Monday, 16 November 2015

Goguryeo Blacksmith Village, Achasan

A few months back I posted about Achasan (아차산), a mountain in Eastern Seoul, and mentioned that I was hoping to go back to visit the historic village there. This weekend, I did, and it was great!

Goguryeo Blacksmith Village (고구려 대장간마을) was built as a set for filming the TV drama '태왕사신기' ('Legend'), and replicates a Goguryeo era working village, complete with a large water mill wheel and a brick oven. Although originally built for film, it now serves as a historical attraction and has exhibiton rooms with various Goguryeo artifacts on display, including many that were actually excavated at Achasan. It's actually really cool and interesting, and I didn't even have to pay an entrance fee!

Inside one of the houses
Goguryeo (고구려) was one of the ancient 3 kingdoms of Korea, from 37 BC to 668 AD. The significance of building this village here at Achasan, is that the ruins of several Goguryeo era forts are located on the mountain. So if you want to do the historical trail and visit the fort sites, the blacksmith village would be a great place to include in your trip, just to see the era 'brought to life'.

To get there, take the subway line 5 to Gwangnaru station (광나루역), come out of exit 3 and walk straight a few metres to the bus stop. Take bus 1, 9, 15, 92, 93, 95, 96 or 97 to 우미내검문소/고구려 대장간마을 (only 2 stops away, but takes a few minutes). Then cross the main street and follow the signs.

Alternatively, you can go there at the end of your hike by following signs from up on the mountain.

If you want to hike the mountain after visiting the village, just walk across the car park, and you will see a trail entrance with a sign to 'Stone Face' (literally a big face in the stone). You can follow the sign to see that easily, or pick another trail. Personally I went to see the Stone Face and then just continued up towards 대성암. The trail was very easy and gentle, quiet with not many other hikers around, and absolutely beautiful with views of the river visible after only a few minutes hiking upwards.

A better translation would be 'Big Rock Face'
After passing 대성암, the trail got a tougher with a steep rocky part, but that was only for a short way and then I found myself on a popular main trail that was very busy with other hikers, but which offered some more beautiful views of the city. I saw signs to all the fort ruins, but just headed down back towards Gwangnaru subway station.

When I got to the bottom of the mountain, I found that Achasan had another surprise for me - an 'ecological park', which looked absolutely splendid in vibrant autumn colours! Seriously, for such a small mountain, it really is packed full of hidden treasures and just keeps surprising me with something I didn't expect every time I visit! I think it's becoming my favourite mountain in Seoul.

Achasan Ecological Park (아차산생태공원)
I really recommend this mountain if you want to hike in Seoul. You can pretty much just go there with no plan and start walking on any trail, and I'm sure you'll find something fantastic wherever you end up.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Korean Weekly Vocab

I've hit a point in my Korean studies where I'm needing to memorize big chunks of vocab at a faster rate than I'm able to actually put the words into practice in daily life. So I thought it would be helpful to me if I make some vocabulary blog posts, and I hope some of you out there may find it useful, too!

Here are this week's words:

살인 (殺人) murder, homicide
The hanja is literally 'kill person'. I learnt this one by looking over the shoulder of a fellow commuter who was reading the newspaper on the subway. There is some news story out now about some guy who killed someone in Itaewon years ago.

호흡 (呼吸) breathing

단전호흡 (丹田呼吸) A kind of healthy breathing technique where you inhale deeply through the nose, feeling your belly expand, then breathe out slowly through the mouth. I learned this in 판소리 (singing) class.

흡연 (吸煙) smoking (tobacco)
I had just learned '호흡', and I already knew '금연' meaning 'no smoking', so I was able to put the characters together to understand this word when I saw it on a big anti-smoking banner. 흡 means breathe or inhale, and 연 means smoke. Duh!

