Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Seoul is Where the Heart is! (Part 2)

I know I left out the most important part about Seoul in my last post. Well I've saved the best for last, so enjoy it now. Some of you must be worried about what you are going to do at night in Seoul, right? I thought that Paris is supposed to be known as the City of Lights but it looks like Seoul has wrested that title from her. Don't believe? Just take a look at the videos of Seoul at Night and I'm sure you'll agree with me. Ready to paint the town red? Come follow me. One of the most frequented spots is Lotte World (the most popular Theme Park in Seoul) which has just reopened after a 6 months closure for renovation works. Lotte World consists of an indoor amusement park “Adventure,” a fully air-conditioned indoor theme park where various performances are held after 7:30 pm. and “Magic Island.” an outdoor theme park, featuring lots of thrilling rides such as Gyroswing, Gyrodrop and Waikiki Wave. Scared of heights, then how about taking a walk to the castle for some photographs to show the people back home that you've been to Lotte World. It is best that you spend the earlier part of your visit here at the Magic Island (before 7.30pm) so that you will not miss the performances at the indoor park which starts then. Some of you Korean drama fans may remember that some of the scenes of “Stairway to Heaven” were filmed here. Too old for Theme park? Or maybe you’re feeling too tired after the long walks sightseeing and shopping in the morning, you just want to put your feet up and relax. Aha, I know just what you need. How about a cruise down the Han River through the center of Seoul? As the sun goes down, the Han River becomes a romantic place with the city lights aglow and soft winds blowing in your face. The Han River comes alive as the whole place is transformed into a fairyland with lights shimmering everywhere. It adds romance to the air...You can find many young couples enjoying the ferry cruise boat in the evening hours for this reason. One can choose to sit inside or outside; but you get the best views from the front deck of the boat. It’s even comparable to a cruise down the River Seine in gay Paris! I have a better idea, why don’t you come earlier say around 6pm and have dinner at one of the several floating restaurants that line the river and make it a night to remember. The prices here may be slightly higher than average but the quality of the food and the atmosphere here are worth it. By 7.30pm you would have finished your dinner and be ready to go for that cruise on the Han River. Reservations are not allowed for the cruise, you have to take the next available ferry. Tickets can be purchased up to ten minutes before departure time. Perhaps you had been shopping around Myeong-dong and Jongno, or visiting tourist spots like Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung palaces, and Jongmyo Shrine in the afternoon. And now it's almost dinner time, instead of going for the river cruise and dinner there, why not have dinner in one of the revolving restaurants in N Seoul Tower on Mt. Namsan nearby. Mt. Namsan is located in the heart of Seoul and from N Seoul Tower one can have great panoramic views of the city. Inside N Seoul Tower is a cafĂ©, and three restaurants, Sky Restaurant, a Korean restaurant ‘Hancook,’ and the revolving N Grill (western-style restaurant). Located on the top floor of N Seoul Tower, N Grill is a unique revolving restaurant that makes a 360 degree revolution every 48 minutes. Wherever you sit, you can take in a view of Seoul in all four directions. The restaurant is so popular for its romantic dinners and spectacular night views that weekend reservations were completely booked last month. This is one of the top dining restaurants in Seoul to enjoy a great night view. To book a table, it is best to make a phone reservation at least two weeks in advance. So if you're going to be in Seoul for a few days then you won't have a chance to try out N Grill. Although it doesn’t revolve like the N Grill, Hancook is a great place to dine in style. The Sky revolving restaurant was more recently opened on the 1st floor serving Korean food and Western food. It takes 55 minutes for the restaurant to make a 360-degree rotation, so people can view a 360-degree nightscape of Seoul while dining. There’s also a souvenir shop, convenience store, a bakery and a food court in the N Seoul Tower. The Teddy Bear Museum is only open from 1000 - 2200 but last admission is at 2100. To reach the tower on Mt. Namsan, one has to go up by cable car and the ride up is famous for its night view. N Seoul Tower puts on a magnificent electric lighting show from 6 p.m. everyday so hang around to enjoy it. I think once you're up here on Mt Namsan you can forget about going anywhere else for the night. It's so beautiful up there, you don't want to leave! Daehangno Area is THE PLACE to go to if your are a lover of performing arts where you can enjoy unique performances all the year round. Daehangno is Seoul’s theater district. Daehangno is famous as a street of youth and theaters. In the evenings when the whole place is lighted up, it will be packed with mostly youths. During the weekends, the Maronnier Park and its surroundings turn into a performance stage for young talent. The outdoor stage at Maronnier Park is open at all times and many people come here to enjoy an evening of cultural performance. Here you can find performance centers, movie theaters, cafes, restaurants and pubs scattered all over the place. All in all there are about 40 small, medium and large sized theaters where a wide variety of performances are held throughout the year. In Summer this area plays host to the Seoul Theater Festival whilst In Autumn the Performing Arts Festival. As the majority of performances are in Korean, one is advised to check the language availability in advance. But to really appreciate the dynamic and lively culture of Korea, a visit to one of the university districts is highly recommended! The streets around Sinchon, Hongdae, and the Daehangno are popular hot spots and just the mention of their names is enough to get young Koreans excited. The streets around Ewha Woman’s University is a “shoppers paradise”, which can only be rivalled by Dongdaemun market. The Sinchon district is a fun place to hang out with friends, relaxing with a glass of soju or beer. Sinchon, is also known as the Street of Food Festivals. In case you haven’t had dinner yet perhaps you might want to try out the restaurants here. Since the majority of the people who patronize this place are of the younger generation you will find a lot of restaurants here who cater to their tastes in the Western, fusion and Korean Traditional restaurants you can find here.. I have listed some of the typical gourmet restaurants in the area and the type of food served for your guidance:- • GYROS, the first Greek food restaurant in Seoul is famous for its delicious pita bread. The menu includes gyros (roast chicken or pork wrapped in pita bread) and souvlaki (skewered meat and vegetables brushed with olive oil and roasted). • NOLITA , an Italian restaurant which is famous for its pasta and salads • April Lime. If you are a health buff then this is the place for you. The meals here are high in nutrition and low in calories with less fat, sugar and salt. • Sushi California. Sushi rolls is the favorite fusion meal of Korean youngsters because of the great taste, shape, and convenience. At Sushi California, you can enjoy an exciting variety of sushis and sushi rolls. • BaB BaB-jeongsik (regular set) is the most popular choice on the menu, which includes soybean paste soup or tofu soup, nine side dishes