Seoul, Korea: History, Modernization, and the balance of tourism and respect

Zachary Diamond is studying abroad in South Korea and Japan on UVA’s short-term Commerce program Finance in Northeast Asia.

After visiting Samsung in Gangnam, a group of us ventured to Bongeunsa, a Buddhist temple constructed in 794 A.D. The first thing was the temple is absolutely beautiful, especially because they are currently celebrating Buddha’s birthday so thousands of colorful paper lanterns are hung up throughout the temple. It was extremely relaxing to walk through the entire area. Apart from the central prayer building, the temple is built into a hillside allowing for a small dirt trail surrounding by trees and a giant statue of Buddha that people would circumambulate in prayer.

Below is my favorite picture I’ve taken so far on the trip as it resembles the most fascinating part of this temple. From the spot of the picture, I was standing around trees, listening to nature and wind set off peaceful wind chimes. However, directly across the street are large class skyscrapers that hold offices for national and global firms. In Seoul I found a direct contrast of modern and traditional that is not evident in the United States. While Korea feels like a new and foreign land, the skyscrapers remind me just how similar it is to a large city in the states.

At the temple, I found myself conflicted between respect and experience. At the temple, people were in deep prayer and I felt as if I was trespassing on their special place. Especially at the statue of the Buddha, I was hesitant to walk close to the statue as I did not want to distract or interfere with those in prayer. Personally, I would be extremely thrown off and probably mad at anyone who was being a tourist at my temple back home. While for me the Bongeunsa was a spot to visit on this trip to Korea, for many people it is their sacred space and normal temple. The more I stay in Seoul, the more I realize it is just like any other city, and that makes me feel somewhat guilty about trying seeing special places of the city as I’m treating the city as a spectacle and not what the locals treat it as, home.

My favorite picture taken so far

Lanterns hung up at Bongeunsa

Jessica’s South Korea Photo Blog

Jessica Park, a Media Studies and Studio Art major, is currently studying abroad in Korea on the UVA Exchange at Korea University. Check out her photo blog below!

Taken at my grandmother’s apartment where she fed me my first homemade meal in Korea (I am Korean-American). I took this photo because of the authenticity and history behind her Korean cooking, which was passed on from generation to generation. Korean meals are set up with rice, several homemade fermented side dishes, and usually a soup or protein.

At a barbecue restaurant near my grandparent’s place. I took this photo because this way of cooking meat is very typical in Korean culture. The meat is cooked on the table in front of you and the man typically handles the meat, which can be paired with cooked kimchi, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and garlic. This particular restaurant had the meat cooked on top of a traditional stone rice pot.

Ehwa Women’s University in Edae, Seoul. I took this photo because this university is one of the top most prestigious universities in Korea and I felt a sense of empowerment to be a Korean woman standing there amongst all the other strong, young women students.

Lotte World Tower in Jamsil, Seoul, which is the tallest tower in Korea. It was recently built, and boasts 123 floors, making it the 5th tallest tower in the world.

At the National Museum of Korea. I remembering taking this photo in awe of how beautiful the building was. I hadn’t been so amazed by a building since my first trip to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. This museum is the largest museum in Korea and tells the story of ancient Korean history all the way to modern times.

 

Namyangju Film Studios — This location was a setup of a traditional Korean village for drama shoots and movie shoots. Many top movies and dramas were shot in this village setup such as Dongyi and JSA.

Korea University Graduation Day— I remember wandering out from my dorm looking to explore around the school, with no real plans for the day, and stumbling across the graduation. The ceremonies were all over, so all the families were taking photos with their children in fancy graduation robes, giving and receiving flowers and gifts. One family even asked me to take a photo for them.

Sulbing—Sulbing is the one of the top dessert cafe chains in Korea. Dessert cafes are not very popular or existent in America, but they are huge in Korea. Groups of friends go to these cafes, order one or two large dessert dishes such as the one pictured (green tea chocolate bingsoo) and share them while relaxing and talking.

Local street food—Street food is a common and large part of the city life in Korea. They mainly sell fried corndogs, fried sausages, rice cakes, and fish cakes. Each item is roughly $1-3 and you stand as you eat.

Traditional Korean Painting Club — I had tried out a club at Korea University that focuses on painting traditional Korean paintings with traditional Korean ink. There is a specific method on how to hold the brush, what kind of lines one should draw, and how thick the lines should be. The materials used are also very specific for the paper, ink and brush.

 

Katin’s South Korea Photo Blog

Katin Tran is currently studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. Take a look at her photos thus far!

The main entrance to the Namsangol Hanok Folk Village. Namsan Park, located in the center of Seoul, has many entry points, including this grand gate that opens up to an array of traditional-style buildings.

The main performance stage of Namsangol Hanok Folk Village. Large folk and traditional performances are held on this stage as the stage and its surrounding area are both spacious and wide. When not in use, anyone can walk around it and also lounge in the structure behind it. Make sure to take your shoes off first!

