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.
Even though we had seen remnants of hanok (traditional Korean housing) in some of today’s people’s attempts to fuse modern and traditional styles of architecture, none of the houses we had seen thus far compared to standing at the very site of an actual house from two thousand years ago, even though we had to fill in the holes (literally!) with our imaginations. When we first entered the building created to protect the grounds of the site, it’s safe to say that just about none of us had any idea what we were looking at: mole holes? a scale model of an underground network? It wasn’t until we looked at the small scale model provided in the front of the museum that we realized that the holes once held posts that made up the structure of a house.
In class, we learned that back when people built these types of houses, they tried as much as possible to preserve nature in the architecture. Rather than cutting the wood into a perfectly straight line, for example, people preferred to maintain the shape of the wood that they were using. Thinking that we were staring at what had once been the grounds on which children had once run around or housewives sat around to make their kimchi brought a strange sensation of loss, not only for the remnants of the house itself, but also for the love of nature that had gone into making them. However, we were happy to find that beyond the cold concrete walls that surrounded the grounds of what used to be the traditional homes of Korea was a beautiful, renovated sight of nature that would guide us into our next adventure!
When we made our way through Olympic Park, we were awe-struck by the amazing scenery which included various artwork, monuments, and wildlife that embodied the facility that held the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Despite having heard that it is a popular meeting spot among Koreans, there were very few people on this hot Friday morning. We immediately thought that such a large park would serve as a great running area or place to hang out.
The most memorable part of the park was at the Peace Gate beside the flag exhibit which featured all of the countries that participated in the 1988 Olympic Games, including the United States. The Olympic flame that sits under the monument has been burning for 25 years since the games were held. This landmark serves as Korea’s first step to international exposure and a great place to take group pictures.
Only week ONE, and there’s still more to come…!