My favorite island, Jeju

The TV program, “2 Days and 1 Night,” always inspires me to visit some places in S.Korea or to write about my past trips. Last week’s show also reminded me of my trip to Jeju Island in the summer of 2008.

If someone asks me to recommend one place to visit in S.Korea, I would definitely say Jeju Island. (Of course, if you want to feel the “dynamic Korea,” then you should visit Seoul.)
I’ve traveled so many places in the country in my life. When I was young, nearly every Saturday morning I was sitting in the backseat of my dad’s car and a few hours later, I found myself in a new place. And that tradition doesn’t seem to have faded away. Last weekend I was all over Gangwon province, eastern S.Korea, with my family. But I’m telling you, I haven’t revisited other places as much as Jeju. Although S.Korea has many other beautiful islands, but Jeju always shows me its new charm every time I visit the island.

One of my favorite places in Jeju is the Gimnyeong Beach, northesatern Jeju. It’s the whitest and finest sand beach in the island (Note: Jeju is a volcanic island, and some beaches have black sand.) and the water is the color of emeralds… It would be easily mistaken as one of the beaches in Southeast Asia. I hadn’t heard of the beach before, and it was a pure luck that I stopped by there on my way to Seopjikoji, eastern Jeju, from the airport, along the coastline. Ever since, it became one of my top beach destinations in the country.

Gimnyeong Beach, June, 2008

Another my favorite destination is the wood trail near the Mulchat Oreum. The oreum itself that uniquely has a crater lake is certainly a must to visit. But I love the wood trail more than the oreum, particularly when it’s foggy. (I think that trail is the Saryeoni Forest, but I’m not sure. I should check that out next time I visit Jeju. Another excuse to go back! grin.)

(Note: Mulchat oreum is closed until the end of this year.)

One of the oreums I really like is the popular Abu Oreum, eastern Jeju. I visited there with my friend @getthefish in 2000 and luckily we met the land owner at the entrance of the oreum and got allowed to hike up to the peak. (Note: The area is privately owned. Not sure if the owner decided to completely open it to the public now, but it seems like many have visited there without much trouble.)

View from the top of the Abu Oreum: A ring of cedars in the crater. I remember that we had to hike up the peak twice to take this picture as we found we had no films left only on top of the peak! (Yeah, there was a thing called a film camera.)

And if you like forest, I also recommend Bijarim Forest where you can see hundreds years old bija, or nutmeg trees. The huge, strong standing trees are just overwhelming.

Bijarim Forest

And really, try to visit the island every season. Jeju will definitely show you all different colors of beauty: Spring (flowers!), summer (beaches!), fall (foliage!), and winter (snow!!!). Ah… I should go back soon.


Destination image and the media

I get Google Alerts on Tourism Media. Google sends me a list of articles that has both tourism and media once a week.
Yesterday, the list included two interesting articles that tourism authorities blame the international media for tarnishing the image of the countries, and as a result, dropping the number of inbound visitors.

Al Bawaba’s Foreign media reports ‘killing Bahrain tourism’ and the Sunday Times’s Foreign media ruins Maldives’ image as a safe haven for tourists. 

It sounded so familiar to me. That’s what S.Korea used to complain about for years.  They said, the photos international media choose for their articles, for example photos of union workers wearing red headbands, sitting on the streets, striking, make the society look unstable. True. Photos can dramatize the situation. And true as well with crisis news reports. Media may cover crisis outbreaks huge on page 1 or as top news, but no one would treat things-got-better stories as important. Destination managers may find it unfair. But it’s the way it is. They should find ways to reduce its negative impact before the negative image sets in, instead of just complaining. Because once an image is set, it’s hard to be replaced. If it’s a bad one, even more so.

Again, Korea.
Yes, Korea is still technically at war, and there’ve been a few gun fights near the maritime border, but in fact, visitors as well as residents here hardly feel the war atmosphere in the country. When the North shoots missiles, SKoreans don’t even blink their eyes. They go to work/school as any other day, and few (perhaps only the media) talks about it. The stock market doesn’t get affected much either these days. But yet, according to the result of a recent survey on the image of SKorea to foreigners, which was highlighting that the K-pop ranked the second, No.1 is still the Korean war.

