Gwangju and Korean Democracy

Gwangju,the largest city in southwestern Korea, was once the provincial capital of South Jeolla province, but has since broken into its own separate metropolis (similar to Seoul, Busan, Daegu, and Daejeon).

The Jeolla provinces have the most abundant flat land on the Korean peninsula (which is largely mountainous) and South Jeolla has the mildest weather, so historically the majority of Korea’s rice has been harvested in these provinces. This led to hardships for peasants in Jeolla, who were often exploited for the resources, both under Joseon and the Japanese occupation. South Jeolla also was not treated well under Park Chung-hee’s administration in the 60’s and 70’s, due to his favoring of the Gyeongsang provinces (Park was a native of North Gyeongsang) over the Jeollas. Therefore, Jeolla was no stranger to rebellions before May 1980, the date of the Gwangju Uprising.

From 1961, Park Chung-hee ruled South Korea under a military dictatorship until his assassination by his Chief of Security in 1979. This eventually led to a coup by another military general, Chun Doo-hwan, who imposed martial law on the country after Park’s death. Student and university protests against the military regime, which had been suppressed under Park, came back in full force, particularly in Gwangju, then the provincial capital of South Jeolla.

On May 18, 1980, protesters at Chonnam University in Gwangju were violently suppressed by paratroopers. The conflict spread and escalated, more paratroopers moved in and clubbed both the protesters and even bystanders. In the days after, the violence grew worse when soldiers opened fire. In response, civilians broke into police stations and government facilities and took guns to arm themselves. They drove away the army for a brief period, but the army returned on May 27th and thoroughly defeated the protesters.

At least a few hundred civilians died, but some believe the death toll may have been in the thousands. The Wikipedia article on the uprising provides more detail. Although the protesters in Gwangju lost the battle at the time, the war for democracy in Korea was eventually won in 1987. The Gwangju protest sparked similar protests for democracy in Korea and after Chun Doo-hwan’s term ended, South Korea experienced a free and honest election.

Gwangju has a lot of sites dedicated to this event and they are rightly proud of their history as fighters for democracy. Even in the subway stations, there is information about the event and the victims of the violence.

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While visiting the city, I went to the May 18th National Cemetery, the final resting place for the victims of the massacre. The cemetery was established in 1997 to pay respects to the victims, who had been moved from their previous cemetery, Mangwol-dong Cemetery.

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Cemetery entrance.

It’s free to enter and very well maintained. When I went in, a guide asked if I wanted to watch a video about the Gwangju Uprising. the video is a bit long, at 30 minutes, but describes the event in detail with plenty of footage. Next to the video room is an exhibition hall, showing some of the weapons used by the soldiers and protesters, and a bloodied Korean flag used during the uprising.

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Behind the large memorial tower are the graves, which have a photo (if available) of the victim and flowers next to the grave. On the right side, there is a Memorial Hall with large photographs of all the deceased. I was moved by the amount of respect and honor paid to these people.

I would definitely recommend a visit here while in Gwangju. But the cemetery is located on the outskirts of the city and it takes and hour to get there. From what I’ve read, a taxi takes only 20 minutes, so if going with a group that would be the best option. However, I didn’t see many taxis in this area so to get back to Gwangju city center, it might be best to ask the information desk to call a taxi or take the bus. If taking the bus there, board bus 518 (easy to remember) from Gwangcheon/U-square terminal or Gwangju Station to the cemetery.

There are return bus times posted on the information desk, but the lady at the desk told me these times can be give or take 10 minutes, so I couldn’t really precisely plan which bus to take. One bus time was listed as 4:47 pm, but the bus actually came at 5 pm.

Boseong’s Green Tea and Gwangju’s Duck Stew

Boseong Green Tea Plantation

Boseong, a small rural county located on the southern coast in Jeollanam-do, is famous for it’s rolling green tea fields on the side of the hills, creating a gorgeous landscape that makes it perhaps Jeollanam-do’s top attraction. While it isn’t widely visited by tourists to Korea, it’s a common “bucket list” item that expats in Korea wish to see before they leave. It was on my list for years, but just never made it there until recently.

This past May, I went on a road trip to the Jeonnam province with two friends, and going to the tea fields was on our list, but there was a festival going on then so we decided to leave very early to secure a parking space. However, that morning I wasn’t feeling well so I decided to sleep in. I ended up regretting this since I’m returning home soon and hoped to see the tea farm before leaving. Once winter approached, I wasn’t sure if the plantation would really be worth seeing this season, but when I looked at pictures of the fields taken in winter they still looked green and beautiful so I decided to go.

