Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shopping, Nandaemun-style

Needing to purchase some Christmas lights, I headed over to Nandaemun, a large market area in Seoul.  Still early (for Seoul) on a Sunday morning, the streets were rather empty. If you have enough time to look around (and perhaps bargain), one can find quite a bit in Nandaemun and at better prices than department stores. Food can be purchased street-side or in the shops. Something for everyone. If you wait until the afternoon though, the streets may be packed with shoppers and sellers alike. 

The Christmas decorations and huge numbers of stalls and stores selling winter jackets was a strong reminder of the season to come. Not sure if I'm ready though...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reflections of Fall in Korea

Although the chill is fast following the changes in the trees, I definitely must say that fall in Korea is just beautiful. So many of the days are sunny, with clear, blue skies. Add to that the spectacular colors, and you have a splendid recipe!
Below are two photos I took this past weekend, while walking through the Yonsei University campus on the way to my apartment. On the upcoming crisp, grey days, such photos will surely warm me up!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Flaming Bush

Although the peak of fall in Seoul has now past, there still are enough reminders of fall's beauty around.  I was drawn to the deep redness of this bush/tree, with its leaves ablaze and cascading towards the ground. Against the sunny clear sky, it was a sight to behold.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Washed out at the DMZ

After many beautiful weekends, the day our tour to the DMZ between North and South Korea was to take place ended up being a rainy, dreary day. Photographic opportunities were a near zilch, between the steady rain and fog. At the Panmunjeom Joint Security Area occupied and possessed by both the UN and North Korea, the North Korean soldiers were no where to be seen. We couldn't even go into the blue building on that day, which would have enabled us to momentarily step over the line into the North Korean administered area. 

At the observatory, fog obscured any view of North Korea. A drive through the DMZ took us through areas that were quite silent and void of any action, on or off the road. While the forested area looked rather serene, our army guide explained that land mines were scattered throughout the region. With the absence in human interference in the 4km wide by 250 km long heavily militarized border, a number of species not seen in other areas have flourished. The guide recalled seeing what is known as a vampire deer.  The one place not hampered by the rain was the tour down the Third Infiltration Tunnel. About 1,600 m long and 350 m below ground, this tunnel, discovered in 1978, is only 44km from Seoul and could have accommodated 30,000 troops per hour. A hard hat was a welcome accessory in the rather low-ceilinged tunnel.

We also visited the train station of Dorasan. Hailed as a symbolic place for national unification, this rather new (and well maintained) train station once allowed special travel between the two Koreas, but since 2009, the station has been the final stop, no more entering the northern country. Our guide from the USO in Seoul talked about a factory in North Korea that made a South Korean-brand snack cake and whose workers were given some of the cakes as a bonus. Instead of eating them, the workers would sell the prized snack and use the money for basic necessities. 

At the train station, the rain momentarily subsided, granting me the opportunity to take this photo. Indeed, this area of the Koreas is equally as beautiful as what is found down south. It is the fervent hope of many that one day such beauties can be shared with a unified country and re-united family members.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuckered Out

After a long stroll through the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul on the day of Chuseok (harvest festival), this young girl succumbed to her need for a nap on the stairs of a building in the queen's quarters. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Common no More

During the Joseon Dynasty, this scene in the palaces likely would have been rather common - women and men wearing colorful hanbok outfits. Literally meaning "Korean Clothing," the hanbok, with its simple lines, underwent many changes throughout the years - some due to practicality reasons and others influenced by fashion from neighboring countries. Today, however, its use is reserved for only special occasions and TV drama. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ten Longevity Chimney

Located on a wall surrounding the rear garden by the Queen Dowager Jo's residence of the Gyeongbokgung Palace is what is known as the Ten Longevity Chimney. It contains ten smoke vents that are connected to each room of the queen's residence, providing the heated floor system known as Ondol. The front of the chimney contains ten longevity symbols, each bestowing wishes for the health and happiness of the queen. Labeled as a historical treasure, it is seen as the finest of all chimneys built during the Joseon period.

Red through the Gold

Located at the rear of the Deoksugung Palace in Seoul, this structure completed in 1900 is a mixture of Western and Korean styles. Whereas I found the Seokjojeon Neoclassical style building to be quite out of place, I rather like the combination here. On this fall day, the golden tree motifs surrounding the veranda, along with the gorgeous flaming tree framed by the veranda scrolled roof made the scene all the more memorable. Hard to believe that skyscrapers and embassies lay just beyond the wall in a city of over 10 million.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Feminine side of Gyeongbokgung Palace

Located towards the rear of the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, the area known as Hyangwonjeong is one of the most picturesque areas of the palace. The small pavilion pictured here lacks the imposing feeling of the main throne hall and even the other pond-surrounded pavilion known as Gyeonghoeru. With its collection of water lilies, distant mountains, and a narrow bridge, the area exudes tranquility. In this section of the palace, a separate living quarters known as Geoncheonggung was built in 1873 for the king and queen. 

Tragically, Geoncheonggung was the scene of the Japanese assassination of Queen Myeongseong in 1895. After that, many of the buildings were demolished so a Japanese Governor-General's residence could be built. After that, the garden area became residence for the US military-led government, and then as a residence for the Korean president. Restoration of the area was completed in 2007.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Mali without Music?

Having lived in Mali, I can attest that music is at the heart of Malian culture. Whether it be in the back of a baché (public transport van), street corner wedding celebration, eating place, or any public gathering location, the incredible melodies played on traditional and Western-style instruments permeate the air. Many of its musicians, particularly those in the south, are multi-generational griots, dating back to times of the Malian kingdoms. Music is society's way of retelling history, celebrating events, sharing ones' woes, praises and testaments of love and whatever forms of expression one needs to communicate. 
According to a Public Radio International article I read yesterday, the very future of music in the northern part of Mali is in peril. Following a Tuareg revolt in the north, in March 2012 the government of the country was overthrown in a coup over displeasure of its perceived mishandling of the revolt. Since then, Ansar Dine, a group with reported links to al Qaeda has stepped in to take control over the northern portion of the country, seeking to impose a Sharia Islamic law over its inhabitants. According to this fundamentalist, extremist set of Islamic laws, any music besides devotional music is banned. While this is certainly an unpleasant shock to the everyday life of most citizens in this area, for its musicians, it means a loss of income. Instruments and amplifiers have been burned, and musicians have been threatened with amputation. Some musicians, such as the Tuareg (Tamasheq) group Terakaft have resorted to live outside of their homeland country. Unable to return to their beloved desert lands, these blues singers certainly have something to pine for.

For Mali and the world that has come to love the incredible music of this West African country, the loss of music here and its musicians would be a global tragedy.

See more paintings of Mali by Melissa Enderle at

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Through the Gate

Right across the pond from the Buyongjeong pavilion is the much larger Juhamnu building. Since we are not permitted to go up to the building, I had to enjoy it from afar. With its rather narrow frame, the gate leading up to Juhamnu feels rather top-heavy when looking at it from straight-on. Get closer and at an angle, and it becomes a soaring beauty. What a view the royal family and its visitors must have had from the balcony of the Juhamnu building. Such tranquil beauty.