Korea And The Silk Road.

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When I was growing up I learned about the Silk Road in a very simplified way, as it being one special route that brought silk and other goods from China to the West, and Western goods to China. Since then however, historians have come to realize that there were multiple trade routes, and that some are far older than they originally thought and traveled much further than they had previously known.

Historians can map trade routes in Baltic Amber from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean dating back thousands of years. And the trade in tin from Northern Europe to the Mediterranean, and from China to the Middle East are almost as old. But these trade routes weren’t followed by a single trader, but rather each trader would travel a certain distance and pass the goods to the next trader at markets and in towns along the routes. This led not only to the passing on of tradable objects, but also information, knowledge and religion were passed from person to person along the trade route. Trading towns and cities grew up along the routes and trade grew. Unfortunately these routes also sometimes became the routes invading armies followed, and diseases could also spread from person to person along the different routes.

Rome traded with other empires across the known world in places such as China, India, and Africa. They traded valuable materials with each other such as grain, fabrics, metals, and pottery.

By the first century CE you can see from this simplified map that quite a few trade routes existed and that by passing goods along the routes, both land and sea, that trade between the Roman Empire and Han Empire was possible. The Romans and Chinese even wrote about it at the time and due to archeological evidence we know that Chinese silk was the favorite cloth of rich Romans. Where this map falls short is that it doesn’t show the trading routes that go east from China to the Three Kingdoms of Korea, (57 BCE -668 CE) Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla, and then onto Japan. (Northern Korea does make it onto this map, but is labeled as a part of the Han Empire, when in fact that area was Goguryeo, a Korean kingdom,)

Stem cup, Late Roman, fifth century. Glass. Excavated from the north mound of Hwangnam Daechong Tomb. Lent by Gyeongju National Museum, Korea. (National Museum of Korea)

(Note, in the National Museum of Korea in Seoul there’s a whole section of objects found at archaeological sites in Korea that came from distant places along the silk routes to include this example of Roman glass excavated from a Silla tomb.)

China and Korea have had a long and intertwined history and trade routes between the two date back a very long time. In fact much of what we know about early Korea comes from Ancient Chinese texts. Among the many things they wrote they said that the people of Silla liked ‘glass beads and gold’. Much of the Three Kingdoms time period saw a flowering of art and knowledge and many people from Silla were known to have resided in China to learn, trade, and work. Many goods, artworks, and knowledge passed both ways between the two countries. Silla was said to have enjoyed ‘a golden age’.

But the Three Kingdoms may not of just received trade goods from Chinese traders, they may also have been traveling some ways along the routes themselves, to perhaps obtain better deals and more diverse items. About half way along one of the more popular silk routes in Samarkand a Sogdian wall painting dating to 655 CE seems to show two men from the Goguryeo Kingdom in Korea, based on their clothes and weapons. The men in question are the two on the right and if they really are from Goguryeo this is amazing as they would be thousands of miles from home.

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The above photo is of 8th century Sogdian Silk. The Sogdians were famed traders along the central parts of the overland silk routes and had many connections both east and west. If Koreans from any of the Three Kingdoms did indeed visit Samarkand it shows their understanding of the politics of the Silk Roads, and they were directly dealing with one of its most important players.

There is a Chinese painting from around the same time period (7th cent. CE ) showing envoys from the Three Kingdoms at the Chinese Emperor’s Court so Koreans were very definitely traveling outside of the Korean Peninsula.

The Three Kingdoms were also a through point, both by land and by sea, to Japan and were instrumental is passing along things such as Buddhism, the game of Weiqi, (called Baduk in Korea and Go in Japan) as well as Bonsai, (called Penzai in China and Bunjae in Korea) to Japan. In the Asuka period ( 538-710 CE ) the Japanese city of Nara could perhaps be considered the last stop eastwards on the Silk Roads. The Shoso-in Repository holds many Silk Roads artifacts from many far away countries.

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Merchants and traders weren’t the only ones to use the Silk Roads. Monks, Buddhist ones in particular, traveled far and wide, both to learn and to teach. Buddhist monk Hyech’o  (approx 704-787 CE) from Silla followed in the footsteps of earlier monks and traveled to India and surrounding lands. He traveled by both land and sea and spent over 5 years doing so. He visited as far west as ‘the Arab lands’ and thankfully for us wrote a diary of his journey. In it he notes information on all sorts of different things he saw during his travels. Travel changes people and when they write about their travels those writings can influence other people too, leading to cultural exchanges of ideas as well as goods. Hyech’o was not the only Korean monk to travel long distances, although he was one of the more famous ones.