including fritters, seasoned pumpkin and bean sprouts, and pan-broiled anchovy. Bibimbap (steamed rice with assorted vegetables) is also popular, tasty and yet inexpensive • Botong Saram This snack bar is best known for its gyeranmari-bap (rice egg-roll) and al-bap (fish-egg rice). You can also enjoy various other choices such as ramyeon, naengmyeon (cold noodles), bokkeumbap (fried rice), kimbap (seaweed sushi), and tonkatsu (Japanese style pork cutlet) • Samho Bokjip specializes in tasty globefish food with fresh fish and vegetables as well as broth. Popular menu includes bok-shabu-shabu (paper- thin slices of globefish and vegetables cooked in a pot of hot broth) and bok-malgeuntang (delicately flavored globefish soup). This snack bar is best known for its gyeranmari-bap (rice egg-roll) and al-bap (fish-egg rice). The area surrounding the Hongik University or Hongdae as it’s known by, is the center of Korea’s youthful nightclubbing and home to Club Day. What is Club Day? On the last Friday of each month, visitors can purchase a ticket for 22,000won, which will give them access to some 22 clubs in this area, including live music clubs and dance clubs. One free drink is also included in this price. Hongdae is famous for its dance clubs and music bars. Every Friday night, the streets around Hongik University are filled with people who come to enjoy the music and dance.. Most of the clubs in Hongdae have their own style and play various genres of music, including jazz, hip-hop, techno, and house. Most of these clubs open around 8pm and remain open until the early hours of the morning. The clubs are generally open every day of the week except Mondays. If Hongdae is for the younger crowd then where do the older generation go to on their clubbing nights? While Itaewon doesn’t have that much in the way of clubs like Hongdae there are definitely good times to be had at Club Spy, Club XO, King Club and the UN Club. Another reason to go to Itaewon bars is to watch international sports. If you’re a fan of rugby, cricket, Formula 1 racing (and to a lesser extent, football), you’ll find that it can be very difficult to get these sports on Korean TV. Numerous bars (including The Hollywood Grill and Scrooge Pub) regularly broadcast these sports on their big screen TVs. These bars are also great places to play pool. While dartboards are fairly common in Korean hofs (beer halls) and neighborhood bars, it’s hard to find pool tables in Seoul Gangnam is an area of many nightclubs, generally of the Korean style. In recent years, a chain of nightclubs in Gangnam called “Don’t Tell Mama” has opened, catering to a clientele of older singles, divorced people back on the dating market or married people looking for some adventure. One can be found behind the Ramada Hotel not far from Seolleung Station. There are also a number of bars and beer halls in Gangnam like Cafe 74, Goshen and ZZYZX Another place that’s a comparatively recent addition to the Seoul clubbing scene is Club Circle in the trendy, pricey Apgujeong area. A former Hard Rock Cafe, it's since been totally restructured and reopened with much fanfare as an upscale, exclusive dance club. Entry costs 20,000 won, and some people have been known to be turned away on the basis of dress or appearance. Drinks and tables are by no means cheap, either, but if you want to hang with Seoul’s “A-list,” this is the place to be. Now I’m going to introduce you to a completely different type of music altogether. Ever heard of Nanta? You will enjoy every minute of it, it's hilarious. Briefly, it’s about how four chefs react the sounds of samullori using all sorts of kitchen utensils as they prepare for a wedding reception in an open kitchen. As they get ready to start the day, the unpleasant manager gives them some unexpected news. Not only do the chefs have to prepare the entire wedding meal by 6pm, but they also have to give the manager’s nephew some cooking lessons. None of them are happy with the situation, but they set out to work. In the process, they must solve a whole array of difficulties. Gradually, the audience and the players become one. Finally, they pull all their ideas together to finish the cream cake, and the ceremony proceeds without any troubles. In the course of the fantastic wedding party, the audience bonds through lots of laughter and humor, the friendly kitchen atmosphere, and above all five characters whose magnetic spirits create the various rhythms and sounds. NANTA first opened its doors to the world in 1997 at the Hoam Theater in Seoul and has been a huge success ever since. In 2001, NANTA became the first Korean performance to open its own theater. It has been proudly recognized for its unique style of traditional Korean percussion. NANTA has held performances in Korea, Japan, USA, and 16 other countries boasting over 1,500,000 viewers outside of Korea with profits estimated around 20 million dollars. What are the secrets behind the success of 'NANTA?' 1. Nonverbal performance charm NANTA has little dialog allowing people of all nationalities to enjoy the performance. People of all ages can enjoy the combination of physical comedy with the rhythmic use of percussion sounds. 2. Audience participation There are many opportunities for the audience to get involved. Audience members especially love the dumpling making contest in which 4 people are brought up on stage to prepare dumplings as fast as they can while being cheered on by the audience. This is always a lively part of the show giving audience members a chance to get involved. 3. Fusion of rhythms From start to end, 'NANTA' has an exciting rhythmic energy. The sounds of Samulnori (Korean traditional percussions) and techno music merge together pleasing all audiences. 4. Ever-changing Over the years NANTA has learned what audiences like, finely tuning the show to keep its performance fresh for international audiences by adding new and exciting scenes. You can catch it at the Nanta Theater - Urim Cheongdam Theater (Gangnam) on Mon. - Tue. : OFF Wed.~ Fri. : 20:00 Sat. : 15:00, 19:00 Sun.:17:00 All these activities still not exciting enough for you? Well then how about trying your hand at Black Jack or Roulette at the casino? Now I can see the gleam in some of your eyes! There are 3 casinos in Seoul, Paradise Walker Hill in Gwangin-gu, two Seven Luck Casinos, one in Gangnam and the other in Gangbuk,. Let’s go to the Seven Luck Casino at the Coex center in Gang-nam. The casino is only open to foreigners, and you are required to show your passport before entering. So I hope you have your passports with you.7Luck Casino offers Baccarat, Roulette, Caribbean Poker, Taisai, Big Wheel, slot machines, video machines, and jumbo machines. Now what are the ladies going to do while the men are gambling? What else but go shopping some more. Although most of the shops and department stores are closed by 9.30pm - 10pm there are some places like Namdaemun Market, which is open till 3am in the morning whilst Dongdaemun Market and Migliore (Dongdaemun) up till 5am.Lining the streets of Dongdaemun are stalls selling shoes, bags, and accessories, many of which are imitations of designer items. You have to try out your bargaining power to get discounted prices. These shops only open at around 9:00pm and stay open until dawn. If you are looking for Korean home appliances, the Jamsil branch of Home plus and the Dongdaemun branch of Home plus are open 24 hrs of the day only closing on Mondays from 12:00am to 10:00am. Where else in the world can you find shopping till the wee hours of the morning? Seoul can be described as the City that Never Sleeps. With this I end today's post.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Seoul is Where the Heart is!