미로 (迷路) maze, labyrinth
This one I learned at work from my kindergarten kids. Really interesting because 로 means road (really common in street names and things), and 미 means confusion or misleading, so together I guess it means like 'lose the way' or perhaps 'bewildering path' or something.

금일 (今日) today
Very simple Hanja, literally 'this day'. I went to a cafe and they had a sign saying 'Only serving coffee and beverages today' with this word 금일 for today. Too bad because I wanted to order food ㅠㅠ

통증 (痛症) pain
I keep seeing this word on advertisements on the subway, like for painkillers and slipped disc surgery and stuff. I guess a lot of people are in pain ... :(

외우다 memorize
Ugh. I have had to memorize so much recently - Songs, gayageum music, a speech, exam vocab ... So finally after hearing it a billion times from teachers, I have memorized the word for memorize!

Wow ... I didn't do what I set out to do in this post at all! I was going to include just a bunch of theme words from my textbook, because it's what I need to learn and it's what I'm having difficulty learning .... But I ended up just including words I've learned actually in real life outside of lessons! It's just so much more interesting. This is why I will never learn all the textbook stuff lol.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Bukhansan Hike Video

I haven't had time to post much on here recently, but we did film a short video while hiking a few weeks ago. Enjoy :)

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Dongdaemun Shopping

A few weeks ago I went fabric shopping with my vlogging partner-in-crime, Megan. We filmed a little bit while we were there and put together a short video:

Basically, if you need to buy fabric or any kind of sewing supplies in Seoul, Dongdaemun is THE place to go. The indoor market is a mega 5 floors packed full of every kind of print, lace, ribbon and bead you could imagine. Personally I find it suuuuuper daunting and difficult to navigate, but it is amazing. Thread is on the basement level, trimmings on the first and top levels, and fabric everywhere in between.

You can get there by coming out of Dongadaemun subway station exit  8 or 9. The fabric market is inside the massive building behind the fancy new hotel which is right outside the station.

While we were in Dongdaemun we also had a look around Doota, which is a very popular store for designer fashion. There are a lot of different brands there, some of them more interesting than others. A lot of people like it, whatever.

Dongdaemun is full of fashion markets, including the ones that open all night, but many sell only cheap quality clothes. Shopping has always been a big reason for people to visit the area, but now of course there is also the Design Plaza, which is a pretty cool building to look around and they have some exhibitions and events there. You can also walk to/from Dongdaemun along either the Cheongye stream or the old fortress wall, which is nice.

Anyway this was a kind of half-hearted post for our half-hearted video! But if you are into sewing and making stuff, do go and check out Dongdaemun fabric market, because it's awesome :)

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Independence Day - What to do in Seoul this weekend!

Posting this a little late, but if you're wondering what to do this weekend (or what's left of it, at least!), how about getting out and about and educating yourself on the history of Korea's independence?

Here are my suggestions of places to visit in Seoul, to celebrate National Liberation Day:

1.  War Memorial of Korea (Click to read post)


Situated by Yongsan military base, in between Noksapyeong and Samgakji stations, this military history museum and memorial is free to enter, and offers an up-close look at machines, vehicles and weapons that were used in the Korean War, World War II and the Vietnem War.

2. Seodaemun Prison (Link coming soon)

Definitely worth a visit, Seodaemun Prison History Museum tells the horrifying story of how people involved in the Korean independence movement were imprisoned, tortured and executed by Japanese soldiers, during the years when Korea was under Japanese rule. Be aware, there are some gruesome representations of toruture scenes. Seodaemun Prison is by Dongnimmun station, exit 3.

3. Seoul National Cemetary (Click to read post)

Covering a vast area of peaceful, grassy grounds, Seoul National Cemetary is a good place to go to pay your respects to those who fought and died in the Korean Independence Movement and the Korean War. Dongjak station, exit 8.

4. Seoul Museum of History (Link coming soon)

Close to Gyeonghuigung Palace in Jongno, Seoul Museum of History contains permanent exhibits showing what Seoul was like under Japanese control, as well as of course many other exhibits showing different periods in Seoul's history.