Bahrain and the Maldives may be upset with the tarnished image by the media. But it’s not the time for them to sit and complain. It’s time to try reduce its negative impact, and make sure the negative image doesn’t stick to their national image. They may find some loss for now. It’s unavoidable. Accept that and make sure it doesn’t last forever. Try to honestly show how attractive other parts of their country still are despite the clashes in certain areas. Perhaps they’d like to use the media—not just traditional media but also the social media, bloggers, travelers. There’re more ways to directly communicate with outsiders than before.

+ Interested in reading how SKorea’s trying to polish its national image? See What’s in an image? For Korea, a lot.

Happy Lunar New Year!

It’s Lunar New Year, and it’s one of the biggest holidays in Korea as in China and some other Asian countries.

Traditionally, all the extended family members get together, make the holiday food like mandu together, do the ritual to the ancestors, make a deep bow to the elders in the family, and play traditional games. These days, however, not everyone goes back home; some buy food at discount stores; and others refuse to have a ritual for religious reasons. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed yet and would probably never change: We eat ddeokguk on the New Year’s day.

Ddeokguk, roughly translated as "rice cake soup," is a soup with thinly sliced white rice cake, and egg, gim(seaweed), and marinated beef garnishes.

“Did you have ddeokguk?” is a common greeting during the season. And eating ddeokguk, one “officially” gets one year older. When I was young, I remember, my neighbors used to ask me “How many ddeokguk have you had?” instead of asking “How old are you?” (Now thinking of it, I wonder why they don’t use that expression any more, at least to me. Hmmm.)

So, I had ddeokguk today, and I am one year older than yesterday.

Speaking of which, Korean age system is different from most of the rest of the world. In Korea, as soon as you’re born, you’re already one year old as we count the nine or ten months in mom’s womb as life (and we round it up). AND on Jan. 1, you get another year. (Thankfully, you don’t get another on your birthday in Korea. lol)

In theory, if you’re born on Dec. 31, you become two on your second day of being born. (But we usually count by days, weeks or months until a baby celebrates its one-year birthday, which is called dol, so no one would call a two-day baby two years old in this case.)

So, Korean age is always one or two years older than in other countries. Confusing, huh? But to make it more confusing, we do also count age as others do, that is referred as man[mahn], roughly “in full.” The man age is used for something very official as in newspapers, government documents, and regulations.

So, how old am I? Which one would you like to know? (Not that I’m going to tell you. *wink*)

Happy Lunar New Year!!

+ My rather simple recipe

0. Soak thinly sliced ddeok, or rice cake specially made for the dish, in water for about an hour. Drain right before making ddeokguk.
1. Boil water with anchovies and kelp to make broth.
2. Take them out of the pot.
3. Add the soaked ddeok to the boiling broth.
4. When the ddeok floats above the water, it’s ready to go.

While waiting for the ddeok to float, prepare egg and gim, or dried seaweed, garnishes:

1. Egg garnish: Separate an egg and whisk them. Pour them separately on a heated pan, you know, just as you would do to make crepe. When they’re cooked, slice them into thin strips.
2. Gim garnish: Roast a sheet of gim and cut it into thin strips.

(Many people have beef garnish as well, but I’m simply not a big fan of meat-in-da-soup.)

Everything about Edison

A S.Korean TV program, called ‘2 Days and 1 Night,’ featured today the Charmsori Gramophone & Edison Science Museum, which is in Gangneung. I was very glad to see it on TV. I’ve been to the museum twice–once back in 2006, when the collections were sitting in huge container houses, and again in 2009, when they moved to the current museum. Still, it’s unbelievable that one single person collected so many things of Edison.

If you come to S. Korea, it’s really worth to visit.

Here, I share the feature story I did 5 years ago for a local daily newspaper about the museum and the collector.

Phonographilia: A collector amasses everything Edison

August 04, 2006 – GANGNEUNG, Gangwon – The song “El Capitan” was blaring from a 156-year-old music box, its needle dipping into the holes in the huge polyphone record that spun around in the tall walnut tree box (it stands 2.75 meters, or 99 inches, tall). A group of people stood listening – many, perhaps, wondering if they had suddenly been transported into an old black-and-white film. The polyphone was produced by a German company in the 1850s and now it is in a small temporary building, next to a three-building museum in a remote town of Korea: Charmsori Gramophone & Edison Museum.

