Seoul City Wall VIP Tour with Mayor Park

Mayor Park shows the different styles of stonework that are along Seoul's City Wall

Mayor Park shows the different styles of stonework that are along Seoul’s City Wall

If you’ve been reading my blog there’s no need to remind you of how in love with Seoul I am! I feel really lucky to have experienced so many aspects of the city and Korea in general. With all the great things Seoul has to offer it is really difficult to pick a favorite, but I must admit I do have one, and it’s Seoul’s City Wall.

Beautiful gardens surround Seoul City Wall

Beautiful gardens surround Seoul City Wall

Yesterday, (May 20th 2015) I was thrilled to be invited to attend a VIP tour of the Seoul City Wall lead by Mayor Park! The government is currently working to preserve and beautify what has been one of Seoul’s overlooked gems for years. As of 2014 over 70% of the wall has been restored and currently projects are underway that will create a comfortable place for tourists to enjoy.

Mayor Park presents the map of Seoul City Wall

Mayor Park presents the map of Seoul City Wall

Seoul’s city wall follows the natural landscape of Seoul, curving along the ridges of Bygaksan, Naksan , Namsan and Inwangsan and stretching 18.6 km. Built over 620 years ago, the history of Korea is engraved in the many varieties of stone work, 8 city gates and surrounding tourist attractions.

Mayor Park observes a shop located along the wall that sells organic souvenirs made by traditional material.

Mayor Park observes a shop located along the wall that sells organic souvenirs made by traditional material.

A shop located along the wall that sells organic souvenirs made by traditional material.

A shop located along the wall that sells organic souvenirs made by traditional material.

A unique aspect of Seoul’s city wall is that it is easily accessible from Seoul’s subway and in close proximity to many tourism attractions, cafes and restaurants. Mayor Park’s Tour lead us along the Naksan Mountain Trail which can easily be picked up from Dongdaemun Station.

One of the many museums showcasing art along Seoul's City Wall

One of the many museums showcasing art along Seoul’s City Wall

Street art on one of the alleyways near Seoul City Wall.  All of the artwork done along the wall was made with organic material

Street art on one of the alleyways near Seoul City Wall. All of the artwork done along the wall was made with organic material

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After enjoying the bustle of Dongdaemun, having a delicious meal, and looking at the modern marvel of the Dongdaemun Design center, there is no better way to step away from hustle and bustle of the city (while actually still remaining right in the city) and quietly stroll along the city wall while taking in magnificent views!

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The Naksan Mountain Trail is an easy 2.1km portion of the wall and takes under an hour to walk.   Café’s, museums and shops line the outskirts of the wall making it a lovely place for tourists to stroll, or take a rest. The trail is wheel chair and stroller accessible and has public restrooms. These facilities have been recently added and is a wonderful addition to this magnificent attraction.

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Yesterday was an exceptionally gorgeous day in Seoul, and there was truly no better place to be then enjoying the tranquil city wall while learning about the history and rebuilding efforts from Mayor Parks perspective.

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If you are a resident or visitor of Korea do not miss the opportunity to visit a portion of Seoul’s wall. For more information visit www.seoulcitywall.seoul.go.kr or pick up the ‘Seoul City Wall Guide Book’ at any tourist information center.

The Seoul City Wall Guidebook available at tourist information

The Seoul City Wall Guidebook available at tourist information

Resources inside the 'Seoul City Wall Guide Book' that show how to access tourism attractions surrounding the wall

Resources inside the ‘Seoul City Wall Guide Book’ that show how to access tourism attractions surrounding the wall

If you’d like to see more media coverage of the Mayor’s VIP tour you can visit any of the following news agency links:

Financial News

http://www.fnnews.com/news/201505201538308696

 Newsis

http://www.newsis.com/pict_detail/view.html?pict_id=NISI20150520_0010962559

 YTN (video clip)

http://www.ytn.co.kr/_ln/0115_201505201700167844

TBS ( video clip)

http://tvcast.naver.com/v/397438

  Mayor’s Blog

http://blog.naver.com/seoulwonsoon?Redirect=Log&logNo=220365409373&jumpingVid=E76F55A15782AB94B47605037D38BE569F5F

South Korean Love Industry

“The beauty of nomadic life is that you’re detached from the flaws of the surrounding society while you soak up the best it has to offer. You’re an observer. You have no stake. You’re just passing through.”- Richard Boudreaux

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I recently stumbled upon this quote while reading an article by the famed travel journalist. His words have described life abroad perfectly. Korea is the 5th country which I have called home. When my husband got a job offer to move here, we had never even visited Asia before, never mind considered living there. With a short stay in the farmlands of America, we were ready to be back abroad, and challenge ourselves with a new culture and home.

