July 22, 2014
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.
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.
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 22, 2013
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.
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.
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 15, 2013
By Yuni Choi, Ari Lyon, and Melina Sutton
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.
July 11, 2013
By Shawn Rhoads, Hye Young Jung, and Jaemyeong Lee
Coming to Korea, most of us only ever heard the song “Gangnam Style” without really knowing what the Gangnam Style actually is. Perhaps a few of us learned in our pop culture classes that the song was in fact more than just a catchy beat and dance craze, that it was actually social commentary on Korea’s recent excessive attraction to designer brands and superficiality. However, there’s nothing like an actual visit to the district itself to experience for ourselves that unless you’re ready to spend your entire week’s allowance on a single article of clothing, there’s not much to Gangnam. Nevertheless, we had many cherished memories in the underground shops in the subway station.
Despite having been in Seoul for a week, our first hanshik (traditional Korean meal) didn’t come until Friday, and there couldn’t have been a better place for it than San-dul-hae near Olympic Park. For less than $15 a person, we were able to enjoy all of the banchan (side dishes) and bap (rice) that are included in all traditional Korean meals. The ssal (uncooked grain) was cooked in a stone pot unlike other modern rice cookers, so the bap was particularly unique from all the other bap we had eaten. When Korea had a royal family, only the king had the privilege of enjoying this type of dish.
Korean eating culture is very different from that of the West. There is no main dish and everyone shares from the same set of side dishes. We thought it was interesting that there was everything – fish, meat, vegetables, grains. While there are many different mannerisms that come with Korean dining – such as using chopsticks, receiving with two hands, and eating on the maru (floor) – there are many similarities that Westerners practice when eating meals with their families. Similarly to Korea, everyone helps themselves to the different dishes at the table and they are fed until they are full. However, when dining out, each person usually orders their own meals which differs from the communal ways of Korea.
July 9, 2013
By Abigail Becker and Hyunji Lee
We went to Seoul N Tower for the first part of our trip on Wednesday. Although it was supposed to rain, the day was amazingly clear, which made a perfect condition for viewing Seoul from the top of Namsan, where the tower is located. Just like the other trips we went on, we got in taxis in several groups and left for the entrance of the tower. After all of us arrived, we took a bus to the mid point and walked up the rest of the way. After having lunch at a food court below the tower, we dropped by Cold Stone and grabbed some yummy ice cream. Each of us looked happy with sweet dessert in our hands. We looked around the plaza, where there were hundreds of millions of love-lockers hanging on trees and handrails. We also enjoyed the view of Seoul from the plaza, though an even better view was waiting for us at the top of the tower.
After ice-cream time, we finally boarded an elevator to go up to the tower. There, we could see whole of Seoul from every angle. We found the Blue House, Kyeongbok Palace, Yeoido in the middle of Han River, Sangam World Cup Stadium, Myeongdong, Itaewon, Hannam-dong, and so on. It was a great opportunity to see Seoul’s landscape thoroughly. We also had time to write and send postcards at the top of the tower, which would be an unforgettable memory for USC students. If there was a sad thing, it was that we could not find our school, Ewha, which is located on the other side of mountains.
August 3, 2012
by Caroline Koo
This week, our group visited a living and breathing historical museum: the Korean Folk Village! The Korean Folk Village is a recreation of a traditional village from the late Chosun Dynasty. It preserves the past and promotes a feeling of authenticity by allowing visitors to experience what it would have been like to actually live in the village and walk through the streets of the Chosun Dynasty period. As soon as we walked into the Village, we were greeted with red and blue flags that signified a warm and welcoming gesture.
Posters of historical dramas and movies that had been filmed at the Korean Folk Village were everywhere. It was easy to see that Hallyu clearly has a great effect on the structure of the Folk Village. It was interesting to note how Hallyu, the symbol of Korean popular culture, has even extended into the context of the historical representation of Korea through media.
July 30, 2012
By Jennie Lee
Last week, we went to the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Compared to the National Museum of Korea, which we visited our first week, the tour we received this time was very short and incomplete. We only viewed some works in the photography collection, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The exhibition was on Images of Silence and its four themes were: desolate landscapes, space of absence, absence of communication, and death—eternal silence. As we went through the gallery, the more dark and eerie the subjects of the photographs became. In a way, these photographs of silence seemed to be a reminder of how Korea has constantly been silenced during the past century of colonization, intervention, and dictatorial rule.
To start off this week, our last week in Korea, we visited the N Seoul Tower. Used as a communication and observation tower, it is located at Namsan, or South Mountain, in Seoul. It is commonly know as the Namsan Tower or simply Seoul Tower. When we arrived, I was surprised to see a banner over the entrance saying that the Tower was voted the #1 tourist attraction in Seoul. It led me wonder why it was and made me anticipate the tour even more.
We took an elevator up to the observation deck. Instead of focusing on the view of the Seoul landscape outside the windows lining the walls, I could not help but be distracted by the gift shop flagrantly in the middle of the deck. Next to it there was a postcard station to write postcards and send them in a mailbox. On another floor there was a cosmetics shop, and on the ground floor, there was another gift shop, which even sold K-pop goods.