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Many Korean monks and nuns traveled to Japan and help spread Buddhisms and later Confucianism among both the elite and working classes. They brought with them no only religious ideas but, along with merchants and refugees, they also spread the knowledge of silk making, as well as iron working techniques and the idea of surnames. Many other items both of Chinese and Korean origin were exported to Japan such as the oven, bronze bells, gold and silver jewelry as well as stoneware and household items.

Medieval trade routes and geography [20881 x 12578]

By the 11th century, you can see from the map just how far the trade routes had spread, although I think many would have been in existence long before this time, just perhaps unknown to us. Trade along the Silk Roads had periods of boom and bust, at some points in history trade almost ceased, while at other times it was booming. The fall of the Tang dynasty in China disrupted trade, while perhaps surprisingly the Mongol invasions and conquests revived it.

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Long known in the west as ‘The Hermit Kingdom’ Korea was for centuries anything but locked away from the outside world. Once a far looking place that was eager to trade with the outside world, using the Silk Roads to gain products, religions, and ideas, Korea inexorably turned in on itself in the 17th -20th centuries. Now, however, Korea is once more spreading its products and ideas onto the world stage. No longer known as the Silk Road international trade and travel to many of parts of the world are once again a part of Korean Life, and those long ago ancestors are probably smiling.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Korea’s Greatest Hero,    Juryeonggu: A 14 sided Dice From The Golden Age Of Silla, and  Horseback Archery In Korea: A Traditional Sport.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

All photo credits to original owners.

Looking For Cactus And Succulents In South Korea.

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Looking online at sites such as Pinterest, and those catering to the latest in garden fashion both inside and outside the home, one can see the rising popularity of growing succulents. Brides now use them in bouquets, businesses have them as the plant of choice, and teachers are receiving them as end of year thank you gifts. Floral shops now make succulent arrangements for almost every occasion. Korea has been quietly growing cactus and succulents for many years now and are on the cutting edge of growing the most fantastic hybrids and clones, particularly of Echeverias and Haworthias.

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Basically all cactus are succulents (means a plant with fleshy leaves that stores water,) but not all succulents are cactus. (Cactus have spines.)

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Korea has a limited number of succulents native to the region; Orostchys Malacophylla, Orostchys Japonica, Sedum Aizoon, Sedum Sarmentosum, and Hylotelephium Erythrostictum, but that hasn’t stopped them from growing a vast number of non native varieties for home use and for export. Korea has become famous for its succulents and you can even buy them online here in the US. The Prickly Pear cactus which is native to the Americas is grown on Jeju Island and they even make a chocolate from it.

 

If you’re visiting Seoul one of the best places to see a nice variety for sale is at the Jogno Flower Market Alley. A little over 100 meters in length it is chock full of stalls selling all sorts of plants, however, the main focus is succulents. Succulents make perfect houseplants for busy city people and are a favorite of many urban dwellers around the world. Relatively easy to take care of, if you follow the instructions and provide the correct amount of water and light etc, they provide both sculptural interest and colorful beauty to one’s home.

You can also see some really nice collections at some of Korea’s numerous Botanic Gardens. Korea has fifty four Botanic Gardens to be precise, although not all have all varieties of plants on display. Of the half dozen or so Botanic Gardens we’ve visited most had some succulents on view. The Greenhouse at the Seoul Grand Park had one room devoted to them, as well as an incredible Orchid room. (Since many orchids have fleshy parts that store water they are considered to be succulents although many people do not group them as such.)

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Another place in Seoul was one of the greenhouses set up at the old wastewater plant in Seoul Forest.

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Outside of Seoul the Yeomiji Botanic Gardens on Jeju Island have perhaps the nicest collection of cactus and succulents that we’ve seen so far in Korea. Their greenhouse is massive and is divided into specialized areas, all of which were quite impressive.

We also found another smaller garden while on Jeju Island that had a lovely display in their greenhouse, unfortunately I can’t remember it’s name at the moment.

