9 Lessons on Feeding the Body – on the Cheap!


Ah restaurants! One of the intense joys, and most frightening aspects of extended travel in an unknown city is deciding where to eat. I’ve picked winners so good I was blown away – and losers so bad, I feared for my digestive system. But along my culinary journey into the unknown – I have learned some important lessons – which I happily share.

Lesson 1: Believe in the Impossible – I’m a budget traveler – which means I travel on under $50 a day – a seemingly impossible task actually. I’m definitely getting tired of reading how travel under $100 a day is impossible. Not true! I’ve done 8 big trips in the past 10 years – and trust me – budget travel is possible. You can try almost everything a country has to offer – aside from the seriously touristy junk – just by living more like locals – and less like accidental tourists. Just have faith.

Lesson 2: Grocery stores can be your Friends – Seriously – that’s where locals shop, right? And many grocery stores these days cater to locals who have no time to cook at home. Often you can score entire meals that just require a bit of re-heating – but are properly prepared, and come with friendly advice. In a grocery store in Thailand we happened on a clerk with time to spare – and she gleefully gave us a full guided taste tour of all the offerings! When she finished – we stuffed! Best Dinner, ever! Another advantage of grocery stores – price tags! So you know what things cost without having to bargain. That’s a lot easier on a poor language frustrated budget oriented foreigner. Yes you might get a bit better deal at the markets – but the advantage of knowing before you hit the cash that you’ve stayed on budget is a huge plus – particularly the first few days.

Lesson 3: NEVER eat in a restaurant with only tourists as guests. Consider – if all the restaurant is catering to are tourists – what does it say about their repeat clientele? If the locals are there – there must be a reason. My favorite places are filled with happy locals – I fondly remember a breakfast in Puerto Rico where the local police force were enjoying the Puerto Rico version of donuts and coffee. Hot food, quickly served, Delicious.

Lesson 4: Avoid Buffets like the Plague – I’ve never really understood Buffet eating. First off – I have a fairly tiny appetite – so I’ll never eat enough to make it worth the price. Second – who ever saw locals in a buffet? Even here in Montreal – I’m very picky about going to a buffet – and if I do – you can be sure it’s going to be amazing. Third – Hygene issues abound. People put their hands on the food – and then decide not to take it. Yuk. And they cough and sneeze and blow their noses right over what may become my dinner. Yuk again. Ordering from the kitchen doesn’t guarentee that hygene rules will be respected – but at least my food is only exposed to the kitchen staff and servers – and I can hope they have been well trained. Exceptions to this rule – I do like buffet breakfasts – particularly the ones included in my room rate. Why – because I love eating fruit and drinking unlimited cups of coffee!

Lesson 5: Never eat in an empty Restaurant. I mean – why would you want to go where no one else has gone. What does that say about food turn-over? Unless the kitchen is making the food literally to order – an empty restuarant means that the food is sitting, cooling down, increasing in bateria count – waiting for someone to enter. Nope – not for me. I want a restaurant with a good crowd – at least partly locals – and a positive vibe. I’ve traveled with people who feel sorry for the hostess of an empty restaurant – but not my style – and hardly my recommendation.

Lesson 6: Avoid Hostess out on the street trolling for customers. Come on – be serious – why do you think they are out there? Because business is great? I don’t think so. They are out there because business is bad, and they think this will improve matters. But I don’t want to eat where business is bad – nor do you!

Lesson 7: Share the meal. In Europe, at lunch time, restuarants will often have a 3 course special. The Intrepid Traveller and I have discovered that there is enough food in one 3 course lunch to serve us both. Problem – not all restaurants are willing to serve one ‘lunch’ for two people. So – we ask. I’m actually amazed when the host says – “No Problem” – but it happens more often than not. Result – Delicious food and on budget!

Lesson 8: Don’t be afraid to ‘eat in’. A bottle of wine (2 Euros in most of Italy), Sausage, cheese, bread… You are feeding the soul when you eat like this – and it’s easy on both the budget and the feet.

Lesson 9: Walk Out if you must. Oh – this is so hard for us to do. We try not to be trapped in places we can’t afford – but it has happened. And the trick is to realize that you are in the wrong place, appologize and leave. Yes – it’s embarassing – but at least you are being honest. Be sure to look a bit ashamed – I always imagine the other diners are feeling a bit sorry for you.

So – enough advice about feeding the body – although I can’t resist just reminding my loyal readers that the best advice ever is just to be curious – be willing to take chances, and follow the locals. Budget travel doesn’t have to be cheap travel – and you can eat really well if you find the right places!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Glee and Flash Mobs in Korea – Why Not?


You never know what you’ll see just wandering around a city like Seoul, and I guess seeing the Korean version of Glee is a perfect example of what makes Seoul such an outstanding place to visit!

We were just walking into the King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sunshin Exhibits when I spotted a sign on a stage saying – I’m guessing actually – tonight 6:30 – 7:20. I didn’t know exactly what they’d be doing – but hey – it was a nice night – we were going to be there at the right time – why not.

So when we finished seeing the outstanding exhibit on Admiral Yi Sunshin, we walked out into the setting sun and seated ourselves on the stone benches to wait for the ‘event’ to start. Almost as soon as we’d sat down, a young man runs up to us with seat cushions – oops – missed those when we walked in!

The crowd was decidedly young – I’m talking from 15 to maybe 30 – so to say we stood out would be too obvious. But hey – not the first time I’ve stood out in the last few weeks. No problems.

