bought a handmade shoe horn! The folk village had an area for people to play tuho, a game where one throws a stick into a canister. But our attention was easily diverted to the performance area where “Farmer’s Music and Dance” was going on. In this traditional dance, men wear hats with long ribbons on them and dance to the beat of drums. After that ended, there was another performance of a woman doing acrobatics on a tightrope. She started off by just walking across the rope and I thought that was the whole performance, but then she started bouncing and sitting on the rope while making her way across! Needless to say, the folk village was a favorite for many. While we have visited many places that display contemporary Korea, this let us experience traditional Korea.

Jae and Lucy

Jay and Lucy

The group added their wishes to the wish rock

The group added their wishes to the wish rock.


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