Entrance to Seoul’s Thousand Year Time Capsule. Located in the Namsangol Hanok Village, this time capsule was buried in 1994 to commemorate Seoul’s 600 year anniversary as the country’s capital city. The capsule itself is buried in an open space, but that space is enclosed within elevated walls and fences. To reach the capsule, one must walk down stone pathways.

Wall inscriptions about the Thousand Year Time Capsule. The inscriptions lie directly across from the entrance to the capsule and are inscribed in both Korean and English, a plus for international tourists! The capsule’s name comes from its future opening in one thousand years from its date of burial, and inside the capsule lies 600 chosen representative cultural items.

The entrance to Jogyesa temple in central Seoul. The temple is conveniently located in the middle of the city, making it very accessible to those coming to and from work. As such, the temple is very popular and full of people, even on weekdays. The temple is currently adorned with colorful lanterns in preparation for Buddha’s birthday.

The Great Hero Hall of Jogyesa. As the central building on the temple grounds, the elevated hall serves as the primary meditation space. The outside walls, as well as the inside ones, are decorated with murals of important moments in the Buddhist religion.

Central altar in the Great Hero Hall at Jogyesa. Gigantic in size, the three-set of Buddhas on the central altar are atypically larger than most of the statues found at temples. The overwhelming size provides a larger sense of presence and can make meditators feel mentally closer to Buddha. Worshippers will often provide donations in a box to the side of the altar or provide food offerings on the altar.

Glass Half Empty or Glass Half Full?

Genevieve Jordan updates us on her time in Korea as she reaches the halfway point of her semester. 
I knew it would arrive sooner or later, but to be honest, I was a bit shocked by how quickly the halfway point appeared on my daily calendar. I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. 
About two and a half months ago, I wrote this:
In the grand scheme of things, it really is only 120 days, but those few days offer an infinite amount of possibilities. I have 120 days to be scared, uncomfortable, excited, nervous, happy, and every other emotion I dare feel. So, South Korea, bring it on. I’m ready to fall in love with Seoul.
Rereading my first blog post is surreal. All at once it feels like I wrote it just yesterday and in a different lifetime. The song “Mamma Mia,” by ABBA, immediately comes to mind. The lines“Just one look and I can hear a bell ring/ One more look and I forget everything” in particular,but, of course, not in the exact way the song means. Though, like the subject of the song, I am a whole mix of emotions and cannot seem to straighten myself out. 
Two months in. Two months out. Either way you look at it, it’s depressing and/or exciting.Naturally, I wish I could only focus on the exciting parts: I’ve been living in Seoul for two months,exploring new surroundings, meeting new friends every weekend, and having the time of my life. Yet, I cannot help but dwell on the depressing part: it’s halfway over. In the moment,everything goes by slowly; everyday, every week feels never ending, but suddenly you blink and time flew by while you were standing still. 
The good news is, if the second half of my semester is anywhere close to as amazing as the first, I’m in for a real treat. It’s been two months, and I feel the most confident and happy I’ve felt in ages. I am infinitely more comfortable with being myself and spending time alone; being uncomfortable does not scare me anymore. 

Seoul I Stay or Seoul I Go?

Genevieve is a third year in the School of Engineering and Applied Science studying a semester abroad in an exchange with Korea University in Seoul. 

   As soon as the words “Korea” begin to fall from my lips, I can see the puzzled expression forming long before any words are spoken in response. The response generally fits into one of three categories, sometimes two. The first: a horrified, fear-filled look. I quickly reassure the person, South Korea.  The second: a joke or comment incorporating North Korea somehow. “Are you going to sneak into North Korea?!” No, that’s not even funny. “You and Kim Jong Un are going to be best friends!” A little funnier, but still, no. And the third: Why?

   The third gives me the most trouble. Why? It’s always hard to stop myself from blurting out: “I don’t know”. The truth is I know and I don’t know all at the same time. Would it have made more sense for me to go to somewhere where I speak the language, like Spain or Australia? Probably. While I’ve never lived in Spain, I have travelled there, and I understand the culture enough to where I wouldn’t be uncomfortable. I thought about Australia or New Zealand,but I’ve heard the university atmosphere is fairly similar to that of the States. I wanted to go somewhere that would rip me out of my comfort zone. Somewhere that scared me a little. So I chose somewhere I’ve never been. A culture I have yet to experience, or even study. I chose South Korea. 

   I won’t deny that I have occasional moments of doubt. Wondering if I made an educated decision, if I rushed my choice, if I should have gone somewhere Spanish-speaking. But all this worrying has given me considerable time to think about my next four months. In the grand scheme of things, it really is only 120 days, but those few days offer an infinite amount of possibilities. I have 120 days to be scared, uncomfortable, excited, nervous, happy, and every other emotion I dare feel. So, South Korea, bring it on. I’m ready to fall in love with Seoul.