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.

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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.

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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

“English – Vinglish” – Great Movie – Love the Content


I can’t sleep on airplanes – in 1969 I was on a propeller plane, crossing the Atlantic ocean, when I watched one of the engines catch on fire. The plane did a slow 180 degree turn, we landed in emergency mode at Shannon airport and spent 3 days waiting for parts. Not something you forget – so no sleeping on planes for me.

Why the story? Well – I just flew from Korea to Montreal – 12.5 hours in a plane with nothing but the video system as company. So I watched 5 movies – and this was easily, hands-down, my favorite. It’s a must see movie if you travel to countries where you don’t speak the language – or if you live in a big city and have ever run into a tourist trying so hard to manage without a clue. Trust me – this movie is an attitude changer!

Here’s the link to trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnvfVKxu6oU

I leave it to better users of Google to figure out how to watch the movie – I’m pretty sure you can do it – I’m just not that good at video links!

On to the review.

The story line of “English – Vinglish” is simple – a Hindi wife and mother of 2 children living in India is embarrassed by her lack of knowledge of English – a lack that is made critical by the fact that her sister’s daughter is getting married in New York City, and as auntie she is expected to help organize the event. This puts her in New York City for 5 weeks – with literally no grasp of English and not much to do. So despite her conservative up-bringing, and very shy nature – she decides to take English lessons, one of those ‘Learn English in 4 weeks’ immersion courses. The story then follows the class and what happens there and contrasts it with what is happening in her family life, both in New York and in India.

Why did I love the movie? Because I just experienced exactly the things they so carefully show her trying to survive. Going thru immigration, ordering a meal at a restaurant and having to ‘see’ the food to order, getting flustered if the service person rushes you, and worse, getting embarrassed when you realize your stupidity is holding up a line.

Been there – done that!

The Intrepid Traveler and I didn’t have the heroine’s ability or desire to learn a language (Korean in our case) in under 5 weeks – but we did learn to avoid lines – to wait till there was a break before attempting to place an order, knowing that it might take us a bit longer. And we got really messed up on the ‘metro’ system – it’s not easy to know which train to get on – thank goodness for the kindness of strangers. Even on our last day in Seoul – someone over heard us saying where we wanted to go and kindly directed off the ‘wrong’ train and onto the right one.

Like the heroine of “English – Vinglish”, we know the palatable relief you experience when suddenly someone speaks to you in your language! You immediately go from being an idiot – to being intelligent.

The movie takes the bird-eye view on her classroom situation, and if you’ve ever taught, you can readily appreciate how frustratingly hard it is to learn to communicate complex thoughts in a foreign language.

Watching the movie – and thinking about how terribly hard and scary it can be to travel in a country where you don’t speak the language – is a bit of a game changer. And you might even be nicer the next time you realize that a visitor to your home town is having a challenge. Trust me – they will appreciate the smile, and the effort to help them help themselves!

Signing off – 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.

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Enjoying the Flavors of north-east South Korea – The Jungang market of Sokcho


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Jungang market is described on the map as a ‘fairly famous conventional market’, but to my mind – it was the quintessential market of Korea. Just large enough to qualify as a market, but small enough to remember which stalls were where! I loved it.

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The market covers an area of roughly 4 city blocks – but it’s on 3 floors – we pretty much stuck to the main floor – which had at least one, and often 4 or more – examples of everything. For instance – there’s an awesomely delicious typical chicken dish here in Sokcho – Dak-gangleon – or deep-fried spicy chicken with a sweet sauce. It is finger-lick’n good. I’m no fan of KFC – but this stuff was amazing. The contrast between spicy and sweet was so good, I keep wondering how I can bring a box home to Montreal. There have to be at least two dozen stalls selling this stuff – each stall has it’s signature box, its deep fryers, its special sauce. But it doesn’t take a lot of mental effort to realize that the stall with the continuous lines is the one you want to buy from! We couldn’t figure out how the other guys stay in business, this one stall claimed so much of the ‘chicken’ shopping crowd!

But the Jungang Market isn’t just about chicken – it’s about fish and huge fruit and lots of other goodies!

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That’s a Giant Pacific Octopus – we saw live ones in the aquariums and in the fish tanks, and boxed ones like this one ready to be taken home for dinner. I can not even begin to imagine how they are caught – but they sure were huge!

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Speak of huge – look at the size of the apples (or is it a pear?). According to the son of the Intrepid Traveler, these fruits taste more like a pear than an apple – but regardless of taste – that’s a huge piece of fruit!

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That’s a chestnut – and yes – it’s the size of my fist. I tried some roasted from a vendor just inside the market gates – and they were some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Fresh, no bad spots, super sweet. The son of the Intrepid Traveler admitted that they were so good – he might even revise his opinion of chestnuts.

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So – if you keep the fish alive and in a tank – if they don’t get sold – you can toss in fish food – and sell them tomorrow. We saw Squid (above), flat fish we think were in the flounder family (below), and two of the huge fish with giant mouths – your guess is as good as mine on what kind of fish that is. I really wonder who will be brave enough to buy him – or his brother in the same tank…

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There were also giant red snow crabs (I snapped a picture of one trying to make a get-away – going from the fire into the frypan I think!).

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I’ve yet to taste one – even though the lower part of the market features stalls with grills – and apparently they will cook up your fancy up for you – no charge!

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Couldn’t resist the sock display – aren’t they adorable?