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Definitely beautiful, even this time of year!

For some reason I just felt like I didn’t want to leave Korea before going to the tea fields so I combined it with another trip to southwestern Korea (this time including Gochang and Gwangju). I even ate the green tea ice cream in the cold.

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Delicious!

To get to the fields, I took an intercity bus from Gwangju’s U-square (also called Gwangcheon) terminal to Boseong. The ride is a little less than two hours. At Boseong terminal, you can buy a ticket to get to the fields, and then wait for the city bus at the terminal. The ride is about 10 minutes.

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Walk through these trees to reach the plantation.

Entrance fee is 4,000 won. The fields don’t seem as bright green in winter as in May-October, but they are still worth a look, plus it’s always nice to see some greenery in the winter season.

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One positive aspect of going in colder weather (at least for me personally) is I have an easier time hiking than in warm weather, so I hiked up the green tea hill to get a view of the fields and ocean. The stairs leading up are pretty steep, but there is an observation platform about halfway through. I decided to hike up to the top, though.

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Unfortunately, because the hike was pretty steep, it caused quite a few sore muscles around my knee and it hurt to walk, unless I walked slow (I normally walk at a very brisk pace) so this negatively impacted some of the time in Gochang and Gwangju. I think it’s actually the most sore I’ve been from a hike, I’m not even sure why this particular one caused it as I’ve done a few similarly steep hikes before, though I’m not a hiker by any means.

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At least the view of the ocean was nice.

Near the field there’s a gift shop selling plenty of green tea and green tea snacks, and the second floor above the gift shop is a restaurant with plenty of green tea flavored foods, such as pork cutlet, black bean noodles (jajangmyeon), cold noodles (naengmyeon), and bimimbap. Down by the gift shop is a coffee stand selling the green tea ice cream along with green tea lattes and various coffee and tea drinks.

Gwangju

I took the bus back to Gwangju, where I was staying. Gwangju is the sixth biggest city in Korea, located in the middle of the Jeollanam-do province. It’s a good base if exploring the region. Gwangju is known for it’s food, and while I was there I wanted to try the duck stew, or oritang, one of the local specialties. There’s even a whole street with restaurants specializing in the dish (it’s quite common in Korean cities to have a street or two dedicated to a local specialty). The most famous restaurant of the bunch is Yeongmi Oritang (영미오리탕), which is supposedly the best. It’s pretty easy to find, just take a bus to NC Department store (buses in Gwangju have English announcements for all stops), pass the store, and you’ll see the duck soup street. Yeongmi Oritang is the one with the biggest crowd.

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And the soup is tasty!

You can order a full duck or a half duck in the stew. I ordered half (just say ban mari for half) which was plenty. I ate the meat off the bones and placed the bones on the table, which had a plastic cover. The stew has a soybean paste taste to it and it’s very good, vegetables can also be added to the stew. It’s not cheap, as a half duck cost 28,000 won. But that’s not outrageous either, so I thought it was worth it.

After dinner I went to Gwangju’s downtown, the main street called Chungjang-ro. To be frank, it’s pretty much exactly the same as the downtown in any other Korean city, but it’s closed off to cars which is nice. There’s an “Art Street” nearby but quite a few reviews of the place online said it’s not really worth visiting (many galleries are closed down and it’s not very busy) so I didn’t bother with that. I did read good reviews of Gwangju’s Museum of Art but didn’t go, cause my sore leg from the Boseong hike was making it difficult to walk around.

I did briefly visit Gwangju’s traditional neighborhood, Yangrim-dong, which doesn’t have many English reviews online but it’s mentioned in the Gwangju tourist maps. It’s where Presbyterian missionaries set up their homes during their time in Gwangju in the early 1900’s. I visited the Yangrim Presbyterian Church and the Owen Memorial Pavilion. The Presbyterian church was founded in 1904 and the current church was reconstructed in 1958. It’s a nice red brick building.

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The Owen Memorial Pavilion, next to the church, is dedicated to one of the church’s founders who died of pneumonia. He and the other missionaries established schools, hospitals, and churches around the area and worked hard in the medical field.

