조용한 한국 : 서울 휴일 – Quiet Korea: A Seoul-full Holiday

Last night, I had dinner with friends not much more than a mile away from my humble abode.  On the way home, I walked over a pedestrian bridge, passing over honking cars and grinding traffic.  I walked passed people eating dinner, talking loudly, sitting outside enjoying the warm, spring air.  When I got back to American Gardens, I decided to pick up a few things from school.  A man on a bicycle started following me, trying to converse in Chinese.  “I don’t understand you,” I told him.  “I love you,” he replied in staccato bursts of halted English.  “Your eyes!  I love you!”  I smiled, kept walking, listening to him speak to me again in Chinese.  On the corner of the street, dozens of middle aged women squished together, dancing to very loud Chinese pop music.  Gates swung, doors slammed, children laughed, and Chinese tones filled the night air.

Even in my relatively secluded neighborhood, noise is everywhere.  Chengdu, at 14 million inhabitants, is a city of sound.

This became even more noticeable after my trip to Seoul, a city, which despite its nearly 26 million residents, is nearly silent by comparison.  In Seoul, the language, not relying on tones to convey the meaning of every word, seems softer.  Men and women rush through the streets muttering into cell phones pressed to their ears and sit in stony silence on buses and subways, absorbed in private musical performances conducted over headphones.  Restaurants seem to be the one exception where conversation actually carries over the clattering of metal chopsticks and the satisfying sizzle of food being prepared.

To be fair, I was not in South Korea long; just five days.  And five days was long enough to see a few sites, escape the Chengdu pollution, and enjoy the bitter, cold winter winds of The Land of the Morning Calm.

Changdeokgung Palace, one of the Five Grand Palaces in Seoul.

Changdeokgung Palace, one of the Five Grand Palaces in Seoul.

Mountains behind Changdeokgung Palace.

Mountains behind Changdeokgung Palace.

Stone Markers

Stone Markers

How Far?  Distances from Seoul to...elsewhere.

How Far? Distances from Seoul to…elsewhere.

Hello, US Embassy!

Hello, US Embassy!

A statue of King Sejong, the king who created the Hangul alphabet.

A statue of King Sejong, the king who created the Hangul alphabet.

Admiral Yi Sun-Shin looks over modern day Seoul

Admiral Yi Sun-Shin looks over modern day Seoul

Trying to get the Korean government to shed more light on what happened with the sinking of the MV Sewol.

Trying to get the Korean government to shed more light on what happened with the sinking of the MV Sewol.

Korean architecture in the Namsangol Hanok Village.

Korean architecture in the Namsangol Hanok Village.

Flags in Namsangol

Flags in Namsangol

Seoul Tower

Seoul Tower

The Seoul Time Capsule, built in 1994 to celebrate the 600th anniversary.

The Seoul Time Capsule, built in 1994 to celebrate the 600th anniversary.

Possibly the highlight of my trip to South Korea was visiting the DMZ.  I’m not quite sure what my fascination is with the Hermit Kingdom to the north of Seoul, but seeing North Korea, even–technically–setting foot inside the country in one of the JSA buildings, was amazing.  But, I suppose, claiming to now have been to North Korea is a bit like me saying I’ve been to Malaysia…when I really never left the airport.  Nevertheless, here are some DMZ tour photos…

The Joint-Security Area of the DMZ

The Joint-Security Area of the DMZ

Soldiers in the J.S.A.

Soldiers in the J.S.A.

South Korean soldier guards the door to North Korea.

South Korean soldier guards the door to North Korea.

Propaganda Town in North Korea.  A fake town that North Korea built to try to get South Koreans to defect.

Kijong-dong (Propaganda Town) in North Korea. A fake town that North Korea built to try to get South Koreans to defect.

The site of the 1976 axe murders.

The site of the 1976 axe murders.

Bridge of No Return

Bridge of No Return

Our tour guide talking about the last train station in South Korea.

Our tour guide talking about the last train station in South Korea.

A ticket to go see the inside of the station.

A ticket to go see the inside of the station.

Where to go...  Actually, the route to Pyongyang is not open right now.

Where to go… Actually, the route to Pyongyang is not open right now.

Our Tour Guide showing us the Third Tunnel of Aggression

Our Tour Guide showing us the Third Tunnel of Aggression

And for acting as an incredible tour guide through the mean streets of Seoul, I have to give a shout-out to a long-time resident of the city…

Andrew acts as a tour guide.

Andrew

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One comment

  1. Anne · March 15, 2015

    It’s all fascinating, isn’t it Katie? I’ve never heard of the fake city before. Sort of scary. I wonder how many people fall for that now. I’m so glad you’re getting to see so much and visiting the other countries. Terrific way to spend a few days and get out of your city. You’ll have wonderful memories for a lifetime. Love you sweetie, GA

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