If you’re interested in growing succulents, particularly some of the fabulous Korean hybrids and/or clones I suggest you find a local nursery who can help you out. If that is not an available option I know they sell a lot online, but please use caution and common sense when buying from online sources. There is a good article here which may be worth reading before you buy online.

Next time we visit Korea we plan to find some time to visit another Botanic Garden, or two. Maybe you can add one to your list too.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Yeomiji Botanic Gardens,  Halle Arboretum,   Spirit Garden, and   Seoul Forest Park in Photos.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. All photos belong to original owners, Debora & Elizabeth Marzec.

Korean Variety Show Games: Lose And Face The Punishment. Part 2.

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Running Man, one of the most challenging of Korean variety shows, is also known for some fairly intense punishments, although sometimes the actual games themselves turn out to be far more grueling than the actual penalties and punishments. Any time the games are played in mud the contestants end up exhausted.

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Some penalties play a recurring role and will show up with a certain regularity. One such penalty is forced air being blown at a contestants face if they answer a question incorrectly.

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Whenever there’s an episode with a pool location there’s a chance of the penalty being the ‘catapult dunk’. This one looks a little bit scary as you have no control.

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Another type of punishment is something hitting your head, like a metal tray, or even water or flour.

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The forehead slap seems like it would really hurt.

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And the walking in public or riding the subway dressed in crazy outfits is embarrassing, although I’m not sure all the Running Man members can even feel embarrassed any more.

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Poor Kwangsoo even had to wear hot pants to work while he was filming a movie.

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While Weekly Idol likes butt slapping as a punishment, Running Man has taken that one step forward and used the historic form of that punishment method and used a large paddle.

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All the Running Man members enjoy punishing each other, as well as just making fun of each other, and they seem to take quite a bit of delight in making each other ugly by drawing on each other’s faces.

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There are a lot more penalties and punishments that take place on Running Man, do you have a favorite? You can let me know in the comments section below.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Part 1,  The Humor In Mud,  Six Degrees of Yoo Jae Suk,  and Korean Variety Show Games.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

All photos to original owners. In this case probably SBS.

Korean Public And Street Art: In Photos.

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Koreans have a heritage of creating art that dates back thousands of years, so it is not surprising that they are still doing so. Art museums and galleries showcase some outstanding collections, but art also needs to be accessible in the daily routine of life and street and public art fills that need.

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Like most major world cities Seoul has a thriving tradition of public art along with street art, which may or may not be city sanctioned. And of course the line between art and graffiti is a very fluid one. Longtime fans of easily accessible outdoor art of all kinds we made no attempt to seek it out, we just allowed ourselves the pleasure of discovering it along the way.

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On our first visit we obviously headed for some of the must see sights and public monuments such as this statue of King Sejong the Great, one of the most important monarchs in Korean history, which is public art on a grand scale. However, being fans of somewhat more unique and quirky art we kept our eyes open to see what we could spot.

And sure enough we found some a little while later.

Public parks and large open areas are often perfect places to find all sorts of art.

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This ‘monster’ from the movie The Host would randomly make noises and freak out the little kids while the parents stood around laughing. In that sense it also became performance and interactive art. (We didn’t even know this existed or we would have made a point to see it, fortunately we just came across it while walking in one of the Han River parks.)

Seoul Forest had a sculpture garden, and then some fantastic random art pieces such as this giant wire man that you could actually climb inside.

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Most parks had art, some on quite a large scale to complement the space.

It turned that almost everywhere we went there was street art as well as the large public installations.

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Sometimes it cropped up in heavily trafficked tourist areas or formed the backdrop for public performances.

Some art pieces showed their colors better after dark.

And of course there was Kpop art.

We saw art every day and unfortunately sometimes neglected to take photographs, but Seoul is so filled with art, not to mention the amazing architecture of buildings both ancient and modern that are artworks in their own right, we became a little blase. I’ll do a future post on Busan, and one on Jeju Island, both places also chock full of street and public art.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Foodies Delight: The Street Food Of Korea,   Seoul Forest Park: In Photos,   and  The National Treasures Of Korea.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. Photo credits to Elle and Debora Marzec.

Korean Actors Who Were Athletes First.

