Monday, July 11, 2011

Sunday In Seoul

We're in Seoul for a few days; we arrived on Saturday night and had the lovely meal you saw recently.

We left early Sunday for a tour of the DMZ (demiltarized zone), which is only about one hour from Seoul. The boys in the family were quite psyched about this. It was definitely interesting. Required background: There is a 60 year old borderline between North and South Korea, and the 2km area that is North and South of this line is the DMZ. You can visit this on a tour bus, so we did. First we took a bus from Seoul to Imjingak Park. We looked around for awhile at some of the displays.

Here's Hugo trying to get a peek at one of the guards. He was really hoping to see one of the land mines.

In the parking lot, this crowd of Chinese tourists went crazy over Alek and Hugo, being blond(ish) and being twins. For once in a blue moon, they were actually dressed the same, which enhanced the whole effect.

Poor Max. Nobody wanted to pat his head.
(Just kidding. He got plenty of attention from the Asian grandmas.)

Some photos of barbed wire and the DMZ land .
No person has been in this 4km wide stretch of land for 60 years. So it is known as a unique environment for birds and wildlife.

I had to explain many many times to Alek that you can't actually see the border. It was a metaphysical discussion.


From Imjingak, we joined a larger tour bus for the DMZ tour (a tour with four stops). One third of the tourists on our bus were Chinese, one third Americans and Brits, and one third Japanese. Regulations say we can only stay near the DMZ in the civilian controlled area for 2.5 hours, so we were on a tight schedule. First we arrived at Dorasan Station, the northern most stop in S. Korea on a train line that goes about three more stations into the North. The North wanted this to be built, but now they don't use their part.

Here are two handsome S. Korean soldiers near the station.

Since it's hardly used, this is known as the cleanest train station in the world. I'm not sure...Japan's subway might rival this.

Guess who didn't want to pose for a photo with some more soldiers? We'll have to photoshop him in later.
Okay. Next stop was the Dora Observatory. From here you can see two villages, about 800 meters apart. One in the South and one in the North.
But, you can't take photos...

The interesting part was that the Northern village was fake--the buildings had painted windows. They called it a "propaganda village."

According to our guide, the two towns got into a flagpole war. The South gave in at 100 meters tall, after the North built theirs at 160 meters. We got to see these through the binoculars.

Next stop was the "third infiltration tunnel," a tunnel discovered in 1978. The North built it, supposedly to invade the South. Then they tried to claim that the South had built it.

This is not the is a monument outside.

At this stop, we parked the camera in a locker as required, donned hard hats, and descended 76 meters underground to walk into the tunnel. It was a long walk. It was cold. It was only 6 meters wide and high. It was damp. There were weird vibrations. They made us walk all the way in.

I did not like this part.

I practically ran the whole way out.

I'm still shuddering.

But of course, my boys all thought it was incredibly cool.

After the tunnel, we saw a little museum, as well as a short movie. (A bit of Southern propaganda, if you're a cynical type.)

Okay, next stop: A small grocery store near Unification Village. They sold rice from near the DMZ, known for being very pure (no factories nearby to contaminate the water, etc.)
Some produce.
And some beer and "wine" from North Korea.
Then we went back to Imjingak, back on our little bus to Seoul. They took us to an amethyst center (Korean amethysts are famous). Our boy Hugo has always loved a shiny object, so he liked it here.

Okay. DMZ tour is done and it's only 2pm! So next, we walked around the Namdaemun market. It looks like this.
About 50% of the stalls were selling fake Hermes and Chanel bags. The rest were selling ginseng, fake designer underwear, and other stuff.
Not sure what this is. I'm trying not to think about it.
A bowl of garlic...enough for about two meals here I expect.
Ginseng display.
Some kind of food. Sort of a fried dough with noodles and veg inside. Max and Hugo each tried one. Maybe Cathy knows what it is?
At about this time, we realized that if people here don't speak English, they speak Japanese. Being the worldly folks we are, we found this to be handy, because we can't say anything in Korean without looking at a cheat sheet.
We got the heck out of Namdaemun market and walked North.

Another photo for Cathy:
We are staying in the Insadong neighborhood, so we walked around. We loved this honey-cornstarch candy act.
We are tourist suckers. These funny guys got us to spend 11000 won on their candy. Then we saw 10 more stands doing exactly the same schtick, up and down the street. Oh well. What can I say? They made us laugh, saying "Oh my God! O!M!G!" in unison.
At last, we stopped in a Mom and Pop place...rather divey, frankly, but the food was okay. Here you can see Max trying to cope with low blood sugar until his food arrives.
And that was our first day in Seoul!


  1. Starbuck is taking over the world!!! Surprised that they didn't post their logo. Wonder if it's a fake Starbucks? Koreans do fake really well...

    'Tis the season for nangmyun (cold buckwheat noodls)...typically paired with kalbi. Bet there are some good specialty shops...yummm...

    Can't tell what the fried dough thing is...hummm...

    Namdaemun Market was there when I lived in Korea. I think it's fairly close to where I used to live...

  2. By the way, I've been teaching Mira Korean. She deciphered Starbucks Coffee all by herself! :)

  3. Perhaps you'll indulge me with your insights as to the differences between Koreans and the Japanese? Besides the obvious love of garlic

  4. Where are the tourist shops with the Kim Jong Il bobble-head dolls?