Nearby this area is a hanok neighborhood, which contains two well known hanoks, the Lee Jang-woo house and the Choi Seung-hyo house. There are a few signs around pointing in the direction. I had hoped to visit them since they seemed to be unique compared to other hanoks, and the Choi Seung-hyo house in particular was first built during the Japanese occupation and seemed to be a blend of Korean and Western styles. Sadly for me they seemed to be closed when I was there. Not sure if it was because it was a Sunday, or too early (it was a little after 9 am) but all I could see was the front doors.

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There’s a few other missionary sites in the area, like the Wilson house and a cemetery nearby, but I just decided to skip them because of my sore leg.

To get to Yangrim-dong, just take the subway to Namgwangju station and leave exit 3. Walk through the Namgwangju market toward the Christian College of Nursing, and there’s a few signs around directing to the Owen Memorial Hall and the hanok houses.

Gwangju’s subway only has one line (like Daejeon) and it’s not usually very busy because it doesn’t reach many places in the city. Even the U-square bus terminal isn’t on the line. However Gwangju’s downtown can be reached from the Culture Complex station, and U-square is about a 15 minute walk from Nongseong station.

In Gwangju, I stayed at the Oxbloodk hostel and would wholeheartedly recommend it. It was the cheapest hostel option I found and had the best reviews, so it was a no-brainer. The best aspects of the place are the manager, the location, and the price. The manager is very kind and helpful and will answer any question about the area and provides a bag of free toiletries. He even upgraded my room from the 4 bed dorm to a private room for the same price because I was staying a few nights. The do-it-yourself breakfast was also good and free; eggs, bacon, cereal, juice, milk, bananas, and plenty of other choices available, and it’s open 24 hours so guests can eat when they want. Location is excellent, just 10 minutes walk from the U-square terminal (the hostel website has a video showing how to get there from the terminal, so I found it easily). Also very close to a subway station and bus stop.

The biggest downside is that the 4-bed room is quite small, located on the 5th floor and there’s no elevator. So I was very grateful when the manager offered a private room cause it had much more space and was on the 2nd floor. It’s in an old style room, but clean and with a warm ondol. Even the regular price of the room is good value for money.

Although Gwangju is well-known in Korea for it’s food and bi-yearly art exhibition (Gwangju Biennale) it’s best known for the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, a protest for democracy during a military dictatorship. My main reason for visiting the city was to go to the cemetery dedicated to those that lost their lives while protesting against the government, which I will discuss in the next post.

Suwon’s Fortress Gates and Paldalsan

Suwon, located about an hour south of Seoul on the subway, is most well known for it’s Hwaseong Fortress which surrounds the city center. Hwaseong isn’t exactly an ancient wall, as it was built in the late 1700’s during the Joseon dynasty. King Jeongjo ordered the fortress built in honor of his father, Sado, who was killed by his own father by locking him in a rice chest. (Sado was allegedly a serial rapist and murderer, who left his father no choice but to kill him. However, some believe he was actually innocent and his father murdered him for political reasons.) Jeongjo, on the other hand, is considered to be one of the better Joseon rulers, and his fortress is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

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Paldalmun Gate, a common starting point for a Hwaseong Fortress hike.

Hwaseong suffered plenty of damage over the years, but it has been renovated mostly to its former glory.

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I visited Suwon twice, once pretty briefly during some days I had in Seoul right before I flew home for a visit in between contracts and another recently as a day trip. I’m sad to say my last visit was also kind of short, since it was a Sunday and I wanted to make it back to my house to get some work done before the week started.

I definitely don’t regret making the second visit, but I wish I had gotten the chance to walk around the whole wall. Even so, I loved the view at Paldalsan, the highest point in the fortress, though it does require climbing many stairs. But it’s totally worth it. The peak is closest to the Hwaseomun part of the gate, but many start at Paldalmun and hike to Hwaseomun from there.

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Hwaseomun.
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View of Haenggung Palace from Paldalsan.

There’s almost a 360 degree view of Suwon city from the top of the stairs.

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Walking down from the peak, it’s easy to visit the temporary palace. It’s mostly a reconstruction, but nice to walk around.

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From the palace it’s a fairly short walk to Paldalmun gate.

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The area around Paldalmun has a wet market that is interesting to walk around, even without wanting to purchase anything.

The 10 floor gothic style Suwon First Church is nearby Paldalmun. I think it’s the biggest church I’ve ever seen in Korea.

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Seriously, this thing is huge.

There’s a dragon shaped trolley that goes around the fortress, I didn’t ride it but it’s cool to look at.