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The idea of casting athletes in movies goes back almost to the beginnings of cinema. Johnny Weissmuller who was one of the top competitive swimmers in the 1920’s gained even more fame for being one of the early film Tarzans. Esther Williams, another swimmer who had won 3 national level championships by the age of 16, was a famous movie star of her day. And most of us are familiar with Arnold Schwarzenegger, bodybuilding, and Dwayne Johnson, American football and professional wrestling, who created successful movie careers for themselves after their athletic careers wound down, so it should come as no surprise that quite a few Korean actors were quite athletic before they became famous for acting.

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Song Joong Ki was a promising short track speed skater during his middle school years (typically older than in US, up to age 16) and represented his home town 3 times at the National Games, as well as winning at regional meets. Unfortunately he suffered an injury during his first year of High School which ended his athletic career. On the up side it allowed him to focus on acting classes and schoolwork. His parents had encouraged the acting classes because of his shyness.  He scored well on his college entrance exam and attended the prestigious Sungkyunkwan University.

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He had small acting roles, modeling gigs, and appearances on TV in entertainment shows, before his big break in 2010 in the Kdrama Sungkyunkwan Scandal and by becoming a regular cast member on Running Man, on which he showed his athleticism as well as his intelligence. It was both of these that really drew him to my attention and he has been one of my favorite actors ever since. Other roles followed with him gaining more critical acclaim with each performance.

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Then in 2013 he began his mandatory military service, returning to acting in 2015 with the leading role in Descendants of the Sun, playing the leader of a UN peacekeeping unit.. Originally some people worried if he could carry off such a masculine role, but now they can’t imagine any other actor in that role.

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From athlete, to variety show cast member, to actor Song Joong Ki has proved himself to be a multitalented celebrity who still seems modest and grounded in the real world. I can’t wait for his next Kdrama.

 

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So Ji Sub trained as a swimmer for 11 years and even won a bronze medal at the Korean National Games. He has said that swimming and hip hop were his interests when he was young and that he had no interest in becoming an actor. Liking hip hop and having an athletic swimmer’s body on a six foot frame he decided to try out for a modeling job that might place him near his hip hop idol Kim Sung Jae. He got the job and discovered he could make money by modeling.

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It wasn’t long before modeling led to small acting parts and the rest is history. So Ji Sub has acted in multiple movies and Kdramas as well as making appearances on variety shows. His most famous works might be his most recent, Master’s Sun, and Oh! My Venus, however he feels that What Happened in Bali was one of his best roles.

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He has continued to exercise and maintain his athletic figure and can be seen regularly as a print model. He also maintains his interest in hip hop and has released multiple albums and singles and has even had a couple of photo essay books published.

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Nearing 40 years old he doesn’t seem to be aging, instead like a fine wine, he seems to be getting better and better. All that athletic training in his youth definitely paid off.

 

Both Song Joong Ki and So Ji Sub filmed Battleship Island in 2016 and I’m looking forward to its upcoming release. Set during the Japanese occupation it looks like a dramatic watch, but with two of my favorite athletic actors starring in it I’ll be sure to do so. Set on Hashima Island during a time of forced labor by the Japanese of Koreans it will showcase an aspect of history that the Japanese don’t necessarily want brought to light. Its expected release date is July 2017.

 

On that somewhat somber note I think I’ll finish today’s post and write part 2 to cover other Korean athletes who became actors.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy  Is It The Kdrama Actor?   Easy On The Eyes:Korean Models Turned Actors,    and My Favorite Parks. (Actors not green spaces.)

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All photo credits to original owners.

Pets In Korea: And Some Of The Idols Who Own One.

 

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There’s a lot to be said about the pleasure one gets from seeing handsome and attractive young Korean idols and actors interact with their beloved pets. The internet is filled with such photos and many celebrity pets even have their own instagram accounts.

5 Korean Male Celebrities Competing In Cuteness With Adorable Pets

But owning a ‘pet’ was virtually unknown of in Korea until relatively recently. For a long time in Korea all animals had a utilitarian purpose, they were kept because they could do a job, or they were food. This philosophy can still be seen in some Korean people’s reactions to dogs in particular. Many Koreans are intrinsically distrustful of dogs, and some still fear them, particularly those people who were brought up by parents and elders who stressed that dogs are, ‘dirty, carry diseases, and bite.”

