Sunday, November 28, 2010

Weekend 39 of 52.

Inwang Mountain (Inwangsan)

I am no great hiker. Even more am I no great mountain climber. Lo, Dan likes to do these things, and we got an email from another Dan at Justice for North Korea to go with a group of North Korean refugees, some South Koreans, and some foreigners to climb up Inwangsan. I had already promised my Dan that I would hike with him this weekend, so it was all very serendipitous.

So we huffed and we puffed our way up a mountain, and, yes, you will see that there are stairs carved out of rock, but that's still some serious solid inclining. We went out for barbecue after the altitudinal adventure, and we met the runner of this blog and chatted about the runner of this blog, both of which I read on the regular, and it was like there was no such thing as the fourth wall.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Weekend 38 of 52.

Hongdae Free Market, American Thanksgiving

I know I am late blogging the weekend (during which we laid low entirely in Hongdae, watching a friend perform at the Hongdae Free Market and meeting other new friends for coffee), but now I have bonus pictures from our American Thanksgiving dinner. Dan organized the celebration with the other English teachers at his school. We were able to purchase a turkey and ham dinner from the Dragon Hill Lodge. The meat was awesome and completely undoable otherwise, but the sides were lackluster and we didn't even get the advertised beans almondine (mixed vegetables instead) and gravy (raisin rum sauce instead). Luckily, our meal was supplemented with roll cake, lemon cake, nut cake, sweet potatoes, deviled soy sauce eggs, tomatoes, oranges, Tropicana Sparkling, Shany rolls, chocolate peanut butter pie, and the pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes also from the Dragon Hill Lodge.

The food was abundant, and it was so good to spend time with the teachers. We laughed a lot, and Dan said the day was one of his favorites in Korea so far (Thanksgiving coincided with Happy Day at the school, a day for students to shirk class responsibility and watch movies and play games and eat and sell snacks). And now AFN Korea is airing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which I had given up seeing (but what's a Thanksgiving without various recording artists enthusiastically lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks?)! Thanks, Army!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Weekend 37 of 52.

Seoul Lantern Festival, Tapgol Park, Dongdaemun, Bangsan Baking Market

Before I bounce Dan's post down, I want to direct your attention to it. Living in South Korea has given us an unanticipated ache for the people of North Korea. We aren't sure how best to promote justice there, but we feel like the movie "North" is a step in the right direction. They need funding. You can donate as much or little as you like. They have 45 days to reach their goal of $6500, not a large amount for a movie, not a small amount for independent movie makers. You can donate by clicking here.

Now, on with frivolity. It seems like we end up in Dongdaemun every other weekend, right? But I have chocolate and knitting needs that only the Dongdaemun markets can satisfy. We made sure to supplement that activity with a trip to Tapgol Park, home of the Wongaksa Pagoda. The pagoda is 500 years old, 10 stories high, hewn of marble, and is considered one of Korea's national treasures.

On our way to the park, we decided to revisit the Seoul Lantern Festival in the daytime so we could actually get near some of the lanterns.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Will you help us help them?

I have two or three unfinished posts that have been sitting in draft mode for months, simply because I'm really bad at a) being consistent and b) following through. I am just as interested in sharing those posts with you, but this is time sensitive and a bit more important.

A general disdain for North Korea and its treatment of its people wasn't something we were without before we came to South Korea. Nearly everyone in the world has an idea of the goings-on in NK from bits of news, but I think it's fair to point out that most people aren't aware of the full gravity of the situation.

A small glimpse: during the mid 90's there was a great famine in the country. As many as 3 million people died of starvation due to an incompetent government that valued the ideals of communism more than its own people. This is something that most people in Western culture aren't fully aware of. It's sad to say, but that is only one of many issues the country has had.

With any tyrannical government comes immense fear of dissent. You can't really hold hands with an iron fist. Currently, there are anywhere from 5-7 political prison camps known as "gulags" that hold North Koreans who are seen as political offenders. You could be sent to one of these camps for saying something bad about "Dear Leader (Kim Jong Il)," being a Christian, crossing the wrong person, attempting to defect, or even watching a South Korean drama. These camps are not unlike the ones we saw in Nazi Germany. While there is debate whether NK citizens are used for science experimentation or are gassed in gas chambers, we do know that there are tens of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of prisoners who have died from "a combination of exhaustion, disease, starvation, and arbitrary brutality."

This practice does not exclude children nor women.

Something has to be done. Obviously, our ability seems limited at first. To take down one of the longest-standing and deeply-corrupt governments in the world is no small feat. That's why most North Korean justice organizations are currently working on awareness as one of their top priorities.

Most Westerners have heard about Darfur but probably have no clue what the word gulag means. A small Japanese film group has taken it upon themselves to try to raise awareness through a popular format: animation.

Serenity and I really believe this is a legitimate way to turn people's eyes toward a situation that can no longer be ignored. From the group's kickstarter page:

A group of animators and human right activists from Japan have determined to produce an animation film to inform, inspire, and empower others to raise a voice against heinous human rights violations inside North Korea's notorious concentration camps, where over 200,000 "violators" are overworked, tortured, raped or publicly executed today.

Using the popular and accessible so-called "Anime" style, the film will graphically depict the survival of a young boy who grew up in the camp and escaped to a freer world.

The cost to get the project started isn't small. It will probably be very difficult to obtain, but it's necessary.

Please watch the informational video below to see if this is something you feel called to help with. If so, you can click through on the video and find out more details.

I'm not sure if this is too didactic, but we can't stay silent.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Weekend 36 of 52.

Cafe Rumi, Unhyeongung Palace, Insadong, Seoul Lantern Festival, Bosingak Bell Pavilion

We kick-started last weekend with mid-week fun at Cafe Rumi, a TV and Wii room, to celebrate Luke's birthday. We bowled, we boxed, we ice-skated, and we had bottomless soda and ice cream. A fine way to spend a Wednesday.

On Saturday we went to our third palace (1 here and here, 2 here). I have been surprised at the differences between the palaces. This one felt more casual and had mannequins set up to display the clothes and practices of the time. After the palace, we walked through Insadong. Dan and I got harassed by a drunk man alternately trying to give us things and get us to bow low and say we were thankful. But for real, he followed us the length of Insadong's main road, pressing a crappy mirror compact into Dan's chest, until a vendor told him to leave us alone. It was not awesome. At least we got some tasty street food. This time a stuffed and fried pancake called hodduk.

The Seoul Lantern Festival is on, so we tried to muscle our way down to Cheonggyecheon Stream to see the light show. It was completely packed, complete with police officers manning the stairs and a queue snaking around stream's wall. We abandoned that idea, peeked down from street level, and then moved on.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekend 35 of 52.

Myeongdong, Street Food, Makgeolli, Konkuk University

Nearly a week ago, we revisited Myeongdong to do some seasonal bolstering of our wardrobes. I infamously packed only two pairs of pants to move to a place without sizes because small fits all, but Myeongdong has some Western shops and some size variety. Also, we'd heard tell of some fancy heat-retaining shirts and tights. So that Dan wasn't completely bored all day, he tried out some new street food, including a giant cream puff, a giant ice cream cone, and a Korean hot pocket. Then we went over near Konkuk University for the first of Korrine's birthday celebrations, at which we drank makgeolli, traditional Korean rice wine, mixed with Chilsung Cider, traditional Korean 7 UP.