 

When I started researching Korea, I read several books on the country’s culture. Korea, an Eastern society with Confucian roots, summed up in a few hundred pages, was more than a lot to take in. The country’s history, beliefs and culture had my head spinning. My husband and I began to wonder what we had just gotten ourselves into!

 

As I boarded the plane to take the 20 hour flight I kissed my sweet homeland goodbye and was fully prepared to let things ‘get weird’.

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However, as I stepped on to Korean soil for the first time at Incheon Airport things didn’t seem that strange. (Of course I was in one of what has been rated the best airports in the world for several years) Since living in Korea I have taken in a lot of ‘bests.’ Best friends, best sites, best food, best memories, life here had been pretty amazing!

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Of course, from the American perspective, where our news so often focuses on military activity from the North, it is sometimes hard to explain to outsiders why I love living in Korea. A common question I receive is, ‘Do you feel safe living there?’. In reality Seoul is one of the safest cities in the world! But like any other country, there are flaws.

 

This fall when I went to Jeju Island over Chuseok with one of my Korean girlfriends it was another ‘best’ memory. Of course we joined the thousands of others and visited Loveland and giggled at the crazy place and didn’t really think about why this place was here.

 

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I love New York based VICE News and recently they did a video documentary about Korea’s Love Industry I was of course excited to watch. As I observed many of the places that I walk through on a daily basis, it quickly reminded me of some of the country’s quirks and flaws that I do have a vague understanding of, but often block out as a foreigner as I enjoy the best of the country.

Watching this documentary reminded me, as we observe with a foreign eye, that bringing foreign perspective into a society is essential to helping tackle many of these issues. I am happy to know many expats that are doing great things to impact Korea! (Groove Korea’s 100th issue is a great example of this) I hope that by bringing attention to some of the less pleasant aspects of Korea’s rapid modern transformation, we can take time to give back to a country that has let us, pass through, with some of the best of times!

Having a Korean Farm Experience with MAFRA’s Happy Bus Day

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Fall in Korea, a time when we can experience amazing foliage, and with winter around the corner, it also means harvest time. Happy Bus Day is an organization, established by MAFRA, which educates both foreigners and locals about farm practices in Korea through farm to table day trip experiences.

After the Korean War, citizens fled cities and took refuge in the countryside creating industry from the land in farming and agricultural practices. Today this practice has taken a 180 and now almost all of Korea’s population lives in cities and farming is slowly becoming a near extinct profession. The government is looking at the industry in hopes to make it sustainable once again.   Through educational programs like Happy Bus Day this is becoming possible. I attended my second trip this October where we set out from the bustle of Seoul City towards the countryside to see what it is really all about.

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Our first stop was a farm in Soomy Village located in Yangpyhunh in Gyenggi-do. This area is designated for visitors to experience farm life. It also is the home of many festivals including the strawberry festival in the spring, catfish festival in the summer and kimchi making festival in the fall. We were headed to make Korea’s staple food- of course KIMCHI!

We walked onto the farm where we were faced with a handful of elders and a huge crop of Korean cabbage and turnips. We suited up with aprons, gloves, head coverings and arm protections to avoid the messy kimichi getting on our clothes. We stepped onto a covered patio to get to work on Kimchi production. A master Kimchi maker instructed us on how to create the perfect recipe.

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Ingredients were poured in front of us including tiny shrimp, spicy red pepper powder and finally the pre-salted cabbage. We watched an instructor pack the cabbage to turn into Kimchi and then followed her lead. My husband, who has very little (need I say no?) cooking skill came along for the trip. He even had fun trying to craft kimchi! A farmer walked over to him and packed a cabbage leaf full of the spicy mixture popping it into his mouth. Instantly his forehead began to sweat from the spicy flavor. YIKES!10877511_932050821157_229157234_n

Also among the participants was Danny Shechtman, a noble piece price winner in chemistry.   He rolled up his sleeves and began grating cabbage among the locals and expats of all ages. Proving that anyone can have fun making Kimchi, he playfully danced along to the grating motion of his turnip.

Once we had our cabbage prepared for Kimchi we placed it into containers to take home. We were then given pork wrapped with Kimchi in cabbage to snack on. This dish is a traditional meal to eat when Kimchi making.

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From all that kimchi making we all had worked up quite the appetite. Our next stop was lunch! We were back on the bus, only to arrive later at Kwang-I Won restaurant, where we were greeted by the MAFRA minister and invited to share a meal with him. The village restaurant specializes in soybean paste and farm to table dinning experiences. The experience from the food, to the restaurant facilities were spectacular.