A few minutes later – the show begins! On stage are 2 electric pianos, a guitar, and a drum set – and the performers are from the Seoul Arts College. I’m guessing this is an end of the year production showcasing their accomplishments – from dancing (hip-hop or grunge or traditional) to singing. From the all Korean brochure they handed out – I’m guessing at least 2 have been featured on TV shows, and they sure all looked adorable.

The instruments were on stage for 3 numbers, then they were removed to allow more space for dancing. Sometimes the teams rushed on stage from the sides, but at one point the kids, who had been sitting as members of the audience – jumped up and run onto the stage right past us. At another point – a lovely group of young ladies in traditional clothes glided onto the stage and performed a very beautiful fan dance.

20130607-072154.jpg

20130607-072212.jpg

Music – good, dancing – wonderful, enthusiasm – catching! Final grade – A+

As the show ended, two young ladies (22 years old it turns out) approached us to ask if they could interview us for their class. They are studying English translation at a nearby college, and had been asked to practice their interviewing skills. Both of us agreed of course – and gladly answered their questions – yes we enjoyed the show, yes we liked traveling around Korea, yes we’re from Canada, yes Korea is a great place. My interviewer was Lee Woo-I – and she gladly posed for a picture.

20130607-071635.jpg

20130607-071653.jpg

We were just finishing up when the flash mob happened – it was on the square directly in front of us – and featured about 200 young people – who gathered – did a line dance (everyone does the same steps – in unison) to music from a speaker system – and then just as quickly disappeared.

Nice ending to a nice day, eh?

Signing off – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Heroes of Korea’s Golden Ages – Admiral Yi Sunshin and King Sejong


“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797)

I think Edmund was onto something here – Knowing the past (not worrying about it – that’s different) isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing if you use it to help in the present!

And Koreans love their heroes – and two of the most famous, and most revered are King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sunshin. There are statues of them here and there, just about every museum mentions something about them, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they each rate an entire free exhibit, interestingly enough located in the basement of the Seoul Museum of Art. I’d seen signs for these exhibits when we’d first hit Seoul – but it took us almost our entire visit to get up the energy to go. I’m really sorry we waited. The exhibit on Admiral Yi Sunshin is fabulous, and while King Sejong’s isn’t quite as outstanding – it is remarkably informative.

First King Sejong. He was the fourth King of the Joseon Dynasty, he reigned from 1418 to 1450 (31 years!) and is most famous for having created the Korean alphabet (Hangeul). Just imagine that – until King Sejong – despite having their own language, Korean were using the Chinese pictogram system with its thousands of different images. King Sejong declared that Koreans deserved something better – and he created it with the help of advisers. He even wrote books and music in the new alphabet to help make it popular.

The Koreans went from having to learn tens of thousands of different symbols to learning just 28. Those 28 symbols (only 24 are in use today) were created by King Sejong, based on the way Korean is spoken. They are said to resemble the way your mouth moves when you are speaking Korean.

This I knew from countless other museum exhibits – what I didn’t know about the reign of King Sejong was that it was a golden age of invention. Under his inspiration, uniquely Korean musical instruments were created, uniquely Korean music was born, rain gauges were invented to help farmers, he had a manual written in his new alphabet to help farmers, there were multiple military advances, he inspired people to create astrological instruments, etc., etc.

Comparison note: Queen Elizabeth I reigned from 1533 to 1603 – 100 years later!

King Sejong passed many laws that were – for the time – extremely revolutionary, including one that allowed new mothers, even if they were slaves, time off work to care for their babies.

If you are inspired to learn more about King Sejong – and can’t hop on a plane to fly to Korea and visit this exhibit – at least check out the Wikipedia article about him:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sejong_the_Great
He is amazing. Exhibit was pretty good too.

But it was the exhibit on Admiral Yi Sunshin that I found the most intriguing. Remember – the Intrepid Traveler is a Docent in Montreal – so how museum exhibits are designed is almost as important to us as the information they are trying to convey. This exhibit neatly demonstrated almost all the newest ideas about how to ‘teach history’ – in one relatively tiny space.

Quick history – Admiral Yi Sunshin lived from 1545 to 1598. He created the ‘Turtle Ship’, a completely new warship and was instrumental in defeating the Japanese at sea during the Imjin War (the Japanese Invasions of Korea 1592-1598). In one of his most famous sea battles – he faced 131 Japanese war ships with only 13 of his own – and won. Not only did he win, but he didn’t lose a boat – and his ships destroyed 33 of the Japanese vessels before the Japanese retreated. Clearly an outstanding strategist.

He was demoted several times (not the easiest guy to get along with I’m thinking), he was actually stripped of his rank and imprisoned at one point, and yet he came back again and again to fight for his country. He was killed by a bullet during his last battle.

But it’s not this history, neat as it is, that made this exhibit so impressive – it was how they tried to make it interesting that most impressed me.

There was an interactive electronic picture book that was appeared in the language of your choice, and was read to you – in your language, as you ‘flipped’ the pages electronically. Cool.

There was an interactive game that put you and a friend on the rowing oar of a ‘turtle ship’ – invented by Admiral Yi Sunshin – chasing a fleeing Japanese vessel. There was a wooden model of a turtle ship (50% size) that you could enter to see what if felt like inside (very claustrophobic), there were 2 very realistic guns and 2 slow loading cannons of the period that you could ‘fire’ at attacking ships, there was a movie about one of his famous battles with sound effects on multiple screens with English sub-titles that ended with the screen disappearing and the model of the turtle ship suddenly appearing (remember – it’s huge), in front of you – as if you were being attacked.