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Martial arts performances take place at the palace at 11 am and 3 pm every day except Monday, according to the Gyeonggi-do tourism website. I didn’t catch this but it’s free so it would have been nice to see it. There’s also a section of the wall to try out Korean archery, 2,000 won for 10 arrows.

Getting there is pretty easy, Line 1 of the Seoul metro goes to Suwon station, and from there several buses go to Hwaseomun and Paldalmun gates. The bus stop near the station is huge and Suwon seems to have a very extensive bus system but all the stops are listed in English as well as Korean, which makes it easier for tourists.

Incheon: Past, Present, and Future

Incheon is an industrial port city located on the west coast of Korea, best known for it’s airport, which is the main gateway in and out of South Korea. Incheon International Airport, located on an island off the Incheon mainland, is world-renowned, recently rated the world’s best airport for the 10th year in a row.

Incheon actually has an interesting history beyond it’s recently built airport (which opened in 2001). Even more recently, in 2003, some of it’s land was used to build a “city of the future,” which hasn’t quite materialized yet.

I was inspired by this blog post to day trip to Incheon and visit some of the remaining buildings from the city’s colonial and international past. In 1876, Japan invaded Korea and pretty much forced them to sign the Treaty of Ganghwa, which opened up Incheon and other cities as trading ports. In addition to Japanese settlements, Incheon also had a large community of Chinese and Westerners.

In the 1880s, Incheon acquired a large Qing Chinese settlement, as thousands of Chinese migrated to work as traders and shopkeepers. However, strained relations with the Chinese starting in the 1930’s caused the community to shrink, and then in the 1960’s when South Korean president/military dictator Park Chung-hee restricted the property rights of Chinese in Korea. Today, Incheon’s Chinatown still exists as the country’s only official Chinatown, but very few residents are actually Chinese.

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Incheon’s Chinatown gate, which is right outside of Incheon station.

Incheon’s Chinatown is pretty small and perhaps only a shadow of what it once was, but it’s a lively place on a Saturday afternoon and has plenty of snacks and cheap trinket shops. I had planned to eat a jajangmyeon lunch here (Korean version of the zhajiangmian Chinese dish) but ended up getting into Seoul later than expected so I ate lunch there and only grabbed snacks in Chinatown. Most of the restaurants in Chinatown seemed to serve Korean-Chinese food, so I’m not sure it’s the best place to go for authentic Chinese. I did like the pumpkin mooncake and spicy lamb skewer I got there though.

I went to the information center and got a map of the Jung-gu district. It has the locations of the various colonial buildings in the area. My path for the day was to start at Chinatown, then go up the hill to see Jayu Park, then make my way down to view the colonial buildings.

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The restaurant where jajangmyeon was invented. The owner left years ago but it is now a museum.
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Reconstructions of Chinese style shops.
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There’s a few shops selling this hollow Chinese bread, but I didn’t try any since the lines were long.
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There’s a lot of murals depicting Chinese history and landmarks, and plenty of children enjoying themselves on the weekend.

Not far from Chinatown is Jayu Park, at the top of a short mountain that isn’t too difficult to climb, though tiring. Jayu means “freedom” and it’s Korea’s first Western style park.

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At the top, there’s the Korea-USA Centennial Monument, celebrating 100 years of Korea-USA relations, which began in 1882 when the U.S. signed a commerce treaty with Joseon Korea. There’s also a good view of the port from the monument.

From here, it’s a short walk to the statue of General MacArthur.

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MacArthur’s plan to take back the capital Seoul from North Korea through Incheon was a major turning point for the United Nations, who were losing to the Communist forces up until then. After this battle, the UN had a string of victories and almost took the entire Korean peninsula until the Chinese intervened and won back the North. The statue of the general was established in 1957 to celebrate his victory in Incheon.

Near the MacArthur statue, I followed this sign to get to the Jemulpo Club, a former social club for Incheon’s international community of Chinese, Japanese, Americans, British, Germans, and Russians. It was designed by a Russian architect in 1901.

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Right across from the club is the History Archive of Incheon, located in a pretty hanok. I didn’t go in though, I think it may have been closed when I was there.

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There’s plenty of signs in the area directing to the various colonial buildings — there’s an Anglican church in this area as well, but I didn’t visit it cause I was too lazy to walk there. From here I kept walking downhill.

I came to the main street of the former Japanese settlement, which is mostly reconstructed buildings with obviously fake exteriors.