The guide took the visitors into the museum and showed off a phonograph invented in the early 1900s. “This one was developed with volume control,” he said, and opened the doors of the box, making it louder, then closing them again to “turn down” the volume – that got a laugh from the group.

The museum, currently located in the middle of an apartment complex, is packed with all kinds of old phonographs, including tinfoil (the song is recorded on tinfoil instead of plastic), cylinder, turntable, duplex (two-horned) and portable ones. It also holds a catalog of inventions by Thomas Edison (1847-1937), including his first and only remaining socket lamp fixture, patented in 1879; his stock ticker, invented in 1871; the first motion picture for educational use, invented in 1888; his mimeograph from 1890; his electric battery car of 1913, and other machines related to audio and video. The guide added that there are more items, packed in four storehouses. One amazed visitor asked who had collected all of them. “Son Sung-mok, the president of this museum, has collected all of them for over the last 45 years, all by himself,” the guide replied. “This museum is privately owned, not belonging to the government.”

Mr. Son, originally from Wonsan, South Hamgyong province, said that when he was young, his mother would play the piano while he sang next to her. She also used a phonograph, so their home was always filled with the sounds of music, he added. But things changed when his mother passed away when he was five. “Kids teased me and didn’t play with me just because I didn’t have a mother,” he said. His father, who ran a department store at the time, saw him playing alone in a corner of a playground and, feeling sorry for him, bought the boy a portable phonograph.

“From that small machine, I heard my mother’s voice, and it gave me a lot of comfort, as if I were in her bosom,” Mr. Son said, adding that the kids who shunned him gathered around when he played the phonograph.

During the Korean War, his family had to evacuate and move down to the South. When the then six-year old boy carried the 12-kilogram (26.5-pound) phonograph, a Columbia G241, on his back, his father scolded him for not taking food or other necessities. The young Mr. Son, however, would not give up the phonograph – the first in what would become an extensive collection.

When he was 14, his uncle brought him a broken phonograph. After staying up all night trying to fix it, he said, he finally heard sound coming from its horn. The feeling was rapturous.

“It was then that I started collecting phonographs,” Mr. Son said. Until now he has collected more than 4,500 phonographs, 1,500 radios and TV sets, 10,000 items related to Edison, and 90,000 records. “All of the items are still working. That’s my major criterion when I buy one. It needs to be working, otherwise it’s just for decoration,” said Mr. Son. For that reason, he says, his museum is “alive.”

Each item in his collection is like his child, Mr. Son said, and each one brings to mind a different memory.

One item is an American Phonograph, a coin-fed machine that has 12 four-minute cylinders, produced by American Phonograph Co. in the early 1900s. The company produced only six of the devices; Mr. Son’s is the only one left. According to Mr. Son, it belonged to a rich man in Argentina until the mid-1940s, when its ownership transferred somehow to a man called Mackintosh. Mr. Son visited the man several times, but couldn’t meet him until August 1985, when the phonograph was put on the auction block in that country. On the way to Argentina to participate in the auction, Mr. Son was robbed in New York and shot in the shoulder. Even still, he managed to go to Argentina and won the auction after competing with 53 phonograph collectors from around the world. “I can’t forget the moment I finally won the auction. I was thrilled and so happy I shouted and hugged the stranger who was next to me,” said Mr. Son. It took about six months to bring the phonograph to the museum.

Often the cost of shipping an object is several times what it costs to buy the object in the first place. “A few years ago, I bought a very old TV set for $180 from a 70-year-old lady living in a remote town in Ohio State. It cost $5,800 to move it to a bigger city, and another $7,000 to bring it to Korea,” Mr. Son recalled.

Having been a collector for over 45 years now, executives at shipping companies and auctioneers recognize him. “When Mr. Son arrives in the United States, a staff member at UPS (the shipping company) is dispatched just for him,” said Yun Jong-ig, a manager of the museum. The staff member follows Mr. Son around, packages whatever he adds to his collection and ships it to Korea.

Auction houses such as Sotheby’s send Mr. Son their catalogs regularly and let him know if an old phonograph is on the market. “When I first collected phonographs, I made a lot of mistakes, such as buying fake ones,” said Mr. Son. “But now, I can tell if it’s real or not, just by looking at the photos.