There was even a 4D battle movie, about 8 minutes long, that featured puffs of air, water spray and moving chairs while you watched a naval battle unfurl in front of you. Well worth waiting to see.

2 Impressive Exhibits – both free, one opened on October 9, 2009 (Hangeul Day), the other opened on April 28, 2010 in honor of Admiral Yi Sunshin’s date of birth – and both running continuously since then. I’d rate these a must see if you visit Seoul – and I wouldn’t be alone there – they have had at least 230,000 visitors since they opened!

Signing off to go watch a Korean version of Glee (see tomorrows blog) – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Children’s Grand Park in Seoul – Go with the kids for a splashing good time!


Sometimes the best things are Free!

On Monday – the museums are closed in Seoul. So we ended up going to the Children’s Grand Park. This is reputed to be the largest of its kind – at least in Korea, and I must admit that it was huge.

As I’ve mentioned previously – Korean’s know how to do big public spaces – and this is another wonderful example. They thrown in a bit of everything – and most of it is free. The highlight of our visit, for the younger crowd (age 5 in our case), was the adorable water playground.

20130604-113926.jpg

It had fountains, it had mini-waterfalls, it had rocks, and bridges, and lots and lots of kids. Including an adorable pair of toddlers who proved why man invented ‘swmmies’ – diapers designed for swimming. They weren’t wearing them – and quickly were clothed in incredible soggy messes! Off with the diapers!

20130604-113939.jpg

There was also a Zoo – a tad tired around the edges, but it did have tigers, and leopards, and a Puma. I’d never seen a Puma before. The best exhibits were hidden away in separate buildings – I loved the bonsai tree garden, and found the kiddie zoo section quite cute.

One Koreanism that struck me as very funny was the Polar Bear exhibit. Yes they had a Polar Bear – for whom I felt very sad. But they had also created a photo moment of an Inuit with an Igloo. I couldn’t resist taking a picture – and got 2 willing Korean volunteers to pose for me. Based on this zoo’s image of Canada – Inuit are small – and vaguely resemble Santa Claus. Doesn’t it make you wonder what we have wrong in our Zoo’s?

20130604-115036.jpg

There is a sculpture garden made out of bits and pieces of everything (including ET) – quite fun to examine. And there are bridges to cross, animal shows that charge $, and 2 amusement parts – one for little kids, and one for bigger kids (More $), and the predictable junk to buy.

But really – it’s about the water playground if you are with kids – and that is well worth seeing.

Signing off – completely exhausted – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Are National Museums a Window into the soul of the Country?


I think that National Museums might be considered one Window into the Soul of a Country, along with school curriculum, and the employment rate. After all, what National Museums say, and what they don’t say, how they look, and how they are maintained, while not the only way to get to know a country, can be imagined by the visitor as one way to find out how the country sees itself and how at least officially it wants ‘foreigners’ to see them.

From this perspective – the National Museum of Korea in Seoul – the 12th most visited museum in the world – offers a unique and intriguing glimpse into how Korean see themselves.

20130604-111259.jpg

The Museum is huge – and extremely modern. I’ll give the Korean’s credit – they sure know how to do huge public spaces. This is not the first example I’ve seen of this kind of massive public building here in Korea – and if Museums are windows – the first look at this Museum says – I’m a huge house.

The landscaped grounds alone are impressive – acres and acres of lakes, sculptures, pagoda, entrance walkways, ramps, and gathering spaces. So large that I can’t even imagine walking around the entire complex – not if I wanted to see the Museum too.

And it’s clean and it’s all free. Only the special exhibits carry a charge – and the next one is a bit surprisingly entitled – “Art in America”. The good news – it hadn’t opened yet – so we were free to concentrate on seeing the Permanent (Rotating) collections. The museum’s total collection is 330,000 pieces – only 13,000 of which can be displayed at any one time. They have 67 National Treasures, 131 General Treasures, and 4 folklore assets.

There are 3 huge floors – each one large enough to be considered a museum on its own, a gigantic and un-photograpable rotunda paved in marble, a children’s museum which we could not enter (no kids with us), a huge and moderately priced restaurant on the main floor, 2 more restaurants on other floors, a tea room, a gift shop that stretched at least 500 feet, free lockers for back-packs, stroller rental, cell phone charging station (not sure why on that), an information booth, and an audio rental booth with 2 kinds of guides – an audio only one and a fancier Samsung version complete with pictures. The pleasant hostess told us that foreigners tend to like the simpler one better – so we opted for that. Grabbing our maps – we headed into the Museum proper.

Korea is extremely proud of its history – and there is evidence of sophisticated civilizations on the Korean Peninsula since pre-historic times. Clearly this pride rings out thru the museum – and is one of the reasons I felt that I was looking into the soul of the country. School groups, even on Sunday, were present though out the museum, but unlike other groups we’ve seen – these groups were small in numbers (10 to 12 max) – and the instructors focused the kids attention on selected small sections. Discussions were clearly animated and conversational not lectures. Very different from what we’d seen in other Museums on other days.

The first floor of the museum covers the history of Korea – from Paleolithic to what is called on the map – Early Modern – but in fact ended just prior to the invasion by Japan in 1905. This in itself is interesting. Nothing in the museum dates from the last 100 years. Consider the meaning of this – is the modern history of Korea inappropriate for the National Museum? Is it not interesting? Is there nothing worth collecting? To say I was surprised by the abrupt end of the ‘history’ section is an understatement, and left us wondering who and why this happened.

There were several extremely interesting sections in the ‘history’ portion – primarily a copy of a book printed in moveable metal type 71 years before Gutenberg’s bible and an exhaustive explanation (in English) of the events between the end of the Silla era and the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty. We’d been wondering what had happened during those almost 500 years – and we finally got to find out.