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Former city hall, built by the Japanese during colonialism.

The church is original I think. The building on the right is also original, a former Japanese office, now used as a cafe.

Near the Japanese settlement are these stairs, separating the Qing and Japanese settlements by using Chinese stone lanterns on the left and Japanese style on the right. Up the stairs, there’s an old Chinese house in view on the Chinese side and Japanese style buildings on the other side.

 

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Statue of Confucius at the top.

Next to the Chinese side of the steps is this old Chinese house, built either in 1925 (according to this guy’s Flickr page, or in 1939 or 1947 according to Robert Koehler’s blog, linked above. So I have no idea. But it’s a nice building, nonetheless.

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From there, I walked down toward the port and a few old bank buildings.

Walking down further, is an old Japanese warehouse, now used as a cultural center.

After that, I was back in Chinatown, near a sign with a big bowl of jajangmyeon on it.

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I walked to Incheon station and went one stop away on the subway to Dongincheon, where it’s about a 15 minute walk to Dapdong Cathedral, founded by French missionaries and designed by the same priest that designed Myeongdong Cathedral. It was originally built in 1897 but the current church dates to 1937.

I had planned to make my way to the colonial Incheon Post Office, but it was getting dark by then so I decided to give it a miss. It seemed a little out of the way from Chinatown on the map.

Okay, so now I’ve covered the present and past. But what about the future?

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Only 15 years ago, Songdo International Business District was just a few marshes. Today, it’s supposedly a “City of the Future.” It has a waste disposal system using pipes that suck the trash into the underground where it’s sorted into recyclables or just burned. It has a slick Central Park with some modern futuristic architecture.

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As it’s a new city, Songdo doesn’t yet have the population numbers it’s aiming for, and it isn’t expected to be fully finished until 2018. Before I visited, I heard it was completely empty, but it actually had a few people walking around when I was there, and I went on Lunar New Year’s Day, one of the quietest days in Korea. On a regular day, it would probably  have more people, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a ghost town anymore, but probably not bustling with activity either (I haven’t been back since).

Behind Central Park, there’s a canal mall with a lot of stores and restaurants, which were mostly all closed when I went cause of the holiday. The park is nice, with a lot of pedestrian bridges and cool buildings, but probably not a whole lot to do. However, it provides a contrast from the old style colonial buildings in the Jung-gu district, and perhaps represents the future aspirations of the people and government of Incheon.

I’m not sure what’s really in store for Songdo, maybe it’ll live up to it’s aims to become a futuristic and prosperous business city or it’ll remain a relatively quiet place with some cool buildings. It’s a bit more out of the way from Seoul, to get there take Line 1 bound for Incheon then get off at Bupyeong, change to the Incheon 1 line and get off at Central Park station. It’s about a 15 minute ride from Incheon Airport.

For more information on colonial buildings in Korea, this blog is really interesting and worth a look. The writer provides the history of the buildings and a map showing their locations. If you live in Korea and want to check out colonial and early modern architecture in or near your city/town then it’s a great resource. The blog owner’s Flickr page is also linked above.

Jikji: The first known book printed with movable metal type

Johannes Gutenberg’s Bible is world-famous as supposedly the first book made with a printing press, which changed the course of humanity forever by eliminating the need for hand-copying books and enabling the mass production of books and literature.

However, that belief is actually untrue. The Chinese and Koreans printed books centuries before Gutenberg. Gutenberg’s printing press was certainly a huge achievement and his Bible paved the way for printed books in Europe, which reached the masses to a much higher degree than in Asia, where movable type printing wasn’t as useful. Chinese and Koreans both used thousands of characters in their script which in turn required thousands of unique woodblocks. The Roman alphabet, on the other hand, only needs twenty something letters, so the printing press was a more revolutionary item in Europe than in Asia.

Printing presses in China originally used woodblocks before using metal. Characters were carved into a woodblock and then inked and placed on a page. The earliest book using this method is the Chinese book Diamond Sutra, which is held in the British Library in London (the Jikji museum displays a replica). Movable type was also invented in China, and originally used wood.

The Jikji, which is a collection of Buddhist teachings, was printed in Cheongju, Korea in 1377, 78 years before the Gutenberg Bible. What makes it important is that it is the oldest known book printed with movable metal type.

The Cheongju Early Printing Musuem does not contain the actual Jikji though, the Jikji is stored in the National Library of France in Paris. A French diplomat purchased it from Korea during the Joseon dynasty.

