Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Today I have officially been in Korea for one year!

I feel really good about this. It's been an amazing year and I have become so comfortable since wandering out of Incheon airport one year ago in a fit of nerves and uncertainty. I'm ready to head home to spend time with my family and friends but I will miss Korea so so much. I grew up a lot here. I learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of. 

And there have been so many awesome experiences. Korea is an amazing country with a lot to offer. Sure, there are things that I won't be sorry to say goodbye to, like squatter toilets and the smell of bundaegi. But the things about Korea that I will miss far outnumber the things that I will not.

I pretty much have hit everything on my "Things to do in Korea" list except that since the spring I've really wanted to rent a bike and ride along the Han River. So today Brianna and I finally decided to do just that. We woke up early and took the train to Yeouinaru Station, right by the 63 Building, and rented a couple of bikes. 
It was a perfect day for it. The park was almost completely empty which meant there weren't many other bikers and though the day was chilly it felt nice once we were riding for a while. I can't remember the last time I rode a bike! Which is sad! I always liked riding one during summer vacations when my family rented a cottage by the beach because the neighborhood was big and flat and there weren't many cars and it's a nice way to spend an afternoon, just cruising around. 

The bike path is something like 40 kilometers long and it's a really nice ride. We only rented ours for a couple of hours but the area we biked was mostly flat with a few hills thrown in. It follows right along the river so the view is decent and there are lots of places to rest, use the bathroom, or get a drink at a water fountain (or a snack at a convenience store) along the way. 
After that we headed to City Hall Station to find lunch. We ended up at a Vietnamese restaurant and I had a weird feeling of coming full circle because I remember that my first meal in Korea when I got here exactly a year ago was at a Vietnamese restaurant too. I usually don't eat Vietnamese food so, I don't know, it was just a strange thing I guess. The whole day just felt like saying goodbye and that added to it somehow.

Then we headed to Deoksugung Palace to check out the Seoul Museum of Art which is located on the palace grounds. We were actually just at this palace last week but it was at night and the museum wasn't open then.
We were AWWWing so loud at this adorable little boy. 
The museum wasn't really what I was expecting and was kind of a let down. I guess I thought it was going to be much bigger, my mistake, and we were done in about 30 minutes. It holds four exhibit halls and is currently running an exhibit called "Art of Communication".
Each artist had a few of their works on display and I only cared for one or two of them. Then again I don't really like contemporary art so maybe if there had been a different exhibition running it would have been more enjoyable.

After the museum Brianna headed back to Incheon and I went down the street to Kyobo Bookstore to check off one last thing on my Korean to-do list. Since the store is next to Gwanghwamun Square I stopped to take some pictures.
Admiral Yi Sun-sun, a famous commander from the Joseon Dynasty and all around badass dude
Sejong the Great, fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, creator of the Korean alphabet (Hangul) and the face on your ₩10,000 bank note. Also it is difficult to see in my photo (I need to get a zoom lens) but on the left, at the foot of the mountain is Cheongwadae, called the Blue House, where the President lives.
I love Gwanghwamun Square. I was actually there last weekend for the first time and couldn't believe it had taken me so long to see it. It was nighttime then and the place was buzzing with people just relaxing on the grass and talking with friends. It's just a really cool place. You don't leave Korea without knowing who Admiral Yi Sun-sin and King Sejong are. They are huge figures here. So being in this place with their statues looking out over the city and the President's House behind them and all these people around felt rather like being in Washington D.C. and looking out at the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial. I think the idea is the same, you get the same vibe, it holds the same significance. 

I think really what I am most happy about as I look back on my year here is that I squeezed as much out of the experience as possible. I know some people who come to Korea and leave without having done much more than sit at the local bar week after week. And hey the local bars can be great, it's part of the experience. But there is so much to this country that every week I have done or eaten or seen or tried something new. I went up mountains, into caves, swam in the Yellow Sea, wandered countless museums, walked through a tunnel toward North Korea, explored temples and palaces, and so much more.

Everyone comes to Korea for different reasons and I know it's not my place to judge what you do with your time. But I will say that if you don't get out and explore you are missing out big time. There are endless adventures to be had no matter what sort of things you are interested in. Don't leave without partaking in some of them!

(It's okay if you skip the squat toilets though)

Trivia of the Day: Jeju Loveland (제주러브랜드) (also known as Love Land) is an outdoor sculpture park on Jeju Island in South Korea. Twenty artists, mainly graduates of top art school Hongik University, helped open it in November 2004. The park is focused on a theme of sex, running sex education films, and featuring 140 sculptures representing humans in various sexual positions. It also has other elements such as large phallus statues, stone labia, and hands-on exhibits such as a "masturbation-cycle." Jeju Love Land is a place where art and eroticism meet in cool, fun, humorous styles.

*Jeju was recently named as one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World and since then I've seen a few supposed "facts" saying something like, "There is an island in Korea that is full of sex statues and it was just named a wonder of the world". Ehhh, not quite. Love Land is only a park on the island and it's a pretty reasonable location for it considering that Jeju is a honeymoon spot for Korean newlyweds. 

1 comment:

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