The most interesting parts of the exhibits on the 2nd floor were the collections of works donated by individuals to the museum. It is amazing how many beautiful things are saved by the actions of just a few individuals.

The third floor was split into two sections – One half was a series of mini-rooms devoted to the art from other Asian countries – most impressive of which was an animated multi-part Chinese painting. As you watched, the seasons changed, people moved around the landscape, night fell, snow-covered the ground, the moon rose. All very beautiful and very peaceful. The 2nd section was devoted to pottery (see one pot, seen most..) and a fabulous collection of Statues of Buddha rescued from various temples around the country. Easily my favorite part.

Bottom line – this is a huge museum – there are highlights, a lot of things to see – and while nothing outstanding breath-taking, well worth the full day it took us to see all 3 floors. And such a great price point – free!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Mise-en-Scene – a must see exhibit – coming to a museum near you!


While we were in Seoul, the LEEUM Museum was putting on what might be one of the best ‘special’ exhibits I’ve even seen. It’s too late to see it in Seoul – it’s gone as of June 2, 2013 – but something this good will surely be re-appearing at a Museum near you. Keep your eyes peeled!

The theme of ‘Mise-en-Scene’ is theatre – as it applies to moving images, stage sets and the like. Leaving aside the ‘blab blab’ of the curators – the resulting collection of works by assorted artists was both intriguing, unforgettable, and surprising.

The first major piece is a series of 12 video monitors by Adad Hannah – each showing a bit more of a scene. In the first – there is a simple close up of a woman’s face and a man’s hand. In the next monitor – the camera has pulled back just a bit, showing more of the man’s hand. As the camera apparently pulls back further and further, more of the scene is revealed – you gradually realize that the man is turned away from the woman, and is actually looking at another woman who has just entered the room. In the final monitor, you see that in fact the entire scene is a scene within a scene – there is another camera man, a prompter, sound crew, etc. At the end of the installation is the room itself. You are left wondering what you were thinking when you saw the first few monitors – thinking about thinking in the Buddhist vocabulary.

20130602-093412.jpg

The next several pieces are works by Jung Yeondoo. In all of them – there is a trick – not everything you see in the final ‘photograph’ is real. For example – one image is of a woman apparently sitting in a boat on a lake. But alongside the final image is a photograph of how the first image was created – the lake is a backdrop, the lady is real, but the boat is a flat cut-out prop. In another series – the first photograph is a battle scene – an explosion with dirt flying, 3 men running for cover, a fourth man being blown away. But the reality is that only 2 men are real – the dirt is being spread from above, the rest of the scene – including the tank – are again cut-outs. These are so cool.

20130602-093312.jpg

We also got to see several of the works from the Feast of Trimalchio by AES+F. Check this out on the internet – these are huge format photographs with 20 or more people taking part. The final photographs are created by taking pictures of small groups of two to 6 people – then pasting the individual pictures together. The theme is also interesting – a decadent roman festival set in modern times. The background is a modern resort with a beach, housekeeping maids, golf pros, chaise lounges, and – true to the theme – decadent looking customers. The final pictures are replete with detail – the construction method intriguing.

20130602-093400.jpg

There were also 3 video sections.
The first by Eve Susman and the Rufus Corporation is an 89 second video that captures the action just before and just after the scene captured in Velazquez’s las Meninas. Look it up if you do not know the reference, but to help you out – here’s the picture. Now just imagine all those various characters – from the artist to the dwarfs – coming to life.

20130602-094331.jpg

The original painting shows a members of the Spanish Court – and dates from 1656. The painting shows people looking in different directions, some towards the artist, some away – and even shows the artist himself in front of the easel. What the video does is show all the same people – dressed exactly as they are in the painting – but moving around and interacting with each other. At one precise moment – it all snaps together into the painting – but then the performers continue to move – deconstructing just as the finished constructing the famous painting.

The 2nd video was even more intriguing. Done by Yang Fudong, it is 7 different movie screens – each showing a different view of a specific landscape with a cast of interesting characters. The characters move in and out of the different screens, things behind them change positions and travel also from screen to screen. Filmed in black and white, and completely open to any and all interpretation, it is again a challenge to your thought processes. What did you think was going on – did you expect what happened to happen. Are you predicting what will occur – or do you not see the screens as connected. Consider how interesting – art that makes you think about thinking.

20130602-093349.jpg

The final piece – by Zin Kijong – is the hardest to describe. The viewer is in a space between 2 parts of the installation. On one side is a series of models – dioramas that capture a single moment in time. In front of them is a track on which 2 cameras are placed, each one slowly moving past the models. On the other side of the space are 2 video monitors – each showing the ‘view’ of one of the cameras. The models have been designed to create a story in the mind of the watcher – again – making you think about what you are thinking.

20130602-093324.jpg

So – keep your eyes open for exhibits by any or all of these artists. There work is outstanding. I just can’t believe how fortunate the Intrepid Traveler and I were to wander into this Special Exhibit. And how glad we were that we did.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Outstanding – the LEEUM Samsong Museum of Art


Contemporary Art Museums are always a bit of gamble. Sometimes you win – sometimes you lose. This one was a winner. One of the best Museums we’ve seen in Korea – and maybe one of the best I’ve ever seen. World Class in every respect. Like the grading system in Harry Potter – Exceeds Expectations.