The museum is set on the grounds where the Jikji was founded, at  Heungdeoksa temple site. The temple is no longer standing, but a replica was made.

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The museum itself is nicely designed.

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I thought the museum and exhibits were interesting, and there is English information on most of them.

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Display showing how the Jikji was made. The monks move and talk if you press a button.

There’s details of how printing presses, from the original wood to the later metal, worked and were used. There’s a focus on Korean printing methods, but there are some displays of Chinese, Japanese, and Western methods.

During my visit, an older man who works at the museum gave me a guided tour and explained some of the exhibits, such as how printing worked and the various printed books from the dynasties in Korea. He struggled several times with English, but I appreciated his effort and he was still informative.

Although the Jikji is very importnant, the national pride in some of the descriptions here came across as over the top. Even so it’s an informative museum and it’s also free. I would recommend a visit if passing through Cheongju, but I wouldn’t  go to Cheongju just to see it.

Getting there is easy. From Cheongju bus terminal, take bus 831 or 832 to Cheongju Arts Center (예술의전당). It’s about a 10 minute ride and you’ll see a green and yellow pedestrian bridge when it’s time to get off. Right across the road is the Early Printing Museum.

I spent the night in the city in a newly opened guesthouse called House202020. It’s located near the gate of Chungbuk university in an area with lots of bars and restaurants. The 4 bed dorm room is a good size and has an en suite bath. Price is 20,000 won a night. The owner is very friendly and cooks breakfast, which was toast, a sausage, eggs and pumpkin salad with yogurt. It was several times better than most hostel breakfasts.

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The guesthouse is in this building, up a few flights of stairs on the floor with the Korean flag.

The guesthouse doesn’t have a sign, at least not while I was there, but it was just officially opened so they might put one up in the future. At least for now, it’s best to call the owner and ask for directions, she answered my call right away and met me near the university gate.

Korea has tried to get the Jikji returned from France, but has so far been unsuccessful. Only the last volume of the metal printed Jikji has ever been found, so the first volume may or may not still be out there.

Beopjusa: The temple that almost starred in a Bruce Lee film

Chungcheongbuk-do was the last of Korea’s 9 provinces that I had never traveled in yet, and I wanted to make sure I visited all 9 before leaving Korea. I considered going to the small town of Danyang, which is generally considered to be the province’s top tourism spot. But the main attraction there (or one of them) is Gosu Cave, and I just did a cave trip (Hwanseon in Samcheok) the weekend before, so I decided to go to Beopjusa to see what is essentially Korea’s only remaining historical wood pagoda.

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As the title of this post says, Beopjusa was almost the setting of a Bruce Lee film, but he unfortunately died before the filming was completed in 1973. Lee’s last film, Game of Death, was never finished, but in 1978, director Robert Clouse made a new Game of Death with a different screenplay and only some original footage, and no scences from Beopjusa were used.

Beopjusa was built during the Silla kingdom in 553. Like most temples and historical buildings in Korea, it was burnt down during the Japanese invasion in the 1500’s. However, it was rebuilt in 1624 and the 5 story pagoda dates from that year. Most of the other wooden pagodas and several other temples in Korea were not rebuilt after that war, so Beopjusa’s Palsangjeon pagoda is left as the only Korean wooden pagoda.

Along with the pagoda Beopjusa has a number of cultural relics dating from the 700s, such as a stone pot and stone lanterns.

There’s also a carving of Buddha on a large boulder, and some writing etched in the stone.

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Beopjusa is also known for it’s very tall gold-leaf plated Buddha, which was made in the 20th century. This statue is apparently that of the Maitreya Buddha, or the Future Buddha. I don’t know that much about Buddhism, but from looking it up on Wikipedia the Future Buddha is another Buddha meant to be a successor to Gautama Buddha.

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The complex isn’t that big but there’s a few buildings with different images of Buddha and other figures to check out.

Beopjusa is kind of far out, but is best reached from either Daejeon or Cheongju (don’t confuse with nearby Chungju). Just take a bus from either city to Songnisan/Sokrisan Terminal, and then walk about 20 minutes to the temple. From Cheongju’s intercity bus terminal, it took about and hour and a half, making a stop at Boeun terminal before Songnisan. The entrance fee is 4,000 won. I chose to base in Cheongju because the buses from there were a little more frequent but the buses from Daejeon are also pretty regular.

