Monday, October 12, 2015

Final Ceremonies

Sunday took us to Gongju to visit the ancient site of burial mounds of the Baekje kings (You may remember from a couple of days ago when the last of the Baekje king’s 3000 ladies jumped off the cliff? Same dynasty.) They’ve set up a replica mound for visitors to explore and learn about the construction of the tombs. We strolled through the mounds which are not accessible to keep them well preserved, and through the woods to the Gongju National Museum where the artifacts from the mounds are on display. Those of the Tomb of King Muryeong who reigned from 501-523 are particularly stunning.

Lunch today was probably the best meal we’ve had in Korea. We drove over to what we think is a resort town on the edge of a national park (not everything came through in the translations!) and had lunch at a spot famous for Bibimbap, a rice dish mixed with assorted stuff described as the Korean “lunch-in-a-box” because it was handy for eating when you’re on the go. Even better, we had pa geon, a “pancake” with vegetables, chestnuts (which are abundant in the area) and sometimes shrimp & squid. It was Fabuous! A short walk afterwards took us to a popular Buddhist temple.

Back to Cheonan in the afternoon for an appointment with culture and tradition. We were dressed in traditional Korean outfits called hanbok and provided with a presentation on Korean culture, including a demonstration of the traditional New Year’s offer of respect from children to parents.

From there we were off to dinner with the vice-Mayor ad his wife at a restaurant famous for pork cutlets. Turns out that’s Korean for schnitzel! Yum. We had a lovely time and both the vice-Mayor and his wife spoke fairly good English having worked in New York state for a couple of years. We joined the mayor, vice-mayor and other international guests for the closing ceremonies of the dance festival where we were treated to one last dance by each of the 10 international groups and 8 domestic groups that participated in the competition. The awards ceremony followed – Georgia rules!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Delicious Silk Worms on a Rainy Day

The weather has changed, and rain is in the air. We had to convince Mrs. Lee and Mr. Shin that we were perfectly fine with sightseeing in the rain, although they did insist on holding umbrellas over us if we ever wandered out into the wet stuff unprotected. We had a nice day, unhurried by any specific schedule, and got the chance to leave the cities and see a bit of the rural Korea. We started the day with a tour of the Oeam Folk Village, a town of about 200 people that has been designated a national heritage site. They have set up a number of buildings for touring, and we wandered around the charming town with stone fences and thatch roofed homes. The rice is a lovely yellow color this time of year, getting ready to be harvested at the end of the month. Small pumpkins grow on the tops of the stone fences, and persimmon, chestnut and quince trees are sprinkled throughout.

The plan was to have lunch at a restaurant in the village, but a downpour was just starting as we got there and everybody else had the same idea to get in out of the rain as well. Plan B (thanks to a smart phone huddle), we went to a “chicken soup restaurant”. Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? My, oh my! We traveled up into the hills, farther and farther, until we were all sure the bus would tumble down the hillside at any moment. The restaurant is owned and run by a family of 3, and a dog, and just beautiful, with traditional seating on a heated floor at a low table. We were the only ones there, so got a good opportunity to learn about the region and food. We’re fairly certain that everything that went into the chicken soup came from within 100 yards of the restaurant. They specialize in silk worms – they’re fermented into a wine as well as a delicacy added to the soup and are supposed to be good for high blood pressure and diabetes. Mulberries are also prominent, with the bark flavoring the soup and several accompanying dishes including the berries. But the worms – Steve managed 3 of them but Rebecca just couldn’t handle it!

After lunch we stopped at General Yi Sun-sin’s shrine for a nice walk in the pouring rain. General Yi is the admiral credited with saving the country from Japanese invasion in the 1590s. We were also treated to a cultural dance performance in an exhibition hall there.

From there, back to the Festival Center for a little more of the dance competition and wandering the booths. We returned to our hotel for some pizza and beer, and an early night to bed.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Memorials, Parades, and Gifts

Friday in Cheonan, a day of wide ranging emotions.

We were met by new guides this morning, Yu-Mi (which she introduces as You & Me) and Hyung-Mok Kim, and headed over to the Cheonan Independence Hall, a national memorial to Korean independence from Japanese occupation. 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the independence gained in 1945 at the end of World War II. We learned about the recent history of Korea from the takeover by Japan in 1910, the brutalities inflicted upon the Korean people, and the independence movements which ultimately resulted in their freedom. People from Cheonan played a major role in the independence movements which is why the memorial is located here and visited by people throughout South Korea.

Our next stop was lunch with the mayor and his wife and several other representatives from the International Cooperation Division of the city. The mayor introduced us to the Korean custom of acknowledging a compliment with a gift when he said Steve was very good looking. We scrambled, and Ann Doyle passed Steve a Beaverton city pin to offer as his gift for the compliment. As you can imagine, compliment-escalation was not far away. The mayor complimented Ann on her beauty. Thank goodness I had brought along our entire contingent of gifts and brought out the Jasmine Pearl Company’s Dancing Dragon Tea (thank you, Andrea!) as we had learned while in Seoul that the dragon is a symbol of kings and kingdoms. The mayor mistook it for coffee and said that his wife really loved coffee, so he gave her the package. Well, without thinking too much I took out one of the bigger packages of tea that Andrea had provided and said that the small one was for him while she deserved the bigger gift. There were many laughs, much joking around, and fabulous food and company.