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The traditional Korean viewpoint on dogs began to see changes in the 1990’s when people began to have more disposable income and a wider view of the world outside of Korea. At first the idea of ‘pet’ leaned more towards a dog being a fashionable living accessory, with the wealthy and bored dying their dogs all sorts of colors and dressing them up in clothes and jewelry. Although many Asians do still do this to their dogs there now seems to be more of the idea of your pet being your companion rather than an accessory or a toy.

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Key is well known for loving his 3 dogs and dressing them up all the time. And there are many other celebrities who do so too. This happens in the US too, although not to the extent of in some Asian countries.

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Having not grown up around animals as pets many of these idols are learning as they go, which does lead to some cringe worthy actions when seen by those more familiar with cats and dogs. At other times all we can see is the love between owner and dog and vica versa.

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But Korean celebrities are doing the best they can and by showcasing their affections for their pets they are helping to erase the stigma of pet ownership, and perhaps change some long held beliefs within the older community.

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At first entertainment companies weren’t too keen on idols having pets, because of the upkeep and what to do with them when the idol was overseas or busy, but nowadays most idols are allowed pets. Pets have proved to be ’emotionally stabilizing’ and provide unconditional love in times of stress, and the entertainment companies now leave it up to the idols as to what to do with them when they can’t take care of them. This leads to questions from fans when popular puppies grow up and disappear from the scene. In most cases friends or family take in the grown dog but sometimes I’m left to wonder.

In the past few years the number of Koreans owning pets has risen dramatically, from 17.4% of Korean households owning at least one pet, to 22% in 2015. This does, however, still include people who chain their animals up outside, which for many of us reduces the dog to more of an ‘object’ to be owned, rather than a pet even if its living conditions don’t look too bad.

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Some theorize the surge in the number of pets is due to the rise of single family households and the fact that pets are seen as a substitute for children by some people. With the rise in the number of pets there’s also been a large rise in the number of thrown away and abandoned pets, more than 80,000 last year. Cases of pet abuse have also risen.

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The Korean Government has enacted new laws governing the regulation of pet ownership and is trying to enact and enforce pet safety rules. Unfortunately there are estimated to be about 1,000 puppy mills in Korea with 80% of them being illegal. Most puppies in Korea do come from these puppy mills.

 

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Cats were once seen as vermin and bad luck, and were even used as an ingredient in traditional medicine. Nowadays all that is slowly changing and many more Koreans are keeping cats as pets. Perhaps better suited to apartment dwellers, cats are becoming increasingly popular with both idols and the general population.

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There’s a long list of Korean celebrities who own dogs and it would include Kim Sohyun, Roy Kim, Mark & Youngjae, Amber, Suhyun, Jin, Jimin, Zelo, Siwon, , Park Shinhye, Kai, Kang Sora, Seunghoon, GD, Taeyang, Key, Yang Yoseob plus many others. In fact in some cases almost every member of an idol group own dogs, UKiss and Shinwa are just two examples.

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There’s also a long list of celebrities with cats to include Hyorin, Amber, Kim Soeun, Ahn Jaehyun, Kang Minhyuk, Kim Heechul, Myungsoo, Chansung, GD, and of course Jaejoong,

Winner has both a dog and 3 cats and have even had to bring in an animal behaviourist to help Oat who is sometimes bullied by the 3 cats.

A few idols have more exotic pets such as turtles, snakes, a chameleon and hedgehogs, with Yang Hyunsuk head of YG Entertainment owning, among other pets, a chicken. (Actually belongs to his daughter, but he took it on a TV show once as people didn’t believe the stories he told about it.)

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Who is your favorite idol/pet combination?  Let me know in the comments below. Mine is maybe Key as he fusses over his dogs like an old lady, and he obviously loves them.

Edit 05/26/2017 It looks like there might be a push towards more responsible pet ownership gaining ground.

Edit 06/25/2017 tourist facilities for those with pets are being planned by some municipalities.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Six Degrees Of Yoo Jae Suk,  Cats And Dogs: Animal Cafes In Seoul, and  Easy On The Eyes: Korean Models Turned Actors.

Please do not copy and use without permission and accreditation.

All photo credits to original owners.

The National Treasures of S. Korea.

