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

July 11, 2013

Seoul Tour 3: Holes, Hanshik, and Hearts

Filed under: Field Trip,Seoul — Tags: , , , , , , — geakorea @ 4:46 pm

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.

Gangnam Style

The real “Gangnam Style”

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.

Mmmmm...

Mmmmm…

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.

Here's some food and two random people.

Hanna with our new classmate, Hye Young, enjoying hanshik!

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July 9, 2013

Central Seoul: Seoul Tower, National Museum, and the Han River

Filed under: Field Trip,Seoul — geakorea @ 6:03 pm

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.

The view of Seoul from the tower

The view of Seoul from the tower

Some of the thousands of locks surrounding the tower

Some of the thousands of locks surrounding 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.

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July 8, 2013

The First Adventure: Old School Seoul

Filed under: Seoul — Tags: , , , — geakorea @ 5:52 pm

by Lauren White and Kayla Foster

We made it safely to Korea and after a nice weekend of rest we started our first tour of Seoul on Monday. The theme for the day was “Old Seoul.” Therefore our first stop was Gyeongbok Palace.

Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace

As an avid Korean drama watcher, I felt as if I had just walked on the set to one of my favorite historical dramas. I was amazed by the beautiful detail, as well as the amount of space. I was imagining a smaller version since it was located off of a busy street in what seemed like the middle of the city. We were guided to several rooms that were in the palace that gave us a general feel of how life was in the Joseon Dynasty, but it was the ingenious architecture of hanok, traditional Korean homes, that truly stood out to me. I was surprised by the advanced technology, as well as the way nature was intertwined with architecture. There are three gates that one must pass through to go into the palace acting as a thick layer of security. The first layer of security includes a large open space that is ideal for holding large gatherings, as well as making public announcements.

Shawn and Melina posing by where Officials stood

Shawn and Melina posing by where Officials stood

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August 3, 2012

Studying in Seoul!

Filed under: Seoul — geakorea @ 5:12 pm

by Tia Uchiyama

It seems my peers have chosen to write about our adventures in Seoul in a rather serious manner. And for that reason, I hope you won’t mind that I’ve chosen to speak more casually and frankly about my experiences in Seoul.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Korea before coming to study in Seoul. But I also don’t feel like I experienced much culture shock. Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with Eastern culture through my studies at USC, or maybe it’s just because I adapt well (ha-ha). When I looked over our schedule before departure, I had no conception of where these places were or what they entailed. I knew a little Korean from my friends, but not nearly enough to get around. I felt nervous about being able to communicate and navigate an unfamiliar city.

I was surprised to find so many non-Korean restaurants around the Hongdae and Shinchon area. I’m not sure why I was surprised, necessarily…

Somehow…I doubt its authenticity.

I had ridden a subway before, so the act itself didn’t bother me. But because I didn’t know anything about the geography of Seoul, I was gripped rather hard by my fear of disorientation. I checked, double-checked, even triple-checked the maps before boarding; my eyes nervously flickering between the moving map and my USC friends. Though after I made my first trip to Myeongdong solo, I started to feel more confident riding the subway.

If there were one thing I had to pick out from Seoul as my number one, it would have to be the public transportation. It’s very affordable—to the extent of being considered “cheap,” often only around 1,000-won, or maybe 1,200-won for a trip across the city. To give you an idea of how ridiculously inexpensive this is: it costs $2.50 in Hawaii to ride the bus one-way. Taxis are also much cheaper here, and infinitely more abundant. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an empty taxi driving around in Hawaii (save for the more tourist areas), whereas you could probably catch a taxi anywhere in Seoul. The 50,000-won travel allowance we were given so graciously by our sponsors was more than enough to go wherever we wanted, whenever.

But who doesn’t love bingsu?

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Korean Folk Village!

Filed under: Field Trip — geakorea @ 5:11 pm

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.

Red and blue welcoming banners follow the traditionally imperative feng shui rules that represent yin and yang.
Super excited for the Korean Folk Village!

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.

Posing with the star-studded cast of Sungkyunkwan Scandal!

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August 2, 2012

Dance Classes in Korea

Filed under: Seoul — geakorea @ 8:29 pm
by Anna Pazderski
In the U.S. my dance classes have always been on the first floor of a building. Finding this Studio was a challenge!

The first thing that triggered my interest in South Korea was its dance scene. While Korea is known for its Hallyu stars who dance to their songs, I have also heard praise for its break-dancing scene and hip hop world. So, when I came to Korea, one of the first things I wanted to do was somehow take part in this side of Korea.

I took classes for two weeks at a studio called EZ Dance, right next to Ewha University. I will remember my experience there for the rest of my life. It was unlike any other. The whole process was unique from the start, from my friend helping by being a translator to entering the studio and needing to put on slippers.

The glass door of EZDance.

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July 30, 2012

Seoul Day Trips Part II: National Museum of Contemporary Art, N Seoul Tower, Itaewon

Filed under: Field Trip,Seoul — geakorea @ 4:29 pm

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.

Entering the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

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.

N Seoul Tower

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.

The view of Seoul from the observation deck.

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July 24, 2012

Jeju Island

Filed under: Field Trip,Jeju Island — geakorea @ 4:35 pm

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.


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July 23, 2012

Experiencing Political Tension at the Forefront: Tour of the DMZ and JSA

Filed under: Field Trip — geakorea @ 5:27 pm

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.

The Dorasan Station, which connects the railroad from North to South Korea
Trains leading to the capitol of North Korea

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July 20, 2012

KOFIC Namyangju Studios: Behind the Scenes of Korean Films

Filed under: Field Trip — geakorea @ 5:17 pm

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.

View of JSA from South Korea’s side
View of JSA from North Korea's side, on the steps of Panmon HallView of JSA from North Korea’s side, on the steps of Panmon Hall

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