Even if you don't have time to visit any of these places this weekend, make sure you visit them another time while you're in Seoul, because they all offer an eye-opening and educational insight into how modern day South Korea came into being.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Ihwa Mural Village in Hyehwa

Ihwa Mural Village (이화 벽화마을) is a fairly well-known tourist spot right in the middle of the really popular Hyehwa area, but for some reason I had never been there before, in all the time I've been in Korea. Well I'm glad I finally went!

Actually, after finding a much smaller-scale version of one of these 'mural villlages' near Achasan the day before, I decided to make it my new project to try and visit as many of them as possible from now on. I had already really enjoyed looking around the 'Ant Village' on the edge of Inwangsan, and Suamgol in another region of Korea, and it seems there actually loads of these old mountainside villages that have been dolled-up with colorful murals, instead of being demolished, re-built and modernized.

So, to add to my list of these painted villages, I definitely had to take a trip to what is probably the most popular one in Seoul, Ihwa Mural Village. Plus it's like a 20 minute bus ride from my house, so I really had no excuse not to go.

Painted flowers ...

... real flowers ...
... and fake flowers.

I went there around midday on a Sunday, expecting the place to me crammed full of tourists, but actually it was pretty quiet. This was a big relief, as was the discovery that the place is still essentially just an old residential neighborhood, and hasn't been re-vamped to the point of becoming nothing but another commercialised tourist attraction. Yes, there are more cafes here than you might find in a residential area that hasn't been painted from top to bottom, but on the whole it was mostly just houses.

If you're the kind of person who enjoys just wandering around cities, like I do, this is a great place to do just that. It really captures the feel of Seoul: a hodge-podge of new, old and very old buildings, sweeping city views contrasting with quirky little details like the painted walls, a sense of nature never being too far away, and of course plenty of places to buy coffee.

What else can you do in the area?

Ihwa Mural Village is right next to Naksan Park (낙산공원), one of Seoul's many large and beautiful hilltop parks. There are some truly gorgeous views of the city from up here.

You can also follow a walking trail along the Naksan section of the old fortress wall, which stretches from around Dongdaemun station up to Hansung Univ. Station, and passes around both the mural village and Naksan park on the way.

Obvs, there is also all the fun stuff in Daehangno (대학로, 'University Street'), the area immediately around Hyehwa station, which is one of the main areas in Seoul for drinks, food, shopping and going out. It's also known for being Seoul's theater district, so you can go and see a play or some other live performance.

Altogether this is one of my favorite areas in my favorite city!

View from up on Naksan

To get to Ihwa Mural Village, come out of Hyehwa station exit 2, walk a little way and then turn left after the colorful poop art (above).

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Qingdao's Laoshan 崂山

If you're in Qingdao for more than a couple of days, you have to make a full day trip outside of the city to Laoshan mountain, which is about an hour's drive to the east. Actually, you could spend a couple of days here, or more. I did a day trip, and really only saw a tiny tiny part of the area.

Be warned, however, it's not like there's just a mountain there and you can just wander up and do some hiking - No, as like a lot of areas of natural beauty in China, it has been dubbed a 'Scenic Area', paved with set tour pathways (you have to admit, they do maintain it all very very nicely), and closed off so that you can only enter after paying 130 RMB and getting on a special shuttle bus.

Firstly, it always amazes me how in Korea everyone has to get dressed up in really serious outdoorwear whenever they go to a mountain, but in China the men are often topless and the women are tottering around in high heels and miniskirts, carrying their handbags. But then, nobody really 'hikes' in these places, because it's all paved and they mostly just come to see the main sights, which are accessible by shuttle bus or cablecar. However, if you do want a bit of a challenge, there are some really long (paved) trails and you can get quite a workout.

