Sunday, 30 November 2014

Fast And Furious: The Gangbyeon Expressway

         (Gangbyeon Expressway as seen from Hannam-dong)

My Hannam-dong neighborhood in the Yongsan District in Seoul is just right next to a major bridge, the Hannam Bridge. This bridge connects the traffic between Yongsan-gu in the north and Gangnam-gu in the south. That's why in the morning, the traffic is heavy going north for those heading to their offices and businesses around Myeong-dong and Jongno areas, while in the evening, the heavy traffic goes towards the opposite direction. 

Although the traffic along the Hannam Bridge is heavy enough, right below it, on the Yongsan side, is the Gangbyeong Expressway, where the number of vehicles is a hundredfold more than that on the bridge.

The Gangbyeon Expressway snakes along the northern banks of the Han River, serving as a major artery for thousands of cars, vans, trucks and motorbikes that are usually heading to the northern areas of Seoul. 

And one evening, during the rush hour, I walked towards the edge of the neighborhood, not to count the cars, but to actually to spot the moon that night, which according to the news, would be one of the brightest during the year.

But sadly, the brightness of the full moon was eclipsed by my interest on taking some photographs of the traffic along the expressway below, which was then further eclipsed by the brightness of the headlights of the vehicles. 

I have never ventured walking on the Hannam Bridge all these years. It was scary to be standing along the narrow space on the side of the bridge designated for pedestrians who want to stroll, run, or in the case that night, take silly pictures of the moving transportation equipment below. Ha-ha-ha!

I always thought that people who have no business being on a bridge would always be there to, well, jump from it. I wasn't strolling along the bridge, nor I was on a bike crossing it. If you were on one of the vehicles passing by, what would you think if you see a guy standing still on the bridge, facing away? But if you see him with a selfie stick, would you think he was taking his last known selfies? Ha-ha-ha!

Anyways, as I said, it was scary standing on that narrow pedestrian space because the rushing buses and cars just swished and swooshed next to you. Not that their tailwinds created a noisy sonic boom, but anything could happen around a vehicle running 60 km/h.

   (Gangbyeon Expressway as seen from Hannam Bridge)

So, after taking a few photographs, and not bothering to count all the vehicles (ha-ha-ha!), I was out of there. And I was making my way home, I wondered at what time would the traffic actually ease up. Maybe midnight, when, I guess, most of the commuters have made it to their destinations. 

If you drive along the Gangbyeon Expressway every night on your way home, you might just have contributed to my pictures. And the next time you're traveling this expressway and see someone standing still on the Hannam Bridge above, I assure you it wouldn't be me. Ha-ha-ha! 

And if you're one of those fast and furiously bad drivers in the city who think that traffic lights are just a suggestion, or that pedestrian lanes are just decorative white stripes painted on the road, do have some respect for the traffic rules and pedestrians. Most of the culprits in my neighborhood are those drivers of flashy cars and ones with diplomatic plates. 

And if you're one of those thousands of bus commuters passing through the Hannam Bridge, do have a safe journey. Everyday.

By the way, I also looked up that night.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The 2014 ASEAN Film Festival in Seoul!

Thanks to the posting of the ASEAN film festival on the Philippine Embassy in Seoul Facebook page; I will be watching a Filipino film this Sunday, November 30, 2014. 
                        (Maja blanca, suman and puto!)

Last Sunday, I was at Hyewha-dong's Pinoy Market to get some Pinoy goodies from my favorite vendor, Junila, and to savor some Pinoy dishes at the turo-turo restaurant across the street. This Sunday though, no Pinoy dishes for me. Only a Pinoy movie!
                                   (Bananacue and pink gelatin delights)
                  (My dose of dinuguan, kare-kare and atay!)

The ASEAN film festival at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, just right next to the Gyeongbuk Palace has started today, November 7, 2014 and will end next week, December 4.

Films from ten ASEAN member countries, namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam will be screened, and according to the festival's flyer, certain directors and actors of the films will be at the festival venue, too.