The building – actual 3 different interlocking buildings – are worth a look-see just on their own. As you can see from the photograph that Jill is holding – on the left is a rectangular building with windows, in the middle ground is the brown building designed to remind viewers of a fort (on the left) and a pot (on the right). On the extreme right – labeled memories of the future, is the third part – a lopsided jigsaw of black walls. Under the green grass in the middle (behind Jill and the ‘silver’ ball sculpture) is the main lobby of the museum.Plus, inside the first building is a suspended concrete black box (apparently the first of its kind) that holds an entire traveling exhibit.

20130602-081247.jpg

What you can’t see in the photo Jill is holding – but you can see in my picture is the gigantic Hyatt that got built just behind the Museum, and literally dwarfs it.

Trust me – seeing is much better than trying to describe.

But it’s not about the outside of a museum – it’s about the inside – and this one has insides to die for! We got the digital guide – a Samsung smart tablet that allowed you to see videos of the objects and rotate them at will, link to further information, plus provided an audio guide – and a guide to the artist with a bit of their history. Bottom line – coolest guide I’ve ever used. And it was controlled wireless by the art work – you moved close to a piece – it began to talk to you. Move away – and the next piece started to ‘chat’. Way cool.

Of the 5 distinct exhibits – 3 permanent, 2 temporary – two were completely outstanding – of the do not miss this – variety. The other 3 exhibits were good – just not amazingly awesome great. My plan – I’ll review the Permanent one in this blog – then cover the ‘traveling’ exhibit – which was amazing – in the next blog.

So – Outstanding Exhibit 1 – Permanent – “Modern Art”. This was 3 floors (80 pieces) of outstanding art, extremely well ‘curated’ in the audio guide – but clearly labeled by Artist, Date, and Title in the Museum itself. On the top floor were the works by the Korean contemporary Artists – names that I didn’t recognize of course – but art I won’t soon forget. There was a glorious scene of mountains that combined Korean Classical penmanship with modern sensitivities to create a scene full of movement and drama. I didn’t need the guide to tell me to admire the dramatic curves of the path, the stream with its nude bathers, the rocks, the fog, or the mountains. Stunning. Another favorite on the third floor was called something like ‘The Modern Woman’ in Korean. It featured a drawing of a very typical middle-aged Korean peasant woman showing the traditional effects of the hard life of a farmer (wrinkled skin, chunky body, thick muscular arms and legs) holding up a ‘modern’ dress about 6 sizes too small. East meets West, Expectation meets Reality. Traditional confronts the Future. Very powerful, very simple, unforgettable.

On the 2nd and first floor were a mix of works by international acclaimed artists and internationally known Korean artists. I only have time and space to describe a few of these amazing pieces.

There were 3 works by Mark Rothko, meaningful because I saw the play ‘Red’ (the story of Mark Rothko) in Montreal just before leaving the city. There was a wonderful series by a Korean artist who took clothes racks and decorated them to reflect the current state of Korean confusion – modern vs traditional, appealing junk vs ‘mom’s’ boring conservative tastes. Very interesting.

I also liked a gigantic cyborg woman, hung dramatically from the ceiling, and a simple piece of just a large rock and a sheet of iron. The contrast between natural and man-made – and your ability as the viewer to move around and within the piece made it very captivating – way more interesting than I can easily explain. I also liked a large pentagonal mirrored surface that fractured any image – creating an interesting play on the term – mirror.

The majority of the pieces were well-lit, easy to see and to enjoy. One exception, and I hate to be negative, was an installation called ‘Death’ that was composed of several thousand pills. The problem? To protect the installation, they had used several large sheets of glass. Since they were highly reflective – the result was the piece across was reflected so strongly that it was almost impossible to see the pills.

On the other hand – a pair of life-sized ‘models’, cunningly made by pasting photographs on the appropriate body part were so well position in a corner that it was hard to realize they weren’t alive. On top of these pieces, there was an Easter Egg by Jeff Koons, a statue by Alberto Giacometti and a piece by Andy Warhol.

I always think that if I see 2 or 3 pieces I enjoy – I’ve done well. But in this one part of this museum, at least 2/3rds of the art was if not wonderful, at least approachable. Having the audio guide helped of course.

Come back tomorrow to hear about an even more impressive part of the museum – a traveling exhibit called ‘Mise-en-Scene’.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Lessons from South Korea


Having been here for several weeks – the intrepid traveler and I agree that there are somethings that Koreans just do a whole lot better than we in North America do – and what would a ‘blog’ be if we didn’t let you guys in on the facts? I hereby challenge us in North America to beat the Koreans at this game!

1. Greet your incoming guests – as soon as they walk in the door. Here in South Korea you never walk into a restaurant or a shop without someone immediately greeting you with a smile and hello and welcome. Not a snarly “how can I help you”, but a sincere sounding “Welcome”. Makes you feel glad you walked in.

2. Stand up when people walk up to you. Here in South Korea, if we walk into an information booth or up to a hotel reception desk and the staff is seated – immediately all the staff stand up, bow, and say welcome. It’s really nice. There’s eye contact – and you know that they are attentive to your request. Even if there are 2 gals – and clearly only one is going to respond – both stand up – and stay standing until you leave. They don’t chat on their cell phones, pretend to be busy on their computers, or keep their heads down to ignore you. Nope – they stand up. Every time!

3. Say thank you when people leave your place of business. On the buses, when you walk out the door, there is an automated ‘thank you’. When you press your pass to the machine – it says – ‘Thank you’ to acknowledge receipt. When you leave a shop – even if you didn’t buy anything – the staff says ‘Thank you’. How nice is that!