Incheon Int Airport

Photo: asiantravelguide

Incheon International Airport (IIA) which has won the prestigious award of being ‘Best Airport Worldwide” for 3 consecutive years from 2006 – 2008 serves as the main gateway into Korea. It lies about 50 km west of Seoul and from there passengers can travel to Seoul by airport bus, taxi or Airport Railroad Express.

The Airport Bus is the most preferred option for traveling between Incheon International Airport and downtown Seoul. Depending on the traffic conditions one can arrive in the heart of Seoul within an hour. Airport buses run from Incheon Int'l Airport to various parts of Seoul. There are two types of airport buses: deluxe and standard. Deluxe buses are KAL limousines that go straight to major hotels in Seoul. Since they only go to deluxe hotels, these buses are faster than standard limousine buses. They also have fewer seats and are naturally more comfortable. Standard limousine buses stop at several bus stops, so you can get closer to your final destination.

A taxi may be somewhat costly but a taxi is recommended if you have heavy baggage or are traveling in a group. In Korea, there are three types of taxis:- Standard and deluxe taxis carry up to four passengers, and the jumbo deluxe taxi takes up to eight passengers. The fare for a deluxe taxi is about 50% higher than for a standard taxi, but the quality of service is much better. The driver of a deluxe taxi must have at least ten years of accident-free experience driving a standard taxi and have completed special service training.

As for the Airport Railroad Express, only Phase 1 of the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) has been completed and currently operates between Incheon International Airport and Gimpo Airport only. Therefore one needs to get down at Gimpo Airport and transfer to Seoul Subway Line 5 in order to go to downtown Seoul which is quite inconvenient if one has a lot of luggage. So it is better to take the airport bus.

Since Seoul is going to be the arrival point for your visit to South Korea I thought I should devote this post entirely on it. Located along the Hangang River, Seoul, the capital of South Korea boasts of a population of more than 10 million. It is also the 10th-largest city in the world. Its past and present coexist in a fascinating way: centuries-old palaces, city gates, shrines, gardens and priceless art collections attest to the city's illustrious past, while the glistening facades of soaring skyscrapers and the bustling traffic represent its vibrant present.. Today Seoul has grown to be the thriving center of the country's political, economic, cultural and educational activities.