I have reserved my tickets for Sunday's films, If Only, from the Philippines, and Ilo Ilo, from Singapore for this Sunday. You can also reserve by sending your request to:

I can't remember the last time I have watched a Filipino movie in a theater. It's been maybe ten years or more. So, instead of having Pinoy dishes, I'll be watching Sana Dati, or If Only

Ilo Ilo, on the other hand, was the recipient of the Camera d'Or award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It's a 'must-see'! I wonder if the directors of both films will be there.

Here are more details from the Visit Korea website:

And the ASEAN-Korea website:

See you at the movies!

Christmas Lights In Seoul: Shinsegae Department Store

I initially didn't want to take the subway, but since I was sure the traffic going downtown was bad, I had no choice. 

I was going to Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong last night to check out a few things I need to get before flying out for my Christmas vacation. Getting out of Exit 5 of Myeongdong Station and just walk towards Lotte from there seemed faster. No traffic, no standing in the bus, and no time wasted.

But as I made a right turn on that corner where the Korea Post Building stands, something caught my attention. The Shinsegae Department Store building was turning into a huge movie screen and was illuminated by a Christmas-themed light show.

I stopped for a while to take photographs. And as I looked for a good spot, I realized I wasn't the only audience. There were a few people along the sidewalk also mesmerized by the light show. 

If pedestrians were busy enjoying the light show on the street, I guess those in the buses and in their cars passing by Shinsegae were, too. As I stood there, I noticed that the projections were beamed from a building on the opposite side of the street, and those beamed slideshow lights must have been very bright in order to fight off all the other bright lights around the area.

This intersection of the streets from Namdaemun Market side, the one heading to Myeong-dong, and the street heading to the Namsan side is a very busy one. And the Shinsegae people must have created the slideshow to attract more customers to enter their doors, and also to remind the passers-by, like me, to perhaps drop in for a while after this light show.

                       (Merry Christmas from Shinsegae!)

The spectacle lasted only for a few minutes, and it was on a regular cycle that pauses for less than six minutes. Although I think the show starts after sundown and stops when the department store closes for the night, those scenes projected on the building's walls and the illuminated fountain right next to it are a perfect reminder for everyone that Christmas is coming, and it's time to shop for presents!

(The numbers are counting down to the next slide show)

And speaking of Christmas, I might as well take photographs of other buildings or corners in Seoul brightly decorated to herald Christmas in the city in case I chance upon a few more before I fly out.

                (When the fountain is decorated like this, 
                          it reminds me of a fondant cake)

I didn't expect that there was a blog somewhere when I got out of Myeongdong Station's Exit 5. Not only was there a blog; there is also a blog series: Christmas lights in Seoul!

            (3 minutes and 26 seconds till the next light show)

Monday, 24 November 2014

Seoul's Jamsu-gyo: A Bridge To Environmental Awareness

Who doesn't want to stay in bed all day long? I always said that the best weekends aren't spent at home; they're bed. Ha-ha-ha!

But realizing I stayed in bed for too long that day, I decided to get out of my apartment and walk to wherever my lazy legs would take me.

So, I headed off to my favorite bridge in Seoul, the Jamsu Bridge, or Jamsu-gyo, perhaps the only bridge in Seoul where runners, cyclists, moms and their baby strollers, and international tourists share the entire length with buses and cars. This bridge has dedicated lanes for vehicles, pedestrians and people on bikes. It is also popular with tourists because it has been featured in several Korean movies and dramas, and most important, it's below the Banpo Fountain Bridge, the most popular bridge in Korea.

Heading out my apartment, I initially didn't want to bring my wallet with me, as I thought I was going out for a walk, and not to shop. But something urged me to slip that wallet into my jacket pocket, and I was glad I did. 

When I got to jogging path along the banks of the Han River, I bumped into a colleague in the office, Bruce, who also lives in the Hannam-dong neighborhood; he was also there for a walk. As I said, this path was popular, especially to those living near the Han River. It was even part of a HiSeoul marathon.
(The sign says "Eco Bridge Festival)
So, Bruce and I chatted away during our stroll with the intention of crossing the Jamsu Bridge, which from afar, was abuzz with some activity. Music was blasting, tents were up and no moving vehicles were on it.  I read somewhere that the bridge would be closed for something. 