4. During a wedding ceremony – thank the guests, and thank your parents. I’ve seen 3 weddings so far – and in every single one, at the very beginning the mothers of the bride and groom walk down the aisle first – and light candles to thank the ancestors. And at the end, before the ‘you may now kiss the bride and run down the aisle’ part – the bride and groom – together – officially thank their parents – who stand, face the crowd and are applauded. And the Bride and Groom also bow and thank the guests. How nice is that. I’ve been to weddings where one side or the other was ignored because they didn’t feel comfortable about making a speech. By officially thanking them – no speech is required – it’s just a formal acknowledgement that without the ancestors and without the parents – no wedding would have take place today.

Another Beautiful and Unique moment in a Korean Wedding – the groom kneels in front of his bride – and presents her with a bouquet of flowers… not a dry eye in the house – trust me!

20130526-050013.jpg

5. Smile at strangers. We’ve been at the Kensington – a big and basically Korean only Resort – for over a week. And while the guests change – the politeness doesn’t. People here smile when you walk past – they don’t just shove you out-of-the-way – or worse – ignore you. They take a second to smile, and if you smile back – their smile goes all the way to the eyes. It’s nice.

20130526-045938.jpg

6. Clean up after yourself – Even on the Beach. There are not a lot of trash cans, and those they have they hide (check under the cash – see the flap – that’s the trash!) – but there isn’t a lot of trash on the ground either. People come prepared to gather their garbage – and because everyone cleans a little bit, the place in general stays clean. Now it’s not like Rwanda (where the President mandated no plastic bags and a monthly – everyone must clean – policy) – but it’s pretty nice.

7. Men shouldn’t be afraid to carry ladies purses. We’ve seen guys – and I mean older men – in their 50’s and 60’s – cheerfully carrying their wife’s purses. It’s the in thing. (Ok – I agree – shocked me the first time too.)

Just little things – but things you notice – and remember – and they add up to a wonderful place to visit.

20130526-051949.jpg

Korean Attractions Smack-Down – What to see – and what NOT to see!


Ranked from our least favorite to our trip highlight – these are the attractions in Korea that we loved and thought – Boring! Check it out.

10. North of Sokcho – Fisheries Museum – Charge (Getting there – take the #1 or #1-1 Bus from Sokcho – and just keep going and going and going. It’s about an hour ride, plus a 10 minute walk). We wanted an outing – and that’s what we got. Best part were the two 3D movies, otherwise the fish looked sad, and the tanks were too small. But the building is really neat looking, which kinda sucked us in. Go for the Maritime Museum in Busan if price is important, or the Busan Aquarium if you want to see fish. Forget this one.

9. Seoul – Namsangol Hanok Maeul (traditional Village) – Free. Best part – it’s open on Monday when almost everything in Seoul besides shopping is closed – and there’s a ‘costume’ rental on site. Koreans love to rent costumes and walk the village dressed in traditional clothes – and it’s a lot of fun to watch them. Plus – when we stayed in a traditional house in Gyeongiu – these traditional houses made more sense. There are English signs – and some of the rooms are ‘furnished’ – but most are either used for other purposes – like a ‘pay for’ tea ceremony or costume rental. Nice place to visit when everything else is closed – but that’s about it.

8. Seoul – Jongmyo (Royal Shrine) – Charge. We lucked into seeing this during the yearly Confusion ancestor Ceremony. If it hadn’t been for the costumed ceremony going on while we were there – I would rate this even lower. But meeting the ‘re-enactors’ after the performance of the rite was a hoot and a half as you can tell from the pictures.

20130525-232850.jpg

20130525-232904.jpg

7. Sokcho – Seoraksan National Park – Charge. (Getting there – Bus 7 from Sokcho goes to the main gate – and costs just 1100 Won ($1.10)). There are apparently 4 entrances to the Park – the bus from Sokcho takes you to just one of them. To get to the others – you’ll need to take a taxi. We decided that the main entrance was fine for us. We rode the Cable Car (Separate Charge) up to the top of Gwongeumseong. The guide book warned of long waits – but it was empty when we were there – no wait at all. At the top there is a lovely little temple down about 200 stair steps, and up from the Cable Car Station is a 20 minute hike to the peak of the Mountain. Marcel (5) and his Dad did that hike, I visited the temple. We then came back down and did 3/4 of the walk to Biryong Falls. Unfortunately, the path which was rated as easy walking, isn’t easy for a stroller – and that meant carrying baby Sophie. No fun. So we turned around and went back. The park is lovely – by Korean standards outstanding, but not up to standards of a Jackson Hole, Telluride, or even Stowe. Never-the-less – it’s a fun outing with kids. I particularly liked the tiny temple I visited, and there’s a huge Buddha near the main gate that hides a wonderful temple underneath. That was also worth a visit. I think the Park would be a lot more fun without a baby in a baby stroller. Maybe in a few years we will get to return.

20130525-232916.jpg

6. Busam – UN Memorial cemetery, Peace Park, Sculpture Garden – Free. I actually really liked this – the movie is a tear jerker – but it does goes a way towards explaining one version of the history of the Korean War. And since my Dad was a Korean War Vet – that definitely added a sense of drama to the location. The statues are in very good taste, the ‘Peace’ Garden lovely, and I liked the sculptures from artists around the world. We didn’t get to walk in the adjacent ‘park’ – but it had bridges and ponds – and seemed quite the in thing with a much younger (kids) crowd.