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The hit of the market was clearly young Sophie – at 3 months old she looks a lot like a tiny Buddha – and we never passed a grannie that didn’t come over to pinch her cheeks. They would even take her away from Chris to get an extra cuddle.

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I think Sophie showed great style and grace here – never fussing, never complaining – just taking in the oohs and ahs like it was her due!

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The delicious food options were virtually unlimited – there were fried veggies and fish – including shrimp that were battered and deep-fried with not only their shells on – but their heads! So definitely munch carefully.

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And for those of you wondering if their were veggie options – of course there were! Here’s what we think might have been cucumbers – or maybe they are squashes?

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We tended to stick to tomatoes and bean sprouts – at least we know what those were! And for just $1 = you got enough for at least 2 meals. Such a deal.

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Just outside the market – marking the entrance are two bronze statues. I did not care for the one of the bull – but the one with the fish really spoke to me of Sokcho, Fishing, and the hard life people in the area have had.

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Its only in recent years that this area has economically taken off – and Korea is putting in big money in infrastructure here, from sidewalks to proper highways. So if you are coming – come soon – or even the Jungang Market will be changed beyond recognition.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady

Embarrassing yourself in Korea – Spa Etiquette 101


Embarrassing yourself in Korea – Korean Mysteries

When you don’t speak the languge – and can’t read the signs – it’s pretty easy to make mistakes. My latest embarrassements were Spa related. The Kensington Resort in Sokcho is reputed to have one of the nicest Spa’s in the area – so naturally – I had to go. The cost was a measly 6000 Won – $6, clearly a deal.

I’ve done Spa’s before in various countries – Japan, Laos, Vietnam, Fez – so I’m not a complete idiot where Spa Etiquette is concerned – but somehow I manage to mess it up anyway.

In the case of the Kensington, I really only made a few major errors. But let’s start at the beginning.

My first Spa attempt was on Wednesday – I mention this because I think Wednesday must be a down day at the Spa – only about 5 people there – all in separate areas. Wonderfully private. My ‘oops’ – I wanted to wear my bathing suit. Heads-up people – Spa’s in Korea are ‘nudu’ – that’s nude. They have complete separate facilities for men and women – kids don’t count – so it’s not like you are suddenly visiting a nudist colony – but bathing suits are a definitely no-no.

Stripped to an approrpiate state – I could now enter the Spa. There were 2 large saunas – one labeled ‘Finnish Style’, the other called ‘Yellow Ocher’. There were also 4 large ‘pools’, each with a digital temperature display – 37.9, 40.0, 41, and 31.5. The 41 degree pool was hot sea water – and it felt great. The 31.5 degree pool was ‘cold’ water – and I ended up between these two. But first you must shower. Good news – been in Japan – know how to use a Japanese bath.

In the Korean version – you had 2 choices. You could do a standard Japanese bath – you sit on a low stool in front of a mirror, and use buckets of hot and cold water and soap to get everything clean. Or you could opt for a western style shower – which is what I took. The floor was particularly neat – it was made of large flat stones, with narrow sections that were deeper and led to the drains. So the flat stones, while wet, didn’t stay soapy and slick – all the soap was washed down into the narrow sections and from there to the drains.

After a good scrub down – I was able to enjoy the hot tubs. They weren’t very deep, just right for sitting in – and there were slabs that connected the sections that you could perch on to get out of the hot water. The view – despite the name – Ocean Spa – wasn’t much – the windows were frosted to maintain privacy.

Overall – a lovely experience. So of course – I wanted to do it again. This time on Sunday.
Well – Sunday is bath day amoung the local 20 to 40 year old crowd apparently – and the place was packed. I counted at least 40 women – plus 5 kids ranging from about 3 to 12 years of age. The 2 massage tables were filled, the saunas were in full use, and I had problems finding a quiet corner that didn’t get splashed when I was soaking in the hot salt water. Not that the noise level was high – but there was conversations here and there as friends caught up on the news (all in Korean) – and kids playing in the warm water pool. Quite the lovely scene – and easy to imagine it as a painting. Korean women are slim and have quite nice figures. The only older people were myself, and one elderly ‘auntie’ with a severe dowgers hump. The rest were young and very attractive. Most striking to me was the hair color – I know of course that Asians have black hair – but I guess I hadn’t really thought it completely thru.

I made two oops. One when I walked in. I had noticed that they had little plastic pads available – and I thought they were for people to use to sit on if they didn’t care to sit on the stones. I was right on the purpose – but I found out later that they were for sale. Oops. No money. I handed it back. The Spa lady gave it back to me. I handed it back to her – no money. She threw it in the laundry. Hope they wash it and put it back on the counter to sell.

My second oops was dress related. I knew that the Spa was ‘Nudu’ – so I wore my bathing suit and a largeish t-shirt down to the spa. I guess the gal running the spa didn’t notice when I walked in – but when I left – she got very concerned. Turns out she thought I was still ‘Nudu’ under the T-shirt. I had to show her my bathing suit before she’d let me leave!

I think this place should write up an English guide to Spa Appropriate Behavior. If they ask me – I’d be glad to help. But given the number of ‘foreigners’ I’ve seen – probably a non-issue. Or like the Leonard Cohen song – “Every one Knows”.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler (who refuses to go into Spas – I think she’s not into ‘Nudu’!)

PS: Sorry – no pictures for obvious reasons. Just use your imagination – you’ll be fine.

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!

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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.

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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.

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