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.

DMZ

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.

JSA

Barbed wire

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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!

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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)!

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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.

창경궁

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.

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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.

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