Saturday, 28 June 2014

Need To Cool Down This Summer? Try The Cheonggye Stream!

The temperatures these days in Seoul are getting higher, and enjoying outdoor activities without the threat of melting like strawberry ice cream dripping under the noon time sun is impossible to do're at the beach!

But since we don't have a beach in Seoul, walking along the banks of the Han River would be a good idea. The cool breezes by the river and the cooler surroundings provided by this body of water are enough to attract a lot of people to hike, stroll and bike nearby.

But during the day, if the river is too far for you, like most people downtown, there's another natural alternative. The Cheonggye Stream!

During the lunch break, office people walk by the stream to stroll and relax during their stressful day, and perhaps, to vent things off about their bosses or their work. Ha-ha-ha!
And these office people are always joined by international tourists as the Cheongge-cheon is actually a popular tourist attraction. 

At night, these office people are replaced by couples and families, who play and enjoy the quieter atmosphere of the stream. With its dim lighting coupled with the sound of the flowing stream, Cheonggye Stream affords its visitors a serene sanctuary right in the middle of the city.

So, in this summer, if you want to conserve energy by not overworking your air conditioner (and save money from your electric bill!), you know where to head to.

The more interesting route of the stream stretches to about five kilometers. That's a good, long walk. Just make sure your shoes are comfortable and your company lovable. :-)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Banpo Park's Floating Island And Its Colorful Personalities

On these humid summer nights, hundreds of Seoulites and international tourists line up by the bank of the Han River at Banpo Park. Why? The reason is popular. And colorful.

Night after night, the Banpo Fountain Bridge never fails to attract admirers to watch it dance, change color and mesmerize. And especially during the weekend, families, couples and photographers all over Seoul gather at the Banpo Park to enjoy and capture its performance.
      (Couples enjoy the fountain from Jamsu Bridge) 

But if there is a colorful dancing fountain on one side of the Banpo Bridge, there is also the Floating Island the other side that competes with the fountain's display of the color spectrum. 

Seoul's Floating Island is actually composed of three islets: Viva, Vista and Terra. While during the day, the Floating Island looks like a mere venue for a cafe, a restaurant and other events by the Han River, at night, right after dusk, the Island's LED lights turn the floating structures into another attraction at Banpo Park.  

And on the weekend when I ventured into the Banpo Park to watch some friends sweat and dance at their monthly Zumba party and picnic, I stayed behind to capture the changing colors of the Island.  

I have already seen and took photographs of the Banpo Fountain Bridge several times before (and even won a prize for its photo). This time, I just let the thousands of other people get mesmerized by the fountain as I stood on the other side of the bridge, also by the bank, and joined a smaller crowd of kids and their parents also gazing at the Floating Island as it slowly put on different colors.

And each time the LED lights gradually switched from one color to the next starting from the ground floor going up, the structure seemed to also change personality and character. 

While the popular fountains on the other side are playful with their synchronized dancing and music, the Floating Island is charming, serious, romantic and vogue, depending on its color. 

Just like the fountains, the best time to enjoy gazing at the Floating Island as it changes colors is after dusk, when the LED colors come alive and are very lucent. You can just sit there by the park and admire it from afar just like the rest of the crowd.

Here are the photographs I took. It does change its personality depending on the color, doesn't it?

To get to the Floating Island and the Banpo Fountain Bridge at Banpo Park, you can take the Blue Bus 740 from Exit 4 of Noksapyeong Station (Subway Line 6). The same bus goes back to the Itaewon area.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

"Do You Want To Become Korea.Net's Next Top Blogger?"

Years ago, I started this blog so I could join a blogging contest. That time, I wasn't really sold to the idea of writing a piece every now and then, as I had a full-time job and might not be able to continue posting. So I merely populated this blog site from my posts on a defunct social medium, and got me a consolation prize for lazily doing so. 

Well, what do you know? Eight years and more than 800 original posts later, my humble blog of a diary is still up and counting! And the best part? I actually enjoy writing these posts with photographs for whomever interested in reading them.

My writing days merely included contributing a few articles to my business school's magazine and winning in the 2007 Seoul International Essay Writing Competition. Although I was mighty proud of my 2nd prize win at the Jose Rizal essay writing competition as well. Why? Because I wrote it in Pilipino! Wheew!  That was especially challenging since the Pilipino subject wasn't exactly my favorite in college. (English, Spanish and Economics were!) Finishing that essay was as difficult as reaching Seoraksan's peak!  A really difficult climb, but you're rewarded with a spectacular view when you reach the top! (And you have all the way down to catch your breath! Ha-ha-ha!).

And all these years of joining (and gratefully receiving prizes!) Korea Tourism Organization's and K-Performance Supporters group, and the Seoul City government's Global Seoul Mates team, I felt I could do more! (Yeah, after doubting if I could ever maintain this blog since Day 1 eight years ago. Ha-ha-ha!).

So, in 2014, I signed up to be part of Korea Culture and Information Service's 2014 batch of Worldwide Korea Bloggers. As part of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Korea Culture and Information Service (KOCIS) team runs and maintains the website.