For a start I shall just mention the places for sightseeing, eating, shopping, etc. I sort of want you to know your bearings first so that you know where to go for what. I will then go into detail about them in my later postings. OK?

gyeongbok palace seoul Changdokkung Palace Seoul 05 Deoksugung Palace

asiakorea.blogspot.com travel.webshots.com www.geocities.jp

In Seoul, the must-see attractions are the ancient royal palaces of the Joseon Dynasty: Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung. Jongmyo, the royal ancestral shrine of the Joseon Dynasty, and Changdeokgung's adjacent Huwon (Rear Garden also known as the Secret Garden) are noted for their beautifully landscaped gardens and classical structures.

Sejong Center for the Performing  Arts 01 www.visitkorea.or.kr

Other attractions highly recommended for visitors include the National Museum, the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, the Ho-Am Art Hall and Korea House. The National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon, a southern satellite town, also deserves a visit. At Namsan Park, in the heart of Seoul, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire city from Seoul Tower and look around a reconstructed Hanok village below. Visitors can relax, walk, or rent bicycles in numerous Seoul parks, such as Olympic Park, Seoul Grand Park, Seoul Forest, and the Hangang River Trail. These parks are among the hidden treasures of Seoul, enjoyed by residents but often missed by tourists.

Korean Folk Village. Hwaseong Fortress
english.triptokorea.com images.travelpod.com

A 30-minute drive to the south of Seoul will bring you to the Korean Folk Village. In this traditional village everyday Korean life of days gone by is reenacted. The Korean Folk Village opened in 1973 and now includes aspects of almost everything traditionally Korean. Homes typical of the various provinces are on display, and there are regular performances of tightrope walking, wedding and funeral processions, kite-flying contests and folk dancing in the village square. Blacksmith, carpenters, potters and craftsmen can also be seen at work in their shops. In Suwon, adjacent to this traditional village is Hwaseong Fortress, a walled city of the Joseon Dynasty that was recently included in UNESCO's World Heritage List.

And now for something that everybody likes, especially the ladies. Yes shopping, Seoul is a shoppers paradise! Seoul, like any major city in the world offers duty-free goods at its many duty-free shops. You can get duty-free merchandise at the following duty-free outlets :- Incheon International Airport, The Shilla Duty Free, Lotte Duty Free, AK Duty Free, The Sheraton Walkerhill Hotel Duty Free, Dongwha Duty Free and Paradise Duty Free. You may have already bought some duty free items before your flight to Korea at your departure points.

Do you know what are the things you want to buy? Here I’ll just mention the places where to go for certain things so as to give you an idea of how fantastic the shopping in Seoul can be. Perhaps it can help you decide where you want to go for your shopping. It’ll save a lot of time if one already knows what one wants to buy and where to go.

Insa-dong 03 Insadong 01 english.visitseoul.net commons. wikimedia.org

I’m sure you must have heard about the beautiful ceramics and pottery that is produced in Korea. Pottery can be purchased at pottery villages, the Icheon Pottery Village and Yeoju Pottery Village being the most famous, the Hwanghakdong Flea Market, or at pottery festivals. There are many pottery festivals held in Korea like the Icheon Pottery Biennale, Yeoju Pottery Expo, and Gangjin Cheongja Culture Festival which offer great opportunities for buying and learning more about Korean pottery.

However if you do not want to go to the pottery villages, there is in Seoul, one of the most popular areas for tourists in the old center known as Insa-dong. Here the streets are lined with antique shops, art galleries, ceramic shops, handicraft and souvenir shops, traditional teahouses, and restaurants as well as bookstores. Even Queen Elizabeth of England has been to Insa-dong to see the lovely Korean pottery sold here. You can also get traditional Korean souvenirs and gifts here too.

Do you want to buy jewellery and watches then you should go to Yeji-dong of Jongno 4(sa)-ga known as the Watch Alley. In the Jongno 3(sam)-ga and 4(sa)-ga area there are over 1,000 jewelry stores where the prices are 30 to 40% lower than at other jewelry outlets in Korea.
The Jewelry District is conveniently located at the center of Seoul’s major palaces and near the downtown areas. Of these, the closest tourist areas include Myeong-dong, downtown Jong-ro, Dongdaemun Market, and Namdaeumun Market.

Did you know that Korea is the world’s leading IT country? Here in Korea new models of products are continuously being launched at a very fast pace. And if you are in Seoul, then a visit to Yongsan Electronics Mall Complex and Techno Mart is a must. Yongsan Electronics Mall Complex and Techno Mart are the places to go to see the latest models of electronic products. Here you can find small stores side by side in rows, selling a large variety of cellular phones, household appliances, and all computer related products. Due to the competition amongst the stores the prices here are quite affordable and reasonable. Techno Mart is structured in such a way that makes it easy for shoppers to find what they want. Yongsan Electronics Mall Complex is larger and more crowded. It specializes in electronic products, offering more affordable prices as compared to other electronics shops.