Our next stop was at the Gagwonsa Temple of Taejosan Mountain, a beautiful Buddhist temple set in the hillsides of Cheonan. Yu-Mi led us through the traditions involved in offering a prayer including three cycles clockwise around the giant Buddha followed by three deep bows to his image.

We had a choice to make then as we had a couple of hours until the next event. We opted for some rest time back at the hotel, and asked Yu-Mi if we could have take-out fried chicken and beer for dinner. She is a super-energetic and positive lady, and to see the shock on her face was pretty hilarious. She looked over at Mr. Kim (who doesn’t speak English at all) and you could just see her trying to figure out how she would explain to the head of the International Cooperation Section that we weren’t going to have another fancy dinner. She must have asked if we were sure about 5 times, and in the end they came through like champs. We dined in glorious informality in the Biz Lounge of the hotel.

The evening found us smack in the middle of a parade! We marched near the front of the line with the mayor, his wife, and other “distinguished” guests through the city streets. There were several spots along the route where the festival participants performed their dance for the audience, and at the end of the route we were ushered to seats where we could watch the remaining groups give their final performance. Outstanding dances and lots of fun.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cosmetics, Riverboats, and Island Performing Arts Centers

We started our day with a tour of a cosmetics factory in Cheonan (cool robots in the warehouse). From there we traveled about an hour away to Sejong, a planned city that was just built within the last 5 years. The idea was to relocate the capital from Seoul so there are something like 15 governmental agencies here. Korea is very densely populated (600,000 in Cheonan) and this city was built in former farmland to accommodate half a million people. We saw an amazing calligraphy exhibit in the National Library and had lunch in the rooftop restaurant overlooking... get this... the performing arts center set in the middle of a lake.

 From Sejong we made our way to Buyeo for a quick boat trip up the river to a temple dedicated to the 3 wives of the last king of Baekje and his 3000 ladies of the court that threw themselves from the cliff at the site to preserve their honor from being compromised by the conquering Silla army somewhere around 600 AD.

Wow, 3000? Apparently “King Euija” is used as slang for playboy today.

We had a quick visit to the Buyeo National Museum dedicated to the archeological history of the Baekje civilization where we saw about a unique gilt bronze incense burner, a beautiful piece and a Korean National Treasure. 

Our day was completed with a reception and dinner with members of the Cheonan City Council. We were warmly welcomed and shared a delicious meal while getting to know about each other.

On to Cheonan!

This missive is directly from Steve and Rebecca: 

Our day started off with greetings from two new representatives from Cheonan, Jae-Sook Lee (left) and Dong-Sik Shin (right) as we met up with the rest of the Beaverton delegation, Anne, Jeanine and Lisa. 

We toured Bukchon, a village frozen in time in the midst of modernized Seoul where the traditional architecture of Korea is found amongst the narrow alleys and steep hills. We toured a private residence recreated in the traditional methods but incorporating all the modern conveniences. 

After a lunch of spicy beef stew we made our way to Gyeongbok Palace where we arrived just in time for the ceremony of the changing of the guards. This palace originally consisted of hundreds of buildings but was burned in 1592. Most of the buildings here today were reconstructed from the late 1800s onward.

We got a chance for a lovely nap on the drive to Cheonan, about 2 hours from Seoul. We arrived just in time for the welcoming ceremony of the 2015 International Dance Festival. The dinner was followed by the festival’s opening ceremonies which included a number of fabulous dances by groups from around the world, culminating in a fireworks show to celebrate the evening. We discovered next that the throngs of teenagers in the crowd were really more interested in the post-fireworks entertainment…a series of K-Pop stars. We old folks snuck out after the first 3 or 4 groups!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Travel and Arrival in Korea

North Seoul Tower at night
After 15 hours of travel time (in separate, middle-seats on the plane), Steve and Rebecca arrived in Seoul. At the airport their hosts greeted them with large baskets of flowers and took them immediately to get some dinner at the North Seoul Tower.

The trek to the tower involved a ride on a cable car to get up Mt. Namsan, walking up several flights of stairs, and finally an elevator ride to the restaurant at the top.

There, they enjoyed a late dinner with their Korean hosts and a spectacular view of the city by night.

Next stop: Cheonan!

Seoul from the top of North Seoul Tower

Monday, October 5, 2015

On the Road Again

ISing's own Stephen Galván and Rebecca Ronshaugen are traveling again, this time to Beaverton's Sister City of Cheonan, South Korea along with a delegation from Beaverton. They will attend the World Dance Festival to share in the culture of Cheonan and are taking gifts from Beaverton to share our culture with Cheonan.

They're leaving today, but when they arrive they'll send back updates on their adventures. You can follow along right here on this blog.