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Exploring Korea
An Autumnal Trip to Northeast Asia
Jamie took a business trip to South Korea to visit the 1st Signal Brigade in Seoul and the Theater Network Operations and Security Center in Taegu. The 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Inchon crossed the international date line and took us from the Occident to the Orient where we explored the sights, food, and culture of a proud and friendly country.

Above is the gateway to the Namsangol traditional Korean village in the heart ot Seoul. It's a small village that recreates the architecture and gardens of this resort area during the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910). A morning fog obscured the mountain in the background, but also thankfully obscured the encroachment of modern civilization.

Fellow travelers Belinda, Sharon, Teena, Vickie, and Lynn learned the intricacies of accounting and manpower/budget management in the Army's Korean theater. Here they stand at the HQ of the 1st Signal Brigade on Yongsan compound.

We visited in early November, which turned out to be a very colorful time to see Korea. The trees reminded me of the northeast U.S., but everything else was definitely northeast Asia.

Stick with the women, and you'll learn all about the shopping in Korea, which was plentiful. Outside of the Army base stood Itaewon, a shoppers mecca, where we also got our first taste of Korean food and the ubiquitous metal chopsticks.

We opted for the more elegant dining of a restaurant, struggling with the hand-twisting acrobatics of chopstick etiquette—but had our tastes turned to the more pedestrian, we could have supped on a sidewalk vender's spread of pig snout, or netted some fast (as in fast swimming) food at a corner cafe.
The women shop and chat ...
while the men, as everywhere, find other amusement

The lights and bars at the foot of "Hooker Hill" offer an alternative to a night of worldly pleasures

Taking the 180 m.p.h. bullet train to Taegu gave us an opportunity to see the Korean countryside

Rice fields, the staple of Korean farming, flank the outskirts of apartments in a Korean town

Changgyeonggung Palace

Changgyeonggung Palace was built by King Sejong as a residence for his father. It was renovated and enlarged in 1483 by King Seongjong to be used as a residence for three dowager queens. It's surrounded by parks and a pond, particularly pretty as the trees were turning colors and the paths were slushy with fallen leaves.

38th Parallel—The Demilitized Zone

We took a USO tour to the DMZ to visit the no-man's land separating North from South Korea. Above, I stood on the border in Panmunjum, where the blue UN buildings sit astride the border and the gray building in the distance is in North Korea. The blue building on the left hosts talks between the military missions from the North and South, and passing beyond the middle of the room puts you in North Korea. Here the gals pose on the North Korean side, which made Belinda, on the left, just a bit nervous. More info available at the Korean tourism site.

The border is marked by intermittent cement posts, visible in front of the the evergreen tree on the right. One interesting aspect of the North Korean landscape in the background is that the mountains have been completely denuded, the trees having been cut down for cheap fuel.

This view looks out on an observation post (middle of photo) and the "Bridge of No Return" (to the right of the blue observation post) crossing the border, where prisoners of war were offered the option to return to their respective homes in 1953, but never again to get the chance to re-cross the border.

The past lives on through the architecture and crafts of an older time
offers a window into a Korea of a bygone era.

Village women make a batch of kimchi

Kimchi cures in earthenware pots

An active buddist temple stands near the village, transitioning between the old and new in downtown Seoul. The buddist swastika adorns the side of the temple.

Did someone mention Shopping?

Stairs advertising the stores on the upper levels are common throughout the Seoul shopping districts. Whether or not you can read Hangul, the message is the same—"you want it, we've got it! Come on DOWN!"

A riot of color and sound assaults your senses while a crush of bodies bounces you around like a pinball as you wend your way through the endless blocks of shopping in Namdaemun.

A quieter, more sophisticated crowd shops the stores of the artsy Insadong district, where small alleys conceal restaurants, craft shops (such as the caligraphy and mask stores below), and totem figures.

A noodle maker plies his craft behind a plate glass window

Sharon asks her way to the next shopping destination

Bridges of Suwan County

The Korean Folk Village is nestled in a rustic setting near the town of Suwan. The village offers over 250 traditional houses recreating the late Joseon Dynasty, relocated and restored to provide a view of Korean food, clothing, and housing styles from the past. Artisans practice their handicraft skills in pottery, basket and bamboo weaving, paper making, and many other traditional arts.
Laborers and craftsmen ply their trades, and costumes of the era are worn by the village "residents."
Acrobats perform for the school children. Here, a couple of young ladies propel each other into the air via a teeter-totter and jump through hoops or wave flags while in the air.

Pass your mouse cursor over and off the photo to watch the acrobatic girls in action.

Vickie and Teena wonder just what the heck is in those Kimchi pots scattered around the village.
After a full day's travel and walking around the village, it's time to dine Korean sytle at the Yang Ban Jang restaurant. Taking our shoes off and sitting cross legged at the short table, we order off the menu of traditional Korean food.

Returning to Seoul, we pass the southern gate, or Namdaemun Gate, from the wall that surrounded the city hundreds of years ago. Now the gate stands as a testiment to the enduring bond of old and new in Korea -- the portal through which the East meets the West.

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