“As a collector, however little I paid for the fake, I still felt really bad. The feeling was worse than when I paid a lot more than the reasonable price for the genuine one,” said Mr. Son.

His collection was at first limited to sound-related items such as phonographs and speakers. But he became interested in Thomas Edison, the inventor of the phonograph, and his interest carried over to Edison’s inventions, such as lights, motion pictures, coffee pots, electric fans and heaters. Then Mr. Son got interested in other items from Edison’s era and started collecting them, as well.

“I collected them, but they aren’t mine. A museum is a place that shows a nation’s cultural level and I think my museum should teach history to students for generations,” he said. He added that he would be willing to donate the collection to the government, as long as it establishes a foundation to take care of the collection and a museum big enough to contain all the pieces. “It’s a pity that there isn’t a place big enough to display the collection and old valuable parts of human history are placed in dark, humid, packed storage,” Mr. Son said. The collection isn’t insured, because it’s hard to appropriate its value, and that value would in any case be too much to cover for either Mr. Son or an insurance company.

With the help of the Gangneung city government, however, a new there-story building covering 1,150 square meters is being built in front of Lake Gyeongpo in Gangneung to serve as a museum. IT is scheduled to open in early September and will cover the history of recorded sound from the phonograph to the DVD, Mr. Son said. But he said that even the new building will still be too small to display his entire collection, and that he’s planning to create a museum complex in the area that would have separate museums for the phonographs, Edison’s inventions, a children’s museum and one for household goods.

Museums in Japan and China have requested that Mr. Son hold special exhibitions in their nations. He so far has refused. “To be honest, I really want to hold an international exhibition first in the United States, Edison’s home country,” he explained.

“I heard that Edison once said that he wanted to live for 300 years because there were many things he wanted to invent,” Mr. Son said. “I wish I could live for 500 years, because there are so many things I want to collect.”

[Korea JoongAng Daily]

I can’t watch news any more…

Since I came back to Seoul in September, I’ve rarely watched Korean TV news. It’s partly because I hadn’t watched news much for the previous five months while living in Nuuk, Greenland, simply because I couldn’t understand the language at first, and then later I didn’t have cable, and the Internet is extremely expensive there. I guess I sort of lost interests in learning what’s going on in this world. I became so adjusted to living paying more attention to my life and the people just around me, and the changes in the nature.

Even when I read the local newspaper, online or offline, with the help of Google Translation, it seemed like daily news were mostly informative in a very plain tone: Government decided to spend more on what; Who’s coming to Greenland (like when Hilary Clinton made her visit, it was one of the biggest news I’d seen in the five month span); Denmark’s crown prince gave his twin babies Greenlandic middle names; A polar bear got caught near Nuuk, etc. Or sometimes they have interview articles of like one of the best cooks in town. The only crime story I’ve read was that big amount of money that was given to the children on the confirmation day was stolen in Sisimiut, the second largest city in Greenland. (Here when a child is confirmed at church, the family invites friends and family to a kaffemik, a coffee gathering with lots of food, cakes, coffee and tea. And the guests give the kid some money to congratulate one of the most important days of his/her life.)

Of course, Greenland is not a paradise. They have alcohol problems, and they suffer one of the world’s highest suicide rate, if not the highest. And if I had understood either Danish or Greenlandic, I would have found more dark stories.

But today, after watching KBS 9 News for about 10 minutes (precisely 8 minutes), I just couldn’t stand it any more. It was just too much. A North Korean defector got killed at the border of N.Korea and China; S. Koreans were kidnapped in the Philippines; Some local universities’ heads were found for corruption… Words people interviewed were using were violent, harsh, frustrating, and cold. All of sudden, I felt stuffed. That was my breaking point. I turned off the TV.

And I remembered what my friend Eva told me the other day after her recent trip to Canada. She spent one night in a small town not far from Vancouver. She said, “You know what? The day’s big news was that a reindeer got killed by a vehicle!”

Not that the reindeer’s death isn’t sad. But that people have time even to care about a single reindeer’s death, and that nothing more serious isn’t happening is what I’m desperately missing today.