5. Seoul – 5 Palaces and the Biwon – the Secret Garden. We visited all 5 palaces, and I can tell you – don’t. Visit just 2 – Start with Deoksu which is right across from City Hall, and do the tour. That will give you a very good grasp of the history of the Joseon Dynasty – and a peek into what was going on right before and during the Japanese occupation starting in 1905. See the changing of the guard. Then walk North to Gyeongbokgung Palace, check out the guards – but don’t bother to tour. It’s huge, crowded, and just a much larger version of Deoksu – then walk East to Changdeok Palace – and my personal highlight – the tour of Biwon – the Secret Garden. It’s stunningly beautiful. You don’t want to miss it. You must take a guided tour – but it is well worth both the money and the time.

20130525-232939.jpg

20130525-232952.jpg

20130525-233004.jpg

20130525-233017.jpg

4. Busan – Haedong Yonggung Temple – Free (Getting there – Subway to Haeundae Station, then take bus 181. Attached to the temple is the Fisheries Museum – a must see in my book). This was the absolutely most commercial temple we saw. Lining the stone pathway to the temple proper were various Buddha’s with signs – in English and Korean – explaining their benefits. There was a Buddha for traffic problems (including a flat tire), a Buddha for male children, plus many other’s – each with its own collection box. But that didn’t really detract from the absolutely outstanding location of this temple. It is perched on cliffs hanging over the sea – with sub-temples tucked here and there. I particularly liked the gold painted Buddha that sits out on a promontory – all alone. The most fun we had here was people related – of course. Jill got approached by a young student, who explained that her teacher had sent them on a mission to get a picture with a foreigner. Would that be ok with Jill? Once Jill proved that she didn’t bite – the word spread like wildfire – every single one of her classmates come over to get their picture taken too. Bet that teacher is going to be surprised to get 30 pictures of the same pair of little old ladies! Touring hint – To the left along the sea from the temple is the back entry to the Fisheries Museum which we loved.

20130525-233031.jpg

20130525-233044.jpg

20130525-233057.jpg

20130525-233115.jpg

3. Busan – Beomeosa Temple – Free (Getting there – Subway to Beomeosa Station, taxi costs under $5 to take you up the hill to the temple. Getting back, it might be easier to take a bus – we were very lucky to flag a taxi.) Looks exactly like a temple should look – and feels like a temple should feel. Because we were there just before Buddha’s birthday – there were huge – and I mean giagantic lanterns shaped like animals, dragons, lions, monks, etc. on the grounds – all waiting to be paraded thru the town. The main temple is in 3 halls – each more beautiful than the last. The wooden carvings on the ceilings must be seen to be believed, twisting dragons, flying birds – you name it. I absolutely loved this temple – and I know now that they have a temple stay program. If I ever return to Korea – I definitely would like to stay here.

20130525-233127.jpg

20130525-233139.jpg

20130525-233152.jpg

2. Seoul – Cheonggyecheon Stream (Getting there – you can’t miss it – the stream (river?) runs through the center of Seoul) This is a beautiful bit of city planning – a lot like the new High Line park in New York City – it’s a stunning example of taking a problem, and making it into a positive urban renewal project. The Stream/Park/Walking trail runs most of the length of Seoul, and there are skipping rocks to cross the stream, wide paths for walking, benches for sitting – and at night they float lighted lanterns – some really really big – down the stream. Lovely. (The Insight Guide gives you some of the history of this new – 2005 – renovation – a remarkable story to read in itself.)

20130525-233204.jpg

1.Busam – Aquarium – Expensive (Getting there – walk from the Haeundae subway stop). An amazing aquarium – and I’ve seen lots. They have shark feedings several times a day – a tank of weedy dragon fish – which I’d never ever ever seen before, the jelly fish section is outstanding on it own, they have a giant walk thru tank that besides the sharks – contains the largest manta rays I’ve ever seen – even scuba diving in the Caymens. They have turtles, they have eels galore, and everything, including all the descriptions, is in English and Korean. Afterwards there’s a free hot springs foot bath to the right along the Haeundae Board Walk. And if you are lucky – Korean bathing beauties to admire. So much fun.

20130525-233228.jpg

20130525-233839.jpg

Korean Museum Smack-Down


The Intrepid Traveler and I love Museums – in fact that’s a big part of the reason we became Visitors instead of Tourists – guided tours never give you enough time in the Museums. We can easily spend 3 to 4 hours in a museum – we get the audio tour, we read every sign, we examine every display carefully. I mean – we love museums.

Now I know that not everyone likes museums the way we do, people don’t even like Aquariums the way we do. So instead of a blog on every museum we visited (it would take way too many days) – I’ve decided to rank them – from worst to best – and defend why.

8. Our least favorite Museum – The Sokcho Beach Nature Museum (Walking distance from the Express Bus Station). Size matters – and this one was a single large room on the 3rd floor of a building full of restaurants. The stellar attraction was a model of a dinosaur that was sensitive to movement. When you got close – the jaws moved. Marcel (age 5) loved it. The rest of the museum was a taxidermist dream come true. There was a mock-up of an aquarium – poorly preserved fish with a paper ‘sea’ background, no explanation in English, I’m not even sure there was an explanation in Korean. Most of the ‘fish’ were plaster models – I think. The next big section was a series of land animals – lions, tigers, wolves, coyotes, polar bears (?), and the like – again – either poorly done plaster models or really badly done taxidermy. The highlight, besides the view and the moving dinosaur, were a series of animal skeletons and 3 large models of sailing ships. I didn’t get the shell collection at all. For free – it was a fun way to entertain a 5-year-old, if I’d had to pay – it would have been a complete waste. Lots less fun than building sand castles – trust me.

