Tag Archives: Spring

Strolling Among the Cherry Blossoms in DC

Last year, we were fortunate enough to be living in Asia during cherry blossom season. We saw the beautiful blooms in Seoul, Tokyo, and Osaka, along with the large, excited crowds that flocked to view and photograph them. We’re talking tripods and selfie sticks everywhere. But when you see them in person, it’s easy to understand why. The white and pink petals brighten up any landscape, as if straight out of a fairytale.

So when spring finally reared its head in Northern Virginia, we knew we needed to make the trip to Washington, D.C. to experience the short-lived cherry blossoms.

First, a little history on how these cherry blossoms even ended up in the United States. The existing 3,000 cherry trees arrived in D.C. in 1912, a gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo. (The first batch of 2,000 trees arrived diseased in 1910.) According to the National Cherry Blossom Festival website, “in a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.” The annual festival celebrates the lasting ties between both countries.

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I have to admit, we weren’t expecting much. After all, we’d seen “the real deal” in Japan — how could these possibly compare? I’m happy to say we were pleasantly surprised. We rode the motorcycle into D.C. to avoid any parking headaches, and made our way to the Tidal Basin, where we found eager throngs competing for the best photo ops. Continue reading Strolling Among the Cherry Blossoms in DC

Celebrating Buddha’s Birthday with the Lotus Lantern Festival

The Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul was quite the celebration. For more than one week leading up to Buddha’s Birthday, which is a national holiday in Korea, the city hosted numerous Buddhist events and decorated its sidewalks with bright, colorful lanterns. The traditional lanterns are made with hanji, a tough, Korean paper made out of the inner bark or fiber of mulberry trees.

First, we witnessed the massive gathering in Gwanghwamun Square for the Conference for World Peace and the Reunification of Korea. It was organized by the Great Equal Assembly of Ganhwa Seon — part of the Jogye Order, the country’s largest Buddhist sect, which practices Seon (aka Zen) buddhism. If you look closely in one of the photos, you can see the large group of monks sitting right in front of the stage.

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Korean Baseball – A Whole Other Ball Game

One of Will’s coworkers was nice enough to invite us to a baseball game recently. Of all the things I’d planned to do during our time in Korea — visit historic sites, see traditional arts performances, etc. — I hadn’t thought to do something as ordinary as go to a sports game. But I am SO glad we did! ‘Cause it’s a whole other game here in Korea.

When we arrived at Jamsil Baseball Stadium, one of the first things I noticed was all the vendors outside, selling everything from food (dried squid, to-go boxes of fried chicken & more) to thundersticks/bambams and other fan gear. It seemed very convenient, just grab and go in. There were also many eateries and food stands, including western fast food joints like Burger King and KFC, dessert places like Street Churros and beer stands of course. You can bring your own food into the stadium if you prefer, too.

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The game was between the Doosan Bears from Seoul and the Hanwha Eagles from Daejeon. Naturally, we sat with the Bears fans. Continue reading Korean Baseball – A Whole Other Ball Game

The Natural Wonders of Jeju Island

Mandarin oranges, Jeju black pig, Hallasan Mountain, huge lava tubes, majestic waterfalls, beautiful beaches…. Those are just some of the things I’ll remember Jeju for.

For those of you who’ve never heard of Jeju (I hadn’t heard of it until we came to Korea), it’s a volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea. It’s fairly small, oval-shaped, with a population of roughly 600,000, the dormant Hallasan Mountain volcano rising at its center and hundreds of “oreums,” or volcanic cones, scattered all over the island that basically look like small mountains.

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It rained for half of our time on the island, but I have to say, it didn’t ruin things one bit. In fact, the rain somewhat added to the “tropical” feel of the island (and kept away many tourists).

First, we checked out Jeongbang Waterfall, one of the three major falls on the island. Continue reading The Natural Wonders of Jeju Island

Labor Strikes in Seoul

This wasn’t what I expected to come across today when I decided to go work from a cafe, but definitely worth documenting.

Apparently, thousands of unionized workers are striking against government plans to reform the pension system for public servants and introduce a more flexible labor market. These photos and videos below are of the massive crowd in Seoul Plaza, just outside Seoul City Hall.

According to the Korean Yonhap News Agency, about 260,000 unionized workers joined the one-day walkout launched in 2,829 work places across the country, including 60,000 government employees and 10,000 teachers.

It was incredible to watch the crowds and hear them chanting in unison. You can imagine that police were out in full force, too. Thousands of riot police standing by, ready to handle out-of-control crowds. They’re everywhere, on every sidewalk and street corner. They’ve blocked off streets and have formed blockades with the police buses. I hear they’re expecting more protests over the weekend, and people here seem to love protesting/demonstrating things in general anyway, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this.

Continue reading Labor Strikes in Seoul

Hiking in Style at Namhansanseong Fortress

To clarify, Will and I were not the ones hiking in style! But as soon as you reach Sanseong Station and get on the bus, you feel like you didn’t get the memo on what to wear. It’s quite the sight. Everyone around us was dressed head to toe in bright, colorful hiking gear. The pants, jackets, boots, hats, walking poles, backpacks, canteens — the whole works! (If you look closely, you can kind of see what I’m talking about in the photos.) You’d think you’re going to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, not Namhansanseong Fortress.

Namhansanseong Fortress is located southeast of Seoul, took us about an hour, hour and a half to get there via train and bus. Its miles and miles of walls and gates were built in the 17th century in response to the introduction of gunpowder weapons to East Asia, according to my guide book. It was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site just last year. There are various shrines, temples and pavilions you can explore in the area, but we mainly wanted to walk along the wall, so we didn’t check out any of those. Keep in mind, it’s a large place — it takes 3-4 hours to walk the entire wall, roughly 12km.

We started at the South Fortress Gate, or Nammun Gate, and walked east from there. I wouldn’t call this an arduous hike, but be prepared to go up many steps and, well, do a lot of walking. The weather was nice when we went, but the views could’ve been better. It was just a lot of brown hillside. I didn’t mind too much, since it was cool just to see the wall, to see it stretching and winding for miles and miles over the mountains. Here are some photo highlights below, or you can visit my full gallery here.

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Candid shots of Seoul this week

Having a relative visit us here in Seoul has (thankfully) forced me out of the apartment this week. Here are a few candid shots from the last few days I thought you might enjoy:

Hadn’t seen this part of Incheon International Airport before. Pretty futuristic looking. 

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Came across this demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the deadly Sewol ferry disaster (must watch video — so many people!).

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Continue reading Candid shots of Seoul this week