July 24, 2012
by Joann Park
Jeju Island was definitely one of the highlights on our program. Everyone was excited to see the paradise of the east, and once we got off the plane we were pleasantly surprised with SUN!
This sustainable volcanic island had been a tourist hotspot—especially for honeymooners—for a long time. On our way to our hotel we saw countless hotels, hostels, motels, etc. My Korean aunt told me after Japan’s tsunami incident, a huge influx of tourists had been flowing into Jeju. On our trip we especially saw a lot of Chinese tourists–many of the souvenir vendors were fluent in Chinese as well.
Upon our arrival, we were introduced to Dolhareubang (old grandfather stone statues), the official mascot of Jeju. You could see a characterized version everywhere..on posters, banners, and more! It is said that if you rub the nose of the statue, you will be blessed with a son.
July 23, 2012
by Shoko Oda
Friday, July 13th—Our tour today was slightly different. Much of our tours so far focused on viewing various locations in Korea, such as the urban Seoul and rural Kangwon Province. We also gazed our eyes upon ancient artifacts and art in museums and galleries. However, the tour today shed light on one of the most discussed political issue of today: the North and South Korean divide. On Friday the 13th, we took a trip up to the Demilitarized Zone (known as the DMZ) and Panmunjom, where we were able to see the Joint Security Area (JSA) under strict surveillance of our tour guide, as well as American and Korean soldiers.
The tour started with a rather surprising appearance by a small, middle-aged woman who the tour guide introduced as a North Korean defector. She was present at the tour to provide us with answers that we might have about North Korea. The lady explained to us that she defected with several members of her family as they found no hope left in the North; they first fled to China, then to Thailand, before arriving in South Korea and legally obtaining citizenship there (which, according to the tour guide, can be obtained by defectors after months of investigation and an education period). We were most shocked when we found out that she had left her husband in the North; her husband was a government official, which made it even more risky for him to defect. Unfortunately, she had lost all contact with her husband after the North Korean authorities took him into custody. She has no idea if he is alive or not to this day.
As the tour guide explained, there are about 8 million Koreans who are separated from their families due to the divide—the guide herself explained that her father’s family could not flee to the South and thus remained in the North. Due to the lack of communication methods between the two sides, her family is still unaware if her father’s family is still alive in North Korea. This appearance of the North Korean defector and a tour guide who was personally affected by the divide definitely changed the tone of the tour to a rather more serious one, as we were confronted by the fact that many Koreans who lead ordinary lives are affected by such political strife between the two sides.
Much of the tour was, in my opinion, hybridized to portray the border as rather calm. As I conversed with others, it became clear that we were all extremely surprised how ordinary and unmilitaristic much of the things seemed before arriving to the DMZ and Panmunjom. The Dorasan station, which connected the two railroads between North and South Korea and once was under operation, was very modern and clean; the tour guide emphasized that the station will definitely be used if reunification were to happen in the near future, shedding a light of hope upon the abandoned train station.
July 20, 2012
by Mai Nguyen
Nestled on over 300 acres of quiet land on the outskirts of Seoul, the KOFIC Namyangju Studios (남양주종합찰영소) is the center of South Korean film production today. Like many of the other sites we have visited in South Korea, the Namyangju Studios is a proud testimony to both the rich history and bright future of the South Korean film industry. While its museum and set exhibits attest to the great achievements of the South Korean film industry so far, the sound of painting and hammering on new film sets is a reminder of the many great productions that are yet to come.
Unlike other places we have visited in Seoul where guides have had to share with us stories and history to help us realize the significance of each site, the Namyangju Studios spoke for itself. As we toured the outdoor sets of the JSA, a traditional small Korean village, and the Choson Dynasty’s royal living quarters, then later the indoor special effects filming room, Film Culture Museum Center, and Props and Costume Room, we were able to see and experience for ourselves the significant role of the Studio in the rapidly growing Korean film industry. Of the exhibits we visited, the JSA set and the Culture Museum were perhaps most notable.
The Namyangju Studios complex is home to the famous set used in the 2000 film J.S.A.: Joint Security Area (JSA). Scaled to 80% of the original site, the JSA set is almost an identical replica of the real DMZ’s (De-Militarized Zone) Joint Security Area in Panmunjeom (판문점). Although cardboard cut-outs of soldiers posing in the middle of the JSA create a comical scene, it is still eerie to stand on the steps of the recreated North Korean Panmon Hall and overlook the JSA from the “forbidden” side. While the soldiers and threat of danger are absent from Namyangju’s JSA set, there is still a solemnity and tension that lingers in the atmosphere here. After watching JSA (2000) and visiting the real Joint Security Area in Panmunjeom, we are also able to better appreciate the freedom of walking on both sides of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that divides North and South Korea. Although the set is considered a front region because it is a tourist attraction, understanding the history of the JSA let us experience the tour of the set with a feeling of authenticity that is not usually common for front regions.