Ice fishing in Yangpyeong

Here’s one thing I never thought I’d do. Ice fishing!

While there are numerous ice fishing festivals across South Korea during the winter, we ended up going to the Mulmalgeun Yangpyeong Smelt Festival, which takes place in the Sumi village in Yangpyeong, about 1.5 hours east of Seoul.

We took a big tour bus out there (sweet) and were met by a tour guide. He showed us the fishing rods we’d be using and gave us our buckets and bait. Let’s be real. This is not professional ice fishing by any means. As you’ll see in our photos, the fishing rods are plastic, the hooks were tiny, the bait was tiny — well, then again, smelt are tiny fish! BUT the important thing is experiencing something new. Continue reading Ice fishing in Yangpyeong

Korean Folk Village – a journey back in time

I feel like I’m slacking on my blog posts. Sorry, guys. Where does the time go?

Last weekend we traveled out of Seoul — I think, technically — to Yongin to visit the Korean Folk Village. We took the train to Sinnonhyeon Station (exit 6), and walked a bit to catch Express Bus 5001-1 to the park. Yes, it’s a park, a theme park re-creation of a Joseon Dynasty-era village.

We expected the weather to be warmer but no such luck. It was SO cold! Amazingly enough, there were still plenty of other tourists at the Korean Folk Village. The place is enormous, 245 acres to be exact. There’s a pretty river flowing through it, and mountains behind it, and lots of trees (which are unfortunately bare right now!). You can see and walk through many different types of traditional Korean houses — including a nobleman’s mansion, a large landowner’s house, a farmer’s house, a mountain village home, and traditional homes from Jeju island and Ullung island. Continue reading Korean Folk Village – a journey back in time

The hidden hangouts of Seoul City Hall

I’ve been curious to visit the new Seoul City Hall building since I first saw it. Its striking wave-like glass design makes you wonder what kind of modernities you might find inside. Here’s a picture from a previous post in case you’ve forgotten:

The new Seoul City Hall. It's the glass building in the rear that looks like a wave. The former city hall in front is now the Seoul Metropolitan Library.
The new Seoul City Hall. It’s the glass building in the rear that looks like a wave. The former city hall in front is now the Seoul Metropolitan Library.

Little did I know, you actually can go on a self-guided tour of new (and old) City Hall — they make it easy by providing small booklets that guide you step-by-step through the various things to see. I was just looking for a place to grab a drink and do some work, so that was a pleasant surprise.

A bit of background before I take you on part of the tour. The new City Hall opened not that long ago in 2012. It has 13 floors above ground and five floors underground, and is designed to be eco-friendly, of course.The former City Hall, which sits in front of it, was turned into the Seoul Metropolitan Library. Continue reading The hidden hangouts of Seoul City Hall

If old prison walls could talk

This might seem like a morbid post for some of you, but I was intrigued by the Seodaemun Prison History Hall and the stories those walls had to tell. I don’t believe I’ve ever visited a former prison, and definitely not one that housed prisoners of war.

Seodaemun Prison is located at Seodaemun Independence Park in Seoul. It was built in 1908 and used during the colonial period of Japanese occupation to house Korean independence activists. (After the colonial period ended in 1945, it was used by the South Korean government until 1987.) I shouldn’t say “house,” since many of them were brutally tortured and then executed. The prison was built to accommodate about 500 people, but eventually housed more than 3,000 prisoners simultaneously at the height of protests. They were cramped, their cells had no heating in the winter and no cooling in the summer. They ate small rations of rice and were forced to work long days on the complex building bricks and military uniforms.

The prison is now a museum and a self-guided tour takes you through most of the buildings. You can step into regular cells and isolation cells. You can see the basement where the Japanese interrogated and tortured prisoners upon arrival (life-like scenes are recreated in case you can’t picture the torture clearly enough in your mind), including the various torture devices used. You can also visit the lepers’ building, the outdoor exercise facility and the execution building. Continue reading If old prison walls could talk

Eating our way through Seoul

I won’t pretend to be an expert food critic or anything, I just wanted to share some of the foods we’ve eaten during our couple of months in Seoul. Foods that I haven’t already shared with you in previous posts. Here they are, in no particular order. And don’t worry, there will be plenty more, I’m sure. 😉

Shabu-shabu (Japanese):

They bring you a bowl of broth and your meat and veggies, and you boil everything together (various greens, soybean sprouts, mushrooms and fish cakes). We also ordered some kimchi dumplings and regular dumplings on the side.

Manjoo Hana (Korean):

Cream/custard-filled little doughy things. You find them in many subway stations — they smell delicious and taste best when fresh and warm.

Continue reading Eating our way through Seoul

The dainty Garosu-gil Street

The other day my friend took me across the river into Gangnam for lunch at Garosu-gil Street in Sinsa-dong.

Not sure how to best describe Garosu-gil. It’s like a small version of Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, or like Abbot Kinney in Venice. Clean, pretty, pedestrian friendly. It spans just several blocks, but if you explore the side streets you’ll find many cute shops, cafes, dessert places, lots of eateries (pizza, Japanese food, tacos, Spanish food, you name it), nail and hair salons, skin care product shops, and more. The main street is known for the ginkgo trees that line it.

From the minute you exit the Sinsa subway station (exit 8), you start spotting plastic surgery clinics. And nicer cars. In my two short trips there, I’ve seen a Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and a group of nice Harleys rollin’ down Garosu-gil.

My friend and I had lunch at Vatos Urban Tacos, founded by some guys out of SoCal (they have another location in Itaewon). Continue reading The dainty Garosu-gil Street

Ringing in the New Year at Bosingak

Happy New Year!!!

After dinner and ice cream with some friends last night, we bundled up and made our way to the Bosingak Belfry (not far from the other NYE festivities at Seoul City Hall) to experience the New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony. We got there around 10:30pm and it was already super crowded! As expected. Police everywhere, people pouring out from the subway station, from every block trying to grab a good viewing spot. I could barely see over people’s heads. We stood in one cramped spot across the street from the Belfry for almost an hour, and then suddenly, police opened up the street and let the crowds flow into the street, closer to the pavilion — which was awesome for us! Because now we were much closer to the action.

A live rock band took the stage around 11:30pm, followed by some traditional/folk dancing and the presentation of the people who had the honor of actually ringing the bell that night. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, of course, so I’m not sure who they were, but I imagine various noteworthy figures from the community.

At exactly 10 seconds ’til midnight, the crowd started counting down in unison, until the first gong! of the bell was heard. Continue reading Ringing in the New Year at Bosingak