And when we got there, we were welcomed by the Green and Blue Tayo Buses on display, a 119 First-Aid learning tent,  stalls of recycled products and the cool afternoon breezes of the Han River. That day, Jamsu Bridge became an eco-bridge; a venue of about 800 meters long in order to raise environmental awareness.
                           (Rock Lee quizzing Bruce)

And while checking out the stalls, we chanced upon a young Korean kid, Rock Lee, who quizzed us on the spot about the planet's endangered species. We later learned from his mom, Mrs. Jungmin Park, that Rock, who's perhaps the youngest environmentalist I have ever met, has passionately raised awareness on the plight of the people of Kiribati in Oceania, and has made a presentation at the Convention of Environmental Diversity
    (Very young environmentalists of Earth Kids Foundation)
Rock Lee and other kids had their own Earth Kids Foundation corner in the festival, and were busy engaging the crowd with their quizzes about endangered species and the environment.
      (Professor Yoon wearing an artist apron and his       visitors. Photo courtesy of Miss Jungmin Park)

Also participating in the festival was Professor Hoseob Yoon, a famous environmentalist and artist in Korea. An honorary professor at Kookmin University, Professor Yoon has a website, Greencanvas that features his impressive work and exhibitions. And I was very lucky I went out for a stroll that day because...he gave me a perpetual calendar which he personally designed!  It will be 2015 in a few weeks. Professor Yoon's calendar should be up on a wall on my apartment by then!

At the eco-bridge, there were also live performances, booths selling recycled items like pins, bags, scarves, trinkets and other curios. And since I luckily had my wallet with me, I was able to get my mom at home in the Philippines a few scarves which she asked me not to forget when I fly home next month. I wasn't sure if those scarves were recycled from something, but they definitely were much cheaper than those sold at the department store across my office. And they will fly with me to Manila for Christmas. From an eco-bridge in my mom in the Philippines!
                  (I bought the scarves from this Korean lady)
           (And I got a couple of neck wallets from this guy. 
          His wallets were made from recycled leather.)

On our way back to Hannam-dong, Bruce and I were glad we decided to go for a stroll that day. Meeting Professor Yoon, Rock Lee, his mom, Jungmin, and his friends of Earth Kids Foundation, shopping for scarves and neck wallets, and being reminded that we all should take care of the only planet we have, made an otherwise sleepy Sunday afternoon more interesting than just walking and losing a few calories.  

Now, I should be looking forward to another stroll. And perhaps, on another bridge. :-)

Sunday, 23 November 2014

KTO's Medical Tourism Information Desk

Whenever I see somebody walking around downtown Seoul, or inside E-Mart (!), with her nose and her chin covered with bandage, I no longer assume that she was trying on a Halloween mask. After all, Halloween was just a few weeks ago. She or he (but mostly it's a she) just had plastic surgery and isn't ashamed to show it off to the world. 
                         (The Tourism Information Center)

The plastic surgery industry is booming in South Korea. Why? Because everyone here is obsessed with their appearance and having plastic surgery is sort of a status symbol. Try visiting the Sinsa Station in the Gangnam District in Seoul. Plastered on the walls of this subway station are posters of the 'before' and 'after' faces of models who had plastic surgery. If you want to see a few of those posters, the photos are here in a blog I wrote a year ago.

And since it's not only the locals who are visiting these plastic surgery clinics, the Korea Tourism Organization near Cheonggyecheon has an information desk, specifically for international tourists and foreigners living in Korea, where they can obtain information about the clinics and hospitals that can provide the surgical or medical attention they need. The Medical Tourism Information Center desk is attended to by Miss Bo-Yung Choi and her assistant.

Though most of the questions they get are about plastic surgery, they also provide information on several clinics and hospitals which have their own specialties on different kinds of medical conditions. According to Miss Choi, this desk is just a bridge between the patient and the medical institution. 