 

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Some countries, such as S. Korea and Japan have designated lists of ‘National Treasures’, to include both physical, or tangible, artifacts like palaces, sculptures and artworks, as well as living, or intangible treasures, such as people and traditional festivals. I have always liked this idea, and often will look at the UNESCO World Heritage List for a country before a visit to help me narrow those really must see places and things. The UNESCO List is obviously on a grander scale, with only some of those items on each country’s’ national lists making it to the UNESCO one. The premise, however, on a very basic level is similar, look at your stuff and see which is the best of that particular thing, from that particular place and time. Then keep it safe, restore it if necessary, and put it on display so your people can see it. This to a certain extent also works with people and festivals, although with people you must also specify that they pass on their knowledge and skill to future generations.

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Kang Sun Young.

Korea is proud to have 12 items on the UNESCO World Heritage List and 19 on the Intangible World Heritage List. For comparison the USA has 23 (mostly natural areas) and 0, while Spain has 46 and 16.

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Juldarigi

These numbers show that Korea takes exceptional joy and pride in the skills of its artist’s and craftspeople, as well as by trying to preserve their cultural heritage through festivals and performances. Designated National Living Treasures, craftspeople, artists and performers, can be seen showcasing their skills and talents at various sites around Korea. For most visitors the easiest place to see some is probably Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul where a few reside and work.

Bukchon Hanok Village (북촌한옥마을)

Although watching and learning from people passing on traditional skills and knowledge is among one of my favorite things to do, seeing the best of the best a country has to ofter is high up there too. The Korean Government has, so far, designated over 300 National Treasures, along with numerous subcategories, and carefully considers items for future inclusion to the list. The list is not ranked, but rather listed when each thing was placed on the list. Sungnyemun, or Namdaemun, Gate was listed as National Treasure number 1. (see top photo.)

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Number 2 on the list is Wongak Temple 10 level stone tower. It is kept safely behind glass in Topgol Park in Seoul. Many famous buildings, gates, pagodas etc are on the list, but the list also has multiple smaller artifacts and artworks that are kept inside museums.

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The National Museum of Korea, one of the top ten largest in the world, has amazing collections of artifacts both indoors and out, which include quite a few National Treasures. My favorite is National Treasure 91 which is a “stoneware vessel in the shape of a warrior on horseback, from the Old Silla period, around 500-600AD. Found in Geumnyeong-chong, Noseo-dong, Gyeongju City, Gyeongsangbuk-do.”

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He is just charming, and extremely well executed. Each of the National Treasures is carefully labeled as such, so if you’re short on time you can see the highlights by focusing just on the National Treasures, although I would encourage you to look at everything you possibly can as there are many more splendid things to see than are just on the National Treasures list.

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Korea is to be commended, as not all countries have taken such steps to protect their cultural heritage. Not all National Treasures are publically owned, some belong to private collectors, such as in the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, but rules and regulations are in place to protect items in private hands.

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Next time you’re in Korea keep your eyes out for the small plaque telling you if the item you are looking at is indeed a National treasure, they are often hidden away in plain sight.

Have a great day everyone.

You might also enjoy Hanji: The Paper of Korea,  Juldarigi:An Extreme Form Of Tug Of War,   Seoul City Gates, and Neolttwigi: A Korean Seesaw Game.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. Photo credits to original owners.

 

Banpo Rainbow Bridge, Seoul.

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The Banpo Bridge which crosses the Han River in Seoul lights up with an amazing display of shooting water fountains, music and lights about four to six times a day from the months of April through October. Although fun to watch at any time, the night time displays are perhaps the most popular. If you want to plan a visit it is best to check the daily schedule before you go to make sure you’re not disappointed.

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We arrived at dusk and were drawn towards Some Sevit, three man made floating islands. You may recognize them as the U-Gin Genetics Research Buildings from Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron movie. Knowing that the water show would not begin for some time we wandered down to explore the manmade islands. We found a cafe in one of them where we had a drink and chilled until darkness began to fall and the lights began to come on. The dim, dark building slowly began to glow with multiple colored interiors and outside lights.

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Joined together by floating walkways it was easy to explore, stopping often to take in the views of the Han River and the city beyond.

Unsure of the actual schedule, we were visiting early April when the weather is still sometimes inclement, we gave into our hunger pangs and decided to splurge on one of the restaurants overlooking the Han River and the skyline.