                      (The Museum's reflecting pond)

And on June 20, 2014, a Friday, KOCIS feted the WKBloggers who live in Korea to a welcome dinner at the National Museum of Korea in the Yongsan District in Seoul.

But before I headed to the Museum that day, I spied a runway being set up in front of the Yongsan Station that afternoon. With the words "KOREA'S NEXT topmodel" written on the stage and a group of skinny Korean ladies being made up inside the white tents next to it, I immediately knew that the modeling competition was to be held in the neighborhood that night. But I wondered why Tyra Banks (or maybe the Korean franchise holder) decided to set up the runway in a not-so-glamorous of locations. Maybe their expected target audience included the E-Mart shoppers, the commuters of Subway Line No. 1, the vendors of the electronics shops (who always jack prices up if you're a foreigner!), or perhaps, the drunk ajussis of the pojang-macha(drinking tents) whose smoke from their Korean barbecue grills entices everyone passing by. I would have wanted to watch the actual competition and take pictures, but I had a welcome dinner to attend!

The last time I walked the grounds of the National Museum of Korea was during an autumn day a year before. And although that Friday night was humid and hot, walking towards the Museum's Maru fine-dining restaurant to join some of the 54-member 2014 Worldwide Korea Bloggers was a good stroll. 

For the Worldwide Korea Bloggers all over the world who couldn't make it, you were all in our thoughts that night. The welcome dinner-party was enjoyable and fun. I learned more about the KOCIS, and met its officers, Mr. Yonggi Won and Mr. Jeongseon Sun, and the energetic team led by Ms. Cathy Paik.

                                    (A royal hot pot)

And in between my plates of yummy Korean dishes, I had fun chatting with Mr. Sun and fellow bloggers, Joanna, Ana, Megan and Rasheed at the dinner table. It was also interesting to chat with a lady reporter from Arirang TV who dropped by, and with my fellow K-Performance Supporter Fakhar. So, a huge congratulations and 'thank you' to Cathy and her team for gathering everyone and for treating us to a hearty dinner at Maru(I especially liked the royal hot pot!).

And as we WKBloggers come from different backgrounds and nationalities, I am sure our posts have become more interesting as we offer different perspectives of the culture, history and life in and about Korea. 

As for me, even after reaching my eighth year and going past my 800th post, I will continue to enjoy blogging as I have all these years. 
           (My appointment certificate and yummy dessert!)

And for everyone out there, who also would like to share their Korean stories, insights and experience through The Korea Blog, let me borrow Tyra Banks' line from that modeling competition:

"Are you ready to become Korea-dot-net's next top blogger?"

         (The KOCIS team and some 2014 WKBloggers!)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Daehangno's Musicale Hwarang 뮤지컬 화랑

                      (The Art Madang Theater Building)

It's the one aspect of Korean culture that needs to be promoted more: the Korean musicale performances and plays in Daehang-no.

While most tourists may not be able to understand the plays as they are in Korean, they may be able to enjoy the music and the dancing of the musicale even if these are in Korean.

                    (Audience lining up to enter the theater)

And while the non-verbal performances in Seoul are already popular with international tourists bussed in to their shows non-stop, I, as a member of the K-Performance Supporters of the Korea Tourism Organization, am helping to promote the musicales, which most international tourists have yet to discover.

The Korean musicale Hwarang has been playing for a few years now. The musicale is a mixture of story of  Shilla Dynasty trainee-soldiers, who are called Hwarang. The five male characters, Ki-Parang, Yu-o, Mun-no, Gwan-rang and Sa-daham, all tell their own story through dialogues, and very K-pop-ish song ang dance routines, which K-pop lovers out there would appreciate. 

Here's the synopsis of the musicale, as provided by the Visit Korea website:

The Hwarang audition announcement is posted in Seorabol, the capital of the Shilla Dynasty, which has a thousand-year history.

The rebel Yu-o who wants to escape from his mother, the audacious and self-centered Ki-Parang, the Hwarang descendant Mun-no, who came down the mountain village with great dreams, the reluctant Gwan-rang, who was forced by his father to apply for Hwarang, and the innocent youth Sa-daham who thought the only purpose of his life is to protect Gwan-rang, all finally become a team after many twists and turns. However, there is no such thing as a peaceful day for this group given their different personalities, backgrounds and talents.

In order to break free from the strict rules and hard training routine, the group decides to make an escape plan. To make things worse, they reach a turning point where they have to decide whether to endure the competition or succumb to the conflicts and misunderstandings arising from the group.

Will they succeed in becoming a real 'Hwarang' and achieve they dream of becoming a superstar in Seorabeol?

(The cast and a lucky audience member.)

As the show has been playing for years now, it has created quite a following, especially among the young girls. But since the musicale is based on history and updated to the current music trend, it's for the whole family. When I watched last weekend, there were a couple of parents with their kids in the audience clapping at each lively song-and-dance number. In keeping with their tradition, the current cast also has very good voices, way much better than the K-pop boy band you'd see on TV.

The musicale holds 'events' every once in a while where lucky audience members are given prizes by the cast. 


For directions to the theater, do refer to the photographs and directions on this previous Hwarang blog. Or to their Facebook page.