Although it's basically an information desk, this corner of the Tourism Information Center of the Korea Tourism Organization has several testing machines, a display of medicinal herbs, and a shelf full of brochures of several plastic surgery clinics and medical institutions. I leafed through some brochures and found some 'after' photos suspect, and seemed mislabelled. Although it was understandable to see the photos of Roy Kim getting a facial in a brochure, I wondered why is Beyonce's photo was in it. Hmm.

Last year, my friend Jeannie, who lived in Hong Kong, called to tell me that she had a friend who was flying to Seoul for plastic surgery in Gangnam, and that she gave her my number so that I could show her around. Even though I told Jeannie that I would be glad to, I wasn't sure if I'd be showing her friend around before or after the surgery. Although I thought it would have been very interesting to see her friend before and after the 'work' was done; I'd like to see the transformation.

But Jeannie's friend never called. I should have told Jeannie that, no matter what, I promise not to feature her friend in my blog. Before, or even after. Ha-ha-ha! 

So, I wonder whether Jeannie's friend actually visited the Medical Tourism Information Desk before her surgery for some referral. But if you're visiting Korea not just to shop, but also for some 'nip and tuck' (I miss that TV series, Nip/Tuck), or if you just want to seek medical advice from Korean medical practitioners, you might want to visit Korea's medical tourism site first:

Good luck and I hope to bump into you in downtown Seoul still with your bandages!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

571 Years In The Making: The National Hangeul Museum of Korea Finally Opens!

                    (The National Museum of Korea at night)

I have never experienced roaming around a museum at night.  But on the evening when the World Korea Bloggers were treated to a special tour of the newly opened National Hangeul Museum, I was reminded of the movie Night At The Museum, where Ben Stiller had to babysit everything that came to life after sundown.

But that night at the National Hangeul Museum, which sits right next to the National Museum of Korea in the Yongsan District of Seoul, everything, too, came to life! Not literally, but litera-ly!
                     (The National Hangeul Museum)

Yes, the consonants and vowels of the Korean language came to life that night as the Museum's docent walked us through the history on how hangeul came to be.

From 1443 when King Sejong, the Great, ordered his scholars to come up with his kingdom's own language, until the present-day use and recognition of Hangeul as a language everyone all over the world (especially Korean drama and K-pop fans!) can easily learn, the Museum engages any visitor about the language's history and transformation for over five centuries through dioramas, ancient scripts, digital presentations and artworks.

Appropriately inaugurated on Hanguel Day last October 9, 2014, the National Hangeul Museum provides a home for all the artifacts, information, and history of and about the Korean language. The Museum, which cost about KRW 32 billion to build, has a library, seminar room, halls for permanent and special exhibitions, a hangeul learning center, and a shop, and cafe distributed among its three floors.

                                  (The Hunminjeoneum)

As I walked alongside other visitors that night, I wondered whether this tour of a museum especially constructed for the Korean language was a sign for me to really make time for my Korean language books and classes. All these years of living in Seoul, I have enrolled in Korean classes and bought Korean language books. And all these years, I dropped out of those classes and my Korean language books have either gathered dust or are nowhere to be found. Ha-ha-ha!

King Sejong had the hangeul invented in 1443 and in 1446, the Hunminjeoneum, the first document that described the script and pronunciation of the Korean language, was published. Over the centuries, it was disseminated, transformed and modernized into what it is today. And on 2014, the Korean language has finally found a home, right in the middle of the Seoul (and right in my neighborhood!), after some 571 years.

So, if you're a student of history or a student at a Korean language class for beginners (like me!), let the National Hanguel Museum inspire you to learn this fascinating language which has its own set of symbols, vowels, consonants, and grammar. 

King Sejong might not have had you and me in mind to learn the language when he first published the Hunminjeoneum. But after five centuries, don't you also think it's time we did?

                                     (Hangeul typewriters)

*  *  *  *  * 
The National Hangeul Museum is accessible from Exit 2 of the Ichon Station (Line 4), and is open from 10AM to 6PM during the week, but extends to 9PM on Saturdays and 'culture days'. They offer guided tours and entrance is free.

Here's the official website of the Museum:

                  (Night visitors at the National Hangeul Museum)