Nighttime cruises are also a good way to view the Banpo Rainbow Bridge display.

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The display lasts about 20 minutes and the water ‘dances’ to the music all the while changing color as the lights shine on the jets of water.  The bridge is 570 meters in length, with 380 nozzles (total) lining it on both sides.

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The display also looks different from different viewpoint so it is a good idea to stroll around, just remember that the wind can blow the sprays of water quite some distance.

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Lots of people hang out to watch the display, both locals and tourists so it’s a great place to people watch.

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One last look back as we headed out for home.

There’s lots of amazing photos online, as well as Youtube videos, but nothing can really do it justice, so be sure to check it out next time you’re in Seoul.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Seoul Forest Park: In Photos,   My Favorite Place To Stay In Seoul,   and  Seoul City Gates.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. Photo credits to Elle and Debora Marzec.

Hwacha: A Korean ‘Rocket Arrow’ Launcher.

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While traveling around Korea to museums, and historic buildings such as palaces, it is fairly common to see these wooden handcarts. These are known as hwacha and along with the missiles they fired they were instrumental in protecting Korea from pirates and foreign invasions for over 300 years. Usually seen loaded with singijeon or rocket arrows they could also shoot a type of bullet. They were perhaps the most formidable defensive weapon of their time.

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The story of their invention dates back many centuries and was dependent on the Korean people being able to obtain the recipe and materials to make gunpowder. The Chinese discovered/invented gunpowder and used it originally for fireworks and then later for weapons. They did, however, realize its importance and so they closely guarded the secret of how it was made. ( The first mention of gunpowder in Chinese texts dates from 142 AD, the first firework displays from around 700 AD, and the first weaponized rockets from around 900 AD.)

By the middle to late 14th century Koreans knew of gunpowder both from those who had studied in China, and from the fireworks displays that were put on at Royal Palaces for entertainment. But being able to buy carefully controlled amounts of gunpowder  and weapons is not the same as having your own supply. China, the Mongols, and Japan (particularly Japanese pirates) all had eyes on Korea at this time because of its resources and strategic importance, making Koreans nervous about their ability to defend themselves and self rule their country. Having gunpowder weapons was essential for Korea.

Choe Mu Seon, (1325 – 1395) the son of a government official is credited with ‘inventing’ gunpowder in Korea, but what that means is that he built on earlier Chinese knowledge and made the first gunpowder created and made in Korea. A subtle difference, but still not an easy task considering the Chinese laws against any knowledge of of the production of gunpowder being shared with foreigners. Choe spent some time in China studying and gained some knowledge there, and later supposedly bribed a Chinese merchant for the ‘recipe.’ However, even if you know the ingredients, you have to know the correct proportions for gunpowder to work.

Choi Mu-seon (c. 1326–1395)

By 1376 Choe had worked out how to make gunpowder, and how to get the correct ingredients. Once he showed the power of his new ‘weapon’ he gained the support of the King and Government. He was given a laboratory/workshop, along with a factory and people to man them. (1377) He not only worked on producing gunpowder, but also on all the weapons that could use gunpowder. In the 14th century Chinese weapons manual, the Fire Drake Manual, bombs, mines, fire arrows, rocket launchers, primitive flamethrowers, cannons, and gun like weapons were all mentioned. It is said that Choe’s workshop and factory was not far behind in their list of weapons they were creating and improving.

                        

A favorite weapon was the fire arrow, which had been around for a long time as basically a gunpowder charge attached to an arrow and aimed at advancing troops.

But it wasn’t long before the arrows were being fired out of a bamboo, or sometime metal, tube. In Korea these ‘rocket’ arrows were known as singijeon. There were 3 sizes, with the largests being more like an ‘arrow cannon’ with a charge attached. The Chinese had similar weapons, but the Koreans kept improving upon the idea and over time came up with better weapons. They wanted a method of firing more than a single arrow at a time and came up with the hwacha, their version of a multiple fire arrow launcher.

Chinese version top, (from Huolongjing)  Korean version below.