Clothing can be bought at department stores, brand shops, outlets, Dongdaemun Market, Namdaemun Market, Myeongdong, Itaewon, and in front of Ehwa Women's University. As for the brand name goods, it is recommended that you buy them in January, April, July, and October as that’s the time when they have sales (which may be subject to change). Remember to keep your receipts in case you need to exchange or return something. Good places to find leather goods are department stores, Namdaemun Market, Dongdaemun Market and Itaewon just to name a few. Tourists prefer to shop at Itaewon because the goods offered are of high quality and the prices are quite reasonable.

The up-market Gangnam area of Seoul, is where all the Korean Hallyu stars normally come to do their shopping. While Apgujeong remains more of a magnet for those in their 20s and 30s Cheongdam-dong appeals to those in their 30s and 40s. Cheongdam-dong offers a list of more luxurious venues for those with lots of cash to spend. The street is lined with premium brand flagship stores and multi-shops. If you have an obsession for branded goods, there are shops here selling secondhand luxury brand items such as bags, clothes, shoes, accessories, and wallets at 30~60% below regular prices. Be wary, however, because some items may not be genuine. Galleria Department Store, the most popular luxury-brand fashion mall in Seoul is also located in this wealthy district of Apgujeong-dong.

Lotte is the famous chain of departmental stores in Korea. The prices are fixed. Sometimes the things that are on sale here can be purchased at a cheaper price elsewhere. That is why some people prefer to go to places where they can bargain.

Most shops in Myeongdong deal with mid priced items and a great place to find deals on famous brands, at prices lower than at department stores. On some items you can get discounts of up to 70-80%. The prices at the Namdaemun and Dongdaemun Market are the lowest as compared with elsewhere.

Bibimbap kimchi

www.jasonandkara. http://chefji.com www.kimchi.or.kr

All that walking and running around must have made you hungry, so let’s look for some places to eat. Of course, Korean cuisine is a must during a trip to Korea, either at a modern or traditional restaurant. Why not try a few of the better-known Korean dishes like Bibimbap (Boiled rice mixed with vegetables), Bulgogi (Marinated, barbecued beef) or Grilled Galbi (Seasoned ribs) with Kimchi Or would you prefer to do what the locals do, eat at the pojangmacha or street stalls? The food is delicious and cheap. They are usually found around Jogno and in the vicinity of the universities so as to cater for the students studying there.

If you are looking for international flavors then Itaewon is the place for you. You want Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Italian, French, Indian or even Korean? They can be found within close proximity of each other as you can see from the map below.

Restaurant Map of Itaewan

How about trying out the food at some restaurants that belong to Korean celebrities? Bae Yong Joon, the famous actor of “Winter Sonata” has just opened a restaurant not so long ago in Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu called Gorilla in the Kitchen. The food offered here is very healthy, no fries, no dishes using butter and salt controlled.The man himself is very health conscious, that’s why.

Perhaps you might have seen the TEA’US cafe when you were shopping in the area around Myeong-dong. It belongs to Kwon Sang-Woo who acted in the Korean drama “Stairway to Heaven.”
He cried so much that he was nicknamed Mr. Tears and thus the name of this cafe.

I started out this posting thinking that I could finish writing about Seoul at one go. How mistaken I was because I still have a lot more to say about her. Seoul is where the heart is! Once you come to Seoul then you will understand what I’m trying to say. I read once “When a man is tired of London, He is tired of life, For there is in London, All that life can afford.” I feel that I can say the same for Seoul. There’s everything you can get in Seoul! Seoul is very refreshing for the soul and on that note I’d like to end today’s episode. Annyeonghi-gaseyo!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Little Korea in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Today I would like to write about something this is not happening in Korea but which I find is somehow related to Korea. How many of you are lucky enough to have an overseas office of the KTO right in your hometown?  Before the Kuala Lumpur KTO overseas office was opened the nearest one to us was in Singapore. But now that we have one in KL it’s so much more  convenient for us. We can just hop down to their office should we have some queries about  tourism in Korea. or even to get some free  travel brochures. Here in Kuala Lumpur, the KTO overseas office is situated  in Korea Plaza, Ground Floor, Menara Hup Seng (Formerly Mui Plaza), Jalan  P. Ramlee, 50250 Kuala Lumpur. It serves as a tourism and culture centre where  one can experience and take part in a few Korean activities  like the Korean Cooking Classes, Korean Language Classes, and Korean K-POP Singing Classes.  That’s not all, one can even try on the Hanbok (the Korean traditional costume) they have here and be photographed wearing one. Beautiful  puppets and hand-made musical instruments adorn the walls of the office. Planning on a winter wonderland tour to Korea?  3-D visual ski trails here might help prepare you in your skiing skills before actually flying out to Korea for the REAL THING. Feeling bored? How about catching a Korean movie or drama right here. I know I’d be happy just doing that especially if BYJ is in it. The other day I dropt by to pick up some travel brochures, maps and other publications on Korea. Just take a look, colorful aren’t they?