Getting to the entrance of Laoshan from Qingdao city center is simple enough: Take the city sightseeing bus number 1 eastbound - Laoshan is the last stop. You buy the bus ticket (10RMB) from the on-board conductor. Once there, it's a bit more complicated. There is a huge, busy ticket hall (even on a weekday it was busy, so I imagine it's hell on weekends), with two different ticket windows, for two different route options. There are lots of guide staff around to help explain the routes, but of course you need to speak Chinese. I wanted to see Taiqing Temple (太清宫), so I asked a guide and with a big smile he pointed me towards the ticket window on the right-hand side, selling tickets for the Taiqing (太清) area.

Once you've got your ticket, you have to go through the barriers and scan your fingerprints before they let you board the shuttle bus. Then the bus takes you along a coastal road further into the mountain, finally dropping you off at the start of the Taiqing area trails. Keep the bus ticket for getting on and off the bus again and for entering and exiting different parts of the scenic area.

From the bus drop-off point, you can walk upwards to see the Longtan waterfall. If you keep walking past the waterfall, you will find yourself on a long, long, trail with lots and lots of steps. I got as far as Shangqing Temple, and then a little further to where the trail opened up for a great view, and then I gave up and went back down again because the heat was crazy. I think I only walked about 2km, but it was gruelling.

You can get back on the shuttle bus in the same place you got off, and take it to Taiqing Temple, or instead of taking the bus you can just follow a sign towards Taiqing temple that will lead you on a trail downwards, finishing at the temple, and then you will exit to the beautiful, windy coastline (complete with KFC). From there, you can get back on the shuttle bus.

I think there were more areas that were accessible along this route, with this ticket option, but it really takes a long time to get around all the sights just in the Taiqing area.

Laoshan is really beautiful and definitely worth visiting if you're in Qingdao. If you are planning to go there, my advice would be to research which area you want to go to beforehand, since there are so many options, and no information in English at the ticket hall. Or you could just get on a shuttle bus and see where you end up! ;)

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Hiking Achasan

Achasan (아차산) is in Eastern Seoul and easily accessible by several subway stations. It's an easy and gentle mountain to hike, with fantastic views of Seoul and the Han river. It is connected to Yongmasan (용마산), and you can hike Achasan and Yongmasan together in one day.

I've been to Achasan a few times, but taken a different route every time. Even though it's a small mountain, just like everywhere in Seoul there are always new things to see. Today I woke up to a deafening thunderstorm, and heavy rain continued to pour all morning, so I decided to stick to gentle trails.

From Achasan station, I took exit 1 and walked uphill through the neighborhood. There were some nice-looking cafes and bakeries dotted around. Leading up to the mountain is a road called Gingoran-gil (긴고랑길), a quiet residential area of older buildings, which has received the colorful mural treatment that seems to be a popular thing in old mountainside villages in Korea. The paintings on the walls add something interesting to see, but people do actually live in the houses so I didn't take many pictures. It's worth a look.

From there I reached the mountain and started out on the dule-gil, the trail going around the base of the mountain. However, I somehow ended up on a trail going upwards instead! I ended up at a historical site which was part of the old fortress wall. The signs told me that various ceramic and metal artifacts had been excavated there, and there remained the foundations of a building. From up on top I could hear cars way down in the distance, but everything was shrouded in mist and clouds, so I couldn't see the view. I think you should be able to see the river from there on a clear day.

This part of the old fortress was labelled Mt. Achasan Forts 4 (아차산 4보루)

Hardly able to see anything through the mist
After hiking a little further I decided to call it a day and just go back down the way I came, since it was still raining and my feet were soaking wet. I went back to Achasan subway station and had a very very satisfying vegan bibimbap at Loving Hut (right outside exit 1). Actually I got the idea to go there from someone else's blog, so thank you whoever that was! :)

Other stuff to do in the area:
Immediately to the other side of Achasan subway station is Seoul Children's Grand Park. It's pretty big so you could probably spend a whole day just wandering around there.