Cities I’ve lived in

It wasn’t until E asked me the other day where I’ve lived. Somehow I’d always thought that I “lived” only in Seoul, and I have only “been” to other cities. It’s probably because I knew exactly when I would go back to Seoul, well, except for one case.

Anyway, according to his definition of living—staying five months or longer (Don’t ask me why five), I’ve lived in five different cities so far: Seoul, Philadelphia, Nottingham, Arlington/Washington, and Nuuk.

I was born and raised in Seoul.
I lived in Philadelphia for 11 months back in 1998-9 to learn English.
I spent five months in Nottingham, for a study abroad program.
I lived in Arlington/Washington for 1.5 years for graduate school.
And recently, I lived in Nuuk for five months for work.

Certainly, there’s difference between living and visiting. Looking back, I didn’t really explore around those cities as much as other cities I was traveling. But I would get better ideas how the local system works, and what the local people and culture are like.

Now, I’m excitedly curious about what city I will be living in near future. (Although I’m not quite looking forward to the international move. grin)

Taking both yin and yang on a healing vacation

Oct. 14, 2005 — People are fed up. Be they at school, work or home, they’re sick and tired of crowded cities, bad air, soulless food and being parked in front of computer screens all day. They want “well-being,” and they want it now.

The demand for health-oriented tours and retreats is being met in part by clinics of oriental medicine. A dozen agencies are now offering “health tours” across the country.

Chorakdang, in Ulju county, Ulsan, is one of the clinics. In 2001, it was designated an official “Health Tour of Korea” by the Korean Health Industry Development Institute, which is under the aegis of the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

“Chorakdang,” roughly translated, means “body and soul are delightful after becoming one with nature.” A night’s stay at the clinic costs 100,000 won ($95).

Park Seung-hui, the herbal doctor who runs the Chorakdang clinic, had his own clinic in Ulsan city, but moved to Ulju four years ago to run a health tour and grow herbs. Before doing so, he traveled around the nation from 1995 until 2001 looking for good herbs. In the end, he collected not only herbs but also china, old pictures and works of calligraphy, which now adorn the walls of Chorakdang.

Dr. Park also moved Baengnyeonjeong, a 220-year-old facility that the scholar Dowa Choi Nam-bok built in 1784 and used as a school, to Chorakdang in 2001.

“My future goal is to build a museum that shows medicinal goods and to establish a health park that has several streets, like a ‘Liver Street’ or ‘Heart Street’,” Dr. Park said.

Chorakdang also has a mountain path named after Hur Jun, a renowned oriental doctor in the Joseon Dynasty. The path is behind the main building.

The facilities didn’t exactly provide immediate well-being, but it was just good to be out of Seoul, breathing phytoncides from plants, eating pesticide-free food and learning about historical treasures.

After a four-and-a-half-hour trip to Gyeongju, I met Lee Sang-hak, an employee at Chorakdang ― also a driver, tour guide and administrative official ― at Gyeongju Station.

On the way to Chorakdang, Mr. Lee briefly explained the key attractions in the historical city, like the astronomical observatory Cheomseongdae, Cheonmachong in Daereungwon tomb park, and Mount Namsan (not the mountain with the same name in Seoul).


It took only 20 minutes to Chorakdang. The clinic was near the Bonggye Bulgogi Village, but its entrance was isolated: on the middle of a hill above the village. As soon as I entered Chorakdang I could smell the pine trees and herbal scents, which prepared me for the check-up, acupuncture and rustic accommodation.

The tour officially starts with a preliminary check-up: blood pressure, blood circulation, body composition, blood sugar and ultrasonography to check internal organs, surprisingly using western medical equipment. Based on the check-up results, Dr. Park diagnoses one’s general health. He told me I was a yeolseong taiyin person, meaning that my liver is too strong while my lungs are too weak, and I needed to get more exercise that would make me build up a sweat, like running or hiking.

“Usually if you go to an oriental clinic, all they do is feel your pulse,” said Lee Jong-soon, 52, a housewife.

An herbal bath followed the short counseling session, but it cost an additional 20,000 won ($20) ― and required a reservation. Each bathtub was filled with steamy dark brown colored herbal water.

“Soak in the water for about 30 minutes. I’ll come and check after 20 minutes to see if you have a headache,” the nurse said. She added that the herbal bath would moisturize skin while eliminating waste matter from the system.