7. Busan – Museum of Art (Modern/Contemporary) – Free. (Has its own subway stop) Modern art is always a challenge to the viewer – and while I always enter museums like this with a feeling of excitement, I often walk out wondering what the world is coming to. The current exhibit contained some really interesting pieces, and some really strange stuff. Highlight – art that ‘stripped’ the clothes off the people in the paintings when you stood in the right place. Bottom line – the price is right, and if you never go – you’ll never find out how artists are seeing the world we live in.

20130524-050157.jpg

6. Busan – Museum – Free. (Ask for directions – its right next to the UN Cemetery – and not hard to reach.). Best parts of this museum were the life-sized re-creations – including a street from 1900 (when they first had barber shops in Korea – before that men wore their hair long and never cut it), the amazing video footage of the aftermath of the war, and some of the displays from earlier periods. Free Audio tour is a must of course. I liked the use of walk over displays too. In one, the first street car in Busan drives down the road. This museum is a must on the school tour circuit – and I got trapped between an exhibit and a stream of about 300 3rd and 4th graders walking through the museum. Trust me – I’m not sure they stopped anywhere – they just walked straight from the entrance to the exit. Tour Done. But then there was this foreign lady to see – I got hi, hello, hi from about 80% of the kids – so not only was this my personal highlight – I think I was theirs!

5. Seoul – National Korean Folk Museum – Free. (Close to the Gyeongbok Palace – walk around the outside of the Palace keeping the wall to your left – you won’t have to pay to enter) This was the very first museum we saw in Seoul, and what I remember most were two sections – a life-size traditional home, furnished as if the family had just gone out. You could see the kitchen area, and imagine the bustle as food was being prepared. The other part I thought was neat was the Children’s Museum – basically a space attached to the main museum but kept for just parents and young children. There were holes to stick your hand in, there was a large egg that you sawed in half to reveal a treasure (I’m guessing this is a Korean Fairy Tale). The kids got extremely excited to have the opportunity to do the sawing. We plan to go back with Marcel (age 5) to check this out.

4. Gyeongiu – National Museum – Free – (Ask for directions) (in 3 parts – Shilla History, Stuff found at the Anapji Pond Historic site, and Buddhist Collection). We opted for the Audio Tour (1000 Won = $1) and it was well worth it. Even though they had moved the collection into a smaller building while they ‘earth-quake proofed’ the larger museum, seeing how seriously old the culture in Korea is was stunning. On one wall is a timeline of what was happening in Korea vs what was happening in the world – puts things into perspective fast. I also particularly loved the Buddhist collection – which since we saw this following our temple stay at Haein-sa – made a lot more sense. This is also the place we met the ‘English’ Teacher/Tour guide who confused rice and lice. But the collection of Silla remains is worth seeing. Over 1000 years old and still so beautiful.

20130524-050307.jpg

3. Busam – Maritime Museum – Free (Getting there – take the 66 bus from the Nampo-dogg subway stop). The building is worth the visit – a gigantic stainless steel Ship sailing off into the future. The exhibits were excellent as well – including a full-sized mock-up of one of the ships that the Josen rulers sent to Japan to try to keep peace – in the 1600’s. There’s a huge walk thru sea tanks – this one had a very friendly turtle. The video footage of the port of Busan in operation is definitely worth seeing as well.

20130524-045955.jpg

20130524-050020.jpg

2. Seoul – Women’s Rights Museum – Charge. (Getting there – it’s walking distance – sort of – from the Hongik University subway stop) This is a small, but extremely interesting museum devoted to the ‘comfort’ women (starting at age 11!) effectively imprisoned by the Japanese to ‘service’ their soldiers during the occupation from 1905 to 1945. What is most interesting is the amount of ‘evidence’ they have collected about what was happening, including numerous stories by ‘comfort’ women who have openly and painfully revealed their past. The history is shameful, but the effort put into this tiny museum is worth seeing. Highly recommended. Picture below shows the ‘memory’ or ‘butterfly’ wall outside the museum – visitors were encouraged to sign a ‘butterfly’ dedicated to the memory of one of the ‘comfort’ women and pin it to the wall. Lovely thought, eh?

20130524-050232.jpg

1. Busam – Fisheries Museum – Free (Getting there – walk 2 minutes from the Haedong Yonggung Temple – makes it definitely worth visiting the Temple. They are connected by a red bridge and a seaside path. To get to the Temple – take the 181 bus from Haeundae Beach Station.). I liked this Museum for several reasons – there were lots of fish in tanks to look at – they made the path ‘up’ to the main area look like you were swimming thru an underwater cave, and the exhibits were very good at explaining the different types of fishing nets – without a word of English. There was even an entire section devoted to how pearls are made in oysters, another about women breathe-hold divers, and another one on harvesting abalone. Plus there were 2 interactive sections that were quite unique – one showed you the nutritional values of different foods on thermometers – the other allowed you to spin a dial and point and ‘shoot’ a fishing area off the coast of Korea. Your reward for hitting the target – a picture and description of the type of fish you’d find there. Fun museum – great location – and you can easily walk from there to one of the top temples of Busan – the Haedong Yonggung Temple. Plus – if you like fish – there were several quite reasonable restaurants nearby. A win, win, win!

20130524-050114.jpg

The picture above is taken from the highest point in the temple – looking towards the fisheries Museum – that blue wall you can see in the middle distance. All the lanterns are strung to celebrate Buddha’s birthday – which was the day after our visit. Lovely, eh? Very peaceful scene, wonderful temple, great museum.

But it’s not all about Museums! Check out my next blog for our ratings of ‘Not a Museum’ must see attractions in Korea. Our favorite…. well you’ll just have to wait to see