If you want to go to the river, hike down towards Gwangnaru station. I've also heard there is some kind of historic re-enactment village on that side of the mountain, so I'm pretty excited to check that out next time!

아차산   峨嵯山  Achasan   ('high' 峨 - 'rising up' 嵯 - 'mountain' 山)
용마산   龍馬山  Yongmasan   ('dragon' 龍 - 'horse' 馬  - 'mountain' 山)

벽화   壁畵   mural paintings   ('wall' 壁 + 'picture' 畵)
보루   堡壘   bastion, fort 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Vlog News!

You can now follow me and my friends on Youtube! We will be making videos of various things around Seoul and Korea, in Korean and English, so if you are interested, please check us out here:

Erin and Megan on Youtube

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Vintage Clothes Hunting in Seoul

If you love vintage clothes, and rather than buy online you prefer to rummage through thrift stores for hidden gems, you may have a bit of a hard time in Korea. People here generally don't 'do' second-hand clothes. Or second-hand anything. They prefer stuff that's new, shiny and trendy. So vintage fashion is much more of a niche market, and thus harder to shop for.

However, there are a few ways to get a vintage fashion fix in Seoul: Firstly, there are some dedicated 'vintage' stores which stock carefully selected pieces, but just like vintage stores in the UK, prices can be high. One of the best places is A-Land in Myeongdong, which is not a vintage store but does have a whole floor dedicated to vintage. There are also a few vintage stores in the Apgujeong and Itaewon shopping areas.

Another way to find vintage clothes is in charity shops. However, there are very few of these in Seoul! The main ones are Goodwill, Salvation Army and Beautiful Store, and you can find the locations by searching online. These stores don't tend to have many quality items for sale, unfortunately, and sometimes they literally look like someone just threw out all their really old useless junk and dumped it in the shop. On the plus side, if you do buy anything here, at least you know your money is going to charity.

Somewhere in between a vintage store and a thrift store is 'Vin Prime', which sells everything from gaudy 1980s vintage, to newer second-hand stuff, to well-worn designer pieces from Dior, Celine, etc. They have a massive store inside the underground of Express Bus Terminal, at the tranfser area between subway line 3 and 7, a new store in Gangnam near the subway exit 12, and a few other locations. Personally I like the new Gangnam store best. You can find a few good pieces if you search the rails, but nicer items have a higher price, so don't expect to come away with bags full of bargains.

Found this great Adidas T-shirt and 1980s denim jacket for 9,000 Won each at Vin Prime

Language Tip!
If you go to Vin Prime and you want to check the inside label on something to find out what it's made of, it might be handy to know a bit of Japanese. That's because a lot of the stuff they sell has been shipped in from Japan, so the original garment labels will be in Japanese. Here are some handy words to know:

ポリエステル  Polyester
レーヨン         Rayon
絹                   Silk
綿                   Cotton

If you're not that familiar with Japanese at all, just look for what is written next to the percentage, and you can just take a guess that if there is a traditional character (you know, like Chinese), it's probably a natural fiber, and if it's something written in katakana (which looks longer but with simpler letters), it's probably a sythetic fiber. 

I struck lucky with this 5,000won printed dress - 100% silk!  地 means outer and 裏 means lining.

Although vintage is not such a big thing in Korea, I do recommend seeking out these stores if you want to stand out from the crowd in Seoul. Fashion here is a lot more uniform than it is in a city like London, for example. A lot of the cheap stores and market stalls here are selling exactly the same items as each other, so it's hard to find anything unique or different without spending a lot of money. Vintage is a good way to go if you want to be sure that nobody else will be wearing the same clothes as you.

Happy bargain hunting, everyone! And leave me a comment if you find any other good vintage clothes stores in Seoul.

Update: I just discovered that there is a HUGE vintage clothing market on on the second floor of Gwangjang market! How did I not know about this before?!