DSC00870 DSC00874 DSC00875

I forgot to mention earlier that Hallyu fans in Malaysia and other fan club gatherings and any Korean launchings that are related to Korean tourism and culture are permitted to be held here in Korea Plaza. And we had the privilege of doing that when we held our Bae Yong Joon Malaysia Fan Club’s (BMF) 6th Anniversary celebrations on 16th May 2009. Sorry this  news is a bit late, thought I’d include that since I’m  writing about KTO KL. Not only did we have fun playing games, we  feasted on Domino pizzas and were treated to  a documentary about Korea, courtesy of KTO KL. But the best part was yet to come, since our BYJ is the current FACE on Face Shop (the KOREAN NAME in cosmetics) we had a beauty session with the local representatives. We got to buy the products at discounted prices and even received free samples of Face Shop products. Gamsa-hamnida!

Still on the subject of Kuala Lumpur, thought I would like to mention another experience of Korean culture that I had the opportunity to witness. On 21st May 2009 I attended a function, “Korea, Closer than you Think” which was organized by the Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. This was a prelude to  the 20th Anniversary of the ROK-ASEAN Dialogue Relations, the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit which would be held on 1st and 2nd June 2009 at the International Convention Center (ICC, Jeju) in Jeju Island, Korea.

On the day of the function I arrived at the local hotel where the function was being held to find that many others had already queued up way ahead of me although it was another 45 minutes before the opening. From where I stood I could look into the hall and noticed that there were booths for Korean activities like Traditional Games, Face Painting, Hanbok Wearing, Samulnori, Taekwondo,  Hangeul Writing of Names and Korean Cooking. There was even an exhibition area on Korea-ASEAN Relations, Korea-Malaysia Relations, Korea, Hallyu and Korean Food. But what really caught my eyes were the beautiful hanboks worn by the Korean natives. I have never seen that so many Koreans gathered together before. As soon as the doors opened everyone who had cameras wanted to be photographed with a Korean girl in her hanbok. Made me so envious, wish I had my camera with me. There was quite a program drawn up for the afternoon, Taekwondo exhibition, Dance performance by “Crush”, Samulnori and the highlight of the show the B-Boy Comedy “Break Out” Performance. Who are they, the B-Boy dancers? They are Box Office No. 1 in South Korea. They have performed overseas and have received great reviews everywhere. In 2007 they were the talk of the town at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe when they won an award. Their style of dancing combines hip hop with body movements that include dance, martial arts, circus techniques, and gymnastics and enacted as comedy acts.  The were actually in Malaysia to appear in charity performances, 2 in KL and 2 in Penang. What a pity I had already made plans to go away  on the dates  they were performing otherwise I would have surely gone for their show. They had won me over with their sneak performance that afternoon.


Well guess that’s about all for now. Till we meet again Annyeonghi-gaseyo!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Blog Korea! Visit Korea