It is not known exactly when the first hwacha was constructed, but the early models were probably constructed in the lata 14th century, and then by 1409 Choe Hae San, the elder Choe’s son, created the first battle ready hwacha. Improvements were made in the 1450’s and the hwacha became one of the most devastating weapons of the age. Armed with multiple arrows, between 100 and 200, the hwacha could decimate closely ranked troops in battle. Used mostly as a defensive weapon it was portable and could moved to where it was needed. It was even used on board ships against Japanese pirates.

If you want to see a fictional account of the development of the hwacha you can watch the 2008 movie, The Divine Weapon. Although not true to history, the movie shows the effectiveness of the hwacha in battle. If you want to watch something more modern you can watch Mythbusters, episode 110, where they test the hwacha’s abilities. One thing the Mythbusters don’t mention is that some of the singijeon could also have gunpowder packets attached to them that had a separate fuse so that they would explode when the arrow arrived at their target. So gunpowder propelled arrows with small gunpowder charges added to them, flying by the 100’s towards their target. What a terrifying spectacle for the enemy troops.

So next time you see a hwacha quietly on display, stop a moment to recognise it for what it was, the ultimate weapon of its time and place.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Korea’s Greatest Hero,   “And Stones May Break My Bones,”   Archery In Korea,  and  Horseback Archery In Korea.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. All photo credits to original owners.

 

 

 

 

Seoul Forest Park: In Photos.

Like many great cities Seoul has multiple public green spaces and parks, one of which, Seoul Forest Park, can in numerous ways be equated to Hyde Park in London, or Central Park in New York. It is a large green area within the densely populated city and as such has many purposes, many of which center on enjoyment, and learning about the nature found within its boundaries.

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Easy to get to from 2 different subway stations Seoul Forest Park is very popular with Seoulites, and somewhat less so with tourists. So if you want to experience some of the activities that regular Koreans do in their down time, Seoul Forest Park is a perfect place to spend a few relaxing hours away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

From small touches like a free library near the entrance, to numerous water features throughout the park, relaxing is one of the park’s goals. But if you want something more vigorous there’s a whole sports area with a basketball court, skate park, a soccer field, and badminton courts. You can also rent bicycles.

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You can even camp in the park.

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Originally a royal hunting forest, time has seen it change to being a water purification plant, a racecourse, and a golfing area. All that’s left to show it was a racecourse is a lovely sculpture of racing horses. It opened as a park in 2005 after thousands of trees were planted to create the lovely park we see today. Large as it is it is only the third largest park in Seoul.

The water purification plant has been turned into a learning and educational area. We saw a school field trip here of the cutest kindergarten kids all dressed up like they were going on safari. (No photos to respect their privacy.) They made our day when they very seriously, and politely made their bows to us.

Inside they have a lovely butterfly garden,

a cactus area,

along with space for some aquariums and display pens for small reptiles etc. Although not very large it was a perfect reuse of the old purification plant.

The park has a large sculpture area, with some evocative and interesting pieces.

Our favorite being the large wire piece that you could actually climb inside.

There are also multiple play, and learn through play areas. It is always fun to play with water so I’m sure the Archimedes Screw is always popular, we had to stop and try it out. There’s also a play fountain over near the racehorse sculpture, but we didn’t want to get that wet!

Rows of fruit trees, and hidden gardens among the ruins of parts of the water purification plant were unexpected pleasures.

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As were the artworks created by students and visitors.

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A snack overlooking a wetlands area was a nice break. Most locals seemed to bring picnics, or headed to the cafes and restaurants in the two large tower buildings you can see from the park. We might try that next time, but we did enjoy having the cafe almost to ourselves.

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I haven’t mentioned the obvious, the multitude of walkways and paths that meander throughout the park, the nature and wildlife that can be seen, to include some deer in outdoor pens, and the beautiful Han River which marks the southern edge of the park, but that and a whole lot more is available to discover and enjoy. More a park than a true forest the Seoul Forest Park is a wonderful place to relax and unwind, and get away from it all. Well, almost all, as you can still hear some of the sounds of the surrounding city, muted reminder of what exists beyond the borders of the park.

We had a great morning in the park, and plan to visit it again in a different season to see what colors it shows then.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Spirit Garden,   Yongyeon Pond,   Halla Arboretum,   Yeomiji Botanic Gardens,  and Springtime Cherry Blossoms in S.Korea.

Please to do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. All photo credits to original owners. All except map to Elle and Debora Marzec.