There’s no way to check whether the waste was eliminated from my system, but my skin was softer ― or maybe I just hoped it was.

After the herbal bath, I went into a mud-hut-like room in the middle of the dormitory, a kind of steam-room, but not so hot. The room’s temperature was 40 to 45 degrees Celsius (104 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Dr. Park said that being in the room will result in your body being cauterized with moxa, activating the good things while pushing out the bad. The room was heated by oak logs smouldering 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) below the room at 700 degrees Celsius, he said.

Whatever the effect, it was good to lie down in a warm room smelling of herbs. Although at first it doesn’t seem to heat the body, after 10 to 20 minutes the sweat started oozing out.

After sweating it out in the mud hut, I moved on to acupuncture.

“I think acupuncture makes sense in terms of stimulating stifled parts of the body,” said Ha Tae-kyu, a chiropractic doctor. “But oriental medicine doesn’t have scientific results and the diagnosis for a person can be different depending on the doctor. Also, I don’t believe that we can devide the characteristics of people’s system into yin or yang. I just think that you can be healthy if you have good food and exercise enough.”

After that, we had a healthy dinner with vegetables that the clinic grows there. A staff member in the kitchen said even though foreigners visit there, they are given the same Korean food ― mainly doenjang jjigae or miso soup. She offered one more rice bowl, saying, “You’d better eat enough now, because no snacks or food are offered after this.”

She was right: there was nothing to eat or drink except water. Guests can bring fruit or snacks, but alcohol is completely prohibited. As the clinic is somewhat remote from the village, and both are poorly lit, you may not want to wander around the village at night. By the time the sun rose, you’d be completely lost.

As it gets dark earlier in the country than in the city, there’s not much to do at night, except for spending more time in the mud hut steam room ― it’s open all day ― or watch television. My advice is to bring reading material.

Waking up from a cozy room early in the morning, it felt good to walk around the clinic. The fog gave the atmosphere a certain kind of charm. After having kale juice and nut porridge for breakfast, we left for a trip to Daegok stream.

Breakfast at the Chorakdang

The first thing we visited was the Bangudae petroglyphs, or pictures on the rocks. The petroglyphs were found by field workers from Dongguk University in 1971. It is not yet known when the pictures were drawn, but it is estimated that they were drawn between the late Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age, the tour guide said. Not that there was much to see.

If you're lucky, you can see this. (I wasn't the lucky one: This is a picture of a photo.)

“The petroglyphs are underwater for about five to six months a year, and we can see them for only two to three months during the winter,” said the guide.

Mr. Lee said that the pictures could be preserved so well for thousands years for four reasons: a rock above the pictures blocks the rain; one beside them blocks the wind; the pictures face west, thus are exposed to the sun for only 30 minutes a day, and the water below the pictures offers regular humidity.

The pictures include human figures, a great number of animals including whales, tigers, wild pigs, deer and turtles, as well as a fence, indicating that the artist’s society had domesticated animals.

From the Bangudae entrance I walked about a kilometer (over half a mile) through a small mountain path. As Dr. Park said before I left for the tour, “Walking is also a part of curing.”

At the end of the path were fossils of dinosaur footprints and the Cheonjeonri petroglyphs. The 100-million-year-old footprint fossils are the cultural property of Ulsan city. Although there is a signpost that explains the fossils, if you don’t look at the rocks under your feet carefully, it’s hard to even notice that they’re there.

Across the stream are the Chonjeonri petroglyphs, prehistoric patterns drawn on the rocks, including triple circles, which could represent the sun, and creatures such as fish, deer, a tiger and a dragon. There is also writing in the form of Chinese characters about the Hwarang warriors who trained their bodies and souls there to serve the ancient Silla kingdom.

After the three-or-so hour tour is lunch and a final check-up, to see if your body has seen any improvement. The nurse said that my blood temperature was lower than that of the day before, but well, it was low yesterday as well.

Dr. Park told me that I should reduce my stress, adding that because my heartbeat is much faster than that of ordinary people, I tire easily.

For the final course, I was treated to a cup of herbal tea. Was it medically beneficial? Maybe. Did I love it? Of course.

(Note: I wrote this for the Korea JoongAng Daily.)