Looks like my blogging days are here to stay. As I explained in my first blog I had to have a blog page in order to enter a contest and that was why I started a blog. Now I’ve stumbled onto another contest that also calls for blogging, the Blog Korea! Visit Korea! contest organized by KTO. What a stroke of luck and coincidence that I chose a Korean theme for my blog, so now I can just continue with this blog otherwise I’ll have to start another blog. And what a difficult time it will be for me then, having to manage so many blogs. So this will be my first blog for the Blog Korea! Visit Korea! Contest.
I haven’t been to Korea yet but it has been my dream destination since I started being a fan of Bae Yong Joon. Haven’t been there doesn’t mean that I don’t know a thing about Korea, it’s people and customs, it’s cuisine and it’s cultures. I have surfed the internet for everything on Korea. I am what you would call an armchair traveler. I have collected information on Korea which would come in handy should I have the chance to visit Korea one day. I bet you I should be able to find my way around Seoul as if I were a resident there when I do get there. I know exactly where I want to go and what I want to see and do in Korea. When I say Korea I mean South Korea of course. Yes even though I haven’t been to Korea I can tell you for example where to go in Seoul, for shopping, whether it be the upper market or the lower market. I have also compiled a list of restaurants of where to eat and especially since a lot of Malaysians are Muslims I have to know where I can find halal food. Sightseeing? Yes I’ve also listed down the places for sightseeing in all the different parts of Korea. So my aim is to sell Korea to potential tourists so that they will come to Korea, my only regret is that I cannot speak Korean.
Before one visits a foreign country it's best that one knows a little bit about one’s destination, it’s history, it’s people, it’s customs, it’s culture and it’s cuisine. We should not only be interested in going sightseeing, fine dining and shopping, we should also learn how to respect other people’s customs and culture. Take for example the simple custom of removing one’s shoes before entering another’s home in Korea, this might be something quite unheard of to a Westerner. So not knowing this he might most likely enter he house of a Korean without removing his shoes and in doing so, he is likely to hurt the feelings of the Korean. So if one knows about this beforehand, one will not be the cause of any embarrassment at all. Little things mean a lot; I picked this up through watching Korean dramas and movies.
To begin I’d like to write a short introduction to Korea for our first time visitors to Korea. Korea lies in the northeastern part of the Asian continent and adjacent to Japan, China and Russia. Korea has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Spring is rather short, lasts from late March until May when the weather is warm. The fields and mountains will be covered with various flowers including the beautiful and picturesque Cherry blossoms. Summer lasts from June to early September when it is hot and can be very humid, with monsoon rains in July. Autumn lasts from late September to November when the weather is mild. This is the best season to visit Korea. Autumn is especially beautiful, with it’s vibrant colors of the red and gold leaves when the leaves change their colors. The Koreans like to gather on the famous mountains to enjoy the scenic autumn view. There are even festivals held each year just to watch the autumn leaves. Friends who have gone there during this time of the year have confirmed the beauty of the crimson autumn leaves. Winter in Korea lasts from December to Mid March which can be bitterly cold due to the influx of the cold Siberian winds. The northern and eastern parts of Korea will be flooded with ski enthusiasts during this time of the year as the mountains will be covered with snow making it ideal for skiing. So now have you decided on when you would like to come to Korea? But whatever it is, I want to tell you that Korea is beautiful any time of the year! Better still why don’t you come during summer this year, autumn next year, winter the following year and spring the year after. You know why? You will fall in love with her, you will yearn for her, you will be haunted by the every thought of her, and you will long to see her again, that’s why!. KOREA IS SPARKLING! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I know a friend who has done just that, and will still be going to Korea for the 5th time this year. He loves Korea, his wife loves Korea, the children love Korea and there’s no where else they’d rather be than to GO KOREA!
National Flag. The Korean flag is called Taegeukgi. The circle in the center of the flag is divided into two equal parts. The upper red section represents the proactive “yang” cosmic forces and the lower blue section represents the responsive “yin” cosmic forces. The two forces embody the concepts of continual movement, balance and harmony that characterize the sphere of infinity. The circle is surrounded by four trigrams, one in each corner. Each trigram symbolizes one of the four universal elements of heaven, earth, fire and water.
The national flower of Korea is the Mugunghwa or Rose of Sharon. The flower’s symbolic significance stems from the Korean word mugung (immortality). The word accurately reflects the enduring nature of Korean culture along with the determination and perseverance of the Korean people.
The unit of currency in Korea is the won. The paper money comes in three denominations, 1,000 won, 5,000 won and 10,000 won. Coins come in four major denominations, 500 won, 100 won, 50 won and 10 won. Five won and one won coins exist but are not commonly used. So now you’ve got some Korean money and you must be tired and hungry with all that amount of walking around you need to find a place to rest and also to fill your tummy. Don’t worry, there are lots of things to eat in Korea and they are all delicious. But since you are in Korea you have to taste the local food. You don’t even have to step into a restaurant. There are plenty of roadside stalls selling meat on skewers, fish, you name it they’ve got it. Don’t be shy about eating by the roadside, I see the film stars doing it in the Korean dramas that I watch. You’d rather have rice, don’t worry there are plenty of restaurants around. At a restaurant you will find that most meals are served with kimchi (pickled Chinese cabbage) but non Koreans need to have an acquired taste for it. However it is possible to get some meals that are not that spicy. There’s kim-bap which is rice with beef and vegetables etc. They have Western food on the menu but it might cost a bit more.
If you would like a sample of how the Koreans live and don’t want to stay in a hotel, Korea has it’s share of home-stays too or what is better known as the B & B in other parts of the world. Here I would also like to mention something that’s quite unique in Korea. If you are not on an escorted tour while in Korea you can ask for the services of a goodwill guide through the KNTO office. But an application will have to be made on-line three weeks or no less than 2 weeks in advance. What is a goodwill guide? They are volunteers who help visitors to communicate in various situations. They attend festivals and special events together with a tourist, provide free tour guide service, assist with communication in various ways and participate in cultural exchange. They can even assist in the planning of your itinerary and they have a good command of the foreign languages. There is no charge for their services but you are expected to pay for admission tickets, food, and transportation etc. for your guide. The services provided are i) advice about traveling in Korea such as tour route planning information on transportation, accommodation and other needs, ii) interpretation service, iii) guide services to tourist attractions.
And finally the basics in Korean etiquette. Always remember to take off your shoes when entering someone’s home. To the Koreans gift giving is an important tradition so bring a gift if you are invited to someone’s home. Out of respect for the elderly, young people usually give up theirs seats to an aged person in a crowded bus or subway train. When you receive something from an older person you should do so with both hands and bow. The Koreans always treat their elderly with great respect. Writing a person’s name in red ink is tantamount to saying that the person is dead or about to die soon. If you attend a wedding or funeral it is customary to take a white envelope containing a sum of money. Koreans wouldn’t consider displaying affection in public so any hugging or kissing would be considered a breach of etiquette. And now a few dining tips. Rather than pouring their own drinks Koreans pour for one another. So it is considered a breach of etiquette to pour your own drink. The eldest at the table gets to eat first. No one picks up their chopsticks until he does so. Taste the soup or kimchi juice first and then the rice and the other dishes. Use the spoon for the rice and liquid foods only and the chopsticks for the other foods. Do not hold the rice bowl or soup bowl in your hand during the meal. Do not read a book or newspaper or watch TV while eating. Chew food with your mouth closed and do not make noises while chewing. When eating with Koreans refrain from blowing your nose (even though the spicy food may make your nose run0 or coughing. If you have to cough turn away. When you have finished eating lay the chopsticks and spoon on the table to indicate that you have finished your meal. Never stick chopsticks or spoons in a bowl of rice, this is done only during ancestral memorial services.
I hope this will be of some help to you when you take that first step into Korea. Come, have a good time, enjoy yourselves. See you soon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Memory