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The restaurant itself had an amazing ambiance complete with 100’s of Kimchi pots in its front and a roof made from broken pots. The menu included nearly a dozen traditional farm fresh dishes incorporating soy sauce soybean paste and other natural enzymes.

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The morning was spent with Korea Tradition but after lunch we headed to a place that creates products new to Korea- dairy! I know what you are thinking dairy in Korea? We don’t often think of Cheese, Yogurt and dairy products when we think of Korea but as foreign food becomes more popular in Korea cheese is quickly becoming a favorite food in Korea. Cheese is similar to many of the tastes and textures already in Korean cooking so it is complimentary to the Korean pallet.

Euna Farm is a ranch produces organic milk and creates cheese and yogurt products. Visitors can enjoy experiences farm like and making these products. The facilities also house a pension for those seeking accommodations.

Dressing up like farmers!

Dressing up like farmers!

Our experience began with   making cheese. The farm owner welcomed us into a kitchen and explained how to make cheese. We marveled as she warmed cheese curds with hot water and then stretched it into a long pizza like shape, before putting it back together into a line and braiding it. The owner only spoke Korea, but interpreters also joined us for the trip. They did a spectacular job translating what was going on. They also were very animated, making it enjoyable to listen to! Often listening to interpretation can be very dry, but we were delighted by, Happy Bus Day’s interpreters and their chrismal!

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When it was our turn to give cheese making a go, we poured hot water onto the curd and followed instructions. It was really interesting to see the cheese making process. The most difficult part was braiding the long strands of cheese. The chef had effortlessly done this, but when it was our turn we all struggled! I am not good at braiding hair, but was able to successfully turn my cheese blob into a braid! Yippee! I was happy to show off my cheese braid to my group, and then assist them in the braiding process.

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Our next activity was preparing cheese tteokbokki. Tteokbokki is a long skinny rice cake that is commonly eaten in Korea. We moved on to another kitchen where woks were set out and followed a chef in preparing the dish. Tteokbokki is most commonly eaten with a thick red pepper sauce.   This fusion dish used vegetables, a small amount of sauce and plenty of cheese! It was delicious and enjoyable to sample.

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Our final activity of the day was a scavenger hunt which had us running all around the farm in search of different live stock, and activities. My husband and I ran from place to place, dressing up like farmers, calling for sheep that were grazing in a field and petting a horse that lives on the facilities. We were very excited to WIN the scavenger hunt! Our reward was 3 containers of the yogurt that the farm made. I wasn’t sure how the yogurt would taste, but it ended up being delicious and supplied me with a weeks worth of breakfast!

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The days activities were really enjoyable. Getting away from the concrete jungle that makes up Seoul is always refreshing. If you love food, I encourage making a trip to the countryside to experience some of the farm experience program that the government has set up. There is nothing quite like eating food that has just been picked and prepared right before your eyes!

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Soomy Village

Contact: Hyun Kee Lee 031-775-5205

531 Bongsang-ri, Danwol-myeon Yangpyung-gun, Gyenggi-do, Korea

Kwang-I Won Village Restaurant

Contact: Kwang Ja Kim 021-774-4700

120-11 Yongmoonsan-ro, Youngmoon-myeon, Yangpyung-gun, Gyeonggi-do, Korea

Euna Dairy Farm

Contact: OK hyang Cho 031-882-5868

Mountain 41-10, Geumdang-ri, Ganam-myeon, Yeojoo-gun, Gyeonggi-do, Korea

Snails and Fish at Pet Alley, Seoul

Pet Alley

 Dongdaemun Pet Alley

Dongdaemun, is there any place like it in the world? Set in the middle of this concrete city is a district of Seoul that sprawls out housing every kind of store one could ever image. From huge mega malls and midnight wholesale markets to it’s tiny huts, stands and street markets, the thousands of streets winding around in a shopping maze will easily have you occupied for hours. It’s nearly impossible for tourists to navigate along the roads without a specific agenda.   Luckily common items are housed in the same districts, making it easy for shoppers to browse once they have found the appropriate section.