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Since it was late November, there’s some snow scenery but it isn’t as frigid as January.

Songnisan is very pretty covered with snow and I wish I had planned to arrive earlier so I could’ve spent more time in the area. But it gets dark very early now so there just wasn’t much time. I had planned to just check out the temple, but given how long it took me to get there it would have been better to plan for some time in the mountain to make the most of it.

I spent one night in Cheongju, the provincial capital, which is a decent sized city that even has an airport for flights to Jeju and China. The Intercity and Express terminals are pretty large and close to each other. There’s plenty of fast food restaurants around the terminals like Burger King, KFC and Popeyes. It’s pretty lacking in things to do for a visitor though, but it’s one claim to fame is being the birthplace of the Jikji, which is the world’s first book printed with movable metal type. I visited the Jikji Museum there which will be the subject of a future post.

My First Jimjilbang: Siloam Sauna

I’ve been in Korea for almost 3 years now, but until a few days ago I had never been to a jimjilbang. I know it’s a vital Korean experience, but I just wasn’t sure I could get over the whole being naked in front of people thing. Granted, I did do the onsen in Japan, on a tour of Kyushu island. But the onsen baths were located in a large spread out village so my friends and I went to the baths on the outskirts to avoid having to strip down in front of a lot of people. Obviously it’s not possible to avoid people in one single spa building.

In fact, when I went to Siloam sauna this past weekend, I didn’t intend to go to the bath section at all — I was going to just check out the saunas and then crash in the sleeping room. This blog is simply the latest in a long string of blogs praising this sauna and it’s sleeping room, which unlike other jimjilbangs, actually has individual sleeping compartments with mats, pillows, and a towel to use as a blanket.

The price to stay the night is 15,000 won. The difference between this and a hostel price (typically around 20,000 won) is pretty small, but unlike a hostel, that price includes several saunas and relaxing baths, a set of pajamas and large resting areas. Also, no need to worry about waiting for a shower (there are plenty in the bath area obviously) or a bathroom as there are several stalls on every floor. The baths are located in the basement floor and the sleeping rooms are on the 5th floor.

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The sleeping area.

Since this was my first jimjilbang, I don’t have any other to compare it to, but I was really impressed with the facilities here. The locker in the locker room is big enough to store a backpack, and you can buy shampoo, conditioner (rinse), other toiletries, underwear, socks, and snacks from the counter there. They also have a closet to store big luggage, as the place is pretty popular with tourists. On the second floor, there’s a Korean restaurant with plenty of food choices. The third floor is the entertainment floor, complete with a PC bang, fitness center, arcade, and noraebang. The fourth floor has the saunas. I really liked the jade room, where you can basically lay down and cover yourself with a bunch of hot(!) jade crystals. There’s also oxygen rooms (neutral temperature) a very very hot room (86 Celsius, I wasn’t brave enough to go in there) and an ice room to cool off afterward. The fourth floor also has a coffee shop.

Every floor has small lockers to charge cell phones, ensuring that no one will snatch the phone. They’re also free. The whole place had a nice warm ondol.

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The charging lockers. Other valuables can also be stored here. The “Forefingers only” lockers have adapters. 

After I checked out the saunas, I decided I wanted to shower so I headed down to the locker room area. I was reluctant but eventually got over my fear of being naked because, hey, everyone else around me was naked too. I went down to the women’s bath and showered, then checked out the baths. There were massage tubs, a jade tub, a cold pool, and others. It was nice and relaxing and in the locker room there were plenty of blow dryers.

After that I chose a bunk in the women’s sleeping section. The beds on the top have curtains for extra privacy and the mats were surprisingly comfortable. The only issue I had was that I thought the room was a bit too hot. Also, although there was a separate snoring room, there were plenty of snorers in my section. Still, though, it’s a convenient place to spend the night, that’s for sure.

For reference, Siloam’s web site.

Siloam is nearby Seoul Station, and can be accessed by the Seoul Station subway stop (Line 1 and 4) or Chungjeongno station (Line 2 and 5). I chose Chungjeongno because I read it was easier to find from there. Just go out exit 5, walk straight for a few minutes and eventually it will be visible on the left. Very easy.

The next day, I took a bus down to Cheongju, to visit the last province I hadn’t yet been to in Korea (Chungbuk) and see Beopjusa, which is a temple located in Songnisan National Park and contains Korea’s only remaining five story wooden pagoda.