My Memory
I was visiting my daughter in Penang sometime way back in 2002 or was it 2003, I forget which. Every time my grand-daughter sat down at the piano she would be playing this same song over and over again. It was a haunting melody and I quite liked it So I asked her for the title of the song. She asked me back in a surprised tone, grandma, aren’t you following the Korean drama Winter Sonata on tv, It’s called “my memory”?. You should see it, there’s an episode showing tonight. So that night the whole family gathered around the tv to watch “Winter Sonata.” By then it was already into the 18th episode where Joon Sang and Yu Jin were getting married secretly but it never happened because Sang Hyuk came and dragged Yu Jin away. Later Joon Sang went to Yu Jin’s house and they drove to the seaside together. It was supposed to be their last time together because Joon Sang had decided to leave Yu Jin. He had called Sang Hyuk earlier to come and pick Yu Jin up. So during the night while Yu Jin was sleeping he had slipped away. The next morning Yu Jin could not find Joon Sang but Sang Hyuk was there waiting for her. This episode was so touching, I even cried. They were such a lovely couple, how could I not fall in love with them. So the next day I told my grand-daughter to take me to the video shop to buy the whole set of CDs of Winter Sonata. I could not wait to see the story from the very beginning. I didn’t sleep that night because I watched all the episodes, 30 of them at one go. So that’s how I was introduced to Korean drama. From then on I became a big fan of Bae Yong Joon. I even joined the Bae Yong Joon Fan Club in Malaysia (BMF) and the Bae Yong Joon Fan Club in Singapore (Joon Family). BMF just celebrated our 6th anniversary on 16th May and we’re still going strong. I’d like to mention here that BYJ is the current FACE for the Korean line of cosmetics, The Face Shop.
So one thing just led to another, I surfed Bae Yong Joon’s websites in Korea and also the websites of his fan clubs all over the world. I made scrapbooks and pasted all that I had cut out from newspaper and magazine articles. I started to surf the drama sites and found some very good sites for synopsis of the dramas written in English. In that way I knew in advance what the story was about and who were the actors and actresses even before the dramas were aired on our local tvs. Now that I come to think of it, the Korean dramas seem to have influenced me a lot in my views and thoughts about Korea. As I love cooking, I like to try out recipes of the different cuisines in the world. I enjoyed “Jewel in the Palace or Daejanggeum” very much because there was so much of cooking shown in that drama. Actually I had learned to prepare my first Korean dish in the eighties, during a trip to visit relatives in Bangkok, a dish what the Thais call “Korean Beef Genghis Khan”.
Only today, this dish is better known by it’s famous name Bulgogi which can be found on the menus of the many Korean restaurants here in Kuala Lumpur and throughout the world. The beef was so tender and tasted so delicious that I had to ask my hostess for the recipe. Actually there’s no cooking involved here only grilling of the beef. The beef (tenderloin) was cut into thin slices then marinated in a sauce made up of soy sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic, sesame seeds and other seasonings. Well after the beef had been marinated, it was grilled on a dome-like shaped pan that was placed over a charcoal brazier at the table. I would say it looked like an inverted wok only that it had a trough around the edge to which a little water had been added. This trough also served to catch the tasty juices oozing from the beef which combined with the water to produce a tasty soup. The grilled beef slices were then eaten as they were or wrapped in a lettuce leaf along with slices of fresh garlic and green pepper and a dab of soybean paste and red pepper paste. Then why Genghis Khan? Probably because the Thai-made cooking pan looked like the metal hat that Genghis Khan wore on his head I suppose. I bought five of these Genghis Khan “woks” to bring back to Malaysia where I introduced a lot of people to this Korean dish. Somebody borrowed my Genghis Khan “woks” to have a party and never returned them to me. I wonder if I still can get them from Bangkok now?
“Hwang Jiny" the story about a very famous 'gisaeng' in the Joseon Dynasty is one of my favorite dramas. I was very enchanted by the many dances so beautifully performed in the drama which must have been very difficult to dance. I just love the beautiful hanbok worn in this drama, I believe more than 600 hanbok were specially designed for this drama and more than half of these were worn by the leading actress Ha Jiwon. She won the Best Actress Award at the 2007 KBS Drama Awards whilst “Hwang Jiny" won the award for the Best Mini Series at the 2007 Monte Carlo TV Festival. Here’s a video from Utube taken from the drama, enjoy it. Hope it works it's at the bottom of the page. And with it I end today’s post. But before that I’d like to recommend you to go to this website:- http://english.visitkorea.or.kr it belongs to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) where you can get lots of valuable information about Korea. Or if you prefer you can go to the branch office of the KTO here in Kuala Lumpur at Korea Plaza where you can get lovely brochures of Korea. Not only that, you can even enroll in their free Korean cooking classes, Korean Language classes and Korean Singing classes. You can even enjoy free Korean Movies and Dramas and Korean Cultural performances. See you next time