Snails and Fish at Pet Alley, Seoul

Dongdaemun’s Pet Alley sells every pet imaginable, specializing in the exotic. Even if you aren’t in the market for a new furry friend, the line of pet shops is a spectacle to see. Thousands of cages fill the stores housing exotic animals. If small rodents are your idea of a great pet then you will be overjoyed to see the hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets and mice. Along with the common household pets are chipmunks, squirrels and hedgehogs. A pretty wild concept for my western brain to get behind the idea of living among a squirrel, but to each their own

 

 

Hedgehogs at Pet Alley

There are hundreds of varieties of reptiles. My personal favorites were neon frogs. I’ve never seen anything like it. I also loved the many varieties of mini turtles! If a bird is what your after, there are hundreds of varieties. It’s easy to understand why the bird storeowner is hard of hearing, when you step inside and see (or hear) the endless cages of cawing birds.  Fish are also in no short supply, as well as all of the equipment to make a spectacular aquarium.

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Seoul has the capability to keep foreigners for an extended stay. Many come for a a year and stay for many! If you’ve come to the decisions to make Seoul your home, and want to share your pad with a pet, get yourself to Dongdaemun pet alley!

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Directions- Dongdaemun Station: Exit 7 Walk left before the Cheonggye Stream walking eastward. You will find Pet Alley about 300m down.

 

SIWA and Diplomatic Community Bazaar

Happy Market Monday. This week we are looking at a ‘Market’ aka Bazaar that is only in Seoul for ONE DAY A YEAR! So make sure to mark your calendar and don’t miss the 2014 SIWA and Diplomatic Community Bazaar.

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Tis the season to start thinking about Holiday Shopping and MY FAVORITE place to shop for Christmas presents in Seoul, is at the SIWA and Diplomatic Community Bazaar. The bazaar features items from over 40 embassies, welfare organizations, clubs and international vendors.  With so many countries being represented there is no telling what you can find!

What’s even better then buying treasures from around the world? Doing it for charity!  The event is the largest international fundraiser in Seoul.  Since it’s establishment in 1970, it has raised over two billion won of which all profits go directly to Korean Charities! While checking off your Christmas list, your purchases are also helping others!

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Photos Courtesy of SIWA Flickr

Last year was my first time attending the Bazaar.  I met up with my girlfriends and headed there just in time for lunch.  Along with great shopping, there is also an international food court.  We walked together browsing all of the international food, wondering exactly what to eat. A cheesy dish from Sweden, sausage from Germany, curry from India?  There were even exotic dishes like Afghan style lamb! As we strolled along the food isles, the Turkish Ambassador called us over to his stand and offered us a sample of homemade Turkish delights and coffee.  After chatting with him, we all made our selections and then went to sit outside, in the lovely fall air, sampling each others’ dishes.

 

Once lunch was done it was time to SHOP! There were hundreds of stalls selling gifts, providing activities, and offering information.  It really was a one-stop shop to learn about Seoul, buy tons of international products, make new friends, and have a lot of fun! Among the multitude of shoppers, we quickly recognized many familiar faces in the crowd and chatted with the friendly volunteers working the event.

My purchases included many treasures such as an advent calendar filled with European chocolate, some spiced wine from Germany, and pasta from Italy. It isn’t always easy finding these gourmet treats in Seoul so I made sure to take advantage of the opportunity.

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After my shopping I visited some of the welfare tables. Some very talented girls were giving manicures in exchange for a donation to their organizations. Some of the orphanages were selling children’s items.  An older gentleman had made dozens of hand made stuffed animals. He proudly showed me his craftsmanship as I selected a few to purchase for gifts. My favorite was a silly looking lizard that could also double as a door draft blocker.

We continued around the venue while enjoying a wine tasting. Finally I walked over to my favorite section, the lucky draw! A crowd was gathered around the table and a volunteer explained that you could make a donation and pick tickets out of a bucket. If your ticket had a star or number on it, you won instantly! I decided to donate 20,000 won and take my chances. Even if I didn’t win I  figured the money was going to a good cause!  After pulling my tickets I walked away with a makeup kit and several gift cards!!  Everyone seemed to be winning. It was a blast! I went back a second time and won more prizes! And if you wanted to take a chance at high value prizes, there was a Grand Raffle!

 

At the end of the day I walked out of the Bazaar juggling handfuls of prizes and gifts. I couldn’t wait to get home and hide them from my family so they could unwrap them for Christmas!

 

The event is run completely by volunteers. I was so inspired by my time there last year that I had decided to volunteer this year. If you stop by in the afternoon, which I hope you do, visit me at the lucky draw where I will cheer for you to win!

 

When: Monday, November 10th 10:00am-4:00pm

Where: 63 Convention Center

Subway: Yeoido station (Seoul Subway Line 5), Exit 5.

Take the Free Shuttle or bus no.62 in front of St. Mary’s Hospital Platform

More Information:  http://siwapage.com/activities/events/fall-bazaar-save-the-date/